Alt-soul duo Lion Babe channels the past to stay ahead; or, as producer Lucas Goodman calls it, “futuristic nostalgia.” From the rare vintage 45s interpolated throughout the duo’s instrumentals to frontwoman Jillian Hervey’s sweeping cateye and towering hairdos, a myriad of decades can be spotted throughout the pair’s eccentric artistry.
Sitting at a table alongside Goodman in his East Village apartment, Hervey speaks on the cyclical nature of history. “Every time [period] reflects life 20 years before it,” she says. “Everything — George Floyd, Briana Taylor, Black Lives Matter — was boiling at the top of the pot [in the ’60s]. Black music and Black artists were in the forefront, helping direct people and voicing what was going on at that time.”
During the racial justice protests of 2020, the pair, like many who witnessed the brutalities, found themselves caught in a whirlwind of emotions. Rainbow Child, the duo’s latest visual album, was born from that historical moment. “Nothing about what was going on at the time felt like we were surrounded by a rainbow, but it was [about] knowing that it always comes,” says Hervey. “We were trying to uplift ourselves, to be honest,” adds Goodman.
Rainbow Child is a nine-track introspective ride, telling soulful stories of pain, power and self-actualization. With a handful of thoughtfully placed features including Ghostface Killah, Trinidad James and OSHUN, Lion Babe presents a diverse yet cohesive visual body of work containing something for everyone. “If we’re calling it rainbow child, you need to see it as much as you feel it,” says Hervey.
The New York-based duo sat down with Billboard to share the eclectic inspirations behind the new album, from Tumblr treasures and vintage Gautier to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar techniques.
During the recording session that led to the creation of the album’s first single, “Frida Kahlo,” Hervey says the Mexican icon appeared. “People come in all the time,” Hervey says, before adding, “in my head.” As Goodman tinkered with what would become the track’s pulsating instrumental, Hervey effortlessly uttered, “I’m like Frida Kahlo,” and the rest was history. “[Jillian’s] always had Frida everything at her apartment,” Goodman says. “She’s just a badass,” Hervey adds. “[Frida] embodied everything that wasn’t of the time so effortlessly.” Hervey cites Kahlo’s ability to navigate through life while channeling her pain and adversity, a theme woven into the music and storyline of Rainbow Child. “I think a lot of people need that energy right now.”
From the music and makeup to explosive racial justice movements, Hervey and Goodman reveled in ’60s counterculture while ideating the album visually and sonically. “From the biggest artists like Aretha Franklin to all the obscure [records] that you dig for, all that stuff has always been at the core of our influences,” says Goodman. The Manhattan-raised producer, also known as Astro Raw, used guitar reversal techniques pioneered by Jimi Hendrix, in addition to interpolating a number of old-school soul records throughout the album, which he replayed using analog sounds. “We definitely push these machines to the max,” he says. For Hervey, ’60s cover girls like Veruschka von Lehndorff inspire her bold-eye makeup looks seen throughout the album’s visuals.
Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham
Before breaking through as a vocalist, Hervey studied dance, something she continues to practice. “Visually, my core has always been dance,” Hervey says, adding that, as a result, Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham “are two huge influences for this album.” Ailey, an iconic Black dancer from the 1950s, was mentored in one of the first racially integrated dance schools in the United States and went on to begin his own Dance Theatre, where Hervey herself often rehearsed.
“Honoring black people and their beauty was something that we really wanted to be conscious of with this album,” she says. When it comes to lighting, set design and costumes, Hervey looks to Graham: “Martha was super iconic with how minimal she can make something and with one prop really takes you somewhere else.”
Hervey considers herself a low-key Tumblr girl. “I’ve been on Tumblr I think since 2011,” she says. “I kind of stopped posting because I felt like I’m just giving this s–t away… I take so much time and value coming up with an idea or putting influences together.” While Hervey doesn’t post as much, she still pulls images and influences from the content floating through her feed. “There were a lot of butterfly wings I’ve put into the mood boards… tones, flowers, environments. It’s so fun.” Hervey also added images of vintage Gautier designs and her forever-idols, Naomi Campbell and Iman. “[They’re] always on [my moodboard]. I don’t know how, they just make it every single time.”
David Bowie Music Videos
During the course of the album’s creation, the duo watched their fair share of music videos, namely David Bowie’s, plucking inspiration from the simplistic studio setups to the play on colors. “Music videos had just started [at that time], so it’s just him in a white room,” says Goodman of Bowie’s early clips. “Subconsciously or not, we definitely tapped into that.”