The song opens with a trickling keyboard melody, coated with a thick layer of analog fuzz that makes the tune sound old, and as if it were cascading through your speakers from a faraway place. Ten seconds in, a clapping effect emerges on the sonic landscape, followed by a bassline that pulsates like a heartbeat. In the distance, a deep, smoky voice coos the opening line, only to be echoed by a second voice — this one younger, sharper — a few seconds later. A pattern emerges as the voices trade lines, repeating one another four times until the entire chorus — “Treat me like / Fire/ Into the pain” / — has been sung.
So starts “Treat Me Like Fire,” the electronic-R&B duo Lion Babe's first official release, which, to date, has been listened to almost 6 million times on Spotify. Lyrically simple, it's an instrumentally dense song that somehow manages to be chill and dance-inducing at the same time. But don't let that fool you. “Treat Me Like Fire” was less professional and premeditated than you'd think.
“If you asked either of us if we thought of having a bridge or a pre-chorus or whatever, we didn't,” says Lion Babe's singer Jillian Hervey, whose mother is actress Vanessa Williams. “We didn't even know what those things were really.”
After six months of toiling on the track, the pair, which includes producer Lucas Goodman, uploaded “Treat Me Like Fire” in November 2012 to the internet, adding a music video to YouTube a month later. Hervey says they “didn't have a plan or anything,” but they didn't need one. It took a few weeks for the internet to catch on, and once World Star Hip-Hop reposted the music video in January, the song took off.
Emails with offers to manage the band flooded in, and blogs around the world penned posts about the song. Rapper Childish Gambino reached out to Hervey and Goodman, inviting them to open for him during his set at South By Southwest, and by the summer of 2013, they'd signed a deal with Polydor Records.
“It was crazy,” Hervey says. “We didn't expect there to be so big of a reaction.”
Hervey and Goodman first met in New York City around 2010 thanks to an introduction from a mutual friend. At the time, Hervey was a dance student at The New School, while Goodman, who was trying to make it as an independent producer, was an intern at Truth & Soul Records. The pair stayed in contact through MySpace, and when Hervey was assigned a dance project that required original music, she contacted Goodman.
“I knew I couldn't ask my violin player friend to do it,” she says. “And when I thought about someone who knows how to deal with computers and could make me a track that would be easy for me to use, I thought of Lucas.”
After the project was finished, the musicians, who are one year apart in age, decided to keep working on songs together — for kicks, that is.
“It was a fun moment for us and a nice release of our artistry,” Hervey says. “And we saw an opportunity to do more with it.”
Once they released “Treat Me Like Fire,” blogs, publicists, and fans started hounding the rising duo for more. Except there was one problem: They didn't have any other songs.
“People thought we were a little more developed than we were,” Goodman says. “But we didn't really think it would spark that fast, and then, when it took off, we were like, 'Oh, shoot.' “
They spent the next year and a half in the studio working on their self-titled debut EP, which came out in December 2014, and followed up this year with the full-length record Begin.
The 14-track album sneaks in an array of genres, from soul and disco to house and R&B, with aplomb. It was co-written and co-produced by Pharrell Williams — “We were working on the songs with a lot of people with a lot of opinions,” Hervey says — and, like the EP, has only one featured artist, Childish Gambino.
Though Begin is the duo's biggest effort to date, it will forever be outshined by “Treat Me Like Fire.”
“It will always be one of the great songs that defines us,” Hervey says. “And who knows what would have happened if we had put something else out instead.”