Lion interview: “There’s always been girls at the front – it’s about them being recognised”

Before our latest Girls To The Front gig – NME’s live shows supporting female and non-binary talent - we spoke to our headliner Lion about musical Love Island cameos, her forthcoming debut album, and the importance of creating spaces for women in music.

Hi, Lion! Why did you fancy getting involved with a gig night like Girls to the Front

Beth Lowen, aka. Lion: I think it’s important getting the girls to the front. Or at least giving them some recognition for being at the front. There’s always been girls at the front, but [it’s more about] if they’re being recognised or not. It’s good! We’ve got to stick together, us females. 

Tonight’s show is all about showcasing female and non-binary talent in the hope of building a more balanced music industry. Do you hope that if events like this create these opportunities, it’ll open more doors for women in music as a whole?

Yes. You need to add stepping stones, otherwise no-one’s going to be able to make the leap. When I was at school, I think I was the only girl who played guitar and sang, purely because my family did. There was no real opportunity, there wasn’t any kind of platform that girls felt comfortable going to. Now there’s loads, and it’s being encouraged. 

Booking at festivals still skews heavily towards men, and equal line-ups are nowhere near the norm. That must play a role in discouraging young women who are perhaps thinking about getting into music?

Yeah, when I play a show now, and I get the young ones [coming along], they’re like ‘you really inspire me to play music,’ That’s so cool. That’s kind of why I’m doing it – to encourage girls to get to the front, and not be scared, and to express themselves through music. 

You mentioned that you grew up in quite a musical family…

Music was just something that was always there, yeah. There were just guitars and instruments, and noise, everywhere in the house. I don’t think it was something that I actively thought about. It was something I did, because it was there. There were way less TVs and PlayStation games; it was a lot more instruments, which I’m so thankful for. Mum and Dad played a lot of your standard old school stuff: Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder. My older brother was in a band, and I was a massive tomboy – I would nick all of his CDs and mixtape and get really into things like The Strokes. I used to nick his NME magazine, all the time! 

What’s your latest single ‘Wolf’ about?

Well, at the time I wrote it, I was in a bit of a lost place. I was still working in bars and trying to do music, and I really didn’t think I was good enough to do it. I was so close to being like ‘fuck this, I can’t be arsed to do this anymore’. It’s too painful to just keep failing. It stems from that, and then thinking, shut up, Beth, you are good, you can do it. You’ve just got to believe in yourself and take the leap of faith a little bit. Fuck this! I’m not going to stop now!

It’s accompanied by a very dramatic video. Did you find yourself getting a bit scared on the shoot, even though you knew everybody was doing to start throwing punches?

It was shot over two days, and on the first day we shot everything with the two little kids in it – one of them is my mini-me. She’s absolutely incredible, and had never been on camera before. There’s a scene where they’re fighting, and they get under the table and are all scared. She actually hit her nose and started crying. We were like ‘keep crying, this is great!’ But she was actually crying, for real. She loved it though. The whole thing was really intense. I was like, oh god, there are fights happening – it’s just acting. No children were harmed in the process.

Another of your songs popped up on the infamous Love Island – ‘Oh No’ soundtracked islander Arabella Chee’s entry to the villa. That must’ve been a weird one?

I don’t watch Love Island. Ok, fine, I do. I did watch that episode, and I had a super sweet hot babe walking in and shaking her excellent arse to my song. Every time my phone goes off I shout “I’ve got a text!”.

How is your debut album going?

It’s almost done, which is scary. It’s scary to finish something. I’m a serial changer, and if I sit on something too long, I decide don’t like it anymore. It’s been four years of doing that. Now I have to put it to bed. It’s my baby. The last few years of my life have been about making this piece of work. Shit. It’s scary but fun. 

What else have you got planned?

I’m headlining the BBC Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds, which is scary, and really exciting. I went to Reading when I was 16, and it’s a festival close to my heart. I’m absolutely crapping myself about that. I’m playing Boardmasters in a couple of weeks, then I’m going to New York, and then playing it by ear. I’m very impatient, I just want to put everything out today. Apparently I’m not allowed to do that.