Collaborating with some of the finest…

Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman have grins spread all over their faces. And not only because they’re standing in a members club in the middle of a circle of journalists, having just premiered their latest music video; snapshots of one day spent flouncing around New York’s rooftops and basketball courts.

Nah, it’s because Rick Rubin’s just tweeted one of their tracks. “We just found out,” says Goodman. “That was pretty amazing; like oh my god that’s one of our heroes of all time.” “You were wearing a T-shirt with his face on last night!” squeals Jill.

It’s not the first time a superstar’s reached out though; Rick Ross phoned Jill up once to tell her he loved their track. “He wasn’t trying to holler or anything, he just said he was a fan of our work,” she beams. “Since then he checks in, he texts me.” They just need another Rick and then it’ll be a hat-trick. A hat-Rick, if you like.

Terrible puns aside (believe me, it’s been a challenge to not litter this feature with big cat re-fur-ences) it’s no surprise that soul-pop duo Lion Babe is attracting such levels of attention. Though there are two of them, you wonder whether Lucas gets slightly eclipsed by the lady standing by his side; she’s the dancer, and moreover, her springy mane of hair has lent the pair their name.

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Lion Babe – ‘Treat Me Like Fire’

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Blondie was a great reference point to us because yeah, I am in the forefront, dancing around and stuff,” Jill remarks on their choice of name. “But when you see us on stage, it’s both of us.”

She elaborates on the name: “Lucas is a Leo. And I went to South Africa a while ago and had my life changed on a safari. I bonded with a lioness. It’s also the idea of a girl coming of age, empowering herself. The lion is a huge symbol of pride and strength and endurance, and I felt that way in New York – taking life on my own.”

The beats that her voice sits on are slinking, Kaytranada-like neo-soul and ’70s-inspired lounge-funk. They’re also what originally united the pair – they met at a frat party, where one of his tracks (he produces solo as Astro Raw) was pounding the speaker system. Introducing herself, sheepishly, she then followed his MySpace page before the pair went back to their respective schools in Boston and New York, eventually reconnecting via mutual friends. She asked him to produce the soundtrack to one of her jungle-themed dance pieces at college, where she studied professional dance.  

Performance is in Jill’s blood. She’s the daughter of Vanessa Williams, known mainly for ‘Save The Best For Last’ (and for all you Curb Your Enthusiasm heads, her uncle stars as fictional rapper Krazee-Eyez Killa). At university she studied dance, as shown by her on-screen pirouetting in both of Lion Babe’s videos, while Lucas is the beat-head, having grown up on a diverse diet of Dilla to Dionne Warwick, Sly Stone to The Strokes.

“Our parents grew up on some of the most amazing music ever – Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, all of that,” he adds. “So we definitely grew up on multiple things at the same time, and whatever we were watching on MTV when we were 12 years old.”

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A unique voice is always interesting, and those are the ones (belonging to) the timeless people. You always know what Marvin Gaye sounds like…

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But Hervey’s cues come from even further back. “Vocally I’ve been drawn to lots of women from the soul era, really. Strong voices like Minnie Riperton’s. Strong messages, but also very personal messages. Even, like, Billie Holiday, going way back, she really had a unique tone and stood out – that’s what I’ve been drawn to. That can go from reggae to rock to other stuff… a unique voice is always interesting, and those are the ones (belonging to) the timeless people. You always know what Marvin Gaye sounds like.”

Lucas’s laptop (using the trusty Ableton) along with a guitar and keys, and naturally an array of samples and sounds, is responsible for these excellently crafted beats, with Jill’s vocals laying both on top and comprising certain parts of the tracks’ instrumental elements. “I live for backup vocals,” she gushes. “So Lucas will let me go nuts and then he can filter them through something and they sound like their own instrument, they’ll be the bass of the song, the beat, the melody, whatever.”

New single ‘Jump Hi’ (featuring Childish Gambino) samples Nina Simone’s version of ‘Mr Bojangles’ and is an earworm that’ll no doubt burrow into the ears of many. The rapper came on board in a natural way – they became friends after he asked them to open his show at SXSW. “We’re just kids trying to make some cool stuff that makes us feel good and we think people want,” says Lucas, humbly. “Everyone’s normal.”

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Lion Babe – ‘Jump Hi’ (ft. Childish Gambino)

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It’s all about collaborating, in fact. They’ve got a crew of friends in New York who group together their ideas and creative projects. “I feel like I’m part of this collective of people who are just doing ground-breaking things,” says Jill. “I think of Andy Warhol and Patti Smith and all them, we have our own thing like them.” The above video for ‘Jump Hi’ was directed by their pal Kate Moross – the UK creative who’s worked with everyone from Cadbury to Jessie Ware, and who they met through a Ray-Ban campaign they worked on last year.   

After the ‘Jump Hi’ video ends to a smattering of applause, the New York pair takes the opportunity to play us an exclusive new track, which they reveal was produced by a certain Pharrell Williams

“It was a padawan to the sensei type of experience,” Lucas glows. “We grew up on this guy’s music! He produced so many of the jams before our early teens that we were listening to all the time, so his influence is so much there in us.” Jill nods excitedly: “Before the studio session there was so much pressure. I was like, I have to write the best song ever! But [Pharrell’s] totally no ego, just trying things out. He might be making the weirdest sounds ever for 10 minutes and then all of a sudden you get a beat… he’s just playing! The act of serious play, we saw. A session doesn’t need to be scary.”

Lion Babe’s next priority is formulating a live show. “We’re taking this music we’ve been working on for so long and giving it a new life,” Lucas smiles. “It’s my forte,” Jill chips in confidently. “I think that’s the best part about music – experiencing it live. It’s great to listen to a record by yourself, but it’s best when you really connect.”

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Words: Felicity Martin

Lion Babe online. ‘Jump Hi’ is out now, and the ‘Lion Babe’ EP is released in the UK on December 15thpre-order.  

Previously on Clash: Lion Babe in our Next Wave section

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