Singer-songwriter Jillian Hervey and musician-producer Lucas Goodman, collectively known as Lion Babe, make art out of having great chemistry. Anytime one speaks, the other member effortlessly finishes the other’s comment and vice versa. Together, the iconoclastic Interscope Records duo express their conjoined admiration for a tequila-based cocktail on a coffee table garnished with a King of Pops popsicle. The next minute, the pair passionately recalls opportunities they’ve landed with a few of their musical peers.
Lion Babe, whose name stems from Goodman’s zodiac symbol and Hervey’s trademark hairstyle, rest comfortably on a plush gray sofa in one of the Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway Hotel’s executive suites. They enthusiastically reflect on how their synergy became so fluid.
“We’re in it together and not trying to outshine each other,” Hervey says about 30 minutes before Lion Babe take center stage at the hotel’s grand opening party. “It makes it work easier.”
Lion Babe’s musical output is an exhilarated intermingling of funk, R&B, soul, hip-hop, electronica and pop. The “Treat Me Like Fire,” “She’s a Lady” and “Rockets” group’s 2014 self-titled EP and their 2016 debut album Begin (ranked #3 in Albumism’s Best Albums of 2016) were not created by any premeditated process. “It’s a lot of freestyling and just trying to capture a moment, but we usually can tell when something sparks,” Goodman, who produces under the pseudonym Astro Raw, confirms.
In the studio, Goodman, who cut his teeth producing tracks out of his Northeastern University dorm room, may play a track or tinker with some chords. Hervey, the daughter of entertainer Vanessa Williams and manager Ramon Hervey, then comes to the table with an improvised melody or hook.
The intuitive twosome’s creative process, Hervey says, thrives on trial-and-error. “You have to go on what you’re feeling in the moment and what works,” she says. “We don’t try to stress ourselves out too much.”
Lion Babe was born out of Hervey and Goodman connecting at a party. Goodman, a former intern at Truth and Soul Records, was curating the playlist from his iPod. Five years passed before they would first collaborate. A dancer who studied at The New School with aspirations to be part of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater, Hervey contacted Goodman for an original composition to accompany a performance.
Blessed with a jazzy, honey-flavored voice combined with an affinity for ‘60s and ‘70s soul, Hervey, who frequently writes lyrics and ideas in journals, married her talents with Goodman’s musicianship. Goodman had never worked with a singer before, and Hervey had never been guided by a producer. The chanteuse typically finds out about current music and artists through Goodman, who binge-listens to Southern trap music.
What improved quickly, the pair agrees, was their approach to songwriting. “We are both passionate and patient with each other,” a glowing Hervey declares peppered with gold glitter around her eyes. “We both were really learning about song structure and how to make that work.”
Lion Babe’s style of alternative music caught the attention of multi-talented entertainer Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) in 2013 at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner invited Hervey and Goodman to open for him on tour, even lending them a verse on their soulful “Jump Hi.”
Glover’s ambition and versatility really resonated with Lion Babe. “He’s a like mind and very creative,” Hervey says of the Atlanta lead actor and creator, as she rubs the leg of her royal blue flared jumpsuit. “If he’s passionate about something, he makes it happen. Obviously, we apply that to music.”
The duo continued to land chance meetings with their idols. Hervey performed for producer/DJ Mark Ronson in London at his recording studio. The duo’s confidence catapulted once more when producer Pharrell Williams became a fan, too. After seeing one of their videos on YouTube, the Grammy winner and Oscar nominee flew Lion Babe down to Miami, gave them some music on a USB flash drive, and encouraged them to come up with songs.
The Neptunes co-founder contributed his ear to the empowering “Wonder Woman.” For Hervey, Williams’ endorsement of Lion Babe’s sound was the ultimate compliment. Her voice, especially, found a new register. “It made me experiment with a whole different side of what I was doing. It was awesome,” she says. Hervey adds, “When you know someone like [Pharrell] is supporting and guiding you, then you’re able to take more risks.”
Goodman was in awe to watch the “Happy” singer work behind the recording console. Calling Williams both “a master and wizard,” a mousse-haired Goodman, dressed dapper in a plum-and-black ensemble, reflected on the Virginia native’s easygoing demeanor, adding how Williams’ mentorship and recommendations about production were very helpful. “To meet someone who is just so cool, chilled and a regular dude is awesome,” Goodman says leaning forward on the sofa.
At showtime, Hervey seductively works downstage, occasionally cooling off with an Asian-designed fan or standing under an umbrella. Goodman, to Hervey’s left, is flanked by electronic drum pads, synthesizers, an electric guitar, a sequencer, a MacBook Pro and a tambourine. While Hervey works the crowd, Goodman rhythmically rocks his head and body according to the tempo.
Aside from their free-flowing, high-octane performances, the key to Lion Babe’s interpersonal chemistry on wax, they insist, is transparency.
“You’ve got to be honest about everything,” Hervey says. “It will go a long way. We’re respectful, and we trust each other. I want him to do the best work he wants to do and can do. I want to push him, and he wants to push me.”