Lion Babe, an experimental soul duo from New York’s Lower East Side, is gearing up for an R&B takeover in 2015. The group is made up of producer and multi-instrumentalist Lucas Goodman, 26, and singer-songwriter Jillian Hervey, 25, who also happens to be Vanessa Williams’ daughter and whose gorgeous, wild hair is fiercer than a jungle queen. The duo first sprung onto the scene in 2012 with the catchy single “Treat Me Like Fire,” but quickly nabbed a label deal and vanished into the studio for the last 18 months.
Lion Babe will fete the EP’s release with a listening party in New York on Tuesday, before heading back into the studio to polish their debut album, due out next summer. Details on the full-length project are largely under wraps, but the pair tell Billboard it was produced with an all-star team that includes Pharrell Williams, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Wyatt, and TV on the Radio‘s Dave Sitek, among others.
BIG BREAK: After meeting through a mutual friend, the duo released “Treat Me Like Fire” in December 2012. During SXSW the following March, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) reached out and asked them to open for him. They got a record deal with Interscope that summer, and kept in touch with Glover (“He’s the homie,” Goodman says) who guests on the lead single, “Jump Hi,” from their self-titled debut EP, out Dec. 15.
ORIGINS: Hervey, the daughter of singer-actress Vanessa Williams and Ramon Hervey, pursued a career in dance before Goodman encouraged her to try a soulful style of singing similar to Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu. Something clicked. “That voice I sing with now, I didn’t know I had that,” Hervey says. Goodman started producing in his dorm room at Northeastern University before moving back to New York and interning at retro-minded Truth & Soul Records. There, he found a vinyl version of Eunice Collins’ “At the Hotel 1974” and sampled it for “Treat Me Like Fire.” “That’s a rare record,” he says. “That song was never digitally reissued so the only way you were going to get it was if you bought the 45.”
INSPIRATIONS: “My parents showed me so much old soul,” Hervey says, pointing to classic vocalists like Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Tina Turner and Chaka Khan. Goodman, who studied beatmakers like J Dilla, Flying Lotus and Timbaland — “Their techniques were like magic to me,” he says — tries to bring funk and soul into a modern context. Theit ultimate goal is to create an iconic performance and music brand similar to Prince or Iggy Pop.
BEHIND THE NAME: Hervey and Goodman say the name Lion Babe has taken on more meaning over time. It stemmed from Lucas’ horoscope sign (Leo) and Hervey’s outrageously awesome hairstyle. “We wanted there to be a certain duality, like there is with Blondie,” Hervey said. “With me as the frontwoman, you might think I’m Lion Babe, but it’s like, no, we’re Lion Babe. We liked that.” Hervey said the name also embodies her personal philosophy about music and art. “It’s about embracing your uniqueness,” she said, “and rocking it.”
An edited version of this article first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of Billboard.