On her second day driving through the bush, Jillian Hervey saw lions. “It was one of those memories that hasn’t left my head.” She is speaking about her trip to South Africa on a frigid, windy day in Manhattan, when I meet her and Lucas Goodman, the other half of Lion Babe. Together, they blend electronica with soul music, often in wild performances. Hervey laughs at herself as she recounts how a lioness locked eyes with her, but I can tell it was an authentic, moving experience. “The way,” she trails off, “I mean, she looked right at me. We had an exchange, I thought.”
When Hervey returned from the safari, she was still more a dancer than musician. “But my work started changing,” she says. “I was interested in animal movement, and my hair was just trying to go natural.” Her dance moves and leonine coiffure remain front-and-center in Lion Babe’s videos and shows; they seem as essential as the playful, slinky music that accompanies.
But to Hervey and Goodman, it seems that more important than any specific attribute of their sound or performance is that they always have the flexibility to express themselves in a genuine way. “A lot of what Lion Babe is is us being really authentic,” Hervey tells me, explaining why they’re releasing their new EP independently. “The industry has a rigid way of doing things, and rightfully so – they’ve been successful from it – but it’s taxing on us as artists when we want to try things and there’s a lack of support.”
“It’s just better,” Goodman agrees. “Life’s way better.”
“Lucas always says when we first started, it’s almost like being freshman. Now we’re sophomores. We’re not scared.”
“We’re not getting locked up on the roof of the poolhouse.” Goodman agrees.
But, Hervey notes, change would’ve come to Lion Babe’s music anyway, because their lives have changed. “A lot of that first stuff was in transition,” she tells me. “I had been with someone forever, since high school. I was just getting over that.”
Love and its repercussions have provided the world with countless hours of entertainment, but Lion Babe don’t dwell on the past, instead using pain as fuel to keep moving forward and growing as artists.
“Music’s a vibe. It’s an energy,” Goodman says. “Heartbreak vibes, it comes out whether you want it to or not. It’s what’s going on. Take it in and regurgitate it out and move through your process.”
I ask about that process. Hervey explains, “The goal is to find a great concept first, because that opens the gates. But a lot of times it doesn’t work that way.”
“You can always freestyle to a certain extent,” adds Goodman.
It makes sense, hearing this, that Lion Babe sounds like both contemporary EDM and classic R&B – having ossified ideas about yourself constrains self-expression. And it also doesn’t surprise me when this wilderness-named band agrees that the city is just as vital to their music: is there any place more multigenre, more unpremeditated, more authentic than New York? (In the minds of New Yorkers, at least, it’s incontestable.) “Our life is here,” says Hervey. “Inspiration is coming from here. You’re creating that vibe then you go outside and it matches, almost.”
Written by Kevin Zambrano
Photographer: Guy Lowndes
Stylist: Rima Vaidila for The Rex Agency
Hair: Larry Sims for Forward Artists
Makeup: Paul Blanch for Opus Beauty using Nars Cosmetics
Styling Assistant: Asya Varetsa