‘The first time I ever had hair this big, I was like, “OMG!”’ giggles Jillian Hervey, as she scrunches a piece to further pump up its volume. ‘I did it for a video shoot and it’s just sort of stuck.’ The 26-year-old singer/ songwriter who, with producer Lucas Goodman, makes up New York’s slick, soul-infused R&B duo Lion Babe modestly fails to mention how that video for Treat Me Like Fire went viral, amassing hundred of thousands of views and cementing them as ones to watch.
Since then they’ve opened for hip-hop band The Roots, totted up studio time with Pharrell Williams and count Solange Knowles as a fan. Over her third cappuccino of the day, Hervey talks about what it was like having access to her mum’s wardrobe – Vanessa Williams, AKA Wilhelmina Slater from Ugly Betty – and messing around in the studio with Pharrell.
Growing up, your mum’s wardrobe must have been the dream dressing-up box? ‘It felt like The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. It was like a mystical place. Her glam squad were always around, too. They were like aunts and uncles to me. I used to be like, “Hi, Uncle Oscar,” and now I see he’s doing Nicki Minaj’s hair. It’s so weird.’
You originally trained as a dancer. Did you not want to follow in her footsteps? ‘Singing and acting were her thing. I moved towards dance as it felt like me. I was like, “She might know about musical theatre but I’m going to know about modern dance.”’
So how did you know you could sing? ‘I never really sang for anyone, apart from in the shower or with my best friend. I was shy. I didn’t want to take voice lessons. I knew I could sing but I just didn’t tell anyone.’
Then you met Lucas…‘We met at a party. I liked the music and my friend said, “Oh, that’s Lucas.” I went over to tell him and he said he went by the name Astro Raw on Facebook, so I followed him. Four years later we bumped into each other in New York. I asked him to score a dance piece I was doing and it went from there.’
As a duo how do you make it work? ‘I feel like we’re life partners. We’re very in tune with each other. We don’t hold anything back. We’re both really bad at lying. We can tell straight away if one of us has an issue. It’s good to hear someone else who’s not in your head because that can drive you crazy.’
Your single Wonder Woman was produced by Pharrell Williams. What’s he like? ‘He looks like he’s jumped out of the TV. He’s so polished and his skin is amazing. He’d go into the booth and say random words and even if they weren’t real words, he wouldn’t beat himself up. He reminded us we’re supposed to be having a good time.’
How does your day-to-day style differ to what you wear when you perform? ‘I feel more comfortable performing when I’m wearing something crazy. I grew up in the 90s so I love a choker and platform shoes like the Spice Girls wore. I’m a couture vintage girl. I love pieces from Chanel and Prada that have history. My mum’s old wardrobe is basically the dream.’
And what about your amazing mane?‘I grew up just outside New York City in a very white town. In seventh grade I got called Macy Gray. It really affected me, so I got a weave and wore my hair straight. But when I went to college in the city I saw how everyone was so free and just themselves, so I stopped relaxing my hair and started out with a baby fro. It’s just got bigger and bigger.’
Do you enjoy today’s luminous looks? ‘I don’t think you can go wrong with a dark lip or a cat eye, so when I saw the hot-pink lipstick, I was a little scared. But it works. It’s definitely an escape from normal.’
So what’s next for you two? ‘We’re going back to New York, then LA. We travel so much I never adjust to time zones any more. We’re starting to get recognised, too, which is funny. I feel like we have the coolest fans. They all look like artists.’