This article originally appeared in the Kentucky Kernel.
By Matt Wickstrom
Hailing from Nashville, Judah & The Lion may have one of the most difficult sounds to describe in the music city. The group features a string-heavy instrumental lineup consisting of Judah Akers on guitar, Brian Macdonald on mandolin, Nate Zuercher on banjo and Spencer Cross on drums while also making room for hip-hop, pop and rock n’roll.
The hodge-podge of influences gel together in tales of triumph and happiness on their latest album “Folk Hop N’ Roll” which released in August. According to Akers, the record, produced by Dave Cobb of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Stapleton fame, tries to capture the group’s lightning-in-a-bottle live sound. Cobb also produced the group’s debut record “Like Kids These Days,” which reached number four on Billboard’s Folk Chart.
“We have an interesting circle of influences, so with this record we didn’t want to be held back by our folk instruments,” Akers said.“We threw the banjo through a distortion pedal and guitar amp and I trained rapping for a few songs to give them more of a full sound,” Akers said.
Judah & The Lion’s heartfelt lyrics and relentless touring have garnered them a devout fan base without the help of a major record label. One of the tracks off their latest album, titled “Insane,” delves into the topic of depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts, helping to tackle the stigmas around the issues to help people suffering know they aren’t alone.
“It’s really a call-out to let people suffering know they aren’t alone in it and it’s ok to feel that way,” Akers said. “For us as a band, you have to always be happy or ‘on.’ The last tour when we wrote that song everyone in the band was going through some struggles, whether it be with family back home or having a bummer of a season – having this feeling of not always showing you’re around, feeling insane.”
Playing over 150 shows a year the group lives most of their lives on the road, often having to manufacture their own entertainment as they race from show-to-show. According to Akers, the group recently faced off with fall tour companions The Lonely Biscuits for a kickball game before departing from home. Akers says his time spent touring and being around music has and continues to help him grow in all aspects of his life.
“(Music) has taught me a lot about Jesus and being honest with myself,” Akers said. “Music is so much about discovering who you are as a person, as a musician. I’m constantly growing and evolving and music has influenced so much of that.”
Judah & The Lion kick off their fall tour Wednesday night with The Lonely Biscuits at Memorial Hall in a vote registration drive hosted by the UK Student Activities Board and Student Government Association.