24 Minutes with Judah and the Lion
Judah and the Lion. (Chloe Horseman Photo)
With their second full-length album, ‘Folk Hop N Roll’, Nashville-based Judah and the Lion have created a new genre: Folk Hop. Joe Leary spent 24 Minutes with guitarist and lead singer Judah Akers, drummer Spencer Cross and banjo player Nate Zuercher.
Vancouver is a long way from Nashville. Are the cities alike at all?
JA: I think the people here remind me of Nashville people a lot. Very kind, warm, welcoming always waving and striking up conversations.
What have you noticed generally about Canadian people?
SC: It feels like they seem very sweet. A little more chilled out than Americans. It’s been really pleasant. We really feel at home here.
Nashville is certainly more than just a country music town.
JA: It’s got this synergy wrapped around music and songwriting and a lot of amazing songwriters that are doing the indie thing. It’s kind of cool how the town has this indie alternative market and this huge country market and they kind of feed off each other.
I’ve always felt that banjo and mandolin are two undervalued and under-appreciated instruments, certainly beyond bluegrass music. What attracted you to those instruments initially and did you all grow up embedded in that sound?
JA: It’s kind of funny. My hometown of Cookeville, Tenn. is kind of a small, not rural town but it’s got kind of a country feel so I grew up around these instruments and bluegrass music pretty much my whole life. I was more into rock music when I was writing these songs. So when I called Nate, I was in a position where I felt that I had these songs that I was writing that didn’t really fit this rock thing that I was trying to do. And the first day together with these guys, it was just like going back to what you know from your roots and it just kind of worked.
SC: This music was in my roots as well. I’m from Knoxville, Tenn., which is a couple of hours east of Nashville. And kind of similar to Judah, its music I had grown up around.
NZ: I’m from Colorado, and there’s a big bluegrass scene there, but I didn’t get so much into that until high school. I was actually more of a punk and metal fan. My dad got sick of hearing loud, metal guitars all the time. And he said to try and figure out some guitar players that were a little easier to listen to but still shredding. So we found John Butler and Nickel Creek and they were just killing it, so I got really excited about that. I got a banjo as a gift when I graduated high school and dove more and more into the bluegrass world.
Does it surprise you that your musical concept – whatever you envisioned it to be – has blown up to the point where your now earning rave reviews from influential sources and selling out concert venues?
JA: Yeah. Honestly, when we first started the band we were kind of recording songs so our friends could hear them and our moms could listen to our music. And now that we’re in Vancouver talking to you and playing these two nights at the Orpheum. You just kind of have to take a step back and be thankful for all that’s happened. As for venues, it’s kind of apparent when you walk in just how beautiful it is. You can tell just how historic it is.
Life has certainly taken you in a different direction Judah. You went to University to play baseball. Do you still play any?
JA: We actually still play a lot in Nashville. It’s more like pickup just to go out and have fun. I played first base and was a designated hitter pretty much in my freshman and sophomore years. I was pretty much there to hit. The first day there they were pretty much like, “Yeah, you don’t really have much of an arm but we like the way you hit.”
When you guys play baseball for laughs does he pretty much put the rest of you guys to shame?
SC: I hold my own (laughs)…No, he completely demolishes us but we have a couple of other friends that are pretty good so we can even out teams.