By MIKE CHAIKEN
What a difference a year makes.
As Judah and the Lion’s banjo player Nate Zuercher explained it, this time last year, the Nashville-based band had no idea what the coming year held for them. They didn’t even know what life held for them beyond a spring tour.
This year, as Nate called from Nashville, Judah and the Lion’s track “Take It Back,” from their latest album “Folk Hope N Roll,” was due to land at the top of the charts.
Additionally, Nate said, the group was preparing to record a new EP. The group was rehearsing for its upcoming tour opening for Twenty One Pilots, which stops in Connecticut on Jan. 18. And the group was prepping for a Jan. 12 nationally televised performance on “Conan.”
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Nate of the sudden success of the band, which also includes Judah Akers on vocals and guitars, Brian MacDonald on mandolin, and Spencer Cross on drums. “I still can’t believe it.”
When Judah and the Lion first launched, said Nate, there was the hope the group would excel. The band members knew when they met Judah they had found someone special, said Nate. But the members didn’t know if success for the band would follow.
“We didn’t know it would work,” said Nate. “And it could end any day.”
Initially, Judah and the Lion was a faith music band. Nate said the songs Judah had already written when the band launched were worship songs. And that’s what the band initially performed, he said. However, Nate said the band also found faith-based music was too restrictive in terms of content.
When the group as a whole began to write together, said Nate, the focus began to shift. The emphasis is still finding the positive in the world and offering hope, said Nate. But now, he said, the band is writing about love, pain, struggles, and addiction as well. “Things everyone goes through,” saidNate.
Judah and the Lion’s latest album is called “Folk Hop N Roll.” The title succinctly details the sound of the band, which offers a combination of folk music, hip hop, and rock and roll.
All four musicians already shared an interest in folk music when they gathered, said Nate. However, Judah—for instance—grew up listening to hip hp music. And Nate himself was a “huge metal and punk kid.”
Nate said he discovered acoustic music when his father decided he couldn’t stand listening to the loud music Nate listened to. In particular, Nate said the Jon Butler Trio ignited his interested in acoustic music. And Butler’s ability on the acoustic guitar stunned him. And when he heard Butler play a banjo, that was it. Nate fell in love with a new instrument.
The diversified sound of Judah and the Lion was an organic evolution based on the simple principle of playing what excited them, said Nate.
Judah and the Lion have been tapped to open for Twenty One Pilots. And they will have the task of trying to win over an audience waiting for the headliners.
“We are excited for that chance,” said Nate.
“Their fan base is relatively young– as is ours,” said Nate. And like Judah and the Lion, Twenty One Pilots is genre-bending band that emphasizes the importance of a great performance.
“I’m hoping people will be receptive,” said Nate.
Until now, Judah and the Lion has performed primarily in theaters and clubs. The Twenty One Pilots tour finds the group setting up shop in cavernous arenas.
“It’s going to be a journey,” said Nate when asked how the band has adapted its show for such a large venue. “We don’t really know what we’re doing (to address the larger venue)…”
One aspect the band will need to get used to is “you can’t see a lot of people in an arena (beyond the first few rows).”
As for the impending EP from Judah and the Lion, Nate said the group is still in the process of figuring out what songs will be on the record. Some of the material has been written since “Folk Hop N Roll” was released. However, the band also is revisiting a track from their first album, “Kids These Days.” “It’s kind of cool,” said Nate, “this is the first time we (revisited an older song).”
The hope, said Nate, is to release the new EP in the next few months.
Judah and the Lion opens for Twenty One Pilots on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.
For more information, go to JudahandTheLion. com or WebsterBankArena. com