The fresh-faced foursome that is Judah & the Lion is currently sprawled out in Bryant Park, ready to discuss their recently released sophomore album. With a banjo, a mandolin and some quirky, improvised rapping, Judah Akers, Brian MacDonald, Nate Zuercher and Spencer Cross have created a genre-bending sound dubbed Folk Hop n’Roll.
“When we first started, we had the mandolin and banjo and loved folk music. It made sense to play folk music with top hats, suspenders–the whole get-up,” Banjo player Nate Zuercher says of the band’s origins. “After a while we realized that we come from such different musical backgrounds–why not incorporate that?”
The album came after a two month stint supporting alt-rockers Twenty One Pilots on their Emotional Roadshow World Tour earlier this year. “Twenty One Pilots have the best fans. It was such a blast touring with them. Their fans would get to the shows really early so we always had full arenas to play for which was cool as an opener,” Mandolin player Brian MacDonald says of the experience.
“Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun [of Twenty One Pilots] really led by example on tour. We learned so much about what it takes to put on a show of that size and caliber,” drummer Spencer Cross adds. “Towards the end Tyler came over to us and gave us some real Dad wisdom. He told us to just keep going and that we were doing great; it was really sweet.”
When prompted to share a memorable moment from the tour, Aker chimes in immediately. “We were in Memphis, Tennessee. Twenty One Pilots has this part in their set where either Tyler or Josh climb into a red hamster ball and essentially crowd surf. Tyler pulls me in a few minutes before and tells me how I’m going to do it,” Aker explains. “It sounded scary but I did it. I fell down a few times. It felt like I was out there forever but really it lasted maybe 15 seconds.”
Since crowdsurfing in a hamster ball, Judah & the Lion have released a deluxe version of their album including four additional tracks. “For me, I love these four new songs and they give new life into the record,” Zuercher says. “They resonate with our fans really well and breathe new life into the live shows.”
Of their biggest hit at the moment, “Take it All Back,” lyricist Aker says the song may be simple in nature, but it’s a representation of the band as a whole waking up to the fact that their success should be about their love for making music in its purest form. “We played the David Letterman Show really early on in our career. That taste of success made us realize that we always want to make music for the right reasons. “Take it All Back” is us taking it back to why we started. We love making something that’s unique and honest but also life-giving and helpful for other people.”
With Father’s Day fast approaching, Zuercher adds some words of wisdom from his own dad saying, “My dad always says, that you gotta stop saying ‘if I do something’ and start saying, ‘when I do something.’”
Although it’s clear that these guys were meant to be making music together, my curiosity gets the best of me and I ask about what they would be doing if not performing in Judah & the Lion. “I’ve already decided what we’d all be doing if we weren’t in a band. They have no choice in the matter. I would roast coffee. I’d wake up at five and go to my shop. Judah would be a fashion designer. Nate would be an extreme helicopter pilot that works for Redbull or something. Brian would be a professional surfer/tree climber,” Cross confidently rattles off the band’s hypothetical careers.