Years before forming one of Nashville’s most genre-bending bands, the members of Judah & the Lion grew up in separate corners of the U.S., listening to every type of music that came their way. They loved it all: the twang of folk, the beat of hip-hop, the drive of rock & roll, the punch of pop. Later, after college brought all four musicians to Tennessee, it only made sense to combine those different backgrounds — and different sounds — together.
With their second full-length album, ‘Folk Hop N Roll,’ the guys shine a light on the place where their influences overlap. It’s a wide-ranging sound, with fuzz bass, hip-hop percussion, distorted banjo riffs, and super-sized melodies all stirred into the same mixing pot.
“There’s no boundaries,” says frontman Judah Akers, who shares the band’s lineup with drummer Spencer Cross, mandolin player Brian Macdonald, and banjo wiz Nate Zuercher. “We wanted to make something raw, something with attitude. We all grew up loving these hip-hop beats, so why not make an album that has the grit of Run DMC or Beastie Boys, along with all the folk instruments that we play?”
Like ‘Kids These Days’ — the band’s debut record, which climbed to number four on the Billboard Folk Chart and number two on the genre-wide Heatseekers chart after its release in September 2014 — ‘Folk Hop N Roll’ was produced by award winner Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton). Cobb captured the band’s new songs in a series of quick, inspired takes, aiming for performances that sounded real and raw rather than polished and perfect. Everything was done in just two weeks. The goal was to fuel the album with the same electricity that fills the band’s live show.
An independent band whose success has arrived not on the back of some big-budget major label, but through the band’s own touring, Judah & the Lion have built a large, loyal fanbase on the road. They played 150 shows in 2015 alone, stretching their gigs all across America and Scandinavia. Along the way, they shared stages with artists like Mat Kearney, Drew Holcomb, and Ben Rector. That sort to drive — the commitment to chasing down their dreams, one encore at a time — also fuels the lyrics that appear on ‘Folk Hop N Roll,’ a record whose songs spin stories of struggle, triumph, and all points in between.
“This record was made for the live show,” Akers promises. “Our shows are all about the experience we share with our fans. We know that people work everyday jobs or go to school, and they’re dealing with life, and yet they’re still choosing to spend the night with us. We don’t take that lightly. We give them an experience. We throw an absolute rage. And all the songs were made with that in mind. They’re fun, carefree, and youthful, and we live our lives that way, too.”
Anthemic and wildly creative, ‘Folk Hop N Roll’ is unlike anything else in modern music. It’s a rule-breaking record, with Judah & the Lion creating a sound that belongs entirely to them. From the earthy stomp of roots music to the bold bounce of hip-hop, ‘Folk Hop N Roll’ casts a wide net, proof that Judah & the Lion — who are now four releases into their career — have developed quite the roar.