When Judah & the Lion emerged into the Athens music scene, they took it by storm. Virtually unknown to most, the boys swept in selling out numerous shows and gaining more and more fans every time they paid a visit. One listen, and you can hear the influence of each of their youths. Judah Akers in his Tennessee hometown, listening to the soulful crackle of Ray Charles records. Nate Zuercher, a Colorado kid into rugged rock’n’roll, and Brian Macdonald driving through the suburbs of Chicago, blasting everything from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel. The fusing of these sounds works and is near perfection when their shared obsession of bluegrass, country, and folk music is thrown in the mix.
Last time we spoke to the boys of J&L, they were in town performing at AthFest 2014 and getting ready to spend the summer touring their new album, Kids These Days. When we saw the band on Hulaween’s lineup, we jumped at the opportunity to catch up with them on all things Judah & the Lion. Brian Macdonald took a couple of minutes to chat about the creative process and inspirations for the new album, being on tour, and, of course, their upcoming Halloween performance at Hulaween.
Vinyl Mag: First off, I just have to tell you guys that I love the name of your band. Could you share with us where the name originated from?
Brian Macdonald: Thanks! We really love the symbol of a lion. Makes us think of strength, courage, confidence, etc. Also paired that with the ‘lion of the tribe of Judah’ from the Bible, and the fact that our frontman’s name is Judah. It just kinda felt right, and we went with it!
VM: Last time we spoke, it was the beginning of summer, and there was anticipation for your new album, Kids These Days. What has Judah & the Lion been up to these past four months or so, and what have been some of your favorite moments – whether on the road, meeting/talking with fans, overall acceptance, and excitement over the new album, etc – been since the release of the album?
BM: Over the summer, we did a lot of touring here and there. We got to go out and open for The Oh Hellos for a couple weeks, which was awesome….love them. Other than that, just played festivals here and there, all the while anticipating the release of Kids These Days. We are thrilled with everything since the release. People have responded very well to the album. We are currently in the middle of our first headlining tour, and the shows are going great. It’s really encouraging for us to have fans showing up to these shows, singing the songs. It never gets old. We have had some great openers coming along with us too, Penny and Sparrow, Morningsiders, Cereus Bright…and more to come, Joseph and Little Chief. It’s been a dream come true!
VM: This album is extremely relatable and even described as ‘a collection of stories about being young, about finding your way, while discovering yourself.’ Could you describe for us your creative process and where you drew inspiration from?
BM: We really wanted the songs on this album to be relatable. Stories and ideas that our fans could really grab a hold of and say, ‘that describes my life right now perfectly.’ With that, we really just wrote and picked songs that were about our lives and things that we are experiencing right now. That consists of being young, in our twenties, full of life, poor, passionate, in love, etcetera.
VM: In addition to your amazing songwriting abilities, you are also all brilliant performers. Being on tour and playing a good amount of intimate venues, how does preparation for the band’s performance differ from say at venue like the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, NC, to a festival set a Hulaween?
BM: Each city is so special and different to us. We love the intimate shows, really being able to connect with our fans. Festivals are very different, but in a good way. There is always a ton of energy and excitement for any kind of live music. This allows us to really let loose and have fun in a place where everybody may not be as familiar with our music. We are really excited for Hulaween. We hear it is a super fun festival and can’t wait to be a part of it!
VM: What are you looking forward to the most about your upcoming performance at Hulaween?
BM: We’re just pumped that the show is on Halloween day! That opens up so many possibilities. I think it’s gonna be a really fun time…being on the road, I honestly don’t know that we will have a chance to spend a lot of time getting costumes together….but you better believe that we will pull something together the day of…it would be lame if we didn’t attempt!
VM: Are there any bands/artists in particular you are looking forward to seeing the most at this year’s Hulaween?
BM: Well, we are flying in right before the show and leaving right after, which stinks…. we have a couple shows in Texas right around that festival, so it’s gonna be a lot of traveling for us. I don’t think we will get much of a chance to see any other sets unfortunately!
VM: The venue itself is absolutely incredible and special. Are there any parts of the venue and/or grounds you are excited to see and explore after you arrive?
BM: Haven’t heard too much about it yet…just rumors that it is a special festival. I’m hoping there’s a haunted house somewhere close. I’d love to get a good scare before we go on stage to get me pumped up!
It all started when a much younger Jackie dove into her parents’ record collection, grabbed that trippy Magical Mystery Tour album, and played “Strawberry Fields” over and over again until it was engrained into her soul. She grew up on the dreams and stories of Simon and Garfunkel, “Bleeker Street” being one of her favorites, the seduction of The Doors, Van Morrison, because “Brown Eyed Girl” is definitely her song, and the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Jimi Hendrix…you get the picture. It may not show on the outside, but Jackie has a hippie heart, and that reflects in her musical tastes today. While some of her favorites may or may not be jam bands, her taste in music feeds into many genres. From alternative, Brit, and indie rock - OK, maybe all rock - to pop, to rap, to electronic, she loves it all. As a northerner, she thought she would never understand country until she found herself on a Georgia farm in cowboy boots watching Luke Bryan shake it for her- yeah, she got that. She is a chronic wanderluster, she doesn't believe in guilty pleasures, enjoys a great Moscow Mule, and is an absolute music festival fanatic- you’ll find her wherever the music takes her.