Once upon a time, a few college kids from Nashville, Tenn. started a small folk band. This band would skyrocket into fame as Judah and The Lion. In 2017, they released their hit song, “Take It All Back” on their “Folk Hop N’ Roll” album. Nate Zuercher, the band’s banjo player and contributing song writer, spoke with the San Francisco Foghorn about Judah and The Lion’s journey from small venues and opening for Twenty One Pilots to headlining their very own tour. Judah and The Lion played The Fillmore, Feb. 12, with The Colony House on their “Folk Hop N’ Roll” tour.
How did Judah and the lion form? How did you all meet?
NZ: Judah, Brian and I met at Belmont University in Nashville, I guess just a little over six years ago now. Brian and I were both in the music program studying banjo, guitar, and mandolin respectively. Judah heard about us and he had written some songs and he wanted to see what they felt like with folk instruments. So he called me through a mutual friend, ‘cause we had never met before, but I knew Brian a little bit, so I brought him along. We just had a jam session, which is relatively common to happen around our school. But when we got together and started playing a couple of his songs, it was very, very obvious there was a connection there, more so than I’ve ever felt, and they’d probably say the same thing. About a month later, I sat down with Judah after we played a couple more times and presented the idea of pursuing this as a band, as opposed to – I think he was just planning on recording a couple of songs for fun. But I tried to convince him to just go for it. Brian was in the same mindset. We started pursuing all that, recorded a CD, and started touring as much as we could. And six years later, here we are.
Your music is very different from most artists, as you pull from many different genres. Do you think that made it difficult to break into the music scene and build a solid fan base?
NZ: It definitely caused its own set of obstacles, I guess. We started out as a pretty straight-forward folk band for the first couple of years, following after Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers. It wasn’t too hard to get some traction. But the more that we wrote together and played together, we realized we didn’t want to be just a folk band. We all grew up playing different instruments and being influenced by different styles. We felt like we needed to try to encompass all those things, instead of staying in one track. So when we started the “Folk Hop N’ Roll” record, almost two years ago, that was maybe when we started to get a little bit of pushback. And I think that’s because the fans we already had didn’t like that we changed at first. Hopefully they’ve come back on board. We really found what we were looking for, as far as what we wanted to sound like. I think we’ll continue to change and progress as we grow, but I think where we are at right now feels more like us than we’ve ever been. I’m really proud of that sound and I’m really thankful that so many people have come on board and enjoyed it.
Having influences from rock ‘n’ roll, to hip-hop, who has really had an impact on your band as a whole?
NZ: There’s so many between all of us, but I think Twenty One Pilots has been most influential, as far as they use a lot of different styles. We’ve gotten to see them so many times, through touring, but also in Nashville, when they played for like 50 people back in 2011. Having been on their last big tour, playing in arenas, it was just a really amazing transformation, following along and getting to know them a bit. So as far as how they run their business, and handle a lot of their situations, its been really cool to ask questions and learn from that, but also find hope in that they don’t really fit into any rules or boundaries in how they sound either. It’s been a big encouragement to see that there can be success in that – by just being who you want to be and doing what you want to do.
Do you guys write all your own songs? If so, what does that writing process look like?
NZ: Yeah we write all our own music. It’s really different between every song. For “Take It All Back,” we were at a rehearsal and we were burnt out on running through all the different logistics. We just decided to start jamming on something, so I started playing this riff that came to my head. It ended up being the main “Take It All Back” riff, and in 30 minutes – maybe even less – we all were like, “That’s the song, we love it. This feels great. Let’s play it at our shows.” I think we played it for a year and half before we released it on that record. It became our anthem that everyone was really hungry for. Then “Suit and Jacket” was a song Judah had been wrestling with for a year and a half, like really trying to figure out the lyrics. He sent us a couple demos and we went in the studio over a year ago now and used that as our base point and built around it. We all try to be involved in some capacity, but sometimes it’s one person bringing an idea or a demo or just jamming and it comes together. But we just serve the song in the way it needs to be served and do our best to collaborate. There’s not really a set way we do things.
What message do you want to send to your fans every night on tour?
NZ: We hope that we can create an environment where people can feel welcome and wanted. Music is so cool because it brings everyone together and breaks down barriers no matter where you’re from or what you believe in, your history, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. Also, we want to give people the reminder that hope is real and that there are good things in this world. There is so much darkness in this world, and we want to be people that encourage each other to treat people right.