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  • Writer's pictureJ. S. Eiland

Judah & The Lion Interview (2015)

We are so stoked about 2016! We are really excited to get out on this headlining tour and play the newest songs live. We couldn’t be more pumped to play songs from the new album. I think the fans are really going to like them. – Spencer Cross on Judah & The Lion’s upcoming headlining tour.

Judah & the Lion began in 2011 when front man Judah Akers met Nate Zuercher, Brian Macdonald, and Spencer while attending Belmont University in Nashville. Now with their second full-length album months away from release and their first headlining tour set to begin on the twelfth of February, Judah & the Lion are poised for a breakout 2016. It seems the sky could be but a stepping-stone for these raucous renegades. I caught up with drummer and Knoxville native, Spencer Cross to gain a first-hand look inside Tennessee’s hottest band.

The first leg of the tour is made up of only four dates, two of which are being hosted by the Bijou Theatre. Show number one goes to Memphis on the February 12th. Number two goes to the hometown, Nashville on the 13th. Shows three and four go to us her in Knoxville, the first of which is Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day to follow. Folk Hop N Roll releases on March 4th, launching the second leg of a tour spanning the country over two full months with a spot at Bonnaroo capping it off. However it is the coming weeks that Spencer was really gearing up for when we spoke.

SC: It’s a dream come true for me. I know it’s a dream for everybody. I think it may be our first back-to-back shows in the same city. It’s really exciting and kind of unreal in a way. I grew up going to the Bijou Theatre and seeing acts there now to be able to play there and then to be able to play there twice. That is a true honor. Knoxville is one of our biggest fan bases for sure and so it was probably on our radar from the gitgo, but I still have to pinch myself a little bit. It’s crazy! I was born and raised in Knoxville. I lived in the same house for eighteen years; my parents still live there. I’m a Tennessee boy through and through.

OP: All of you seem to have met in a rather haphazard way.

SC: I knew Brian and Judah before the band even started. I lived in the same dorm with Brian and they had started the band and I had just kind of heard about them. We all went to school together at Belmont in Nashville and they were trying out for this showcase series that they do at Belmont. So they decided to get a drummer and they hadn’t even really heard me play that much before so they were kind of taking a risk, but they asked me and it worked out and now that was three and a half years ago. I guess they had the band for a several months, so it was right near the beginning. I feel like that is how we approach a lot of stuff, we like to get creative and just kind of mess around and see what happens. Judah had a couple songs he had written and just wanted to see how they would sound with the banjo. Then Nate was like well I got this really good friend who is really good at mandolin so lets bring him on and it was just kind of magic.

Spencer Cross - Brian MacDonald - Judah Akers - Nate Zuercher

The new album is worlds away from the band’s past albums. Where the Sweet Tennessee EP (2013) and Kids These Days (2014) are a traditionally energetic sound, 2016’s Folk Hop N Roll takes that bluegrass instrumentation and frenetic style on a journey through hip-hop, electronic, and classic rock influences: Ultimately introducing a sound all it’s own.

SC: I love when bands just naturally evolve as life happens and the fans evolve right along with them. I think about some bands that I follow that change from record to record and it is a little hard at first when you hear the record but you kind of grow to love it and kind of grow along with the band. So I think we’re still very true to ourselves, but you know life happens and things change and as things change the music changes and there is a little bit different feel but you know it’s still Judah and the Lion.

OP: What is Folk Hop N Roll?

SC: We thought it really encapsulated our band and this particular set of songs. Something really unique about us is we all have very different tastes in music. Growing up some of us liked hard rock, some of us liked hip-hop, and some of us liked everything from Billy Joel to Chicago to Fifty Cent. So we have a lot of different influences coming in and I think with this record we really wanted to embody that and just do what we wanted and not be afraid of any kind of genre-bending.

OP: What’s your favorite track?

SC: That’s good question. As the process has happened there were songs in the beginning that I was like “oh this is my favorite song” and then it just changes week by week as to which song is your favorite. I think it is because they are all so different. You know some of them you could group together maybe, but they are all so different that I kind of found myself flowing through and one will be my favorite one week and another one will be the next. I don’t know I think they are just so different that it is easy to pick a new favorite and none of them are really toss outs or anything like that. The one that we’ve been jamming in rehearsals for a little while that’s feeling really good live is a song called Insane. I think it really embodies what I was talking about. Being true to yourself and being honest with yourself. And I think that song has kind of become a little bit of an anthem for us and we can’t wait to play it live and hear the crowd sing it. So that is probably my favorite right now.

Producer Dave Cobb, who has credits on Kids These Days as well, bought into the band’s creative drive. He made the goal of the sessions to be capturing the energy of the band’s live show along with their myriad influences. To do this he gave Spencer and the rest of the band only two weeks in the studio to record and mix all ten songs.

SC: It was awesome! It was incredible. It was challenging at times. I think Dave was able to provide this new direction that we are really excited about. The thing is he really just wants to get your songs out there in the best way possible. He is not there to do his thing he is there to help you. It’s funny, I think going in we had a couple of songs that we had a certain vision for then the juices would start flowing and he would be like hey why don’t we check out this Beastie Boys song or lets pull out this old Prince song. We would listen to it and he would kind of want us to get in that vibe and it would take us in a whole new direction that we never would have thought possible but it would turn out to be awesome. His knowledge is so wide. He just pulled all these artists that some of us had never even heard of and was able to provide this whole new soundscape.

OP: Dave has produced two very different and very creative albums with you, does that mean he is your man for future records?

SC: I don’t know that is a great question. We’re kind of just taking it album by album. But I can’t even tell you how awesome it is to work with him and how happy we are with what we’ve done with him. So he is the man for sure. Every album is just so different. I feel like one thing we always want to do, and did with this album, is to really be true to ourselves and play from the heart. Then see what we’re feeling and not get to too bogged down by different voices no matter where they come from. Just being honest with ourselves and putting the songs out that we think we should.

In final preparation for Judah & the Lion spending two nights here in Knoxville I thought it appropriate to leave everyone with a few tidbits directly from Spencer:

For a mosh pit to break out at our shows? That’s how we know we’ve made it.

Atlanta is always a really rowdy time. We all have that date eyed on our calendar.

I actually haven’t ever been to Bonnaroo.

You can expect that wherever we’re playing we’re gonna give everything we have.

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