Judah and the Lion are a trio, but they’ll tour with a bigger band than that and it will surprise you. While Kids These Days fits the mold of a lot of the folk sounds on your AAA dial, Judah, Brian and Nate will use a banjo and a mandolin to break out a hip-hop cover for a live audience, as well.
Nate Zuercher, the band’s banjoist and backing vocalist, spoke to Weld about the Baylor Homecoming parade, camping at Bonnaroo and “folk-hop.”
Weld: Are you guys from Nashville originally?
Nate Zuercher: No, we all went to school there. We’re from all over the country, though. Brian [Macdonald, mandolin] is from Colorado and I’m from Colorado Springs. Judah [Akers, lead vocalist] is from Cookeville, Tennessee.
Weld: I saw a recent photo of you guys participating in the Baylor Homecoming parade. How did that happen?
NZ: I’m not sure how the initial connection occurred, but they asked us to play down there on Homecoming, and we played outside on campus. Someone had the idea to give us our own float, which is just, like, a U-Haul trailer. But we got to ride through the thing. We got a small PA and a drum machine and just made a bunch of noise and yelled at people — joyfully [Laughs] — just trying to get them to come out and being dumb and having fun. We had some good friends down there that we got to stay with and have a good time with, so it was a really good day.
Weld: You guys went to Belmont, which isn’t a football school, but Baylor certainly is – are you big football fans?
NZ: We are. Judah is a bit UT fan, obviously, being from Tennessee. Brian roots for the Bears and I’m a big Broncos fan. We all kind of enjoy it. I was in Kansas City all weekend and I sat around all day Saturday watching a bunch of games and all day Sunday watching the Broncos and the NFL. I don’t know if it’s as much for Brian, but Judah and I like to spend our weekends and our free time chilling and watching football together.
Weld: Kids These Days fits into a lot of places – I’ve seen it get some love from CMT Edge and it also kind of fits into a AAA format. What is it to you?
NZ: It’s kind of a big culmination of things for us. We half-jokingly call it “folk-hop.” For us, a huge influence on this record was a lot of hip-hop stuff, but we’re obviously using folk instruments. I don’t know if you can necessarily put it into on particular mold. But it’s been really cool, continuing to grow together and share our different influences, which includes just about everything between the three of us. More than anything, we just want to have a high-energy, fun record that really represents ourselves.
Weld: How much of an impact did hip-hop have on Judah and the Lion?
NZ: I would say, especially on Kids These Days, a very big impact. When we’re driving around in the van, that’s one of the most played genres. And we all kind of have our differences of who we like. I know Judah would always say his favorite is 50 Cent. I would say Kanye, for me. And Brian would probably say Chance the Rapper.
I’m into Macklemore, and we also like Skrillex and Foreign Beggars and all of those groups. It’s been fun to incorporate a lot of the electronic feel with folk instruments. I don’t think we pioneered that, by any means, but we got excited about bringing those together and trying new things. We have a few songs that did make the record that have some rap sections on them, and we try to incorporate that into our live show for sure; a couple of different remixes, and on the last tour, we did “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. We love it. It’s a lot of fun.
Weld: So we can expect to hear a rap cover live?
NZ: Uhhh…yes. I’d definitely say maybe.
Weld: What else can we expect from the live show?
NZ: We love to dance and get people up and having a fun time. When we were orchestrating our performance and figuring out everything, especially for this tour, there’s not a lot of down time. When we made the record, we were very mindful of that – wanting to have a party mindset that allows people to come and let loose and be with people they know and make new friends. It’s a very community[-oriented] mindset. From the stage, we’re having a great time being together and we love what we do and we try to interact with the crowd and bring people together.
A lot of people from this tour – people came expecting something more mellow, folk rock. They comes and they end up very surprised, but very pleased as well. We try to keep people on their toes; give people a little of what they expect but also throw a few curveballs.
Weld: Did you guys camp at Bonnaroo this year?
NZ: The Bonnaroovians? Yeah, we did. We all love Bonnaroo. We didn’t play this year, but we’ve gone the last few years together and a few as volunteers. We stayed in the volunteer camping section and had a bunch of our friends out together. Yeah, that’s definitely a highlight of the year. Hopefully, we’ll play there some day.
Weld: What was your favorite set this year?
NZ: I think for me, it was John Butler Trio. And then, I think it was Friday night, Vampire Weekend, Kanye, Ice Cube, Skrillex and then Chance the Rapper. All in one night. We went from 7 p.m. until 4 in the morning.
Weld: So you guys did the whole “stay up until dawn thing?”
NZ: Yep. Just about every day. Judah and Brian weren’t so good at it, but Dylan, our accordion player and I stayed up until the crack of dawn every day.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
NZ: OK. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Bruce Springsteen. You said American, right?
I don’t want to be too cliche. I want to represent well, but also be unique. Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’m going to throw a little flair in there: Incubus, for me. And Dave Matthews Band.