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Judah & The Lion strive for Mars

Brian Macdonald lays out the blueprints to the band’s future

Photos by Ricky Thigpen

From the outside looking in, it seems as if Judah & The Lion are in a go-go-go routine. They started a hectic tour schedule as the new year arrived, and have enjoyed brief moments of home life here and there.

The quartet hails from Nashville, TN, which signifies the type of music they make. Or, types, I should say. Every single genre that has passed through the Nashville winds seeped into the band’s creative space and left behind bits and pieces in their music. That music, drenched in twang and sweetened by familiar melodies, is what presented them with opportunities they just couldn’t turn down.

“We’ve been working hard for sure, but we are just so thankful to be able to do what we do,” said Brian Macdonald, who takes care of those sweet mandolin riffs you hear while head-banging. “I think building in time at home is definitely necessary for all of us, and we do have that at different points, but overall we are working hard right now and enjoying our journey and different opportunities that have come through our music. “

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And different opportunities arise every day. The Nashville natives spent the first half of the year touring with Twenty One Pilots, picking up fans left and right. After a quick run of headlining shows and a festival circuit, the boys are back on the road with personal heroes Incubus and Jimmy Eat World. It’s almost as if the folk-pop-hip hop group could master any bill… And they can! Earlier in the summer, I started a rant on why I feel the band belongs anywhere and everywhere

“The point I’m trying to make is that what makes Judah & the Lion perfect for any bill is their live show. The upbeat, head-banging, nonstop party that wears you out before the direct opener even takes the stage is what makes them an excellent candidate for any slot. Sure there’s a mandolin solo here and there, but it’s accompanied by demanding drums and wacky dance moves. Limbs are flying from all sides of the stage while the music is executed with raw flawlessness. Who cares if the genres don’t make sense? Who cares if the tempo changes leave you out of breath and the hip hop banjo riff confuses you? That’s what live music is all about! Sandwiching emotions in between layers of music meant to showcase melodies that would have otherwise died.”

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The ammo behind this domination? Their second full length album, entitled Folk Hop N Roll. A perfect blend of the genres you’ll hear in Tennessee, and then some. Judah & The Lion have brought their genre-swirl to ears all across the nation, to a ridiculous variety of people, from day-one fans to first-time listeners. Of course, this is what all bands do; play to anyone and everyone to get their message across, trying to grab the city by its shoulders and scream, “Listen to me!” But with a record like Folk Hop N Roll, everyone is bound to find a song they’ll like. Whether it’s the crowd favorite “Take It All Back 2.0,” the meaner “Conversations,” or the electrifying “Going to Mars,” the audience is sure to connect somewhere.

“It’s been really cool to play to different demographics of people. Especially when they are not necessarily our fans, or might not know about us,” said Macdonald. “It makes us better as performers, and also gives us connections with people that we might not expect would get our music.”

And if one of their original songs isn’t enough to please you, then perhaps their rendition of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” will do the trick for you. Come on! Everyone loves that song. Still not doing it for you? What about their uncharacteristically electronic cover of T-Pain’s “Booty Wurk,” accompanied by a full band gyrating session and matching auto-tuned vocals? Don’t worry, I’ve already deemed it a Judah & The Lion original. T-Pain who?

“We are working on getting T-Pain to come play it with us… one of these days,” joked Macdonald. “We love throwing covers into our set that really catch people’s attention, and throw people off guard. It changes the mood, and lets people know we don’t take ourselves too seriously. These days we’ve been doing ‘Booty Wurk’ a lot. In the past we also did Remix to Ignition by R Kelly, and Billy Jean by Michael Jackson.”

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Though it’s not a work in progress, I genuinely hope the guys take the stage at least once with the king of autotune. Until then, we’ll have to deal with them playing with other larger-than-life names, which is perfectly fine with me. As of this summer, Judah & The Lion are currently opening up for Incubus on their nation-wide run, Tour 8, with special guests and emo legends Jimmy Eat World.

“It’s so weird, honestly, we have been huge fans of both those bands growing up,” said Macdonald. “Even just starting to get to know them day to day is so cool. They are really down to earth, and just normal people, but at the same time, their music has impacted us in a huge way.”

It’s only a matter of time before Judah & The Lion are to other bands as Jimmy Eat World and Incubus are to them. Sooner rather than later, the Nashville natives will be headlining their own spots, reminiscing about the days when their 45 minute set was just a blur in the day.

“Opening is really easy; the workload is lighter, our set is shorter, and we are kind of just along for the ride, since it’s not really our tour,” explained Macdonald. “We can win over fans, and enjoy ourselves without having the pressure to sell tickets.”

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While it can be fun to play a show where a crowd has zero expectations, there’s no doubt that venue walls shake with a different kind of energy for a crowd who’s there to see you.

“It’s not nearly as special as headlining though, when we can play to our own fans, and really engage with our audience,” countered Macdonald. “But headlining is a lot more exhausting, and puts a lot more pressure on us, which we like, to an extent because it makes us better.”

But aside from opening for personal heroes and playing some of the largest venues in the nation, the coolest part about climbing the ladder of success has to be… Bunks?

“We recently upgraded to a bus on the road, so that has made life a lot more comfortable, and gives us the opportunity to get a lot more sleep at night. That has been a big game changer.”

The band will need more quality sleep-filled nights as they continue to bring their folky-hip hop around the world. After tour finishes up this fall, we can only hope Judah & The Lion are here to stay. With the release of the deluxe version of Folk Hop N Roll being released a few months ago, they’ve got more than enough ammo to fuel their takeover in the coming months.

“We are so thankful that people are connecting to our music and connecting with us. I think the future looks like more music, more touring, while maintaining our ‘normal lives’ at home in Nashville, with wives, family, friends, community, etcetera. Definitely more T-Pain.”

Read our review of Judah & The Lion’s set at the PNC Pavilion in Charlotte on July 11th!

Sheila Walsh graduated from USC Aiken in 2015 with a degree in English. While in school, she won an essay competition for an argumentative essay on why the arts are crucial to the education system. Additionally, she was recruited to play volleyball for USCA and contributed to a weekly journal discussing the life of a student-athlete. She currently resides in Charlotte, NC.

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