Judah & the Lion
Photo courtesy of hangoutmusicfest.com
Band: Judah & the Lion
Date: Friday, May 17 at 4:45 p.m.
Stage: Pandora Surf Stage
Hangout Fest bands enjoy the festival just as much as the crowd, as not many leave the festival without a desire to return. Four years ago, Judah & the Lion introduced the Hangout Fest masses to their truly unique mix of EDM, indie pop, alternative and folk rock. Now, the band is using their set at Hangout Fest 2019 to introduce the public to their latest album “Pep Talks.” They also plan on spending more time on the beach than their previous visit. Before the band’s return to Hangout Fest, banjoist Nate Zuercher took a few minutes to speak with Lagniappe’s Steve Centanni about the new album and what to expect from Judah & the Lion’s Hangout Fest performance.
Centanni: How does it feel to be heading back to Hangout Fest with a new album in hand?
Zuercher: We’re super excited. I think it’s been four years since we were there last time. We had such a good experience, and the crowd was awesome. Obviously, it’s a fun festival to be at. You’re at the beach, and it’s a good time. To be coming back with this new record and getting to play the stage we’re on and the time [slot] … it’s hard to imagine a better scenario. I couldn’t be more stoked. We can’t wait to be back. It’s gonna be a good time.
Centanni: What’s your favorite thing about the festival?
Zuercher: I think it’s the vibe. It’s really special. Every festival has its own kinda flavor to it, but a lot of them are somewhat similar. Hangout is so unique, because of where it is and just the culture of everyone. You’re there to relax and be at the beach and hang out and hear the best music. We look forward to it, because of that. A lot of times, we have to come in, do the thing and get out. We’re going to make it a priority to be able to relax and enjoy ourselves as much as we can, just like anyone who goes to the festival. I think that will translate well on stage.
Centanni: Judah & the Lion has always maintained a very versatile mix of synth pop, folk rock, alt. rock and whatever else you’re feeling. That’s definitely true with “Pep Talks.” When you get into the writing sessions, what’s it like bringing these influences together? How does it happen?
Zuercher: It’s a process of figuring out what serves our music the best. A lot of that is letting go of any expectations. We tried really hard on this record to let the songs develop as they needed to as opposed to saying, “This needs to be this particular style,” or, “Even though this idea was presented in this fashion, we should change it.” It was more like, “Let’s serve this song as it fits together and bring it to life as much as possible.”
In previous work that we’ve done, maybe Judah (Akers) would come up with a song idea, and it wouldn’t jive with everyone. We would be like, “Well, let’s just start over from step one,” and completely scrap it. This time, he came in with a story of his family’s divorce and all these songs that he wanted to incorporate as part of that. We said, “OK, these are going to be the songs with the general vibe and lyrics, but we’re gonna really try and craft it and mold it into the best piece of work to represent what it’s saying.”
We had a little bit more of a framework than we had before. We started working on it a year ago, so there’s been so much time to develop and process through it and try things. It allowed for more freedom and creativity. When we did our previous records, we had a week or two tops. It was like, “Alright, Nate, it’s time to put your banjo part in.” Then, you had 30 minutes while everyone was listening and prioritizing what they wanted to do next.
This time, I had as much time as I wanted and an engineer to work with to craft my parts before presenting them. All of us had that space to do whatever we wanted to do. It let us really develop and work hard on our thoughts and feel comfortable presenting them like we were putting our best foot forward.
I think that optimized our creativity and patience, and it ended up with some different sounding songs. We’ve got “Pictures” with Kacey Musgraves, which has a very stripped-back folk feel. Then, there’s “Don’t Mess with My Mama,” which is an out-there, EDM song that has banjo dabbled in there. It was an intentional process of how do we best incorporate who we are without having too many limits. I think we felt the most freedom this time around.
Centanni: As far as the album goes, what kind of pep talks are you giving the world?
Zuercher: I think the overarching theme of it is that no matter what you’re going through, there’s always hope to move forward. I think, particularly for Judah, this record is his real processing of dealing with anxiety, depression or stress. He had to say, “This is new to me and really hard. How do I still hold onto my hope and reason to live here?”
Each of us has our own example of that, even though it’s not as directly spoken through these songs. It’s growing up a bit and knowing that life isn’t always easy or kind. That doesn’t mean that we should stop fighting for the things we love. It’s all going to be OK at the end of the day.
More than anything we’ve done, too, it’s saying this to each other and having this body of work to fall back on.
To me, it’s been an important rock this past year to be able to hear these songs over and over and the words that are spoken. I think it’s just that we’re all in this together, no matter what, and it’s all gonna be okay. You’re not alone, no matter how much you feel alone. It’s not true.
Centanni: How did Kacey Musgraves get involved with this album?
Zuercher: We’ve all been huge fans of her for a long time. She lives in Nashville as well, and we have some connections through that. We had a lot more time to dream and ask for things. That was part of the process, too. We said, “Let’s speak this into existence. If it happens, then that’s awesome. If not, then at least we asked.” The worst thing that could’ve happened is that we would get a “no.” We just felt that “Pictures” would be really highlighted by having a female vocal on it, and we felt that her vocals would be perfect on it.
We asked our management to try and track her down and see if it would work out. She ended up being a big fan of the song and wanted to be a part of it. So, we got very fortunate that she was open to doing it and came over and killed it. It was such a treat to work with her.
Centanni: For those who missed Judah & the Lion’s first performance at Hangout or have never seen you guys before, what do you have in store for them at Hangout Fest?
Zuercher: We’re just super excited to be there, and we love having fun and figuring out new ways to engage with the crowd and bring a high-energy, exciting performance. We love performing. With this whole record, we’ve really been focused on how it would translate as a live experience. This will be one of the first performances we’ve done since the record came out. So, we’ve put a lot of energy and time into crafting it. We’re excited to see what happens.
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