Three guys met at Belmont University in 2011 through friends of friends and started playing music together.
You had: Brian Macdonald from the suburbs of Chicago, Ill. playing the mandolin, Nate Zuercher from Colorado Springs, Colo. playing the banjo and lead vocalist and guitarist Judah Akers from Cookeville, Tenn.
“We met pretty randomly at college,” the band said in an email interview with Neat Nashville.
They said friends introduced them and they started jamming together. “We didn’t know each other well, if at all, but we ended up playing music one day; and we got along musically and on a personal level.”
Brian, 22, grew up in a town called Wheaton and said his love for music really grew in middle school when he formed a band with a few friends.
“We played in the talent show for three years and I can clearly remember my friend and I had [were] staring at the back of the curtain just before it was drawn open to a screaming audience.”
He said he really grabbed on to that dream after those years.
“I’d say I was a fairly typical Midwestern kid. I played sports in high school, lit things on fire and drove my car too fast, all the while maintaining my main identity as a musician,” he said.
Brian initially attended Belmont because he was told that was the place to go if he wanted to pursue a career in music.
“I took that advice and never looked back,” he said. “I would be graduating next month, but a year ago we started touring full time, and I had to make the decision to stop school.”
Both of 22-year-old Nate’s parents play in the symphony in his hometown’s symphony, but he said seeing the movie “School of Rock” starring Jack Black in the 6th grade made him want to pursue music.
“I got a guitar soon after that, and the rest is history,” he said. In middle school, he had a band called “The Commodes” and he played a few shows with them.
For Nate, college was a tough decision between Boston and Nashville.
“Being a big bluegrass fan, Nashville made more sense for the style I wanted to pursue,” he said. “I fee like Nashville was the right call even though I have a deep love for Boston.”
Judah, 24, grew up dancing and wanting to be a rapper.
“I was really caught up in the hip-hop scene,” he said. “I discovered I had an ear for singing in high school when my chorus teacher encouraged me.”
In his freshman year, he learned how to play the guitar and started a band. Soon after, Judah said a nice farewell to the rapping and started writing songs.
He graduated from Cookeville High School in 2009.
The guys said Nashville’s supportive community had a great affect on them so when they were first starting up Judah and the Lion was inspiring.
“We were very fortunate to have friends around us that build us up,” the guys said. “We chose to be inspired by other people’s successes and push ourselves to work harder because of it.”
The guys said there are many things about their story that feels improbable or divine. They said their story might have happened in a different city, but it wouldn’t have happened the same way.
“There’s just a lot of high-spirited energy in pursuing music in Nashville. Our music probably captures that energy because of our location. There’s no reason it would be the same if the three of us met in New York City, Los Angeles or certainly Japan. It would be an entirely different influence.”
Brian, Nate, and Judah were just in town earlier this month to open for Mat Kearney at The Ryman. They guys saw room for growth in the way the city is perceived.
“Nashville is still widely viewed as just Honky Tonk or Country Music City. In reality, it has much more diverse culture to offer, and I think that perception will slowly continue to change over the next decade,” they said.
The name “Judah & the Lion” came from hair, that’s right, hair.
“Judah’s our lead singer and everyone in the band was is pretty furry, especially when we were naming the band. It just made sense,” they said.
In separate interviews with other media outlets, the band has also attributed their name to references in the Bible.
The band met in December of 2011, but didn’t actually play a show until September 2012. According to their Facebook page, the band describes their genre as Folk-Hop, a new hybrid that blends Hip-Hop music with the sounds of southern folk.
One of the biggest obstacles the guys have had to overcome was learning how to work well with each other despite their differences.
“Each of us bring unique perspectives to each situation we’re in… but it took a long time to learn how to respect one another for those differences rather than becoming frustrated,” they said.
They said in many situations they realize one of them may have a different point of view, and that isn’t necessarily wrong.
“[Each member] just has a different vantage point based on their experiences, and the rest of us can learn from it. We’re constantly sharpening each other and always growing because of that,” said one of the guys.
When Judah & the Lion aren’t on tour and playing music the guys like being outside.
Brian said he likes outdoor activities like hiking, adventuring, traveling, and skateboarding. Nate loves snowboarding and being in the mountains. He said he also spends time at Young Life camps, particularly in North Carolina. Judah likes to golf, design and hang out with friends.
Brian, Nate, and Judah said they are fully committed to the band and growing their fan base.
“We want this to be our full-time career,” they said. “One long-term goal we all have is to sustain life as a musician and have a family. None of us are married, but we do anticipate having a family in the future.”