Nashville-based Judah & the Lion first cut their teeth in Music City scene with warm, mandolin-driven folk melodies, dreaming about settling down somewhere below the Mason-Dixon Line or crooning about sweet home Tennessee. With the release of their second full-length album, Folk Hop N’ Roll, however, they’ve let the proverbial lion off the chain. Make no mistake, mandolin and banjo riffs continue to drive the Judah & the Lion sound, but Folk Hop ‘N Roll seizes the band’s southern-folk roots by the nape and gives them a hard alternative shake, evoking sounds as disparate as The Beastie Boys and Delta Spirit. The album’s title probably describes it best. This is “folk hop and roll” music, a bunch of energized anthems by some kids from Tennessee who don’t care about money or fame. They just want to play their music – and play it loud. We caught up with mandolinist Brian MacDonald in advance of their show at The Hamilton on April 1st to discuss their new album and what we can expect from them on tour.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: Folk Hop N’ Roll sounds a lot different than your earlier music. Where did it come from? Was this “folk-hop sound” a style you wanted to pursue from the get-go as a band?
Brian: It is definitely different….but for us it felt like a natural progression. We’re always trying to blend our influence to make up our sound. I think we’ve maintained our sound and style in a way, the music has just been given the freedom to experiment and hold the “folk” side of things in a different light.
What other music artists have you been listening to lately? Are there any who especially inspired and shaped this album?
Brian: Between us, we have a wide range of artists that cycle through in the van. We actually have a Spotify playlist based on songs that inspired Folk Hop N Roll. Some of those artists include Manchester Orchestra and Twenty One Pilots.
How did the writing and recording process for Folk Hop N’ Roll compare to past projects?
Brian: We got into the studio basically for two weeks straight and recorded it. That was a pretty similar thing to what we did with Kids These Days, and it has worked well. I think we would love to try and spend a little more time on the next one.
Is that an electric mandolin I see in the music video for “Reputation”? Did you use any other unconventional or otherwise noteworthy instrumentation on your new record?
Brian: Yes, that is a Mandocaster. You hear that on the record. Also, we put Nate’s banjo through an amplifier with distortion too, which probably just sounds like a guitar a lot of the time, but it’s a banjo!
A number of tracks from Folk Hop N’ Roll (like “Folk Hop Sound,” “All I Want Is You,” and “Reputation”) have a self-confidence that contrasts with some of the youthful anxiety on Kids These Days. Would you say your music reflects your own experience growing up as individuals and maturing as a band?
Brian: Definitely maturing and growing as a band. The youthful thing was very clear and evident in Kids These Days, and we don’t want to lose that. But this record definitely called for more edge and more pushing the boundaries!
Are there any big themes from Folk Hop N’ Roll that you hope resonate with your fans and listeners?
Brian: I think a big theme comes through in “Insane.” We’re all going through something, and it’s easy to feel alone or like you’re the only one. In reality, you are not alone at all because we have that one thing in common, that we are all going insane.
Your concerts really amp up the energy in your music and you guys all seem to have a lot of fun working the crowd and going crazy on stage. Did you create Folk Hop N’ Roll specifically with the live performance in mind?
Brian: We definitely geared the music towards the live performance, it’s important to us that we create moments with our fans at the shows, and we picked songs based on that.
Speaking of your live show, you guys often play fun covers like “We Built this City” and “Uptown Funk.” Any new covers we can look forward to on this tour?
Brian: Definitely have some new covers this tour, and we will keep it a surprise…but get ready to bump, grind, dance and sing!