The Nashville quartet Judah and the Lion entered the studio to make their sophomore album Folk Hop ‘N Roll, which was released on March 4, with the desire to remain artistically uninhibited.
“I don’t think we went into the studio with the plan of creating a new genre or anything,” said Spencer Cross, the group’s drummer. “But we definitely went in with the plan of trying to do whatever we wanted and not having any expectations or anything to hinder us.”
And the genre-bending album accomplishes just that. Cross said that the group was inspired by a lot of hip-hop leading up to the creation of the album – groups like Run DMC and Beastie Boys – and that is apparent.
The song “Reputation” features frontman Judah Akers shouting raps with the bombast of Rev Run and DMC and the cadence of MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D. Cross said that out of all of the members of the group, Akers is the most heavily influenced by hip-hop. But the 80s hip-hop sound was embedded even in the creation of the beats and melodies on Judah and the Lion’s new record.
“In the writing process we’d start out by just making a beat with a drum machine and then writing on top of that,” Cross said. “So we got into the studio and had all these demos and our producer Dave Cobb really brought out the rock n’ roll side of that. He was just able to bring out that energy that we already have.”
Although Cobb, who produced the group’s debut album Kids These Days, brought out the rock and folk roots of the group, according to Cross, he also helped them incorporate the hip-hop sound they were going for. And it’s not like Judah and the Lion are the first rock group to incorporate hip-hop into their sound, but they are doing it in a fresh way. Cobb played a pivotal role in helping the group achieve that sound.
“He’s awesome and we love working with him. I think we were on the same page…we both wanted to do something different and do something fresh and he’s always about doing something fresh and getting the most natural take in the studio,” Cross said. The first day that the group met with Cobb in the studio for the album, Cross said, they had a demo for a song called “Forever Always” that had a pop sound and was 20 beats per minute slower than what they ended up recording.
“It was almost One Direction-ish. It was like modern pop,” Cross said. “We brought it in the first day and Dave was like ‘Show me what you got’ and we played him that and he was like ‘No, no, no, it’s gotta be faster.’ And then he pulled up this Beastie Boys track ‘So Whatcha Want’ and showed us that groove and helped us get into that vibe and we were digging it. It was definitely a little alarming at first, but…next thing you know we sped up the song and added an electric guitar and went this whole different route that ended up livening up the song. The song just kind of exploded.”
Cross said that some of the group’s fans haven’t taken well to the direction they took on this album, but that they had been foreshadowing the turn towards black music on their last tour. One of the regular covers they performed as far back as 2014 was a rendition of R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).” “It’s just kind of the first album that we’ve had people being opposed to it and I understand them being shocked. It’s not a shock to us. It’s a natural progression for us,” Cross said.
“But for people that are a little more on the outside, especially people who haven’t come to our live shows, then it’s probably very shocking….[But] it’s been a long time coming and the reception has been pretty positive overall.”
• For more information about Judah and the Lion, visit judahandthelion.com.