Sophia Matinazad

Overcoming Grief With Judah & the Lion

One month from today, a new LP from Judah & the Lion will be out in the world.

One. Month.

Judah & The Lion have literally, not figuratively, gone through the motions during the recording process of their upcoming album, The Process (out May 10). The Nashville folk rock outfit’s lead singer, Judah Akers, went through a divorce and lost two members of his family to suicide in between releases. He turned to music and bandmate Brian Macdonald for support. This album is set out to illustrate the five steps of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through these stages, Akers has come out on the other side, seeming to be coping well and in good spirits. 

The band lost two members in the process, as well, but gained incredible insight on how to pick up the pieces. “Spencer Cross and Nate Zuercher left. It was on all good terms. It was usually me, Judah, and Nate from the beginning. Spencer got married when ‘Take It All Back’ started to take off and he wanted to stay back and be with his family. Nate needed some time away, as well. Touring took a mental health toll from being on the road. Nate fills in for me on tour, so I could stay home raising my child. We are still very close,” Macdonald says.

Akers adds, “I guess me and Brian would carry the weight of the writing side of things. Nate would get stressed with being in the studio. Recording our last album, Revival, was such an exploration. It was more fun than difficult picking up the tasks. Brian could pick up anything and play it and it sounded like he played it forever. I was trying to learn how to play mandolin and Brian was learning how to play banjo compared to Nate’s style.”

As the music flowed and Judah & The Lion took off, the musicians have stayed true to their musical roots, always steering in the direction of a refreshing acoustic sound. “We’ve always had mandolin and banjo as a part of the sound, but we didn’t include them in some new songs and that gave us the freedom to experiment,” Macdonald notes. “It always does seem to come back to that folk element. When we first met Judah, he had some songs that he wanted to hear with banjo and mandolin and we always come back to that.” 

“I think with some aspects with our album Folk Hop N’ Roll, it didn’t take our fans by surprise. We had songs that leaned towards Beastie Boys rap, we had songs that were guitar driven, and folk songs, as well. I don’t think that our fans wouldn’t be surprised if we came out with a country album next. We started out in this kind of folk genre, but when you travel in a van for 150 dates a year, you quickly realize Brian doesn’t just play folk music; there are a lot of palettes that we all have. We try to stay true to where we are in any given moment with any record that we are making. I feel like genre-less is the best way to describe our band,” says Akers. 

The diverse vocalist experienced two deaths in his family and went through a divorce in the past three years. “The contents of our music have become so personal. Some of that because of what has happened to me,” he admits. “I was not coping in the healthiest ways. We wanted this album wanted to be focused on that healing and face those demons. When you go through extreme loss, it can find you at a low place. We wanted this record to be a storytelling record. It goes through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It ends on a full circle moment. Acceptance is not being perfect – it’s being ok with not being perfect,.”

One of the songs on The Process finds Akers in that dark place. He has to come to terms with his marriage being over. That song is titled “F LA” and describes how he tried to salvage the relationship by escaping to Los Angeles. “At the time I thought our marriage was going to be ok if we uprooted to Los Angeles. The hard part of heartbreak was the denial, because I was in limbo for a couple years. It was a shock to my system.”

Through it all, he held onto music, and the band is now at point where they can see their evolution through the years together. “There’s been a lot of growth,” Akers tells us. “We couldn’t afford rent in Nashville. Me and Brian were living in the same bed on the road. It’s a testament to our friendship and to where we are now. We have gone through a lot together and you can hear that through our music. We changed a lot as humans. Brian had a child, I went through a divorce, and learned how to take control of my mental health.”

The future of Judah & The Lion is based in maintaining their connection with fans and the public through their music. “I think we try to practice when we put out a record is what is our ‘why.’ We want to try to have people feel less alone. We cannot control on playing small or massive venues. We hope that our music connects to hearts and souls and helps improve humanity for the better and we hope to stay true to that,” Akers concludes.