Beauty in struggle
Judah & the Lion, a self-proclaimed fusion of country, bluegrass and folk, came together at Belmont University when Judah Akers, the band’s singer and lead guitarist, began looking for a banjo player to collaborate on songs that he had recently written.
“I think as a band we've spent a lot of time giving the control up to God, especially our sound and our songwriting. It's nothing that we could have come up with — it was just God nudging us little by little in different places,” said Brian Macdonald, the mandolin player and backup vocalist for Judah & the Lion. “I think as always God shifts things and blows your expectations out of the water. None of us could have dreamed of having a band that we all care about so much.”
PURSUING THEIR PASSION
While telling their story, Macdonald continually emphasizes the bewilderment he feels about being a part of Judah & the Lion, and expresses how much of a blessing this opportunity has been.
“[Music] has always been something I wanted to do forever, and I can speak for all of us by saying we all are very happy to be in a position where we can continue to pursue it. I see music being a part of my life forever,” Macdonald said.
“First Fruits,” the band’s first EP, is entirely worship based, and it was not until their second EP, “Sweet Tennessee,” that they began incorporating more ideas into their songs.
“We initially were writing and recording worship songs. That is what started our growth as a band, and since then we decided to expand ourselves as songwriters and just write songs about life or really whatever we felt like writing. We feel called to write in a way that is true to ourselves and can appeal to people Christian or non-Christian,” Macdonald said.
FOCUSING ON JOY
With their debut album, “Kids These Days”, the band decided to focus on conveying their personal hope and joy, as well as the confusion and craziness that comes from being a bunch of 20 somethings.
“We wanted this album to embody that [free-spiritedness]. Honestly it's where we are as people right now and we just want to spread that hope in any way we can. We think people can choose to live a happy life despite their circumstances and hopefully they can experience that through our songs in some way,” McDonald said.
The song “Hold On” beautifully exemplifies the band’s ability to reach a wide audience through their bohemian style. The lyrics, “You hold on / But when you can’t / You just let go / And do your hippie dance,” embody the simple joy and peace that come from letting go of the impossible pressures that life brings.
“‘Hold On (Hippie Dance)’ is a special one for me. It's all about letting go. There is so much pressure as a human to live a certain way, especially in Christian culture. We feel like people are always looking over our shoulder. This is a song we wrote for ourselves, to help remind us to be free, let go, and be ourselves, not apologizing or caring what other people might think,” Macdonald said.
Along with bridging the gap between Christians and Non-Christians, the band works to involve the special needs community in their mission.
“I have a sister with special needs so that has always been an important part of my life growing up, the bottom line is we want to include the special needs community in what we are doing. They are the most joyful people you will ever meet. We have dreams of bringing big groups of special needs kids to our concert and totally changing the atmosphere.” McDonald explained. “There would be freedom to dance wildly, sing off key, and hug anyone. Viewing the special needs community as people who have something to offer you rather than focusing on their disabilities is a game changer.”
“Kids These Days” marks a grand shift in the band’s focus. Moving from lyrics tailored for worship to all-encompassing songs about the beauty and struggle of life, this album perfectly portrays the anomaly that is Judah & the Lion.
“Truth is, we have no idea where we are going, but we are going at it full steam ahead and with fire in our eyes — I think that's what counts,” Macdonald said.