If a live performance by Nashville’s Judah & The Lion has your jaw hitting the floor, Nate Zuercher will have to take your word for it.
“I spend most of my time on stage looking at my hands,” the banjo player for the popular folk-rock group said during a recent interview.
“Judah is great at reading a crowd, engaging an audience. He’ll tell me which parts of the show the fans were responsive to and which parts may requiring some tweaking.”
Judah is singer/guitarist Judah Akers who, along with Zuercher and mandolinist Brian McDonald, is riding high on the success of the boisterous, Gold-selling single “Take It All Back” and its parent album “Folk Hop N’ Roll." The song marries acoustic folk instrumentation, electronic “trap” percussion and an earworm of a chorus.
The trio, augmented by touring musicians Dylan Oglesby (guitar), Daniel Weatherby (keys) and Troy Bruner (drums) makes their Penn State debut at this year’s Movin’ On music festival.
While Akers is front and center, composing and songwriting is a collaborative process for the band. Jam sessions and sound checks are just as likely to yield new tunes as Akers’s solo writing sessions.
“That’s how 'Take It All Back' came to be,” Zuercher explained.
“We were jamming on some chord changes at rehearsal .. probably about 30 minutes later we had the song. Judah brings some tunes (to rehearsals) nearly complete, but I think if that was how things primarily operated, Brian and I wouldn’t nearly be as invested as we are.”
Zuercher and his bandmates have embraced this investment exponentially within the past few years as their popularity has surged. Judah & The Lion’s objective at hand is not so much “stay famous,” but “create art that holds meaning.”
“When we first started recording 'Folk Hop N’ Roll' in 2016, we had all graduated college or dropped out. We were all single. The band was 'the thing,' " he said. "It was the only obligation. There was only the excitement and fear of what was going to potentially happen with this thing. Now … flash forward. We have girlfriends and wives. We have family obligations. We want to make them proud. We want the music we create to have some weight, have some meaning to it.”
The band’s continued initiatives include producing their third album — to be released before the end of this year — without the help of an outside producer. David Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Shooter Jennings) manned the boards for both “Folk Hop N’ Roll” and their 2014 debut album “Kids These Days.”
“Dave was the one who really coaxed us out of our musical comfort zones," Zuercher said. "Two years later, however, we’re more knowledgeable about the recording process. We have more resources at our disposal. So, yes, the next record will be produced by the band.”
Joining Judah & The Lion on this year’s Movin’ On bill are headlining rapper Logic, pop singer/songwriter Daya and rapper Mick Jenkins.
Admittance to the festival — held at IM Fields on the Penn State University Park campus — is free to Penn State students, staff and guests over the age of 18.