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Years before forming one of Nashville's most genre-bending bands, the members of Judah & the Lion grew up in separate corners of the U.S., listening to every type of music that came their way. They loved it all: the twang of folk, the beat of hip-hop, the drive of rock & roll, the punch of pop. Later, after college brought all four musicians to Tennessee, it only made sense to combine those different backgrounds — and different sounds — together. With their second full-length album, Folk Hop N Roll, the guys shine a light on the place where their influences overlap. It's a wide-ranging sound, with fuzz bass, hip-hop percussion, distorted banjo riffs, and super-sized melodies all stirred into the same mixing pot.
"There's no boundaries," says front man Judah Akers, who shares the band's lineup with drummer Spencer Cross, mandolin player Brian Macdonald, and banjo wiz Nate Zuercher. "We wanted to make something raw, something with attitude. We all grew up loving these hip-hop beats, so why not make an album that has the grit of Run DMC or Beastie Boys, along with all the folk instruments that we play?" Like Kids These Days — the band's debut record, which climbed to number four on the Bill- board Folk Chart and number two on the genre-wide Heatseekers chart after its release in September 2014 — Folk Hop N Roll was produced by award winner Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton). Cobb captured the band's new songs in a series of quick, inspired takes, aiming for performances that sounded real and raw rather than polished and per- fect. Everything was done in just two weeks. The goal was to fuel the album with the same electricity that fills the band's live show.
An independent band whose success has arrived not on the back of some big- budget major label, but through the band's own touring, Judah & the Lion have built a large, loyal fanbase on the road. They played 150 shows in 2015 alone, stretching their gigs all across America and Scandinavia. Along the way, they shared stages with artists like Mat Kearney, Drew Holcomb, and Ben Rector. That sort to drive — the commitment to chasing down their dreams, one encore at a time — also fuels the lyrics that appear on Folk Hop N Roll, a record whose songs spin stories of struggle, triumph, and all points in between. "This record was made for the live show," Akers promises. "Our shows are all about the experience we share with our fans. We know that people work everyday jobs or go to school, and they're dealing with life, and yet they're still choosing to spend the night with us. We don't take that lightly. We give them an experience. We throw an absolute rage. And all the songs were made with that in mind. They're fun, carefree, and youthful, and we live our lives that way, too."
Anthemic and wildly creative, Folk Hop N Roll is unlike anything else in modern music. It's a rule-breaking record, with Judah & the Lion creating a sound that belongs entirely to them. From the earthy stomp of roots music to the bold bounce of hip-hop, Folk Hop N Rolll casts a wide net, proof that Judah & the Lion — who are now four releases into their career — have developed quite the roar. Continuing the success of Folk Hop N Roll, Judah & the Lion’s hit single, “Take It All Back 2.0”, recently reached the #1 spot on the Alternative charts. The band also looks forward to US tours with Twenty One Pilots, Kaleo, Incubus and Jimmy Eat World, and World Wide headline dates in 2017.
Picture the quintessential rock band. Maybe they’re standing on a grimy street corner with their arms crossed, looking tough, or maybe they’re goofing around in a sunlit field. They could be wearing motorcycle jackets or cowboy shirts or feather boas. They might sound austere and angry or epic and stadium-ready. But what they have in common, regardless of aesthetic, is that they stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, brothers and sisters in arms. A real rock band is a gang. A group of people united by a shared commitment to what matters in the world, what matters in life, and an insatiable need to communicate that sensibility to anyone else out there who might relate.
It’s this idea – that your band is your life and vice versa – that bonds the four members of Nashville-based rock band Colony House. Frontman Caleb Chapman, drummer Will Chapman, guitarist Scott Mills, and bassist Parke Cottrell are all married guys in their twenties, so they don’t really fit the rockstar cliché: there’s no champagne cork popping or model chasing with this crew. “We always kind of joke – you think people think we’re a cool band?” says Caleb, chuckling. “The joke is that we know we’re not a ‘cool’ band. We’re regular guys.” But when it comes to that most sacred rock and roll thing, where you move on a mission from town to town and stage to stage getting “gnarly and sweaty” as Caleb puts it, in honor of the thing you love, this band has that part down cold. “We’re not sex drugs and rock and roll,” Caleb says, laughing. “We’re just rock and roll.”
Colony House is gearing up to release their major label debut, Only the Lonely, via Descendant/RCA. The title is a shout-out to the king of elegiac melancholy – “Obviously it’s a direct Roy Orbison reference,” says Caleb. And that might initially seem at odds with Colony House’s sound, a madcap aural rollercoaster borrowing from the anthemic swell of the Killers to the harmonic sass of the Beach Boys to the wit of Vampire Weekend. But beneath the band’s whirlwind of ecstatic guitar playing and intricate melodies you’ll find their real signature: emotion. They write about being desperately lonely. They write about being desperately joyful. But what makes a Colony House song a Colony House song is the sheer feeling it conveys. “We want to connect with people,” explains Caleb, mentioning a favorite quote by van Gogh. There’s a great fire that burns within me but no one stops to warm themselves by it, and passersby only see a wisp of smoke. “I mean, this is Vincent van Gogh we’re talking about!” he continues. “The whole world knows his work! But he felt this loneliness, this sense of, I have so much I have to offer but no one stops to see it.” Colony House’s primary aim is to see that fire. To witness it, as Caleb puts it, “in ourselves, and in the people that come to see us play. That’s what we’re about.”
Getting there is half the fun, as the old saying goes, but the journey is really the whole point for Boston progressive-folk duo Tall Heights. Singer/guitarist Tim Harrington and singer/cellist Paul Wright know where they’ve been, and where they want to go. As for the route, well, “we’re just mapping it out as we take it, day by day,” says Harrington. They’ve reached their biggest junction so far — Neptune, (released August 19, 2016) is Tall Heights’ first album for Sony Music Masterworks, and the latest step in the ongoing evolution of their sound and style.
Harrington and Wright formed Tall Heights in 2010, keeping their songs stripped down to their essential elements, in part, to make it simpler to perform on the streets of Boston. Neptune is a far lusher construct: along with pristine and emotive vocal harmonies, there’s subtly chugging electric guitar and a spare descending bassline on “Iron in the Fire,” ethereal synthesizers and a spacious drum part on “Spirit Cold,” a brittle splash of percussion to open “Backwards and Forwards” and feedback created by two cellphones on “Cross My Mind.” “It was helpful and I think comforting to define ourselves as two vocalists, guitar and cello,” Wright says. “There was a beauty and a simplicity, and stepping outside of that box is pretty scary, because you’re forced to redefine yourself and do some sonic soul-searching. I think this record reflects the results of that scary step.”
The band’s broadening sound came from the musicians’ conscious effort to push themselves, and each other, to create in new ways. By relying on a few core elements at the start, the duo learned to make the most of their minimalist set-up. “It taught us to be lean and mean and effective with just two voices and two instruments,” Harrington says. “It made us consider vocal tone and the way voices can mesh and interact.”