Tennessee’s Judah & The Lion band released an album in 2016 called “Folk Hop N’ Roll,” and that phrase defines their sound better than any typical genre-label could. Their glowing vocal harmonies, intimate, confessional lyrics, and acoustic instrumentation (mandolin, banjo, and acoustic guitar) come straight from the folk-music tradition. But they aren’t shy about working danceable, electronic beats into their music, and they have a real knack for wide-open, anthemic rock choruses.
It’s an effective mix of styles that has worked like a charm for Nate Zuercher, Brian Macdonald, and Judah Akers, who form the nucleus of Judah & The Lion. They’ve been on an upward curve career-wise for the past few years, landing singles like “Rich Kids,” “Take It All Back,” and “Over My Head” on the alternative rock charts and gaining a devoted fan base. But there might be no better sign of their increasing momentum than the fact that last year when they came to the Upstate, they played at the Peace Center, and this year, they’re playing at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
“Shows like these come with a bigger weight,” says Judah Akers, the band’s lead singer, main songwriter, and guitarist. “Not that there’s more hard work or dedication on this tour than the others, but there are a lot more crew and production and lights that you’re going to have to get prepared before you can set out on a tour like this. It makes you want to rise to the expectations of those rooms and the crowds that are showing up. Hopefully, our sound and our skills and my voice have gotten better because we’ve grown as musicians.”
Judah & The Lion are reaching their biggest audience just as they’ve released their most achingly personal music. Their new album, “Pep Talks,” isn’t a concept album per se, but there are unifying themes, namely Akers dealing with the aftermath of his parents’ divorce, and the toll the split took on his entire family.
“The record was a personal story that I was going through,” Akers says. “I was struggling with anxiety and depression for the first time in my life, dealing with my parents’ divorce, and my mother was struggling with alcoholism.”
The band had never shied away from telling their own stories in the past, though.
“We’ve always sung about personal stuff,” Akers says. “The first record was about us dropping out of school and pursuing music and our families telling us it was crazy. For this one, we wanted to be honest about what I was going through and what my family was going through.”
So what’s it like telling your parents that you’re about to make an album about their divorce?
“It was definitely a hard conversation,” Akers laughs, “but my parents were great about it. I was able to have a pretty frank conversation with my parents. My family has always been really supportive, and I’m still really close with them. And when I was telling my mom that I wanted to sing about what it had been like to deal with this, and telling my dad that I felt like he kind of ran away from his family, they knew that I never wanted to personally attack either of them, because they’re amazing parents.”
Akers says that ultimately, the message of “Pep Talks,” and of the band in general, is more about hope than despair.
“I think the record’s trying to say that we’re all trying to get through this thing called life, and it can be very beautiful at times and very hard at times,” he says. “And maybe these stories will help people. We’re trying to give people a sense of hope, a sense that we’re all in this together and that no one’s alone.”
If you go
What: Judah & The Lion
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, 650 N. Academy St., Greenville
Info: 864-241-3800, www.bonsecoursarena.com