Little by little, the personal and professional life of Judah & the Lion frontman Judah Akers is returning to a sense of normalcy.
“I did a workout for the first time in a year and a half without a mask on the other day,” Akers said with a laugh. “I was OK with wearing a mask, but it felt really free.”
Workouts aside, Akers is also getting good news for his band that seemed unthinkable just a few months back.
“Just last week, we had a few festival offers. It almost didn’t feel real in a weird way,” Akers said. “That just hasn’t been a reality in the past year—there’s just a lot of excitement right now for me and a lot of my music friends.”
Akers said that at the height of the pandemic, the band questioned whether touring would even be in the cards again. Now he’s excited to get fans back safely. The band’s reintroduction begins with the uplifting and anthemic “Help Me To Feel Again.” The track was recorded midway through the pandemic, and Judah & the Lion had to create some unique workarounds.
Mandolin player Brian Macdonald had moved with his wife to Sweden, so he was recording his parts of the song remotely. Akers worked back in Nashville with a skeleton crew in the studio, far less than would normally be around during recording. The masked-up session also had an unexpected impact when the band recorded gang vocals.
“It kinda sounded muffled, so it took a little while for our takes to make sense,” Akers said. “We kinda got to a point where we questioned if it was really worth it.”
The pandemic provided a creative spark for Akers, who used the free time to put his thoughts to song.
“I wrote more last year than I have since we started our career,” he said. “It felt like there was a lot to write about.”
In a typical year, the band plays about 200 shows. Akers said the time to disconnect from that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I didn’t realize there were a lot of things in my life that I wasn’t processing in a healthy way,” he said. “The distraction of touring and the excitement of shows, being forced to kind of stop, brought on full-on panic attacks.”
Akers took the time to slow down. He reconnected with nature, spent more time with his wife and dog, and channeled his refocused energy into songwriting. The whole saga created in a shift of the normal workflow for the band.
“It’s weird to have written and be releasing songs that we’ve never sung with a crowd; it’s just so interesting,” he said. “We have a song I wrote a year and a half ago that we’ve still never played in front of fans.”
In the case of “Help Me To Feel Again,” Akers said the track was born out of therapy sessions with a close friend who helped him get through some of the more difficult times of the pandemic. He was given the advice to not bottle up his feelings and emotions and confront them head on.
“I was going through a lot; some tragic family stuff was happening,” Akers said. “When you’re on the road, things can happen, but you have to play in three days, and the show goes on.”
Above all, Akers said he learned that a grieving process is vital during tragedy.
“I’ve never really been good at crying or fully allowing myself to be sad. I’ve always been optimistic,” he said. “That song was birthed out of this thought that we all have stuff underneath that’s happening, and if we don’t deal with it in the proper way, it shows back up in different forms.”
He said he hopes that people will be inspired or encouraged to process and grow with their own feelings.
Mental health has always been at the forefront for Akers and the band. The singer often talks about his own struggles in hopes of inspiring fans to start a conversation as well. Growing up with his mom as a therapist, Akers said that there wasn’t a stigma for therapy for him growing up, but he acknowledges that isn’t the case for everyone. He said that, especially with the band’s last record, Pep Talks, he would often hear from fans of what they were going through in their own lives.
Akers said he relished the opportunity to be able to hear fans’ experiences, but often will encourage them to continue their own conversations in a therapy setting
“I’m glad that you’re connecting through music, but I want to be able to offer something more than just ‘Hey, let’s take a picture!'” he said.
Judah & the Lion is currently in the studio, working on new material, which Akers said he is incredibly excited to release. Akers is most excited to play on stage.
“I’m excited for the world to start healing, and I think music is a beautiful part of that,” he said.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.