Talking about your own dives into depression or daily fight with anxiety is not normally something people lineup to chat about-it’s usually reserved for that mauve-brown colored, leather lounge chair in your therapist’s office. Nate Zuercher, banjo player for Judah & the Lion, somewhat reluctantly shared his own ordeal with mental illness over the past year. And with lots of pauses and deep breaths, he told me exactly why he developed an unprecedented connection to their new song “Beautiful Anyway”, which shed light on his experience from a different perspective.
Even though Zuercher did not write the remarkable lyrics in the song, he feels it hit home-hard, because in a way it was written about him and for him by their frontman and dear friend Judah Akers.
“This song is the most personal for me out of anything we’ve ever put out,” Zuercher told American Songwriter. “Judah writes the words to all the songs including this one. Pep Talks was his reaction to his parents’ divorce and how he processed through it and I had a really difficult time with depression over the past few years, so this song is kind of his take on that. It’s also him trying to show up for me as a brother and figuring out what it looks like to speak truth about someone he cares about when it’s hard for them to hear that.”
“I love all of our music and I’m proud of it but this is the first one where that hits home for me, because I’m a large inspiration for it. When we were recording, Judah and I had some conversations about if it was worded well or if I felt represented well, so it was very personal in that regard too.”
Zuercher, who had been facing the trials of a broken engagement paired with existing depression, spiraled into a void of darkness and suicidal thoughts. Nearly losing all purpose and vision, he took what help he could and through extensive therapy he found himself on the other side of it. In addition to living the story that influenced the song, Zuercher had a lot to say about his mark on the song and about how he and mandolin player Brian Macdonald got to manipulate the song’s style. Akers wrote the song earlier this year and, like usual, sent the demo to the band. But it was much more fleshed out than normal, which left room for Zuercher and Macdonald to explore what they could add to an already fantastic song.
“Musically I feel like this is one of the best songs we have ever done and I felt like Brian and I could put our style and influence on it,” Zuercher said. “It also reminds us of some of our early music, since it’s a bit more folk driven. It was also a great mixing of some of the modern rock and electronic stuff we try to incorporate. Brian and I got to put a big stamp on what Judah had already laid out.”
“There was a lot of room for cool banjo and mandolin lines in the song,” he added. “We always try to put our folk touch on it but Brian and I got to spend a lot of time in the studio and got to really show our other ideas. I got to play some electric guitar on it and mix a punk element in which I haven’t done in a really long time, we just got to do a deep dive on everything. Part of that was because we were only doing that song that week. We weren’t trying to make a record, so we didn’t have so much of a schedule, we had freedom to explore and navigate.”
The bittersweet story and transformative lyrics formulated by Akers and enhanced by vibrant colors of banjo and mandolin that Zuercher and Macdonald painted boosted the song to a new level. The affirmative words in the song- ones that Zuercher admitted he sometimes needs to hear every day- are what make fastens it to listeners. The lyrics present a nakedness to the band drawing on their mission statement of hope, with verses like, ‘raise Your hands/take a second and breathe in/singin’ I’m here for a reason.’ Without the opportunity to act as a conduit of hope and resilience, Zuercher said he probably wouldn’t be interested in the gig.
“I hope this song encourages someone,” he said. “It’s hard to admit that it got so bad and I’m very grateful to be in a better place now, but that’s just part of why we do this, to encourage folks. If that wasn’t part of it, I don’t think I’d be interested.”
Now healthy and looking to a brighter future, Zuercher is enjoying the much-needed break and remote work lifestyle brought on by corona-2020.
“I think we all needed a break whether we all wanted one or not,” Zuercher said. “I’m very grateful that I’m in a position to not have to worry about some of the things other people are worrying about and I’m aware of that and always thinking of ways to help. But for me I think I really needed to slow down and rest and be in one place for a while. That side of it makes me appreciate more of what we’re missing and I think next time we play together it’s going to mean something way more.”