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THE K-LOVE COVER STORY

for KING & COUNTRY talk working with Dolly, leaving the past behind and taking their music around the world.

For a live concert, the entrance is everything.

The way a show begins sets the tone for the entire evening. That’s why when the lights go down in anticipation of the start of for KING & COUNTRY’s current “Burn The Ships | World Tour,” the duo is nowhere to be found. Instead, the brothers choose to make an unforgettable entrance. 

As the band begins to play, the large LED screens in the shape of boat sails slowly start to descend. And there, perched atop each sail are Joel and Luke Smallbone. With a mic in one hand and a lantern in the other, they embark on a theatrical musical odyssey for the next two-and-a-half hours, giving fans exactly what they want: more songs, more stories and more time. 

“It’s become this contrast of being one of the most intimate nights, but then at the same time, the most elaborate show we’ve ever done,” Joel explains backstage. “We’re a third of the way in now, and it’s had all the emotions of a great adventure.” 

The adventure started more than a year ago as the brothers began dreaming up this very tour, where the massive set design immerses audiences in the narrative of their latest album, Burn The Ships. The stage is backlit by the two custom-made LED “sails,” and a catwalk extends from the stage and ends in a perfect ‘V’ to form the bow of a ship. There’s no opening act. Instead, for KING & COUNTRY performs two full sets of music that feature every single song from Burn The Ships and a host of hits. 

It’s the perfect setting for the Smallbone brothers to tell the story of the album—a story that began with Luke’s wife, Courtney. Minutes before he was ready to take the stage one night, Luke received a call from Courtney, frantic. She realized she had become addicted to pills, originally prescribed to curb nausea during pregnancy. She needed her husband to come home immediately. He took the first flight back to Nashville, and together, they sought professional help. Now, back on the road, every night he’s telling their story from stage. 

“We’ve all made mistakes in life, and for whatever reason, I think we feel more guilt and more shame than we ever have. These days, I think there’s an epidemic of loneliness,” Luke observes. “Is it because everybody’s trying to look perfect on social media? So when you do make a mistake, maybe the weight of that feels more extreme.” 

After Courtney received treatment, she flushed the pills as a sign of closure and told Luke that since God had healed her, He could have her story, too. 

“Our hope is that people understand it is possible to move on from things in life,” Luke says after sharing his wife’s journey. “It is possible to move on from struggle, from difficulty. When we can actually heal some of those things from our past, that’s when we’re at our fullest in our future.” 

Not only did Courtney’s story serve as the impetus for the title track of Burn The Ships, but Luke’s wife and Joel’s wife, Moriah, are the litmus test behind many of the duo’s biggest songs to date. Case in point: both wives instantly knew their husbands had crafted something special the moment they heard “God Only Knows.” For the Smallbone brothers, the song was simply another day at the office. 

“Most of the time, as songwriters, you’re just trying to show up and give your best every day. You’re trying to give your best creativity, your best ideas,” Luke offers. “We went home and just thought it was another day in the studio.” Even after his wife expressed her approval of the song, he adds, “Originally, I just thought, Well, it was a day well spent. Today was worthwhile. You never know that it’s going to become something much bigger.” 

The song exploded thanks to the vulnerable lyrics that speak to fear, loneliness and shame—all because Joel had written out the phrase “God Only Knows” as a possible song idea. “God only knows the things that we’ve walked through in life. God only knows the struggles that have taken place,” Luke asserts of the song’s universal message. “God only knows the mistakes, but yet, despite all of that, there’s still a God that’s crazy about us.” 

The duo took the song to a whole new level in August when they released a new version with country music legend Dolly Parton. “Like most ideas, it started off small,” Joel shares of the surprising collaboration. Joel and his wife were watching the Netflix documentary “Dumplin’,” for which Parton produced and contributed music, when the idea started to take root. Mustering up every ounce of courage he had, Joel cold-called Parton’s manager and pitched the idea of a duet. “Within two weeks, we were on the phone with her directly,” Joel says. 

Unbeknownst to them, Parton had been looking for more inspirational projects and calls the song a “Godsend,” adding that “God Only Knows” is one of the best songs she’s ever heard. 

“I cried the first time I heard her sing on the song,” Joel admits, adding that also having Parton featured in the music video for “God Only Knows” was “preposterous.” He says of Parton, “She’s just everything you hoped she’d be, and more.” 

The brothers have more in common with Parton than one might think. Faith was an important part of their respective upbringings, and music was, too. They both come from large families. There are six Smallbone siblings altogether (including the duo’s well-known older sister, Rebecca St. James). Parton is one of 12. Both families were poor. Parton grew up in a two-bedroom shack in the Smoky Mountains. Meanwhile, in Middle Tennessee, Joel and Luke recall miraculous stories of neighbors leaving groceries on their front porch or anonymous church members paying their bills shortly after their family moved to the United States from Australia, and their dad—a Christian concert promoter—lost his job. 

That’s one reason the siblings shared a bittersweet moment earlier this year when they returned to their native Australia to perform for the very first time, selling out two nights at the iconic Sydney Opera House. 

“It takes a while for the music to spread,” Joel remarks of taking their music to their homeland for the first time. “The economics of sorts when you cross ponds gets very difficult.” 

The response, on the other hand, was nothing short of incredible. “Christian radio’s everywhere—it’s so accessible here,” Luke notes. “In other parts of the world, like in Australia for instance, they play mainstream music and Christian music side by side.” 

The duo’s current album has taken them literally all over the globe to places like Iceland, Singapore and the Philippines. “When you get to other parts of the world and they sing these songs, you almost get the sense that their lives depend on the hope of these songs,” Luke offers. “It’s a really humbling thing to think that you write these songs to comfort your own soul, but it’s really brilliant when you write a song and it goes out and becomes a comfort for another. You start to be even more inspired by music because you see how far it can go, and you see the power of what it actually does in people’s lives.” 

Every night, before they even appear on stage, for KING & COUNTRY’s music goes before them. It speaks for itself, healing hearts, dismissing shame and freeing souls…one grand entrance at a time.

_______

for KING & COUNTRY + Dolly Parton = A very special "God Only Knows" remix (spoiler it's gotta bit of twang to it):

Dolly Parton joins brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone for a remix of for KING & COUNTRY'S song “God Only Knows.” In the music video, each singer portrays a distressed version of themselves and goes on to show the opportunity for redemption at the close.

THE STORY BEHIND "GOD ONLY KNOWS"

As he shares the inspiration behind their new song "God Only Knows," Joel Smallbone, lead singer - for KING & COUNTRY, points out how we can get caught up in making assumptions about people based on the briefest of interactions...

"There seems to be a lot of: 'You said this. You did this. How dare you.' The song is really a question mark of, well, first of all, do we really understand each other, fully? Our histories. Our family heritages. The struggles. The things that have been done to us that no one knows about. The shame that we carry. Some of it we've done to ourselves, as self-sabotage, some of it other people have done to us. You're just seeing a brief moment in time of that person - when, you know, he showed up at the airport at 5 am and cut you in line and really upset you,

Truth is, God is the only one who knows the journey each of us is on!

"There are some things that, man, God does only know. We've got our shame, we've got our troubles, we've got our prejudice, we've got our judgments. God knows your heart and in turn, the flip of that is, God also carries this love that is sort of the superman of all love."

Joel continues...

"We kind of are image-bearers and so we emulate it. But, it's just this wonderful super-human love that if we really lean into it would be a beautiful thing but so often we don't understand because we're stuck in all this human variation."


ABOUT THE BAND

Brothers Joel and Luke from for KING & COUNTRY have been making music for as long as they can remember. “Music has been our life's natural backdrop and soundtrack,” Joel says. “Our Father was a music promoter turned entertainment manager which gave us a first-hand introduction to a very eclectic mix of music and live shows.” The bands songs, known for their raw power, energy, and spiritual core, include "The Proof Of Your Love," Fix My Eyes" and "Shoulders."   

Born and raised in Australia, the brothers moved to America in the early nineties after their father got a job in Nashville, Tennessee. While singing and performing at many live shows, the band caught the attention of record producers and not long after named themselves for KING & COUNTRY. “While working on our debut record, I came up with the idea of calling us 'All the King's Men,' but it just didn't fit exactly with what we were looking for,” says Luke. “We were in the studio with our producer and he said, 'what about for king and country?' The history of that phrase is that back in the olden days, the British would go into battle shouting and chanting, 'For King and Country,' sort of as an anthem of fighting for something that they believed wholeheartedly in. We all looked at each other in the studio and we just knew that was it.”

After releasing their debut album 
Crave  in 2012, featuring the song "Busted Heart (Hold On To Me),"  the brothers continued to make waves with their songs, “Love's to Blame” and “People Change” which was featured on The CW series show,  The Vampire Diaries , while “Light It Up” and “Sane” were featured on Lifetime's  Drop Dead Diva .

The song “Light It Up” was inspired by their good friend's struggle with depression. "For a time, our friend lived in a house where he would stuff blankets in the windows, switch off the lights and live for days at a time alone and in literal darkness,” says Luke. “We wrote this song for him, but for the longest time couldn't work up the courage to tell him. Partly because it was his favorite tune and also because we were afraid of how he would handle it."

As the band continues to grow, their underlying message consistently stays the same. “We want to deliver a message that is about believing in something much bigger than oneself,” explains Luke. “You can confidently go through the ups and downs in your life because you know that life isn't all about you and what you do but rather the hope and salvation of Christ.”

Songs

Preview and Discover the Songs you Love
Christmas LIVE from Phoenix
for KING & COUNTRY
iTunes  |  Amazon
Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong.
for KING & COUNTRY
iTunes  |  Amazon
Into The Silent Night (EP)
for KING & COUNTRY
iTunes  |  Amazon
Crave
for KING & COUNTRY
iTunes  |  Amazon
Proof of Your Love (Monologue Mix) - Single
for KING & COUNTRY
iTunes  |  Amazon