for KING & COUNTRY
Struggles That Informed 'Burn the Ships,' Their 'Most Mature Record' Yet
Evans Price, Billboard.com
Musicians' wives often serve
as their muse, and throughout history that dynamic has been known to
spawn some pretty sappy love songs. However, on Burn the Ships,
For King & Country's third studio album, siblings Joel and
Luke Smallbone tackle weightier issues than romance.
"It feels like the most mature record that we've made just in
understanding who we are as a duo, who we are as men and maybe
understanding life because we are a bit older than we were last time
around," Joel Smallbone tells Billboard.
The lead single,
Joy, has already reached #2 on Billboard's Contemporary Christian
music charts and remains close to that spot months after its release.
The title track and God Only Knows have also cracked the Top 25.
Seated in a Nashville studio on a warm fall afternoon, his younger
brother Luke agrees with that assessment, and admits this collection is
also much more personal.
"We intentionally went back to our previous album [2014's Run Wild.
Live Free. Love Strong] and looked at the songs that connected with
people. Every song that really moved the needle, even the ones that
weren't singles, were songs that were personal. So we said, 'We're not
going to do 15 songs on an album. We're going to do 10 songs and every
single song needs to have a personal story attached to it.'"
Even if they didn't
live it themselves, each song had to be born out of real life
"It doesn't mean that it needs to have happened in our life, but somebody
came to us with the story. It feels like you could touch it rather than
conjuring up what the listener wants to hear, which sometimes us writers
do that and it's dangerous. It could work for some, but I often joke
that I'm not a good enough songwriter to write about something that
doesn't mean something to me. You could go through these songs and I
could point out something that Joel walked through or something that I
walked through very, very clearly."
The title track was
inspired by Luke's wife Courtney battling addiction. The couple
has three sons, and, during her second pregnancy, doctors prescribed an
anti-nausea medicine to help Courtney with debilitating morning
sickness. During the pregnancy, they continued to increase her dosage.
"I was in Austin, TX for a show," Luke recalls. "Courtney calls me and
said, 'Hey I need you to come home.' I said, 'Okay what's going on?' She
said, 'I can't stop taking these pills. We've got to deal with this.'"
Luke returned immediately, took his wife to a psychiatric facility and
doctors placed Courtney in a treatment program. Luke dropped her off
every morning at 9am and picked her 2pm. "I was at home one day and she
had a bottle of pills in her hand. I was like, 'What do you have the
bottle of pills for?'" he recalls. "She said, 'Luke I need to flush
these pills because these pills represent so much guilt and shame in my
life. I don't want to be consumed by my past anymore. I want to move
into a new day and to what's before me.'"
The album title came from that moment combined with an old history
"I read a story about an explorer going to a new land. When he arrived on
the shore, he calls everybody off of the ships and said, 'Hey let's go
explore this land and see what there is to be seen,'" Luke explains.
"All the men were terrified of going into the unknown and he realized
that even those boats were grimy, stinky and small, they wanted to stay
on the boats because it was familiar.
The next day he calls them out again and when all the sailors were on
land, he gives the command to burn the ships because he said, 'We're not
going to retreat. We're going to move forward in our lives.' The
flushing of the pills was the burning of the ships for my wife and for
us to step into a new world, a new day. That was four years ago now. My
wife said, 'You need to go share this story with people because there's
so many people that are bound by things in their past. I don't want
people to live like that. I want my story to be an encouragement to help
them spread their wings.'"
Fight On, Fighter
and Hold Her were both songs written to encourage their wives,
and their spouses to join in to sing on the final track Pioneers.
The song began with a great melody and as they began writing the lyric,
comparing marriage to being a pioneer, they decided it would be only
natural to include Courtney and Joel's wife (Moriah Peters), who
is also an accomplished Christian artist.
"Marriage is kind of like pioneering," Luke observes. "You find this
beautiful place to build a home, and once it's built, you get to see the
glory. You look back on what it was like to build that new home and
plant those crops, whatever it might be. It feels like you are
pioneering. Joel and I originally started singing this song, just him
and I, and it was very weird. It's like, 'We're not pioneering
It was a strange thing and so then we were like, 'Well, what if we ask
our wives to do it,' and it was cool!"
"When I sat down in the studio and played all four of us together I
literally cried," Joel says of being moved by their efforts.
The album also includes another family collaboration. The Smallbone's
sister, Rebecca St. James, co-wrote three songs, including
Never Give Up.
"She was very influential in that song and that moment," Joel says of his
sister, who was one of Christian music's most successful acts in the
'90s. "She did it for 20 years and now she just had her second child, so
they've got two little girls... For King & Country in some ways is a
legacy band of Rebecca's. We grew up doing stage managing, operating
lights and singing background vocals for her."
For King & Country's Official Music Video For
Only Knows" - Click
For King & Country's
Official Music Video For
Candace Cameron Bure
For King & Country's
"O God Forgive Us"
Official Music Video - Click
For King & Country's
live version of "Priceless"
as they surprised fan
Candace Cameron Bure
Before the album dropped
Oct. 5 via Word/Curb Records, For King & Country released videos for five
songs. "We did one in Iceland, one in L.A., one in Seattle, one on the salt
flats in Utah. It's been intense, but it's been remarkable," Joel says. "We
had to come up with these concepts and the second song on the record is
called God Only Knows. The week we were coming up with the video
concept both Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade had taken their
lives. The song really circles around this idea of statistically we are
lonelier than we've ever been, but yet we're more connected by social media
than we've ever been. It's almost these faux relationships, these sort of
fabricated relationships. In the 1980s in America, 20% of the people claimed
to be lonely. In 2017 it's almost 50. We've more than doubled, but yet in
that time period the connectivity of humanity has exponentially heightened.
Why is this happening?"
They decided to make the
video a clip to support suicide prevention. "We follow this pretty young
lady through her day doing normal things," Joel explains of the video, which
was directed by their brother Ben Smallbone. "She hangs out with
friends. She goes to a coffee shop and she walks onto a bridge that night
and throws herself over a bridge. Then it sort of reverses to a pinnacle
moment where someone interacts with her. It's a physical interaction. It's
not a Facebook message or an Instagram note. Someone ran after her, hugged
her, found her and changed her."
Not all of the album is so emotionally heavy. The first single, Joy,
is a buoyant track backed by a 100-member choir. The song has already topped
the Christian Airplay chart, earning them their fourth No. 1 on that list,
and it peaked at No. 2 on Hot Christian Songs.
"Joy was the first
song we sat down to write for the record," Joel says. "We've been a pretty
serious band up until this point. This was a real fun moment just to go,
'Alright we've still got something we're saying here, but let's have a bit
of fun with it.' We really enjoyed that. It's hard to write a song like
Joy without a good feeling. This record needed to have depth, but it's
also a good moment in time to find things to celebrate."
The Smallbones are
currently touring in support of Burn the Ships. "We are trying
something a little bit different," Luke says. "We were like, 'What if we go
all around America and do 10 shows in the biggest cities, but intentionally
keep them in theater size, 1500 or something like?' So we're going to New
York, Nashville, L.A., Denver, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago and we're going to
play and really introduce this album to people for the first time in these
kind of intimate settings that I think will really leave a mark."
Obviously, the brothers are hoping these songs will connect with a broad
audience, and they trust they will find their home. "We've always just tried
to write songs that are true to us, so if it's writing songs that could
played on top 40, that's great," he says. "If it's songs about our love for
our wives, that's great. If it's songs about what Jesus has done in my life,
I think that's relevant as well. That's what makes art palatable is when the
person who listens says that song is true to whoever wrote that song and so
wherever it goes, we go."
As the interview winds down and Joel is finishing up some soup, he
reaches for a culinary reference to describe his hopes for the album. "You
can either make a cheeseburger of a song or sushi," he grins. "The
cheeseburger you can consume and be like, 'This is awesome!' It's about the
way you consume it. With sushi you've got the chopsticks. You've got to slow
down. With the cheeseburger, you just shove it into your face. Music is
similar and, hopefully, we want our music to be sushi to the listener.
There's nothing wrong with either. If you have too much of either,
especially cheeseburgers, it's not going to be healthy for you, but the
point is that there is music that I feel like will come and go. As quickly
as you see it, you consume it and then it's gone. What we've worked for -
and whether or not we've succeeded we'll find out in a few months or a year
- but our hope that when it's heard and consumed there's an honesty and
depth. It might not be the flavor of the week, but when you consume it, you
connect and it lasts."
~ from www.billboard.com ~