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On the Struggles That Informed 'Burn the Ships,' Their 'Most Mature Record' Yet

by Deborah 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.

  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 experiences.
  "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 lesson.
  "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 together.'
  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."

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."

Here's what the song, Joy, feels like to me: a giant release and a call to action, to accept happiness into your life, no matter what.
It's definitely a fragile time in America, the 24/7 news cycle, polarization, et cetera, and it's easy to get caught up in that ...
and listening to this song, my first reaction is that you're saying, "Stop for a second and listen." Am I on track at all?

  Joel: You're insightful. This song took six months to write, and we wrote it partly here in Nashville, some in England, some in Los Angeles, and it was not a finicky song at all to write, we just have a long process. On the song itself, I think that people are so attached to their phones, screens, social media that you need to pause and see the joy, in human connection and interaction.

  Luke: Yes, we wanted to really concentrate on positivity in this song and leave out all negativity. I feel like when people see the video, it will bring it home and make sense. There's a real beauty in diversity and different opinions. If you can be open and free about it, that's where the joy is.

So the hope is for you that this track,
Joy, might actually get folks to
slow down a second?

  Joel: Yeah, we just get so addicted to these phones, screens, social media, that life just moves along at the speed of light, or seems to anyways.

Joy is not overtly religious in its lyrics.
Are you hoping for some
crossover success here?

  Luke: We honestly never think of things in that sense. The music industry tends to want to put labels on it, but fans don't think of music in those terms.

  Joel: I think we make music for people, so if it makes it to all corners of the earth, great, and if not, then our only responsibility is to make music that is true to who we are. If you can do that, you'll find that millions of people are going through the same challenges that you are. It's all about human connection.

This is the first new music from you in a while. What is your hope for fans,
and I mean your loyal listeners,
as well as the people that will discover your music for the first time.
What can you tell us about the new album?

  Joel: Two years ago, our record label sat down with us and asked what the next stage of our career is. Honestly, the first word out of our mouths was joy. The next stage is joy. There should be joy and not a flighty sense of it, just stumbling around hoping that that happiness might find me.
  No, there should be a fight for joy, a very passionate pursuit of joy. So on this upcoming album, which will be 10 songs, there's a romantic theme throughout and also a lot of spiritual themes. We spent a lot of time writing for the record, but we also wanted it to be concise.

The album does not have a title yet and is coming when? Some of your marketing materials had mentioned that it was
being released in May.

  Luke: [Laughs] Yeah, we have pushed this project back two or three times, but it's coming this fall, most likely in October.

Your last album was released in 2014.
What took so long?

  Luke: Well, we did the movie Priceless in 2016 with Universal ... and we wrote songs for the film, which held us over.

  Joel: You know, there are lots of other artists that can just get in the studio and simply write an album's worth of material on the spot. It doesn't work like that for us. I have always said that I am not a good enough songwriter to write songs that don't mean anything to me personally. So, if you're going to write 10 songs for an album, you have to live some life so you can have something to write about. If I was to write an album every year or two, I'd probably not have anything that interesting or unique to say.

  Luke: Right, you need that time to make some mistakes, strive a little, so the 10 songs that we have, they're essentially our journal entries.

You are both songwriters and collaborate on most of your material together. Now that the process is wrapping up for this album, is there a feeling of satisfaction?

  Luke: I can explain it this way: Our sister Rebecca is pregnant and seems like she's going to have a baby any minute. I feel like that's a good comparison with our new record. You know how it is, you live and breathe this stuff, so right now we are very anxious. We're about to give birth to a new album.

  Joel: Exactly, I lay in bed at night thinking about it, Luke is probably thinking about it in the shower. It's on our minds all the time, especially now.

See For King & Country's Official Music Video For "Joy"  featuring Candace Cameron Bure - Click Here

See For King & Country's "O God Forgive Us" Official Music Video - Click Here

See For King & Country's live version of "Priceless" as they surprised fan Candace Cameron Bure on "The View" - Click Here

You've had plenty of chart success,
you've won awards -- with this being your third album, are there tangible goals?

  Joel: You never sit down to do a record thinking about charts, winning an award or anything like that. That's not why you get into this. You do it for the power of the music and the effect that your songs can have on people.

But isn't there also a hope that as many people as possible will connect with
your songs and it may help them
in their own lives?

  Luke: Absolutely, that's the anticipation. If I was to encapsulate what we want from this album is that a lot of people out there, who might be hurting, can be touched and encouraged by these songs.

  Joel: This is such an exciting time in music because the walls are coming down. It's all about creating a playlist to meet your emotions. I'm a believer that music is the universal language. Our hope is that wherever you are, no matter what your religious beliefs; that you can look at this music and just say, "I get it."

 I know you guys are big U2 fans and they seem to be one of just a few big acts not afraid to get onstage and say how they feel politically --
and if they lose any fans because of that,
they seem OK with that.
So I am asking that, in this age of polarization that we live in, what is your take on it and do you try to avoid it?

  Joel: I think it's less about staying away from it and concentrating on what our mission is, but I do believe there's a social side to our music, too. We're not a political band, but we're a social band, talking about important issues like human trafficking. Also, talking about women and a woman's worth.
  But the climate is kind of toxic and angry out there. At the same time, I have just become an American citizen, so I am feeling a real affinity with Americans as well as patriotism.

So Luke, you are an American citizen too? Are you both dual citizens of
Australia and the U.S.?

  Luke: Yep, that's right. I passed that test a long time before Joel ever did. [Laughs]

Did you help your brother study?

  Luke: We're laughing, but it's actually a little intimidating to think you might get rejected. It's a giant relief when you know that you've passed.

As a former radio programmer, I still have that sense of how a song will sound on the air. I think Joy is one of those songs that was just made for radio. With all of the other platforms available to consume music, do you still sense that romance of how a song will sound on the radio?

  Joel: I am an Apple, Spotify guy, but there is still a certain magnificence to hearing your song on a terrestrial radio station. I don't think that will ever go away.

How do you make sure that your shows
are inclusive?

  Luke: I think it's similar to how you make your music. You tell your stories about where you are in life and people gravitate to it because they're experiencing similar things. We all put our pants on the same way. We meet people where they are. When you speak to people from your box and expect people to relate, you're not going to get the results that you were striving for.
  I believe that anyone can walk through those doors on any given night, and you have to be ready for that, and be able to relate to that person.

What's your favorite kind of venues
to play?

  Luke: We have been playing a lot of hockey rinks and basketball gyms of late. [Laughs] Honestly, it doesn't matter where we are; we're going to try and bring people in and create something special. But we're thinking of going on a short run and play theaters like Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. We're really excited about that. The best places to play as an artist are the places where you can reach out and touch the audience and create a community.

Why do you think there are some Christian artists lately who do not want that
Christian tag on their music?

  Joel: I believe that when you look at history, there was so much power in religious music, whether it be hymns, chants, choir music. I think there are signs that it's coming back. I think there's always going to be artists that desperately want everyone to like them. That's a dangerous place.
  I think with the album we're about to release that we have romantic songs, but we also have our spiritual and religious songs. On our spiritual songs, we don't back away from our beliefs. We're not backwards, coming forwards about our spiritual songs. We're proud of who we are. It's music that we just have to get out, we believe in it that much.

You've both been through a lot personally. Everyone is healthy now, I hope. ...
Luke, you went through something really serious. As a cancer survivor, I can tell you that it's pretty much a factor in everything I do. How does what you survived affect both your career and life overall?

  Luke: Yes, I can say that when you walk through something like that, it just changes you for the better. It actually makes you a more compassionate person. It changes the lens that you see life through. You just had to overcome miserable things to get there.
  I don't ever want to go back there, but you're a better person on this side of it. I work hard now, but I also rest hard. I think, before, my value was in my work, and now it's in things like seeing my wife's smile as I come up the driveway.

I probably should have asked this first.
Why the name, For King & Country?

  Joel: It's actually good you put it at the very end. You know, when we were thinking about a name, every billboard, every name, every advertisement that you see, they are all potential band names. We came up with our share of silly ones, but we wanted something that was a touch regal, a name which had a sense of purpose. We didn't want a quirky, just bizarre name.
  The phrase "For King & Country" just kind of came out in our first studio session. It was actually a cry that Roman soldiers would cry out as they were going into battle, and we thought it was perfect. After all, all of us are essentially going into battle.

~ from www.billboard.com ~


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For King & Country
(from Burn The Ships)

Sibling duo for KING & COUNTRY channel their dynamic energy into an electrifying eleven-song album. Burn The Ships captures the brothers' musical artistry and uplifting perspective on the first hit single, "Joy," along with "Pioneers," "Fight On, Fighter," and others.

For King & Country
(Run Wild,
Live Free, Love Strong.
Anniversary Edition)

Following their sparkling live release, for KING & COUNTRY returns with a highly anticipated studio record, RUN WILD. LIVE FREE. LOVE STRONG. With their sophomore studio release, the Dove Awards' New Artist Of The Year raise the bar with powerful singles "Fix My Eyes," "It's Not Over Yet," "Long Live The Young At Heart," and others. Deluxe Anniversary Edition includes full content of the original release plus three bonus tracks- "Priceless," "Ceasefire," and "Wholehearted."
2015 Grammy Winner-
Best CCM Album

2015 Christian Retailing's Best Award Winner

Luke Smalbone,
Joel Smallbone

"Priceless: She's Worth Fighting For"

The "Priceless Movement" has been part of the band for KING & COUNTRY from the beginning, reminding women of their worth and encouraging men to respect and honor them. This novelization of the major motion picture Priceless, created by brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, tells the story of James Stevens (played by Joel Smallbone), a man thrown into the dark world of human trafficking. Can the love, strength, and faith of a woman change the course of his future? Will he risk his life to rescue her and show how much she's worth fighting for?

For King & Country

Carrying a name that evokes substance and a sense of purpose, For King & Country make their debut with music that more than lives up to their clever moniker. Enveloping their insightful lyrics in a sea of ear-grabbing melodies, brothers Joel and Luke have forged a distinctive sound that has earned them an enthusiastic fan base as well as the respect of industry professionals. Together, Joel and Luke ignite each other's individual passions to form a unique, distinctive voice that blends into simmering sibling harmony, unrivaled by any other collaborative group to date. For King & Country's debut album, Crave, is a vibrant collection of songs, marked by emotional honesty and a riveting transparency. Includes "The Proof Of Your Love," "Busted Heart."

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