116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Three albums into their career, Luke and Joel Smallbone are in a far different place than when they began writing songs and setting the wheels in motion for their group, For King & Country.
In quick order, the Australian siblings who have since moved to Nashville and become U.S. citizens have gone from newcomers to one of the bigger acts on the Christian music scene.
They had been slated to close out The Great Jones County Fair in Monticello on July 25, but that show was canceled. Fans now can see them Saturday night (11/13/21) at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids. Their fall tour, dubbed “Relate,” will debut new songs from an upcoming studio project.
Their 2012 debut album, “Crave,” got things off to a solid start by reaching No. 4 on Billboard magazine’s Christian Albums chart.
The 2014 follow-up, “Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong,” broke things wide-open, topping the Christian Album chart and producing two No. 1 singles on “Billboard’s” Hot Christian Songs chart — “Shoulders” and “Fix My Eyes.” Things culminated with the album winning the Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.
The duo’s contributions to the soundtrack of the 2016 movie “Priceless” solidified their standing.
As the Smallbone brothers began thinking about their third album, the question was where to go next musically and lyrically. Remembering a moment early in the career of For King & Country helped provide an answer.
“I remember the first song that I ever liked that I wrote was actually a song called ‘Crave’ from the first album. It ended up being the album title,” Luke Smallbone said in a recent phone interview.
“I remember it kind of bringing me to tears, and I remember thinking to myself, even if nobody else hears this song, this song is special to me. So we kind of thought to ourselves, well, what if we continue that thought? We make it special to us, because we’ve got a soul, and we’re persons just like the other people who are listening to this music.
“Our hope is that if it’s special to us, it will be special to millions of other people across the world.”
That thinking has resulted in the brothers’ most personal collection of songs yet on “Burn The Ships,” the duo’s recently released third studio album.
And it turns out, they had more headline life events to use as inspiration, especially for Luke Smallbone, who battled a severe case of ulcerative colitis in 2012 and dropped 125 pounds before finally seeing the illness go into remission in 2017.
The title track, “Burn The Ships,” is based on struggles experienced by Joel Smallbone’s wife, Courtney, during one of her pregnancies. She was suffering severe morning sickness and was prescribed drugs to help deal with her ailment. She ended up getting addicted to the drugs, but faced up to the situation, went for treatment and has been free of the addiction ever since.
Another life-changing event involving Luke and Courtney’s infant son, Leo, inspired the song “Need You More,” which the Smallbone brothers co-wrote with their sister and fellow Christian music artist, Susan St. James.
In January 2018, Leo was discovered at home not breathing. He was revived with CPR, but later went through skull reconstructive surgery. Happily, young Leo has recovered from that major scare.
The feelings of appreciation and gratitude both brothers now possess thread their way throughout the “Burn The Ships” album, especially pronounced in lyrics to “Need You More,” “Joy,” “Amen” and “Control.”
Musically, the “Burn The Ships” album retains key trademarks of the For King & Country sound — airy instrumentation and soaring melodies — which have gotten the group comparisons to U2 and Coldplay — and big drums. The collection also adds new electronic and synthetic elements to virtually every song.
Fans have responded to the music and messages on “Burn The Ships,” which has topped the Christian album chart and produced chart-topping Christian singles with “Joy” and “God Only Knows.” That song has since been redone as a duet with Dolly Parton and reached the No. 2 slot on Billboard magazine’s Hot Christian Songs chart.
Since releasing that album, For King & Country” also has released “A Drummer Boy Christmas,” which was planned before the pandemic hit, then recorded while the Smallbone brothers couldn’t tour.
The live show the Smallbone brothers have put together for this year’s touring figures to be appropriately epic. Luke Smallbone said the set will touch on all three non-holiday albums, and audiences also might get a preview of songs that will be on the next For King & Country studio album. Fans can expect a big show visually, as well.
“One of the things that we have always enjoyed doing is quite a lot of production,” Luke Smallbone said. “My brother, Joel, and I, before we were musicians, we were crew guys for our sister, Rebecca St. James. So I was a lighting director and Joel was the stage manager so the stage, production and the lights have always kind of been a pretty big theme in what we do.
“So yeah, this tour is going to be no different.”