Listen: Tim Bain chats with for KING & COUNTRY vocalist Joel Smallbone about their new Christmas record.
After redefining what the Christmas classic ‘Little Drummer Boy’ should sound like with their epic version from a few years back, it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that For King & Country haven’t actually released a full holiday album.
But the record has been set right this year with the release of ‘A Drummer Boy Christmas‘, that has seen the Brisbane via Nashville duo finally realise a long held dream.
“It’s been a long time coming”, said Joel Smallbone in conversation with 96five’s Tim Bain.
“I feel like we’ve been quietly working on this for eight years. Ever since the beginnings of the band it’s felt like Christmas has been just around the bend for us, it’s high time that we dug deep this year put this record out.”
The album has been supported by a socially distant, drive in based tour which wraps up this weekend. With the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the US, for KING & COUNTRY joined a diverse number of artists with the innovative solution to the problem posed by venue shutdowns – drive in concerts.
Despite the serious nature of living through a once-in-a-century event, Joel has still been able to see the funny side of things.
“In Los Angeles there’s a very nostalgic stadium called the Rose Bowl. If you’re very fortunate as a musician you can perform in the Rose Bowl…but we played in the parking lot, next to the Rose Bowl!”
And as Joel reflects on this time of the year, after a year like no other, he says that it has been so important for people to be able to connect in a safe way that follows the rules and regulations.
“Humans are designed to be so communal, so we felt compelled that after people had been robbed of so much connection this year, that if there was a way for us to do concerts safely and in compliance with the rules, then we thought we have to do it. People have been so excited, even if they’re in cars side by side, just to be in proximity with each other.”
The Drummer Boy Christmas Tour has also seen for KING & COUNTRY team up with The Salvation Army, with the band encouraging their fans to bring donations of new toys and gifts to the concerts.
“It’s been so great to see members from The Salvation Army just beaming”, said Joel. “They’re great people in general, but they’ve been blown away by these car loads of new toys that have kept showing up to the concerts.”
It’s a Christmas story that’s all to familiar to Joel, with the kindness of strangers getting the Smallbone family through their first Christmas in the US.
“We moved from Brisbane to Nashville and in that first year Dad had lost his job, with six kids and one on the way. He had no insurance and no way for my sister to be born in the hospital, and no opportunity to give us any gifts. Mum had sat us down and said that Santa was only going to be able to bring us gifts from the dollar shop. But there was a first grade class in Franklin, Tennessee offered us all the trimmings; they came to Mum and said to write out a list of all the gifts that we kids wanted.”
“Similarly this year, there are so many families that have been hit so hard. This has been a fantastic way to partner with both the Salvo’s as well as the people coming to the shows, to offer Christmas to hopefully thousands of kids, who may not have been receiving much this year.”
And it’s in this space that ‘A Drummer Boy Christmas’ sits; a way to offer hope after the storms of 2020 and to remind us all that Christmas is a time to put others before ourselves.
But what is one of the favourite moments on the album for Joel? Well it’s their collaboration with Bear Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE on the classic Christmas hymn ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’.
“We had this version of the song that we’d never recorded, but we’d played it live and it always had that swampy, NEEDTOBREATHE type swagger. So we just sent them a demo and asked them what they thought. Within days Bear had sent back a beautiful and emotional vocal track that actually caused me to go back into the studio and re-track my vocal, because his was so good!
The track also features Gabby Barrett, who is an American Idol alumni, but has become a real country music sweetheart here. It was a similar thing that when we approached her, in the middle of quarantine, she sent back this marvelous vocal. In both counts, they took the song to a place where we couldn’t have taken it ourselves.”