Bon Scott was right – it is a long way to the top… but at every twist and turn of the for KING & COUNTRY saga, brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone have been by each other’s side.
That long road started with move to the bright lights of the US from their native Australia as children, getting a front row seat to sister Rebecca St James’ success through the 90s and 2000s, and was followed by their own success after years of tireless touring, writing and recording.
Ten years ago Billboard Magazine named them one of their artists to watch in 2012, and the subsequent decade has seen that claim not just made good, but belted for six! There’s been number one albums, a swag of Grammys and Billboard Music Awards and collaborations with artists as diverse as Timbaland, Tori Kelly and Dolly Parton.
And with their new record What Are We Waiting For? set to drop this Friday, the Aussie duo have made no qualms about their quest for excellence.
“My biggest struggle as a Christian musician is that we’re excellent,” Luke Smallbone told 96five’s Tim Bain. “If you’re going to play one of our songs alongside a Taylor Swift song, a Justin Timberlake song and a Bruno Mars song, we want to make sure there’s not this massive dip when for KING & COUNTRY comes on.”
“If we’re in touch with the creator of the universe then our creativity should be brilliant! A really great song will communicate to the convinced and the unconvinced, but if we’re only ever communicating to the convinced then there’s a great chance our art is soft.
“We’re always pushing to ensure that people ask where did that song come from – there’s something different about that song, their lyrics and the hope they’re talking about – we can be effective in that way.”
With What Are We Waiting For? exploring themes of universal suffering brought about by a pandemic, Joel says that there’s a great opportunity to find a new level of relating to each other.
“With that common suffering we should be able to find a new level of empathy and that deeper connection.
“There’s another layer to this album and it’s really a record of a lot of questions,” Joel continues. “Everything in the US feels like a statement at the moment; part of what we want to do with this record is embrace the mystery, the marvel and the question of where we find ourselves; where do we go from here in this new frontier?”
But bringing it back to a personal level, what’s even better to see is how their music brings these two brothers closer. It’s a stark difference to the often tempestuous nature of siblings in a band, such as the now legendary spats between Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis.
“Joel and I have been working together now for almost 15 years,” says Luke. “That’s a long time considering we were rivals as children! Music gets hard and if you’re going to do it as a profession, you will end up liking your idea the best, and the other person will like their idea the best.
“The brilliance of working in our family is that you’re forced to resolve those differences, and here’s the thing I’ve discovered about music. When you’ve stumbled onto something you think is great – when someone pushes back on that, it usually gets better!
“You get to a place where you ask, can you make great into brilliant, and I think you can only get there with a bit of disagreement.”
And when it comes to how the boys would like this album to be received, Joel says that their message of hope remains at the forefront.
“We’re in a time of being overt about faith, hope and love… I really hope that people see Jesus, and see the love story between God and humanity in a slightly different light than they have in the past.”