There was a brief moment at the end of For King & Country’s powerful performance of “Little Drummer Boy” at last year’s CMA Country Christmas in which time stood still…and all Joel Smallbone could hear was complete and utter silence.
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It was down right nerve-racking.
“I remember thinking for a split second that we either were going to get booed off the stage or the audience was going to love it,” remembers Smallbone, one half of the Grammy award winning Christian pop duo. “Luckily, for us, it was the latter.”
Indeed, after a few seconds in which the sheer shock of the electrifying performance subsided, the audience erupted with praise for the two brothers who had just went and introduced an audience of mostly country music fans to their brand of unsurpassed electricity.
And yes, it was this overwhelming response that, in part, inspired For King & Country to release their first Christmas album A Drummer Boy Christmas within the tumultuous year that has been 2020.
“I thank God for Christmas,” says Smallbone who, alongside bandmate Luke Smallbone, was recently nominated for an American Music Award in the Favorite Artist – Contemporary Inspirational category. “We need these checkpoints for humanity. Even this year, we need to celebrate love and family and God and the belief that all things work together for good in the end. At least, that is the great hope.”
And it is this great hope that permeates through the entirety of A Drummer Boy Christmas, a 13 track wonder of epic proportions set for release Oct. 30. Granted, For King & Country have long included Christmas music in their repertoire, embarking, on their first holiday tour back in 2012.
But this year, Christmas music felt different.
“When the rubbish started hitting the fan, with the Nashville tornado and the pandemic and the racial tensions going on, I think we started realizing that we needed to create this album,” says Smallbone, who alongside his brother have racked up seven No. 1 hits and ten Top 10 hits as For King & Country, including the multi-week No. 1 hit “God Only Knows” with country legend Dolly Parton. “We truly believe that the Christmas of 2020 will be a Christmas like we have never experienced in our lifetime. This album allows us to offer hope and celebrate what we believe is the greatest music mankind has ever known.”
Granted, while the duo has long enjoyed taking on more light-hearted holiday fare through the years, it was on this album that the pair says they made the decision to focus on music that symbolized the spiritual hope of the Christmas season. Indeed, songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” with the band NeedToBreathe and “Go Tell It on the Mountain” with American Idol favorite Gabby Barrett do, in fact, shine bright.
But perhaps the most soul-stirring cuts on the whole album are the two originals that the duo wrote for A Drummer Boy Christmas, a writing process that Smallbone describes as nothing short of daunting.
“Christmas music is nostalgic and sacred,” says Smallbone, who will soon embark alongside his brother on A Drummer Boy Drive-In: The Christmas Tour. “You just don’t want to add to the noise.”
And they surely didn’t.
The sure to be a classic “Heavenly Hosts” was actually written during a ‘cyber tag team writing session’ between producer Benjamin Backus back in the studio and Luke Smallbone, who was actually spending that particular summer day mowing his yard.
“Benjamin (Backus) sent him a piano line that he thought was festive that really ended up becoming the foundation of the song,” Smallbone remembers. “They then started sending voice memos of lyrics and melodies back and forth, and the song really started to take form.”
And then there is “The Carol of Joseph (I Believe in You),” written in the afterglow of Christmas 2019 and a song that serves as a soul stirring beauty of a carol that touches on the quiet hero of Joseph and the role he played in the greatest story ever told.
“If you think about it, Jesus Christ’s first believer was Joseph, which is a fascinating thought,” says Smallbone, who admits that he’s never been able to get through the classic “Mary, Did You Know” without weeping. “It became a trifecta moment for us in the writing room, with Joseph believing in himself and Mary believing in Joseph and both of them believing in Jesus. It was a marvelous point of view that I think we have breezed by in the past in terms of writing.”
These marvelous reminders of the overwhelming beauty of life has served as a fortress even for Smallbone as of late.
“Day by day, you just have to stay in the fight,” he says quietly. “I don’t want to get so far that I get too swallowed up in the despair of the influx of information that is getting passed around at an incredible rate. (Pauses.) I don’t believe the world is getting worse. I believe that if you really focus on how far we’ve come, it’s really getting better.”