Every once in a while, when he is absolutely sure that the world is not watching and there is no one to judge what some might see as a pompous attitude, for King & Country’s Joel Smallbone takes a moment to be utterly and selfishly human.
“It’s like I want to pat myself on the back and throw my fist up in the air, you know?” Joel says with a laugh during a recent interview with American Songwriter, mere days before the Gold certification of the Grammy award-winning album Burn the Ships. “I want to celebrate what we have accomplished.”
And rightfully so.
In the last two and a half years since he and his brother Luke Smallbone released their groundbreaking album Burn the Ships, the Christian duo have torn down every wall built around them, walls that the boundaries of genres have often had a tendency to strengthen. They have found ways to further blur the musical rulebook, collaborating with the top artists of country, hip-hop and pop, letting each and every additional alliteration to their already impressive body of Christian music take them further in strengthening their message. Via the release of the new deluxe version of Burn the Ships, the brothers have gone and further cemented their stake as the original creators of one of the most important albums of these turbulent times.
So yeah, can’t the guy boast a little?
Well, not quite.
“I always stop, because, I mean, who am I kidding?” Joel asks aloud. “This entire project just always had the grace and kindness of God written all over it. The hand of God was on this project, every step of the way. It was just always prompting us to take the next step.”
Currently, the four-time Grammy award-winning duo’s next step is Burn the Ships (Deluxe Edition: Remixes & Collaborations,) which brings together the many different creative takes of music’s most intriguing artists, wrapped neatly within the reimagined 17-song project.
“It’s a risky business, the iterations of songs,” Joel explains. “Some listeners love to have something new and fresh, while others get really attached to certain interpretations of the song.”
Take for example the song “Together.” “It was one of the most frustrating songs, creatively and legally and in every way possible,” recalls Joel of the song that was originally a collaboration with Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin. “It was just one of those complicated songs when you peek behind the back door of what it took to get here. I mean, there were many times with that song that we were like, ‘this song should not see the light of the day.’ But as collaborators and artists, we stuck it out and it became a beautiful moment that we simply can’t take credit for. Something bigger was in play with that one.”
The song ended up giving them another opportunity to stretch their creativity into the country realm, a genre that for King & Country have increasingly found a safe home within, thanks to a fan base craving a bit more testimony in their turbulent lives.
“It’s certainly strange for us two Australian Americans who have spent the dominant parts of our life in Nashville to have not done this sooner,” Joel says with a laugh. “You live by the beach, but you never go to the beach, you know?”
But now that they have felt the Nashville sand under their toes thanks to the sonic contributions from country artists such as Dolly Parton (“God Only Knows”), Gabby Barrett and Hannah Ellis and Jackson Michelson on the new country version of “Together,” one has a feeling that this is a well that they might come back to drink from again.
“I think we are all still taking it a day at a time at this point,” he says quietly. “There has been hardship and loss and tension and anger throughout the past year, which I feel has given our music a great opportunity to bring people together. What if we tolerated each other’s differences? What if we are able to look at each other with grace and love and curiosity and fight to come together. At a time when everything is driving us apart, what if we wave the flag and realize that we are stronger when we are together?”