For some artists, the announcement of a Christmas album and tour might symbolize a valley in their career, though it often results in a lucrative holiday season.
In the case of for King & Country, the two-time Grammy Award-winning duo, the opposite rings true. On the heels of the stunning success of the album “Burn the Ships,” released last month, and the album’s debut single, “Joy,” hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Christian Audience charts, expanding the contemporary Christian pop act’s fanbase to arenas during the holidays makes a lot of sense. The group will open their nationwide Christmas tour at Raleigh’s PNC Arena Nov. 29, continuing to Charlotte’s Bojangles Coliseum Nov. 30.
We spoke with Luke Smallbone, who, alongside brother Joel, makes up for King & Country, during a break before the tour began. He talked about the pressures that come from inside the Christian music world to only be influenced by their own, as well as staying healthy while living on a bus.
Q: You have had bouts with ulcerative colitis that have forced you to take breaks from the road in the past. How hard is it to keep a handle on your health when you are living with a dietary plan that revolves around snack runs at truck stops out of necessity?
A: Yeah, it’s difficult when you’re already not feeling well. It’s always interesting with health, as I could be considered a healthy person for three-quarters of my life, and then you are suddenly at a crossroads where your body isn’t responding to something in the way that you would hope. It serves as a wakeup call. You become someone whose body goes from being completely responsive to telling you, “Hey, I can’t do this anymore.”
In some cases with autoimmune diseases, you have to figure out why your body has changed, as it often has to do with stress or pressure. For me, I had to sit back and reevaluate why I was taking everything in my life so seriously to a point where I had become sick, because these things don’t usually come from nowhere.
Q: Your brother Joel takes on acting gigs from time to time, and was the lead actor in the human trafficking movie “Priceless” in 2016. When he takes time off from the music to act, does that allow you concentrate on other aspects of your art as well?
A: Most of the time, you’d be amazed at how quickly these type of movies are filmed. That one, in particular, was filmed in just three weeks, and we had one or two shows scheduled right in the middle of that schedule, so they had worked it out where he could fly out and make those shows and then just fly back to the set. There’s always a lot of things going on to the side of for King & Country where, even when you’re home, you feel like you have other work to do as well. There’s always songs to write and record, to some degree, as it takes us a long time to create new music.
If he were to do a lot more acting — and we’ve both been talking about what the next film idea might be for him — it might create some more space for me to create other things. Most of the time, Joel and I are exclusively focused on the music.
Q: While “Burn the Ships” was expected to be successful, its release was met with phenomenal sales numbers, which led many to realize that your duo has a sizable crossover fanbase within the pop music world. As an artist working in a genre that sometimes feels pigeonholed, how does having that crossover success make you feel?
A: Well, the hope is that you are just making good music, and I feel that good music will break down the barriers of genre. I write from the perspective of what Jesus has done for me in my life, and I think Jesus is attractive to everyone, if they know who he really is. My hope is to write songs and make music on par with anyone out there, especially when I think about what Jesus has taught in the Bible, in that we should strive to be excellent in what we do.
I love the fact that we live in a day where Apple Music and Spotify are bringing down these barriers between genres. As I believe in something I heard years ago, as there is only good music and bad music. I try to be on the side of good music, and if you are making good music, it can reach anyone and go anywhere around the world.
Q: You guys have said in the past that you are influenced by music as diverse as U2 to the “Braveheart” soundtrack. With so many Christian acts seemingly having 99 percent of their influences coming from their own genre, do you feel they may be stunting their art by not looking outside of their own worldview more?
A: I think the Renaissance was driven by art that was actually coming from inside the Church, but what they were trying to accomplish was taking the resources they had at that time to go out and create things like the Sistine Chapel, to go out and create these unbelievable works of art — by not just creating these masterpieces that one certain group of people would be acceptable of. They were trying to make the greatest pieces of art as physically possible.
The truth is, and it’s kind of difficult to admit, but a lot of the best art today isn’t necessarily coming from the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) genre. So I look at it like the way they tell some kids that the best way to get better at basketball is to join and compete against older kids in tougher leagues.
In some cases, and it may not be what we’re necessarily consciously thinking about when I listen to other types of music, but I want to know what (those musicians) know, I want to know why they like that particular sound, and how they wrote that particular song. I want to get better. I want to be as good as I can with the gifts that God has given me. I want to try to use those gifts as good as I can, and see what happens.
I know what benchmark we’re shooting for when we sit down and try to create, and others may not be shooting for that in some cases. They have to make their own decisions, and I’m just trying to do my best. My hope is that we can be a part of a genre of music that is making the best music, the best art out there. If you’re a painter, you should strive to be the best painter out there. If you are making soundtracks, you should be trying to make the best soundtracks out there. That’s the benchmark. It shouldn’t be “that’s good enough,” because “good enough” should be very difficult for an artist to accept.
for King & Country Little Drummer Boy – The Christmas Tour, featuring Zach Williams
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 29
Where: PNC Arena, 1400 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh
Cost: $28.50 to $120
Info: ThePNCArena.com or 919-861-2300