Creating Christmas Music in the Midst of a Pandemic: An Interview with for KING & COUNTRY
With all the challenges 2020 has brought, creating and sharing music has never been more challenging or more important for artists. As we approach the Christmas season, for KING & COUNTRY is offering listeners some much-needed hope and joy through their brand new record A Drummer Boy Christmas and a unique drive-in tour experience. We spoke with one of the award-winning brothers, Luke Smallbone, to discuss the new music and how COVID-19 impacted the recording process and upcoming tour.
Worship Leader: So we want to talk about the brand new Christmas album you guys just released, but first, I want to talk a little bit about what touring looks like right now. I know you guys are very interactive and engaged with the crowd in a normal concert setting, so in a COVID-19 world where that just isn’t possible right now, I’m curious how your live show has had to adapt and adjust to the drive-in style and what that will mean for the upcoming Christmas tour.
for KING & COUNTRY: Well, I think you either have a choice of not doing shows or you have the choice of innovating and I think we’ve tried to take the idea of knowing we can’t take the massive, massive production that we’d do in an arena and do it in a drive-in, but what if we just take this and make it a totally different experience as a whole? We want to make it something where people can look back on and hopefully say “hey, remember in 2020 where we couldn’t go and do shows together, there was this band for KING & COUNTRY that did these drive-ins and it was an experience that I never really thought that I’d enjoy but I went and it was a memory that I’ll never forget.” Obviously our parents have memories of going to drive-ins in the 60s and 70s and maybe even 80s, but what if these tours and shows and drive-ins are some of these kids’ and families’ memories? 2020 doesn’t need to be void of happy memories. And I hope that these drive-ins are a part of creating some happy memories. Especially as we go into Christmas, I want Christmas to still be Christmas for people and I still want there to be joy. I think that’s what Jesus would want us to have, and I hope these drive-ins can play a little role in that.
WL: For this Christmas tour specially, what are you guys most looking forward to? What’s the moment in the night that you’re really looking forward to sharing with people?
fK&C: The cool thing about a Christmas tour is you’re really talking about some of the greatest songs that have ever been written in the world that you get to pack into one night. These Christmas songs have been around for hundreds of years and they’re tried and true and tested, so just to put all of those songs together and to be able to have the build-up of what these songs mean. I found myself, as I was listening to “O Come All Ye Faithful” on the Christmas record, it brought a tear to my eye— not because of the record or because of this, that or the other, but it’s because you have so many songs declaring the joy of a baby boy and then you get to “O Come All Ye Faithful” and you’re asking the faithful one to come, to be with us. There’s that crescendo effect that takes place and I hope that’s what can be a part of this drive-in Christmas tour, that there can be a crescendo that takes place, which is really talking about how delighted we are to be at a point where Jesus has come and we get to celebrate that at Christmas.
WL: So with this new album that you just put out, I’m wondering what it’s been like to create and share these Christmas songs in the middle of a time where people really need hope and joy, and like you said, to go back over some of those classic Christmas songs and see them through the lens of all 2020 has brought?
fK&C: I, a lot of times, write songs as a reminder to my own soul and my own heart, and I think that in 2020, these Christmas songs are a reminder to us that a baby boy came over 2,000 years ago and just because a pandemic happened doesn’t eradicate or remove the baby boy who came over 2,000 years ago— He’s still here, He still came and He’s still with us. I think that’s what music does— a good song gets stuck in your head for a reason. For a good song to get stuck in your head with eternal truths, that’s a brilliant thing to get stuck in your head. I hope that’s what these songs do for people. I hope they’re a reminder of hope, that all is not lost. A lot of people have lost people, a lot of people have lost jobs, a lot of people have lost a lot, but I hope that this music and these shows remind people that all is not lost.
WL: I love that! I’m also curious what the recording process looked like for this record. How did it shift from what a normal recording process would usually be for you guys?
fK&C: I mean, it was recorded in Bath, England, it was recorded in LA, it was mixed in London, it was mastered in New York, and then we did a lot of the recording ourselves here in Nashville, Tennessee as well. It’s kind of a global record at this point and I think that did give a little heightened sense of purpose for the record just because we are in a pandemic, we are in 2020. We haven’t removed ourselves, we haven’t really created any distance from what’s taking place— it’s as real as it’s ever been right now. I think that there’s an element of purpose that was attached to writing these songs, the two originals on there, and then obviously recording these classics. There’s a good chance that we might reflect on this time, some of the perimeters that we had because we couldn’t do things the way that we’d normally do them, with actual thankfulness because it forced our hand to make some changes and forced our hand to create a little bit differently. I like that— I think that’s kind of cool to push ourselves in that regard.
WL: So the radio single that you guys are putting out for Christmas is “O Come O Come Emmanuel” with NEEDTOBREATHE, and I’d just love to hear how Bear and the guys got involved with that and what it was like to work together on this song.
fK&C: They’re an amazing band, one that we’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for, and when we were recording “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” we’d had this version of this song around for a while and we started asking ourselves what it would look like to have a guest feature on this. We thought it had kind of a NEEDTOBREATHE flare to it, and so we asked the guys what it might look like for them to come on this song and they loved the idea. Bear is one of the most unique vocalists— I can’t sing like that guy— I mean, he’s an unbelievable phenomenon of a vocalist, so the fact that he and the other guys would lend their voices to the recording is one of great thankfulness. I hope they’re proud of it— we’re proud of it, and really grateful that they would see value in joining forces for a song.
WL: On top of the album release and upcoming tour, you guys just won your first Artist of the Year Dove Award— I think that really speaks to how your songs have been an anchor for people, especially this year. Do you kind of feel that with this win, that it’s people saying “thank you” for these songs this year?
fK&C: You know, I don’t know. We never set out in anything you love to do with the thought of winning an award. For me, I fell in love with music and that a song could impact another’s day and I think I look at an award like that as a bit of a hug and as a bit of “thank you for being somewhat of a soundtrack to my life.” A lot of times, as I said before, we write these songs to comfort our own souls and so maybe an award like this makes us feel less lonely. It makes me feel less isolated and less like I’m the odd one out. I wrote a lot of these songs because I needed the reminder myself, so at the end of the day, I hope that these songs matter to people and I hope that an award represents that, but I’m not after chasing an award for an award’s sake. I think we are grateful that people would recognize that music plays a role in their life and the fact that it was maybe our song, it makes me feel like some of the trials and tribulations that we’ve walked through are worth it and are for some purpose for some people’s lives.
Learn more about for KING & COUNTRY, as well as find tickets for their upcoming A Drummer Boy Drive-In Christmas tour, here.