For King & Country’s Luke Smallbone on combatting hopelessness during holidays, new Christmas album

for King & Country
for King & Country release first Christmas, 2020. |

Grammy Award-winning Christian artists for King & Country have released their first full-length Christmas album, A Drummer Boy Christmas, during what they describe as “hopeless times.” The brothers say they want the birth of Christ to help people “turn to something that is much more everlasting” than current events. 

“My hope is that the birth of Jesus will be something that is celebrated with a different vigor this year,” Luke Smallbone told The Christian Post in a recent interview. 

When he focuses on himself, he said, “it doesn't usually lead to a lot of joy. But when I get to focus on others, and then I get to focus on who Jesus really is, I could do anything!”

For King & Country want their new album to provide both joy and divine inspiration, and people are already gravitating toward it. A Drummer Boy Christmas debuted on the iTunes holiday chart at No. 1 upon its release last Friday.

Along with their rendition of “Little Drummer Boy,” the 13-track album also features collaborations with award-winning band NEEDTOBREATHE, whose lead singer, Bear Rinehart, is heard on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” as well as "American Idol" alum Gabby Barrett who is featured on “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” 

The Christmas album also offers two original emotional songs titled, “Heavenly Hosts” and “The Carol of Joseph (I Believe in You).” 

The siblings are also embarking on A Drummer Boy Christmas tour starting mid-November which will support The Salvation Army along with their Rescue Christmas initiative. The band has been performing drive-in concerts since the end of summer and will continue to promote social distancing at their Christmas concerts. 

The following is an edited transcript of Luke Smallbone's interview with CP where he discusses what the pandemic lockdowns have taught him and how it birthed the band's Christmas album. 

CP: What was the COVID-19 lockdown experience like for you?

Smallbone: To be honest, it was a pretty special time. My wife and I, we've been married 10 years, and I think this is the longest amount of time that I've been home for our entire marriage, so it was kind of nice. I joked at the end of last year how wonderful it would be to have a six-month break, as unrealistic as that is.

I got to the end of last year and I was exhausted. So in a roundabout way, we got to have family time. We got to be able to make some memories and dream up some dreams. We got cows while we were in quarantine, which was a dream of the family.  

Also at the same time, we made a Christmas album during those days as well. So honestly, it's been an amazing year under very extreme and weird circumstances.

CP: You guys created the album during the lockdown. Was this something that you already anticipated doing for this season? 

Smallbone: We had planned on doing a Christmas album. For King & Country has done a bunch of Christmas music, but we've actually never done a recorded Christmas album. We've done EPs, we've done live recordings, but we've never actually done a live Christmas album. So we did plan last year, "Hey, we really need to make a Christmas album." 

So we found ourselves in this very unique situation, and there were times where [we thought] that maybe we'd pause, maybe we'd wait. [But] we just thought, "Look, I think that the world needs a lot of joy right now, I think they need a lot of hope, and people are going to be expecting that of Christmas, maybe more so than ever."

If you're anything like me, a soundtrack to go along with that joy, a soundtrack to go along with that hope is something that we all desire. So we went into the studio and made this album. It's an album that we're really proud of. It's cool in Christmas music to sing some of the greatest songs ever written, we all kind of know the words to them. So then we get to go and make them a little bit more for King & Country like, and get to dream up some ideas and sounds and different things. So we're thrilled.

CP: What's your hope for this season that's coming up?

Smallbone: There's nothing like a pandemic to get people's attention. It's been a very eye-opening thing for a lot of people, in that you can store up treasures on earth and then you have a pandemic hit, and all of a sudden those treasures don't mean a whole lot. Those things that you rely on, that job, or that income ...

For a lot of us in my world, our whole world was shut down and everything that was planned on in 2020 was basically put on hold. The things that we ended up doing, we had to completely redo because we're not doing normal shows, we're doing in-person drive-in shows. So I think it's made me realize, and forced me to ask the question of, "Where is my hope really found? Who am I actually putting my trust in?"

The other thing I realized during this pandemic is [I tell my family]: "This is the moment that you practice faith." We talk about these things from stage, we write songs about these things. For Courtney, my wife, and kids, we talk and discuss these things. Now is actually the moment to act on that faith. And trust that God's going to look after His people. 

At the same time, I think when it comes to our hope for this year, it's that people will turn to something that is much more everlasting than the things that we can see. I hope that this music, it plays a role in it and maybe stirs people.

My hope is always that music will stir people's souls and it will stir their souls in a way that will force them to ask themselves questions about where they find themselves. In other cases, it forces them to encourage themselves and realize that they're not alone in this world and that there's still a lot to be thankful for and there's still a lot of joy to be had.

CP: You guys penned some original songs. Talk about writing original songs for one of the most celebrated holidays.

Smallbone: I will say it's a little bit daunting because you're singing Christmas classics, right? So your original songs are up against Christmas classics. These songs haven't just been tried for 10 years, a lot of these songs have been tried for hundreds of years, and people have recognized these as the great songs. 

So when you're asked to write an original, you're kind of like, "Yeah, so I don't know if I'm gonna be able to write the next 'Silent Night,' you know." But you [also] don't know. And so I think the nice thing is, you at least know what your content is going to be about. It's going to be about Christmas, to a degree, and whatever that looks like to you. It's going to be about the birth of Jesus. Sometimes the problems in other music is you can just go anywhere, so it's nice to have kind of a little bit of a dialed-in narrative.

There's two songs on there, there's "The Carol of Joseph" and there's a song called "Heavenly Hosts." Both of which I'm really proud of. "Heavenly Hosts," ironically enough, was a song that I wrote while I was working in the garden up on a little hill.

A friend of mine started sending me some piano tracks, and I just heard this chorus, and so we sang that. I often wondered what it would be like to be the shepherds on that hilltop, experiencing these angels visiting them, basically saying, "Hey, something really special is happening and I've come to you first." So that was a really special song. 

The "Carol of Joseph," the idea there was, Mary gets a lot of attention during Christmas, but Joseph is probably put in the most unique situation. He's this child's earthly father, but he's not really, he's kind of his stepfather. But yet, he's kind of been put in charge to look after Jesus and Mary. So we just thought, he had this vision, obviously, he knew that Jesus was going to be something special, but did he feel like he actually had the goods to actually do what he was being asked to do?

That song explores the humanity of just being a father. And you're trying to be a father to the God of the universe. It was a kind of a really cool song. I think it's one of the coolest vocals. It feels special to me and we're really proud of it. 

CP: How did the features in the album come about?

Smallbone: We were doing "Oh Come of Come Emmanuel" and we thought it could use [someone]. I always want to start with the necessity of a feature. When it comes to Bear singing on "Oh Come of Come Emmanuel," that vocal is insane. The song needed it. I said to him, I was like, "Bro, I've been singing my whole life. But I can't sing anywhere close to you. You've got like the superpower." 

When it came to Gabby Barrett, she's doing really well right now. So her name was passed around. We had this idea of what would it look like if she was to come and sing on a song? Well, once again, we had this version of "Go Tell It on the Mountain," which that song, if not handled correctly, it kind of can be annoying. So we were like, “We need something to spice this up a little bit and make it kind of cool.” She's an incredible singer, so to be able to have her on that it just kind of took us on to new heights.

CP: What message do you think people need most this Christmas?

Smallbone: They say that people can last 30 days without food and three or four days without water, but not a day without hope. 

I think that's what we're up against in this world, it's a very unique time. It's not just America going through what we've gone through in 2020, it's literally the entire world. So we're all in this similar place of feeling hopeless. Where we feel empty, I know that can fill that emptiness.

My hope is that the birth of Jesus will be something that is celebrated with a different vigor this year. Because I don't know about you, but you know, when I'm focusing on myself and the things that I'm walking through, it doesn't usually lead to a lot of joy. But when I get to focus on others, and then I get to focus on who Jesus really is, there's this element of, man, in the truest nature of worship, I could do anything!

I think we need to have a little bit of that because we've gone through things that ... my parents have never gone through something like this in their lifetime. These are unparalleled times and there's a lot of hurting people out there.

But I hope that in our recognition of Jesus this Christmas, that there will be this "I can go through this, I can do anything, because I know who's by my side and I know that though there may be days of hopelessness, that I'm not hopeless." That would be my hope for Christmas. 2020.

For more information about A Drummer Boy Christmas or for King & Country, visit their website.

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