for KING & COUNTRY
could arguably be the biggest Christian music act today. And when you have four Dove Awards and two Grammy Awards under your belt, it's easy to forget where you came from and how your career began. For Joel and Luke Smallbone, however, their roots are something they often celebrate and remember. This year, their debut album, Crave
, turned seven years old on February 28th. I sat down with the brothers just a handful of days after that anniversary at the 2019 Florida Strawberry Festival to discuss Crave
and to reflect on a time in their lives that changed them forever.
"We kind of wanted to have our cake and eat it," Joel remarks about their goals as a band back during the Crave
era. This was the first album where they wrote both together and separately, and it was also the first time they would step out doing a full-length project under the name for KING & COUNTRY. "We wanted to write honestly. We wanted to write authentically about real things; about life, about God, about marriage." Revisiting Crave
after so many years, it seems they feel they did well expressing their emotions about things they were experiencing at the time these songs were written. "I think, to look at it now, seven years on...I just think we feel enormously grateful."
While the boys expressed continuous thankfulness concerning the reception of their debut and the success that it brought them, they never assumed what the outcome would be. "You always hope, but I don't think you ever expect that things, in this case, go the way they did," says Joel.
Even though they have since released two other massively popular full-length albums, Joel and Luke still feel a fondness for certain songs on Crave
. "Well, the first song that I was ever proud of...was actually the song 'Crave,'" chimes Luke, the younger brother of the pair. "It was one of the songs that just felt for the first time I had written something real."
The last song found on the album, it was common for Luke to perform the track alone on stage during their Crave
touring days. "I think that song taught me the first real lesson of songwriting, and that is, if a song is really, really true to you and it moves you, then it's most likely going to move somebody else."
Though songs like "Proof of Your Love" and "Busted Heart" may have been more successful than their favorites, the deeper cut tracks on the album are the ones that marked important moments in each of their musical journeys.
"The two songs that come to mind are the two breakup songs: 'Love's to Blame' and 'Missing;' probably 'Missing' out of the two," recalls Joel. "It was a journey song for me. It was a real song of longing."
This track, which is one of the most unique found on the album, expresses what Joel was feeling after experiencing heartache and a time of separation from someone he loved. "This is just gut," he describes about the lyrics of the song. "This is all guttural, this is all heart."
Both of the guys agree that this album holds moments in their life that propelled them toward where they are today, and taught them so much about being authentic artists and lyricists. "That's kind of the role of music. If you write honestly, there's somebody else out there just like you that makes them feel less lonely, and in return, makes you feel less lonely," says Luke.
During the years of 2012 and 2013, for KING & COUNTRY toured relentlessly promoting Crave
, which led them to some unforgettable experiences. One particular moment both still can hardly believe happened was their appearance on The Tonight Show
with Jay Leno singing "Proof of Your Love."
"Speaking of dreams, that is one of the dreams that you have as a band: will we actually be able to play on television, on national television, on a late night show?" says Joel. "It was nerve-racking and exciting and rewarding."
It's not normal to see a Christian artist or group on mainstream television, let alone programs that are considered more "cutting edge" such as The Tonight Show
. Joel and Luke said being able to play "Proof of Your Love" on the show was a blessing, and really began the next chapter in their career. "There was a before and after," says Joel. "Three and a half minutes and everything had changed. I got more text messages that night than I ever have before."
After reminiscing a bit more about Crave
, I had the guys think back even further to their childhood and teenage years. With their music being so inspiring and encouraging, there had to be albums at their core that helped mold them into the songwriters they are today.
"For me it was Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown
. I tore my ACL playing basketball and was doing rehab, and I was driving to and from listening to that album," remembers Luke. "It was the first time that I actually considered 'These songs mean a lot to me, what if I could write something that would mean something to someone else?'"
Switchfoot, a band that has been producing music since the late 1990s, saw their career explode at the release of The Beautiful Letdown
. It is an album held in high regard by many Christian music fans. "They made me feel something," he says. "There was something tugging at me."
When asked if there was a band from contemporary Christian music's past that they would love to tour with, the answer was unanimous: DC Talk.
"There hasn't really been another group like DC Talk, mainstream or Christian," recalls Luke. "There is a little bit of a problem with music that is faith-based in that most of the time, it's focusing on what has already been done or what is already successful. DC Talk really broke down those barriers."
The legendary group, consisting of tobyMac, Kevin Max, and Michael Tait, was one of the first Christian groups in the 90s to become a worldwide sensation. "I don't remember anybody being a trio like that," Luke adds. "That was rap, that was hip hop, that was rock. There's just nothing else really like that."
DC Talk is still wildly popular today. Though their career as a group was put on hold almost 20 years ago, a lot of that popularity is contributed to their distinct sound and style. "I've always had the utmost respect for that because they made a way for themselves being one hundred percent, totally unique."
"Stryper maybe," Joel suggests at the thought of touring with a legendary band, which causes laughter throughout the room.
PHOTO (L-R): Luke Smallbone, NRT's Jessi Jessi Zilka, Jessi's husband Zach and Joel Smallbone
Looking back at the beginning of this band's career, many saw from the start that there was something special within these two Australian gentlemen and their bandmates. For me, it was in the fall of 2011 when I saw them perform on a small stage at Universal Studios Florida's Rock the Universe event. Shortly after, I convinced them to bring me on as an intern and worked for them from 2011 to the summer of 2013. Those were some of the best times of my life, and it was an incredible experience to watch this group take off and become the sensation that they are today.
was an album full of heart, vulnerability, and faith. It was a piece of art created by two people who never fail to show love and kindness to anyone they meet. Reuniting with them after five years apart was a wonderful experience; they haven't changed one bit since the first moment I met them. I am grateful for their continued friendships, overwhelmingly proud of their success, and in awe of their ability to make such resounding music.