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Interview: Amy Bell

Photo Credit:  Robby Klein

KING & COUNTRY is one of the music industry’s most respected and decorated duos. Brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone have won four GRAMMY Awards, seven GMA Dove Awards, a Billboard Music Award, 13 K-LOVE Fan Awards, and their nine No. 1 songs have produced an astonishing accumulation of over one billion on-demand streams. The RIAA Platinum-selling act’s live show has been hailed as a must-see concert event that continues to wow sold-out crowds whether in the U.S.A, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, or New Zealand. for KING & COUNTRY’S most recent album, the RIAA Gold certified Burn The Ships debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart and has since propelled the duo to five consecutive No. 1 songs including “Joy.,” “TOGETHER (feat. Kirk Franklin & Tori Kelly),” and the 11-week platinum smash “God Only Knows.” The global hitmakers have collaborated with a diverse list of artists including the legendary Dolly Parton, NEEDTOBREATHE, and Timbaland, amongst others. Joel and Luke Smallbone are committed to numerous philanthropic efforts focused on human trafficking, children in need, as well as numerous programs in support of the arts.

Hi, thanks for talking to ReVamp, who was your inspiration growing up in terms of your music career? 

I would say it’s never quite as simple as a single influence. The gateway to music was really our Dad. He was a concert promoter in Australia. And so, all these rock bands and artists Stryper, Amy Grant, and so on. We’d go to these shows, and my first memories were looking at vinyl 45 records.  You know, “Yellow And Black Attack” with Stryper, or being in the Sydney Opera House for a show. That really shaped an initial love, I would say, for music. When we got into our teenage years, it was very eclectic.  It was U2, then it was NSYNC, it was pop music, then it was theatrical scores. The bandwidth of what we listened to was very dramatic.  But, if you held a gun to my head, and said “who were the main ones”. I would say my father as a gateway. Stryper and U2.  

Tell us a little bit about yourselves? 

We are two Australian brothers from the same mother. And father, in fact. We have been part of music most of our lives. Our sister, sort of, gospel artist, and still is to this day.  The joke was, Dad, who managed her, needed a cheap road crew. So he had five sons, so he put us to work. We really saw first hand the impact music can have in a live setting.  And the way people respond, and what it means to entertain and put on a show. 

You have released a new video for  ‘relate’, how did you film that and what was it like BTS?

Every music video has its twists and turns and unique attributes. “Burn the Ships” with “The Pirates of the Caribbean” intercept the ship “Lady Washington”, and jumping in freezing cold water.  And the same with “RELATE”-

we shot it not only shot in Los Angeles, but we shot it in an abandoned building on skid row on the rooftop and then inside the building.  It had its own feeling because of the location we shot in. Because we were overlooking skid tow and were singing a song about “Have you ever been left, when you should’ve been loved?  Has there ever been a time when you stayed but you should've run” Looking out and seeing these people. Their lives represent some of the hardest lives people have in this country.  So it was a very deep meaning shoot. And a very diverse shoot.  We are just so proud of the different stories...different life stories, the ethnicities, and, um, people that we were able to portray in the “Relate” music video. 

Does ‘Relate’ have a back story behind it and what is that?

This is our fourth studio project, and it’s been a bit different because of covid.  Usually, we travel and make music simultaneously. But in this case, we’ve been home so making a record has been much more of a 9 to 5.  Which means, in overall time we’ve spent just as many hours but a shorter amount of days and months on it. Just in the nature of it being our full focus.  And, “Relate” was kinda in the middle of the album. We were starting to find the meaning and the message and the shape of what an album is.  And before “Relate” we had a whole different plan. Whole different song we were going to lead with. And everything changed in one day. We never met the young lady before, Tayla Parkx.  Worked very closely with Josh Kerr who is one of the main writers and producer on this project.  But she came in, and it was just fireworks. We were able to connect in a deep way though we come from very different walks of life, and really craft a song that I don’t think would have happened, had it not been for every character in that room. Something about that synergy that was never to be repeated either. We tried to resume a few nights later, it just seems that moment, that day had something special. And it’s this question of now that we’re kinda coming out, being isolated physically, emotionally so on.  How do we not only tolerate each other. But show empathy, compassion, as we reintegrate with one another.

What is your favourite lyric from the single? 

The emotional core of the song is obviously about this question of maybe we are different but more similar than we think we are. Maybe we can relate to each other if we get curious and go on a search. But in the second verse...the opening of the second verse,  there is this line that was not very thought out. We kinda wrote it after the fact, and it’s “have you ever been left when you should’ve been loved?” And to me that's the emotional core of the song- relating to one another, yes.  But is this idea that there is this hurt that is inside each of us that we act out of so often. That’s what isolates and alienates people, and that’s what creates judgement. So if we are able to sorta set that hurt aside, the times we have been  left when we should’ve been loved, or stayed when we should’ve run. Then, maybe, we can find a deeper point of relating to one another.

You have a lot of reviews about your music- how does that make you feel knowing people love listening to your music? 

It’s been extra fascinating sharing music during a time when you don’t travel. Prior to Covid19, we had meet and greets and you see people in the audience, and you have that conversation with folks where you could really get a look into their eyes and their souls. You see how things have impacted them, and such a life giving thing as a creator to see something you created impact someone in such a radical way. What’s been fascinating speaking to comments, is to see them now much more often in written form. We haven’t traveled as much in the last year and half you’re really looking at social media or YouTube comments to see.  It is astounding, the radical support our supporters and listeners offer us is very mind blowing.  But also almost frightening. Because you live in this place of not wanting to let your listeners down. Wanting them to be proud. And so there is always a balancing act of you gotta make music that speaks to your own story and your own life, but at the same time understanding that you're writing this music really for them. And you’re giving a song away when you release it.  

What was the recording/writing process like for ‘Relate’? 

Once again the song itself came easily, and also the production, which is not often the case for us, but the production came easily as well. It was almost like the demo we've done that day, ended up really...becoming the foundation a good portion of what was the ultimate production both in structure and form and even in sound. There was just something.   I remember the moment  when Josh Kerr, in the writing session, played that low bass rumble at the top of the chorus. And, we kinda looked at each other “can we do this?” And it just felt so good coupled with the lyric that we just ran with it. And haven’t looked back since.

Do you think your music has changed over the last couple of years and how?

 Yeah,   I think it has changed. Pretty dramatically,  I heard a song off our first album recently. I think it has evolved.  I hope it’s evolved naturally and well as we’ve evolved as people, But it is very different. You know by the nature of where we find ourselves in life,  And the types of folks that we are writing with and producing with. It took us five years to write and record that first record. And it could take us eight months, six months to record this one. So many ingredients that make for different music. But, I think the deepest difference is that our hearts and minds are in radically different places now even from what they were even from the last project.  The world has dramatically changed, and so writing from a place of post pandemic changes the way you look at yourself. Changes the way you look at people. Changes the purpose and direction of your writing. And then, sonically, we sense a different feeling on this record as well with going a little bit more 1980’s. It just felt natural somehow.  And we just kept chasing that feeling and that sound. And that’s another fun part to the process as well.

What is next for you in your music? 

You never quite know what’s next.  You plan,  You write and you record. But then, you kinda of, as we best we can, we stay, I think more than ever, available to the twists and turns of life, of music, of listeners, success and failure, the response. And so, it’s an interesting business. We are just in the middle of planning out the next year or two. But, once then again the backdrop of the pandemic, you sorta go well this is great and we should plan but there is so much that could change so quickly, So I think we’re planning no doubt but it’s become more about staying true to the heartbeat of the music we’re presenting.  How to deliver that well to people. And, then being creative. I think there is something in each of us, a creator inside of us. It might be a meal. It might be music. It might be a spreadsheet. But there is a creator in each of us. And, I think that’s something, Luke and I want to stay more attentive too. Whether it’s a film, We’ve got a couple that we are working towards. Musicals and what not. This record. Traveling. Just staying attentive to that creative process is where we really want to find ourselves. Keeping an open hand as best we can. Coming from a control freak is difficult to do sometimes. 

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