MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 34: FOR KING & COUNTRY

‘…when the foundation of a city is founded on music, you’re bound to be around people who are better at their craft than you are. One of the things that we tell younger artists is to go where people are thriving in that industry. Go to where people are considered to be further along in their craft than you are so you can learn from them. And Nashville’s got tons of songwriters, producers and people working in the space of music. That continues to breed music and creativity seems to be thriving in that spot. And for us, we hope that it continues to grow…It’s always different making any new piece of art. That’s actually the temptation you find when a record has been successful and you start to say, “Maybe I’ll replicate this”. But if you do that, you would’ve repeated what was unique and special that time. People would’ve already consumed that so you have to force yourself to innovate and change. One of the things that we talked about with making the new album is evaluating what songs people connected with on previous albums. And the songs were those that we were personally attached to, so we challenged ourselves on this new one to make every single song have that personal touch. If it was conjured up in our head and it wasn’t real, it was discarded. It had to be something that we’ve walked through or a story that we heard first-hand from somebody else. You always hope for the process to be smoother but, ironically enough, if it was, it would be less important. Art that stands out is difficult to make. That’s been our experience. And if somebody knows how to make amazing art that’s easy, let me know because I would love to sign up for that…’

As you have been following this blog post from birth and inception at the start of the year till now,  you’d know that there are a fair amount of criteria that I’d use to determine if an artist is influential or not. You have the assumed non-negotiable artists who are indeed influential for the most part in music history- guys like U2, DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Shania Twain, Ed Sheeran and Phil Collins, to name a few; that have stamped their marks on music history and have shaped how music is crafted and consumed throughout the years up until this point in time in 2019. And then there’s the artists that for the general population, are never really heard about. Yes, the artists that fly under the radar, seemingly because they can, all the while creating music that hits and penetrates the soul and encourages people listening, on a heart-to-heart level. Artists that can in fact differ if someone else were to conjure up and create their own top 100 influential list. Artists like Tenth Avenue North, The McClymonts, Andrew Peterson, Lifehouse and Daughtry, that are far from popular when looking at the charts of those who have impacted music as a whole in the years gone by. And yet often, it is the underrated and unassuming artists, like Tenth Avenue North and Andrew Peterson, that really speaks to the individual and reminds them that just because an artist isn’t popular per album sales or anyone even noticing them, doesn’t mean the music isn’t good…far from it. I’m onto blog #34 in this 100 series; and where I stand now, I’ve come to say that I’ve been encouraged more by the artists that are ‘lesser’ known compared to the artists that everybody knows. Now enter in the artist I’m going to expound upon this week.

for KING & COUNTRY, a band that is indeed underrated and maybe even underappreciated in the wider community, has challenged me in my own walk with Christ this year and a bit, and while they may never be as big as artists like OneRepublic, Coldplay, U2 or DC Talk (of which they are similar in style towards!), they are influential in my own life, in 2019 in particular. And dare I say this Aussie duo are certain to be influential in the lives of people who have heard these songs, no matter if the people who know this duo and the people who know every other popular band, are few and far between. There’s something special about the artists that no one gives a second glance towards, and maybe, on any other given day in any other year, this Aussie duo may not ‘deserve’ its place in and amongst the endless sea of music artists. And a fair point too. But here in my own personal influential 100 artists list, Joel and Luke Smallbone are present, for music that has touched my life and has become a growing influence in my growing Christian faith these last few years. for KING & COUNTRY are a joy to listen to, and no matter the preference of musical genre, I’m sure, that anyone who hears this infectiously hopeful and poignant band, are sure to be blessed and encouraged. Relatively new (starting in 2012) in comparison to much of my other artists I’ve delved into before in this blog series; this duo from Down Under nevertheless have crafted their career in a way that allows the songs they’ve carefully created, to sit with listeners in a reflective way, delving deep within our psyches and challenging the very nature of what we were to believe is true, about ourselves, God, love, life and the rest of it. Joel and Luke have created something special in for KING & COUNTRY, and this is a band that’s certain to make waves, continually in the CCM realm, but maybe, just maybe, in the mainstream market as well!

For those who may not know who the band is, and aren’t across all things CCM like I am, let me give a crash-course on the band. Joel and Luke Smallbone, the duo who make up this band, have been a household name for quite some time, ever since their chart-topping song ‘Busted Heart’ hit the radio waves all those years ago, having taken the media, listeners and the whole general CCM industry by storm since their arrival to Word Label Group back in 2011. Relocating to Nashville in the early 1990s as their father pursued a new career opportunity, for KING & COUNTRY has been touted many times as the Aussie version of Coldplay- with a focus more on unique instrumentation and anthemic moments of revelation, realisation and just plain powerful songs full of rousing declaration and proclamation. Fast forward till 2019, and we’ve seen the duo mature and grow into a household name. Songs like “Fix My Eyes”, “Busted Heart”, “Middle of Your Heart”, “Messengers” [feat. Lecrae], “It’s Not Over Yet”, and more recently “Ceasefire”, and new songs “Joy” and “Amen” are just some examples of the songs that the band has shown us, and the calibre of them. The band has managed to show us what it means to succeed in the CCM industry, while still delivering engaging and thoughtful melodies that encourage us to see and look beyond ourselves, as we challenge the status quo and ask ourselves the continuing question- ‘why’ and ‘why should this be if I don’t agree with the way that it is now’? Topics like self worth, identity, the human condition, and man’s relationship with the creator and the created, are some of the messages scattered through these songs.

The band has never been one to shy away from deep and meaningful issues, that tug at the hearts of people, even if you have not experienced the thing that is delved into and talked about in said song. This is what makes for KING AND COUNTRY poignant, effective, emotional and influential- they have drawn upon experience as their inspiration for their songs, or as the band puts it themselves, ‘…we’ve always just tried to write songs that are true to us, so if it’s writing songs that could played on top 40, that’s great. If it’s songs about our love for our wives, that’s great. If it’s songs about what Jesus has done in my life, I think that’s relevant as well. That’s what makes art palatable is when the person who listens says that song is true to whoever wrote that song and so wherever it goes, we go…you can either make a cheeseburger of a song or sushi. The cheeseburger you can consume and be like, ‘This is awesome!’ It’s about the way you consume it. With sushi you’ve got the chopsticks. You’ve got to slow down. With the cheeseburger, you just shove it into your face. Music is similar and hopefully we want our music to be sushi to the listener. There’s nothing wrong with either. If you have too much of either, especially cheeseburgers, it’s not going to be healthy for you but the point is that there is music that I feel like will come and go. As quickly as you see it, you consume it and then it’s gone. What we’ve worked for — and whether or not we’ve succeeded we’ll find out in a few months or a year — but our hope that when it’s heard and consumed there’s an honesty and depth. It might not be the flavour of the week, but when you consume it, you connect, and it lasts…’ And it is in this quote above that I’ve come to respect both Joel and Luke of this Aussie duo all the more, and am reminded of the openness and heartfelt tranquility and all-round inspiring nature of the songs that have been written over the years, each being attributed to such a band as this. ‘Fix My Eyes’ was the first radio single from arguably my very own favourite album from the band, RUN WILD, LIVE FREE, LOVE STRONG, and from the very first note, you can see why this duo is by far one of the most talented bands currently serving within the Contemporary Christian music industry. With hand claps and a message of focusing continuously on Jesus, the Author and perfector of our Faith, “Fix My Eyes” has garnered praise and crossover success, even being charted high on the AC/Pop mainstream charts in August/September of 2015. “Shoulders”, a hit song that gives us comfort in that God carries us, even our burdens, mistakes, heartaches, heartbreaks, and heartfelt moments, all on His shoulders so we don’t burden ourselves with it all by ourselves, is as much as a standout, maybe even more so, than “Fix My Eyes”, out of every for KING & COUNTRY song ever, as both Joel and Luke allow their soulful and soaring melody to bring the theme of letting go of our troubles to the fore. The song itself is primarily based off the famous Bible verse in the Psalms (Psalm 121:2) where David declares that his help comes from God, as we’re met with a vulnerability and honesty that sadly, isn’t seen as much these days, not just in the CCM industry, but throughout all of music as a whole.

For KING & COUNTRY’s forte has always been its songs that have been from either personal experience, or hearing someone else’s personal experience first-hand and writing about that. Songs like ‘Without You’, ‘Control’, ‘Pioneers’, ‘Priceless’ and more recently the title track off their most recent album Burn the Ships are evidence of personal and vulnerable songs that have struck a chord with myself over the years. Personal and gut-wrenching, yet equally powerful, empowering and comforting, “Without You” is sung with Luke’s wife Courtney (Luke being one half of the duo) that Luke Smallbone delivers with such grace and elegance. A song about Luke’s dilapidating auto-immune condition some time ago, the song itself is a reminder to us all to treasure life while we still can, and to make most of the moments given by God, with our family and friends; while a song like ‘Burn The Ships’ was inspired by Luke’s wife Courtney and her own battle with prescription medication and the addiction that caused her to want her husband off the road so that she could focus on her recovery (from something that I reckon is a condition people don’t know they have until they have it!).  Passion, enthusiasm and proclamation of truth echoes in iconic anthem ‘Priceless’ the theme song for the movie of the same name that released in 2016, of which Joel Smallbone starred as lead actor. A song that reminds us that every person is priceless in the sight of the Lord, we see the brothers sing from God’s point of view (or it can be viewed as a man singing to a woman) as we know what the Lord sings over us, that ‘…I see you dressed in white, every wrong made right, I see a rose in bloom at the sight of you, oh so priceless, irreplaceable, unmistakable, incomparable, darling, it’s beautiful, I see it all in you…’– the song invites us all to place the importance of honour and respect on a woman as we all should! ‘Control’- a song that literally took 5 years to write, and in different continents around the world and by different people who didn’t realise they were writing the same song; literally speaks about giving up control and understanding that it is in the release of control that we can rest knowing that the pressure we often place upon ourselves is lifted; while ‘Pioneers’ (the last song on Burn The Ships, and one that includes the vocals of both the brothers’ wives) alludes to the idea of marriage being that of a pioneering adventure, exploring the unknowns with your spouse and best friend by your side.

In a holistic sense, the band and their music has always been littered with messages of hope, encouragement, and perseverance, all the while throwing a little bit of ‘God’ in there for good measure (not much, but enough for people to think about things beyond themselves). Joel and Luke have created a space for us to respond in whatever way we know how, and for us not to be worried about the person to the left or right (in a metaphorical sense), but to focus on ourselves and our response to such thought-provoking songs that we hear. I’ve seen a fair amount of concert footage of the band on youtube, and even had the privilege of attending a for KING AND COUNTRY concert at the Sydney Opera House in January this year. Many times, throughout that night in particular; when either Joel or Luke spoke, the whole auditorium went silent, as if people were on the edge of their seats, waiting for what the message behind such a personal story was. The band themselves have the ability to command the stage with their music, but their bigger stance for respecting women, chivalry, honour, respect, and being men of courage, is something I reckon has been overlooked amongst artists and the entertainment industry. For KING AND COUNTRY are an example that such men do still exist, giving us hope that we ourselves can become men and women that our families, and God Himself, can be proud of. And while they’re never wavering on their stance to share hope from a standpoint of God embodying the very essence of what hope and love are, the songs that they have unveiled to us challenge us to stand up for things like kindness, hope, joy and chivalry, consciously each day, to actively seek out moments where we ask the question why; and realise that while our own happiness may fade and rise depending on what season of life we are in, our joy is rooted in our identity in Christ Jesus!

If I were to pick a band to listen to if you haven’t heard any Christian band within the last 5 years, I’d pick for KING AND COUNTRY in a heartbeat. With so much passion, zeal, heart, emotion, enthusiasm, and everything else you can think of if you think of the word “vulnerability”; these brothers from down under have worn their heart on their sleeves with the songs that they have delivered. And especially for me personally, songs like ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Proof of Your Love’ only come once in a generation. In fact, ‘God Only Knows’ is perhaps one of the most emotional songs the band has ever written- the band decides to tackle the ever-brushed theme of loneliness and suicide. For it is the topics of loneliness and suicide, of uncertainty, fake smiles and depression, that is often swept under the rug when it comes to making songs about it within the Christian music industry, and as of late, it is only I reckon songs like ‘God Only Knows’ (by the band themselves) and the We Are Messengers melody ‘Maybe It’s OK’, that really tackle the issue. And that’s sad, because loneliness and feeling depressed is often a common thing, especially in the music industry where every light is shining on you, and you’re expected to perform 24/7. And thus, ‘God Only Knows’ comes at the right time I’m sure for many who hear this song. It’s a song of hope and redemption, and a song of the knowledge that God knows us in our deepest and darkest, yet still loves us there as well. The band themselves offer to us their original version of the song, as well as a fair few remix and alternate renditions of the track- giving the song mainstream traction with versions of it involving other famous artists- like Dolly Parton, Timbaland and Echosmith, to name a few.

‘Proof Of Your Love’ talks about love the concept, and how it relates to the issue of God’s love and what has been given freely to us and our own turn in how to respond because of such giving of a good God to a people who aren’t so good as we ourselves think. And I firmly believe this- that once we discover what love means, from a standpoint of God giving it to us, we can love without reservation. And if God freely gives His love to us, we can show that same love and grace to our fellow man, even if during certain moments, the natural response is to pass judgement and correction, rather than grace and love. It is out of love that people will respond to Christ, and as we develop relationships with those we meet, they will hopefully see a positive change in us and thereby inquire, as opportunities present themselves and we can share our own testimonies with those we know and love. If we don’t have love, all that we do and say is for nothing. Simple, no buts or ifs. We can say the most grandiose things, even declare prophecies and perform miracles in Jesus’s name, and encourage and speak and interpret wonders, but if love is not our central focus and motivation for these incredible and magnificent acts, then whatever we have done ought not to count- in fact, I’m very sure that the things spoken without love as its motivation may in fact drive more people away than closer to God.

for KING & COUNTRY’s ‘Proof Of Your Love’ speaks about this notion and is as poetic as it is poignant, and is a clear and constant reminder of our focus. Even from the first verse of the track, we are confronted with the life-changing truth, that ‘…if I sing but don’t have love, I waste my breath with every song, I bring an empty voice, a hollow noise, if I speak with a silver tongue, convince a crowd but don’t have love, I leave a bitter taste with every word I say…’ And it is in this reflection of ‘Proof Of Your Love’ that I’ve understood what it means to be a Christ-follower. That what Christ has done for all of creation (people who lived in the past, in the present and the future) is revolutionary to say the least and that once we grasp the enormity of love displayed for each and every one of humanity, we can bask in the freedom that what we’ve done, or haven’t, won’t distance ourselves from the love already given by Him. But at times, I forget that. I forget that my action or inaction has no bearing on whether I belong to the family of God or not. No matter how far we stray or believe that the love given to us is wrongly placed, we know this in the end- that this is love in its purest form, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It is out of that very same love that we can share with other people. Not out of judgement or us being right. Sure we may know that Jesus is the only way to God our Father, yet in that knowledge, we exercise in love being our frontline motive before anything else. It is how we live our lives, with no regret, no condemnation and a love given to others in a way that has been given to ourselves, that people can truly be inquisitive about what we have and believe. for KING AND COUNTRY and their song encouraged myself about this theme of love of late, and for that (amongst countless other instances where such themes within these songs have stirred up things within myself), I am grateful and thankful for the band. They are indeed influential in my life, in every sense of the word. They are indeed influential within the world and confines of CCM. But not influential by the world’s standards…and maybe that’s ok!

Though only three albums into their discography, for KING & COUNTRY’s influence stretches far greater, as we realise that these two men who make up this CCM duo, are in fact such men with heart and passion, as this clearly underrated CCM ‘answer to Coldplay’ reminds us that you can still venture into Christian music, and it can still be cool and meaningful. As I have journeyed alongside the band over the last few years, listening to their music and being impacted and affected by these songs, I’ve come to appreciate not only the songs themselves but also the behind-the-scenes things, the stories behind the songs for example. As Joel Smallbone himself divulges, ‘…the power of music can impact our mood, emotions, our day. But when you merge the strength of music with the heart, hope and passion of the Gospel. . . it has the ultimate power not only to change someone’s day, but to impact them for eternity. This is why we write music and sing songs – we hope that people will be moved, encouraged and stirred to live a life for Someone greater than themselves…’ It is in this quote that I can firmly state that I too also believe in the power of CCM, and such bands like for KING & COUNTRY, alongside others that have left a mark- Skillet, Tenth Avenue North, Switchfoot, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong and needtobreathe, to name a few; have paved a way for CCM to be cool and relevant once again. And while the band name came at the expense and cost of previous names like ‘Joel & Luke’ and ‘Austoville’, the band relay how their name has evoked many emotions and carries the band to further and newer heights, farther than I’m sure we can all think. As Joel imparts directly, ‘…we wanted a band name that carried more meaning. We were in the studio recording our debut record that Joel had the idea of All The King’s Men, like the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. Our producer overheard our conversation and swung around in his chair and said, ‘What about For King & Country?’ And we all felt a sense of providence in that moment. “For King and Country” was the battle cry of English soldiers willing to lay down their lives for their king and their country. And now it has become our mission, to lay down our lives for our King and our country…’

Belief in the song and belief in the artists for singing the song is paramount for me, and as both Joel & Luke have articulated well in a recent interview, I’ve decided what better way to sound off than to hear from for KING & COUNTRY themselves. And so as we carry about our weeks, let us be immersed in the music of our lives that ask us questions, that challenge us to think outside the box and to believe that the love we have been given from our creator for the created (and Jesus Himself) is enough for the life that we lead. This little Aussie band have crafted a safe space for their music to thrive, music that is as needed in both the CCM and mainstream music industries, as they are needed in society, full stop. So let us sit back and enjoy the band and their music, and what they have to offer. And be reminded that influential need not be the same as popular, nor should it be.

Does for KING & COUNTRY make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Proof Of Your Love’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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