For King & Country’s new single, “Relate,” starts with a line that hits home for many in south Louisiana after Hurricane Ida: “Has life hit you so hard that you've been knocked down?”
When Joel Smallbone, who is one half of the group, spoke with The Advocate recently, he said the song is “part of a greater project that will be beautiful,” and that the project comes from a special place — home.
Smallbone and his brother, Luke, the other half of the band, had been writing from home, treating it as a "9-to-5 job," something they'd never done before.
"We’ve always been (writing) in the back of a bus or in the dressing room,” he explained.
But, during the lockdown enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the musicians spent a lot of time at home. The band adapted, eventually performing a drive-in tour, as well as some outdoor shows.
For King & Country is now back on the road, and the band's Relate tour will stop at the Raising Cane's River Center in Baton Rouge at 7 p.m., Nov. 4. Tickets are $22.50 to $150 at platformtickets.com.
Smallbone said the song “Relate” was tucked away in the middle of everything going on.
He said they were thinking of the nation and the globe and asked themselves: “Now that we're starting to reintegrate and connect with each other again, what does it look like not just to tolerate one another, but to actually be curious and compassionate, and empathetic towards each other?” he said. “Now that we have this kind of shared common suffering, I think there's a real opportunity for it to create a bonding that we've never experienced before.”
The song spells out different places people find themselves — successes, mistakes, highs and lows — and puts forth the chorus:
“Now, I don't know what it's like to be you, You don't know what it's like to be me
“What if we're all the same in different kinds of ways? Can you, can you relate?
“We both know what it's like to be hurt, We both know what it's like to feel pain, But I think it's safe to say we're on to better days, Can you, can you relate?”
Smallbone said the band isn’t quite ready to announce when the next album will drop.
“It won't be sooner than you think. But it won’t be longer than you think either,” he added.
On Sept. 24, the band released its latest single, “For God is With Us.”
The new tour will bring new music and new production ideas, Smallbone said.
“But I think what's been most exciting is just the chance to gather a group of people together once again, after something was taken from us that we never thought could be taken — the live experience. And to be able to step into a room together, confidently and healthily.”
When asked about how they will handle the healthy part, Smallbone said there are things to weigh each step of the way, which is what led to the drive-in shows.
“We wanted to make sure from the CDC to local government and national that we were honoring everything that was put forward. And that hasn't changed.”
He said the band will look at what is going on locally and internationally to consider if changes need to be made.
Smallbone said he has spoken with medical professionals and feels like improvements are coming.
“Because we're with you on the fourth of November, I'm confident that there's going to be a lot of really good positive movement on the pandemic overall, as therapeutics come into play more,” Smallbone said.
If “we feel we're putting people in harm's way at all, it won't be something we'll follow through with, but we're mindful, watchful, prayerful and hopeful that in 60 days (from the interview date), we will have the right answers,” he said.
He continued: “I think that's the other layer to this of like, ‘Hey, you know, if you're young and if you're healthy, and you've either been vaccinated, or you've had the virus itself and whatnot, that you kind of use your own discretion in the process.’ I think that's really, in some ways, where we're moving.”
When asked if anything good came from the enforced time off the road, Smallbone said if you haven't been economically challenged or threatened by the pandemic, “then you are in a very small percentage of people that need to count your blessings.”
He added, “I've been counting my blessings, and I have a little bit of survivor's remorse … My loved ones are well, and we’re able to still write music and tour. My livelihood has not been swallowed up, which for so many it has been.”
The band, he said, had been touring for about nine years.
“In that time, I got married. (Luke) was married when we began. And this is the first time that we've had any extended level of time with our loved ones, and you just can't put a price tag on that. It's been beautiful.
"… For him to be with his kids and his wife, for me to be with my wife, Moriah Peters (also a singer-songwriter) … I've been one of the rare, fortunate ones that have this sort of reprieve for a moment. Now I feel like it's ‘put me in coach,’ let me offer a bit of love and a bit of hope.”
In past interviews with The Advocate, you and your brother have talked about respecting women. Is that still a part of your shows?
“I will say there is heightened need for the conversation. … Human trafficking is still a reality. I kind of call it the other pandemic. It's something that Luke and I both are still very strong (about) speaking towards and advocating for. …
“I look at what's happening in Afghanistan, it is appalling. It's tragic, no question.
“But there’s beauty in the fact that what's been highlighted is how much women are going to lose, right? How many rights they're going to lose. And the fact that's been so publicized by the BBC, and different news outlets, tells me we're having the right conversations. …
“One of the things I'm very optimistic about, as opposed to when we spoke last time, is … we're starting to have some of the right conversations, we're starting to have some of the hard conversations … let's recognize human trafficking for what it really is, and let's talk about it and do something about it on a legislative level, on a social level, on an individual level.
“The reality is women worldwide have been pushed down … And yet, now with the benefit of technology, culture and power are not just dependent on brute strength anymore. It's power, and intuition and thoughtfulness and intelligence. And what you're seeing for the first time since the beginning of humanity, you're seeing women rise up.
“And I'm excited to be part of the conversation. It's something I continue to share about basically every show. And I'm excited to keep putting fuel on the fire of ‘how do I celebrate my wife and … see her rise’? How do we have this conversation on a local level, on a national level on an international level? I think it's worthy.”
Luke Smallbone has had health issues in the past. I saw there was another round of issues.
“At the end of May, Luke had a procedure done on his voice he needed. … Again, one of the sort of blessings in disguise, the fact that we weren't really touring, we weren't really traveling, we didn't have to cancel everything. Nerve-wracking nonetheless.
“You're dealing with his livelihood, our livelihood. But fortunately, we have some of the most well-renowned vocal doctors in the world in Nashville where we live. …
“Rehabilitating, you have your timeline, you do the exercises, and you've got to stay sort of limber and aware. … He's very optimistic, very hopeful. And we're proceeding with caution on both obviously, the pandemic level as well.”
What's the future? What projects do you have coming out?
Let’s put it under the category of hopes … I remember saying last year we planned the best year of touring we've ever had before the pandemic, and we had a great rehearsal before we were heading to Canada for our first-ever coast-to-coast tour. And I remember saying, this was March 10, ‘Hey, what could go wrong?’
“And then the whole year kind of got wiped out.
“I really hope that we're able to tour this record through the rest of this year, as well as do a pretty extensive Christmas tour, which we've planned in support of our Christmas album that we released last year but we were sort of limited to doing drive-in shows to support it.
“I'm hoping we can release the new songs in this new project ultimately, and that we can both travel nationally and internationally with it, and honestly, meet people where they are.”
Other projects in the works include: “One that's been announced, ‘Drummer Boy,’ a Christmas musical set in the Civil War about two brothers who are on different sides of the war. It has really strong female black protagonists, which I'm so excited about.
“I'm hopeful we get to make another film that we can't announce yet. …
“I do think, for all of us, hope is a very key ingredient to finding our way forward.”