For KING & COUNTRY: Burn The Ships

Abby Kilanowski

The upbeat modern Christian brother band, For KING & COUNTRY, started in 2007. The brothers, Joel and Luke Smallbone, are originally from Australia but moved to Nashville, Tennessee, at a very young age. Their family is, and always has been, very musical. In fact, their sister, Rebecca St. James, hit the musical spotlight before either of her little brothers did. Joel Smallbone married Moriah Peters in the year of 2013 and Luke Smallbone, the younger of the two brothers, married his wife Courtney in 2010 and now has 3 small children. 

When Joel and Luke decided to start their own band, they started out with the name Austoville and later changed it to Joel & Luke. They wanted their name to be more meaningful, so they thought about and brainstormed. In 2009, they changed their name to For KING & COUNTRY. In an interview, Luke says, “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 at 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.”

In 2012, the Smallbone brothers released their debut record, Crave, and were declared by the Billboard as one of the “New Artists To Watch” for that year. The songs included in it are ‘Light It Up’, ‘The Proof of Your Love’ (my personal favorite from this album), ‘Missing’, ‘Busted Heart’, ‘People Change’, ‘Middle of Your Heart’, ‘Love’s to Blame’, ‘Fine Fine Life’, ‘Sane’, ‘Pushing On a Pull Door’, and ‘Crave’. 

After taking a break in the summer of 2013 when Luke suffered an ulcerative colitis attack, they released their first live album that August. Hope Is What We Crave: Live was recorded at The Factory in Nashville on the last night of the band’s first headlining tour. They also released ‘Hope Is What We Crave’, a reworked version of ‘Crave’, as a single. 

For KING & COUNTRY, released their second studio album Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong.. Songs included are ‘Run Wild’, ‘Prelude (Fix My Eyes)’, ‘Fix My Eyes’, ‘To the Dreamers’, ‘Shoulders’, ‘Without you’ (sang by Luke and his wife, Courtney, and was inspired by Luke’s journey with ulcerative colitis), ‘No Turning Back’, ‘Long Live’, ‘Steady’, ‘Already Home’, ‘This is Love’, ‘Matter’, ‘It’s Not Over Yet’, and ‘O God Forgive Us’. The duo released a deluxe anniversary edition of the album in 2015, including three new songs: ‘Priceless’, ‘Ceasefire’, and ‘Wholehearted’. Much of their time after releasing this was spent on the film Priceless, which stars Joel in a story bringing attention to human trafficking. 

In 2017, For KING & COUNTRY released their second live album: A For King & Country Christmas Live, which included the songs ‘Little Drummer Boy’, ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, ‘Won’t You Come’, ‘Baby Boy’, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’, ‘Glorious’, ‘Into The Silent Night’, ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’, ‘Joy To The World’, and ‘The Proof Of Your Love’. 

The brothers newest album, their third recorded from the studio, Burn The Ships, was released on October 5, 2018. The brothers described it as “most mature record that we’ve made just in understanding who we are as a duo, who we are as men and maybe understanding life because we are a bit older than we were last time around.” Two of the songs were written about addiction and suicide, and three were written to and about their wives. The ten songs in the album are ‘joy.’, ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Amen’, ‘Burn The Ships’, ‘Fight On, Fighter’, ‘Need You More’, ‘Control’, ‘Never Give Up’, ‘Hold Her’, and ‘Pioneers’, which was sung with both Courtney and Moriah. When I first heard the songs from this album, I loved them right away. My favorites are ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Burn The Ships’, and ‘Pioneers’. ‘Burn The Ships’ confronts the issue of addiction. Luke’s wife, Courtney, was the inspiration for this song. While she was pregnant with their third child, she had become addicted to anti-nausea pills that helped with her morning sickness. She realized at one point that she was addicted to them, so Luke helped her break her addiction. One day he came home and she was flushing all of the pills — including Benadryl and Tylenol PM — down the toilet. “I still had that hook in me that needs to cope,” she said. “I deserved to be fully alive. Luke came home and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m flushing all the pills. He was crying. I was crying. I looked at him and said, ‘I want to be fully present for my life, not numb out. I’m not going back. It’s a new day.’ ”. That was the moment ‘Burn The Ships’ was conceived. Courtney Smallbone cried the first time she heard that song and said that “It feels like the anthem of life”.

‘God Only Knows’ was written for suicide prevention. “I think it’s the most dramatic — as far as comments are concerned — response that we’ve ever gotten,” Joel Smallbone said. “People are saying, ‘I’m on the edge, the precipice, and I watched this and this persuaded me.’ If there was a depth and a heart and a deep purpose of the record, this encapsulates it.” The music video for this song follows a girl through her normal day, but at the end, she decides to jump off a bridge. The clip rewinds to show how one personal interaction changed her intentions and saved her life. 

‘Fight on, Fighter’ and ‘Holdher’ were both songs that were written for their wives to try and persuade them to sing one of the songs with them. Eventually, Courtney and Moriah both agreed and sang ‘Pioneers’ with Luke and Joel. ‘Pioneers’ is about the “pioneering” of marriage. Joel said that when all four of them sat down in the studio together and sang it, he cried. 

They wanted the album to be personal and authentic. Luke Smallbone says, “mission accomplished”. For KING & COUNTRY definitely hit the spot with this album and I think it deserves five stars. I encourage everyone to go and listen to a few of their songs, even if you don’t think you’ll be interested in them.