Preview by Joshua Maloni
It's been quite a whirlwind of activity for Australian brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone since NFP featured for KING & COUNTRY in our 2013 Kingdom Bound preview.
The band received bad news just days after our interview. Luke was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and had to skip the annual Darien Lake festival.
"It's something that is very written into, obviously, our life as brothers, and the life of the band, as a result, as well," Joel said in an interview last week. "If you could picture it, right in that time, I had just gotten married like a month before Kingdom Bound. I had the gotten the text on our honeymoon - the last day of our honeymoon - saying that Luke was too unwell to travel and had to come off the road.
"And, so, we're unpacking all of this: We're unpacking the joy and the beauty of being married; the loss of not only my brother by my side for the first time in the band, but also the prospect of losing my brother, my partner, my best friend. ...
"It was dynamic. It was polarizing. And to layer another item on top of that, we were right in the middle of working on a new record. So, you had the marriage, and my brother's dropped down to 125 pounds and is bedridden and too weak to hold his own son. And then you had taking a lot of these stories - us both, in that time and beyond - taking it into the writing."
Fortunately, Luke recovered. He and Joel will perform together on Thursday, as one of this year's Kingdom Bound headline acts.
"By the grace of God, I'm so thrilled to announce that he is doing the best he's done since he was ill," Joel said. "He's back up to his body weight. He is able to live a normal life and love his wife and his now two kids. And to travel - he will be there on the 21st with us."
for KING & COUNTRY, with Luke center (Kingdom Bound photo)
Dealing with Luke's illness, Joel said, changed the brothers' perspective on life, "as these sorts of things do.
"It's changed the way we look at each other - the way we look at the band; the way we look at life.
"There's a statement made by C.S. Lewis, the old theologian. He said, 'Pain is God's megaphone to arouse a deaf world.' And, I feel like, in this case - and then if you wanted to cross a bridge even in the case of (the recent) loss of lives and the shootings and the division - my hope is that that statement will stand, and that this pain and this tragic loss will be used to rouse us into unity; into diversity; into understanding each other greater. Because I know, with what we walked through, it has done that for us as a family."
From one extreme of pain arose a second extreme of triumph: for KING & COUNTRY rallied to make a sophomore album, "Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong." The album was met with critical praise, a No. 1 debut on iTunes, and even a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.
As Luke rose from his sickbed, for KING & COUNTRY emerged to become one of the most successful Christian bands in the world - and a crossover star across genres. The band recently announced a headlining fall tour and a new movie, called "Priceless."
The juxtaposition of these two significant periods was not lost on the Smallbone family.
"It would be a shame and folly to divorce any of the success of the band from the unity and family atmosphere behind it," Joel said.
"Luke and I are two of seven kids," Joel said. "You've got our dad, who manages; you've got, obviously, Rebecca (St. James), who, really, we fell in love with music and learned the craft of traveling, with Rebecca years ago. We joked that dad needed cheap labor with three of five sons, and so he put us all to work as the road crew. And that's where we learned the craft - where we saw the impact.
"And then you've got Daniel, our eldest brother, who does all of our lighting design. You've got Ben, who is directing this film that we've been working on for the last two years, called 'Priceless.' And then you've got Luke and I in the band. You've got Joshua, who is our general manager.
"What it is, and I was actually speaking with someone about this last night, it is a beautiful celebration of family and team - for KING & COUNTRY, because it's just so much bigger than Luke and myself. Man, not to borderline sound cliché, but it's just the God's honest truth. It's the band; it's the crew; it's the group - that we sort of stand on the shoulders of giants - it's the group around us that is really building us up and setting this up for it to be a successful venture.
"And when I say 'success,' yeah, these sorts of things, you know, the album sales and the response from people, and the late-night shows - yes, those obviously celebrate the success. But what we're, I think, very interested in is navigating this successfully as human beings - as families. And being sustainable so that we don't get to the end of this and we go, 'Yeah, we had success, but we lost. We lost the things that are so important: Connection with God. Connection with family and friends.'
"But, for Luke - if I could speak on behalf of Luke - and myself, what you've got is two very grateful young men on your hands."
As for KING & COUNTRY prepares for a Kingdom Bound performance, the Smallbone brothers are putting the final touches on "Priceless," which will arrive in theaters this fall.
"We're in the thick of it," Joel said. "I was up until 4 last night. I've had a few 6 a.m. nights. We're finalizing it all this week. The trailer for the film, the cover for the film and the film itself. ... It's a passion project, no doubt. And this has been two years and beyond in the making.
"Our brother Ben, as I said, is a film director. He's done all our music videos, and Ben and I have always done film together."
"What's been so remarkable is the mission behind it," Joel said.
The film's charge is one of the pillars of for KING & COUNTRY, and what "we've shared since the beginning of the band about celebrating a woman's worth and charging us, as men, to be chivalrous in how we love," Joel said. "We've sold these little necklaces that have an Australian one-cent coin on them. We've made them available at every show. And we've seen over a quarter of a million Americans rally behind this cause.
"And so, naturally, as artists, what it leads us to is ... a song, which we've just released, called 'Priceless.' We'll be playing it at Kingdom Bound. It led us to this movie."
The movie's trailer, theme song and additional information can be found at http://pricelessthemovie.com/.
"We've never done a feature before. It has been the most audacious project that for KING & COUNTRY has ever endeavored. But, every step of the way, we've seen people show up - and I believe God show up," Joel said. "We have everything from our producer, who did that Spartan film, '300,' and produced Mandy Moore's 'A Walk to Remember' and a host of other films, to the actors: We have David Koechner from 'Anchorman' and 'The Office'; and Jim Parrack, from the upcoming 'Suicide Squad,' and 'True Blood,' and 'Fury,' opposite Brad Pitt; we have Bianca Santos from 'The DUFF.' Just these world-class actors rally behind this, saying, 'Hey, I get it. I get the mission. Count me in.'
"So, I can't wait, man. I can't wait for you to see it. I felt honored to be pinned besides these folks. But it's really the beauty of taking this (priceless) message to the silver screen."
The film's storyline is intense.
"My character in the film, James, the story kind of circles around him, and his, really, hard situation. He has lost his wife to a tragic accident, and he's sort of fallen off the rails, and, as a result, his young daughter was claimed by child protective services out of negligence on his part," Joel said. "And in an effort to get his life back on track, he takes a under-the-counter, cash-only job driving a transportation truck across the country - straight through. Falls asleep at the wheel, and runs off the road."
When James comes to, he checks in on the cargo. "He opens it up, and knocks the lock off, and finds that he has two young ladies in the back," Joel said. "The rest of the film is really him unpacking what a life is worth - and what he's going to do with these young ladies."
From there, "He sort of turns into a bit of a vigilante, if you will, but, in the process, is impacted by these young ladies' strength and sort of perseverance," Joel said.
As James works to save the girls, physically, they, in turn, help rescue his spirituality.
"It's exciting," Joel said.
For as big as for KING & COUNTRY has become, with a new movie and recent appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," "Today," "The Tonight Show" and "The View," Western New York remains an important place for the Smallbone family to return to each year.
"We have a soft spot in our heart for all things Kingdom Bound," Joel said. "I think, between coming with our sister, I believe it's the sixth consecutive year now."
"You have to tip your hat, though, to folks like Kingdom Bound, because so much of this is about awareness, isn't it? They've rallied around, first our sister, and now Luke and I in sharing the music and the heart behind it," Joel said. "We're counting down the days."
for KING & COUNTRY performs at 9:30 p.m. Thursday on the PAC stage. For more information, visit http://www.kingdombound.org/.
Find the band online at www.forkingandcountry.com.
Joel on stage at Kingdom Bound in 2013.
The Kingdom Bound Festival, one of the nation's largest and longest-running Christian music festivals, is set to return to Darien Lake theme park this weekend. The 30th annual festival takes place July 20-23 with more than 40,000 attendees from across the U.S. and Canada expected to attend. On-site accommodations are available, as well as full event and single day commuter passes. All tickets include access to festival activities, as well as admission to Darien Lake Theme and Water Park.
Single-day tickets for the festival are $54-$59 and include admission to Darien Lake Theme Park and water park. Tickets are available online through www.itickets.com, by calling 716-633-1117. For more information, call 1-800-461-4485 or visit www.kingdombound.org.