(Photo courtesy of Rogers & Cowan PMK)
Wait No More
A Behind-The-Music Interview with Joel Smallbone
By Sarah Komisky
“What is next?” That is the thought on my mind (and probably yours) when it comes to the dynamic duo For King & Country. Anticipation is always brewing when it comes to news about this band. Winning Grammys, crafting chart-topping songs, and delivering the most interesting artist collaborations, most of us can agree we have been expectant for the 5th studio album entering our soundwaves March 2022. Yet, in light of this excitement, we wanted to provide a more, stripped-down, behind-the-music look at the band that we see par-usual. Welcoming one of our favorite returning guests, Joel Smallbone, we have taken a sit-down approach to our conversation on everything from the new album, “What Are You Waiting For?” to his perspective on purity, culture, faith, and the stories behind the music. For all the fans, wait no more, here is a look at my unvarnished talk time with our Marked Ministry March interviewee. Enjoy.
Marked Ministry: Hello, super excited to catch up with you! Congratulations on your new album “What Are You Waiting For?” This is your fifth studio album. I feel like this band, for KING & COUNTRY, has done really well with keeping a pulse on culture and what is needed for the moment. Please share a little bit about how that relates to this album.
Joel Smallbone: Unfortunately, and in some ways, I say this sensitively, fortunately, we were able to be home for the last two albums while we were recording and writing. I say fortunately and unfortunately because that was due to the pandemic. While it is kind of you to say that we have kept a finger on the pulse, and it’s encouraging because we do make every effort to stay in it, the last two years have given us an incredible amount of content to pull from, as far as worldwide culture, what we’ve all faced in this universal suffering, political tension, racial division, and so on. Our attempt is to always write with a sense of hopefulness, but also a sense of grit and honesty as to where we find ourselves as individuals, where our families find ourselves, where it seems the world finds itself. I have to say that “What Are We Waiting For?”is very much that. I feel it’s very grounded in what we just walked through, and in many ways, how we should find our way forward.
Marked Ministry: At Marked Ministry Magazine, our passion is to have conversations about purity, mental health, culture, and faith. This month our focus is releasing a new issue called “Reflect,” where we are talking about core beliefs and experiences that have shaped our views of purity in every facet of our lives and we also want to talk about what has impacted us for good and also not so good, in order to grow and discover a healthier view of what purity really means. We know purity culture is real and the movement of the past is also a reality, but we also want to reflect presently on what this means now and how it impacts our lives. Purity is something that you guys in the band have spoken about many times. Reflecting on the past, how do you see your core beliefs on purity that have adapted in life shape who you are today?
Joel Smallbone: What we have endeavored to share about really from the beginning of the band is charging men to step up, stand out, and be chivalrous in how they love, be it their mom, sister, girlfriend, wife, or any woman in between. As well as, charge women to know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and that they can, should, and will rise, and not only will they have impact on family, but also have impact on culture and the world, and we need them. Luke and I both married two very strong, courageous women, and not only they, but also our mother, have helped shape our worldview when it comes to what it looks like to be a real man, how real men treat women, and so on. Our belief and hope is that there is a day coming where that sense of respect, honor, and pricelessness of a woman will be honored and respected in new and beautiful ways. I believe we’re seeing that already happen with the fight against pornography, the fight in human trafficking relief, and so on that are attacking the very nature of our humanity. We are hopeful.
Marked Ministry: Going back to the idea of reflection, I think we have to be honest in saying that all of us have had experiences of things we were taught or experiences we had that created a belief system that possibly was not right or caused pain. Many young people have been consequently hurt by what we know as purity culture and therefore, have not wanted to talk about purity or engage it all together as something of the past. How would you speak into that in our current culture and how do you think purity is relative today?
Joel Smallbone: You are right in that the word “purity” comes with a sense of baggage now. If I had to try and poke holes in why that is today, I think it is because purity, although it is a beautiful word by origin, implies particularly regarding relationships a sense of perfection and if not perfection, the deep sense of shame. Also, I sense that purity implies that by having sexual relations, making out, or so on is impure by nature and as we all know, that is very far from the truth. It is actually one of God’s great gifts to humanity and it’s the way that humanity continues to exist. I think the setting it in its right place of what it is and what it is not is what is needed. It is beautiful. It is a dangerous thing to objectify a woman, it is a dangerous thing for a woman to feel all she has to offer a man is her body. We are so much more than just physical creatures, but the physical aspect is part of it, and it needs to be reset in its right place. I think that’s what the purity movement attempted and intended to do, but all the while it created at points a sense of shame and confusion as to whether sex was a good thing or a bad thing, a pure thing or dirty, and so on. The more we can discuss it, first of all, the better and the more we can sort of reset that word inside a larger conversation of heart intent, honoring one another, respect, understanding boundaries, and understanding that there is not necessarily a one size fits all blanket solution, if you want to put it that way, for these things. It calls for sensitivity for the spirit, communication with one another, and common respect. All these things play into these dynamics and, once again, I’m normally the “cup half full” guy, but I believe we are beginning to have those conversations, which I’m very thankful for.
Marked Ministry: Expanding on the prior question, is there something that you think needs to be changed when it comes to talking about purity, in light of purity culture?
Joel Smallbone: Yes, and in light of my prior answer, I would say what needs to be changed is maybe less intense focus on one word and building everything around that single word, and on the contrary, focusing on the larger conversation of the positive side of things. That is that there is this beautiful dynamic between man and woman, and we’re all invited to be part of it. It is incredibly powerful and like anything that is powerful, it can also be incredibly destructive as a result. How do we in the age of smartphones and access to any imagery or videos, more access than any in human history, create an environment of positivity and people standing for something versus a shame dynamic where people just feel bad all the time?
Marked Ministry: Because we are talking about reflection, it seems like the current album causes a lot of that and you’ve invited so many to be part of the experience (Tori Kelly, Dante Bowe, Sleeping At Last, Kirk Franklin). What has this meant to you to reflect with these fellow artists and why did you want to collaborate with them on this album?
Joel Smallbone: In some ways, the album process really began during the pandemic, and that was when we had the opportunity to collaborate in such a lovely way with Tori and Kirk, and so it began there. In some ways, it may be set some of the tent poles for “What Are We Waiting For?” in and of itself. As far as Dante Bowe, we had “Unity” and we had been working on “Unity” for quite some time, and always sensed that was an important song to have lifted up by not only just Luke and me lyrically but by another vocal. It was written with a guy named Josh Kerr, as well as Tony Williams who is Kanye West’s cousin, so it always had this nature of diversity and understanding one another from different cultures, countries, ethnicities, and so on. Then, Sleeping At Last…we’ve just always been massive fans, and he and we have been connected. I’ve actually never met him in person to date but had great phone conversations with Matt Hales (Aqualung), producing this. We just had this very special moment that felt right. He was able to send his vocals in from Chicago and off we went.
Marked Ministry: One of the new singles on the record is “Relate.” This song taps into so much of the idea of being able to connect with others. Connection and reliability are definitely something that we want to have at Marked Ministry with people in general. How do you think we can develop more of that when we’re talking to people who are different than ourselves?
Joel Smallbone: It seems as though a lot of the constructs that we build, particularly in relation to different ethnicities, cultures, and countries, many of them don’t seem to be helping us at this point. As an Australian, we have our own battles culturally, but I think having a bit of a paradigm shift where we’re able to actually find the commonality, the similarity, and the beauty in our differences. The beauty of different food genres; I love Asian food, I’m not Asian. There’s beauty in different food genres, different ideas, different thoughts, and the fact that maybe none of us have a corner on the truth and that we’re able to pull from one another different aspects of God and life and see Him in the most holistic way by understanding one another more. Then maybe that makes us less frightened and maybe it actually enables us to really dig in and ask some deeper questions; not just be tolerant, but be curious of one another.
Marked Ministry: “Love Me Like I Am” is the final song before the album releases in March and I think that it connects so much to our humanity of God. Why do you think knowing that we are loved as we are is a gamechanger in our lives?
Joel Smallbone: Speaking of constructs, a lot of the constructs that are built-in Western culture are based on the mentality of “I am only worth what I produce” and we’ve all, myself included, bought into this construct at varying levels. The more we can come to this place of going, “I am. I exist and I am and therefore, I have inherent worth and inherent meaning,” it seems to change the way we look at God, others, and ourselves. We’re not looking at others for what they can do for us anymore, at God as being angry because we are not good enough, or looking at ourselves either with a sense of pride because we’re better than other people or a sense of shame because we’re not as good as other people. We’re able to look at ourselves and just inherently be at peace and then operate from a place of peace versus operating from a place of striving and dissatisfaction. “Love Me Like I Am,” which ironically came to me in my sleep, that phrase, I think is a heart cry both on a human level, human to human, as well as God to human. It is worth celebrating that those that do love us as we are or like we are and that there is a God that does the same.
Find out more about For King & Country by visiting forkingandcountry.com