Curb | Word Records duo for King & Country has accumulated career accolade after accolade in the past few months. They’ve settled in at the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart for the past several weeks with their current hit “TOGETHER,” a soaring call for unity, featuring Kirk Franklin and Tori Kelly, and the track is already in the Top 30 on the mainstream Hot AC chart. Already five-time GMA Dove Award winners, for King & Country’s Joel and Luke Smallbone lead this year’s nominees, with six nominations heading into the Dove Awards in October.
And this week, they’ve hit a new career milestone, reaching 1 billion on-demand streams since they first began releasing music eight years ago.
“We found out about a week or so ago that it was getting close to that number,” Joel tells MusicRow. “I sort of sat back and didn’t quite know how to comprehend that at first. But behind every single number or stream is a pair of ears and hopefully in some way they’ve been encouraged or entertained or impacted by a story that we’ve told through a song.”
The brothers relocated from Australia to Nashville, Tennessee with their family in 1991, including their sister and singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. The duo formally created for King & Country in 2010, and released their first album, Crave, in 2012. Since then, they’ve produced seven No. 1 radio hits, including radio staples such as “Fix My Eyes,” “Shoulders,” “Priceless,” “joy.,” and “God Only Knows,” and earned four Grammys. Along the way, the duo has also built a reputation of immensely creative, theatrical live shows that could easily find one of them climbing production scaffolding during a performance (as they did during a Grammy Block Party in Nashville in 2014), or climbing over balcony seats to bring the music closer to their fans, as they did during one Ryman Auditorium concert (part of their Burn The Ships tour in 2018).
Last year, for King & Country infused the Christmas exemplar “Little Drummer Boy” with an ethereal, U2-esque vibe when they performed the song as part of CMA Country Christmas. The rendition stole the show, earning a standing ovation from the in-house audience, while the official video of the performance has earned more than 10 million views on CMA’s Facebook page, with another 3.2 million views on YouTube. The track also topped Billboard’s Christian Digital Songs chart following the performance.
On Oct. 30, for King & Country will expand on that performance, with their first full-length studio Christmas album, A Drummer Boy Christmas. The 13-track album follows the duo’s previous holiday offerings, the 2017 live album Christmas: Live From Phoenix and 2013’s Into the Silent Night: The EP. A Drummer Boy Christmas was executive produced by aqualung (Matt Hales).
For Joel and Luke, the Christmas album has been eight years in the making. Before they had even released their debut album in 2012, Luke, Joel and their band went on a Christmas tour.
“We very unreasonably decided to do a Christmas tour,” Joel recalls, “and the reason I say unreasonably, is we had no album out at that point, no radio single, we just decided to hit the road. We shoved ourselves into a warehouse for two days to work up Christmas renditions and from that came this very drum-centric version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ that we have done and refined over the years. This Christmas music has shaped and reshaped not only the way we present Christmas music but the band itself. We’ve taken two or three of those original versions we came up with in that warehouse and then to take everything we’ve learned as a band over the past eight years and create this piece of music, it feels like a culmination moment as a band.”
For King & Country has found massive success through collaborations, ranging from their current chart-topper “TOGETHER,” to the Grammy-winning “God Only Knows” featuring Dolly Parton.
That strategy finds its place on two tracks from the upcoming album. Gabby Barrett lends her powerful vocals to “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”
“From her time on American Idol, and just being in Nashville, we’ve been aware of her talent and when we reached out, we found out she was sort of a fan of the band and believed in what we are doing. Her voice is beautiful and it worked really well with this song,” Joel says.
Another of the songs for King & Country gravitated toward in those warehouse sessions from 2012, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” gets a reworking, featuring NEEDTOBREATHE.
“NEEDTOBREATHE started out as a band with brothers. So we always had that respect for one another from afar. ‘Emmanuel’ was one of those classics that we came up with in that warehouse that night in 2012. We thought when we started working on it this time around, we thought it had a slightly folksy, rock feel to it.
“When [NEEDTOBREATHE lead singer] Bear [Rinehart] sent his vocal track back, I looked at our producer and Luke and I said, ‘We need to go back in the studio and re-cut our vocals to up our game.’ There’s this wonderful moment in the second verse where he’s singing and I meet him halfway with a harmony. But I really tried to match his timbre and energy and it really came out beautifully. That’s the template of a good collaboration, when you have these moments and you didn’t know you needed to get better, but all of a sudden you are kindly encouraged to up your game.”
While classics such as “Silent Night,” Angels We Have Heard On High,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” make the bulk of the project, several original tracks are interspersed throughout, including “Heavenly Hosts” and the stunning “The Carol of Joseph.”
“One of my favorite parts of Christmas is how Mary is celebrated. But there’s this quiet hero all along the way. Even when you go back and read the Biblical stories there’s not a lot of emphasis on [Joseph]. You put yourself in his shoes of having this child who is not his, but he chooses to love and be a good father to him. I think one of the things we don’t think of is Jesus—being human and a strong character that he was and the graceful character that he was—obviously much of that would have come from his mother but there’s a portion of that that would have come from his dad, as well. It became this grounded story of taking a snapshot of those initial moments between Joseph, Jesus and Mary. One of my favorite moments is in the song when Mary says, ‘I believe in you,’ and this idea of the mother of God saying to her husband, ‘I believe in you,’ that you can raise this child. Each time it gets to that moment in the record—I don’t cry often, but it is one of those moments that is emotional.”
The duo’s plans for a large-scale tour during the first portion of 2020 were stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but silver lining has been more time to focus more intently on the upcoming album.
“The album might not exist because we had been planning on traveling so much this year,” Joel says. Partially due to COVID-19 restrictions, for King & Country reached out to fellow creators around the world to help piece the album together. The album was mixed in London, mastered in New York, with orchestration done in Copenhagen, some production work done in England, and brass parts tracked in Los Angeles.
“The record was literally bouncing around from continent to continent as it was made. It’s literally been this worldwide creative team that has spoken into this project as well,” Joel said. “I think the spirit of the record speaks very internationally because of that.”
Given the weight of sickness, death, job losses, and industry devastations that have affected the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, those pains brought the project’s mission into sharp focus for the brothers.
“We toyed around with the ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ songs or ‘Frosty the Snowman’—which, from an Australian’s perspective, ‘Frosty the Snowman’ when you are in the dead heat of summer celebrating Christmas, makes no sense—but, just coming out of some of the hell of 2020 so far, we really wanted to make this album 45 minutes of spiritual hope, and a celebration of the hope of what Christmas has to offer. Even songs that we wrote for the project were specifically focused on how to bring to light to people.”
The album is available to pre-save and pre-add, and can be pre-ordered via for King & Country’s official website.
A Drummer Boy Christmas Track Listing:
- In The Bleak Midwinter (Prologue)
- Joy To The World
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel (feat. NEEDTOBREATHE)
- Won’t You Come
- Heavenly Hosts
- Silent Night
- A Christmas Monologue
- Little Drummer Boy
- The Carol of Joseph (I Believe In You)
- O Come All Ye Faithful
- Go Tell It On The Mountain (feat. Gabby Barrett)
- Angels We Have Heard On High
- In The Bleak Midwinter (Epilogue)
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