When I spoke to Joel Smallbone of GRAMMY award-winning Christian band For KING & COUNTRY, it was a year to the day since their album RUN WILD. LIVE FREE. LOVE STRONG. had been released, and the significance of the event was not lost on the singer.
“The album was a very polarizing album for both Luke and I to work on,” Smallbone says of his brother and bandmate. “Any kind of real piece of art is labor of love. You have your great moments and your hard moments.”
Coupled with Smallbone’s wedding to Moriah Peters, and simultaneously, a life-threatening diagnosis for his brother Luke, the album is a snapshot of the highs and lows of life and faith. “It became this album of certain questions, an honest discussion about where we found ourselves,” he says. “But it also became really an album, in a lot ways, of celebration.”
It seems poignant then, that the band released an anniversary edition of the album on October 23, which includes three new songs. “Even the title, RUN WILD. LIVE FREE. LOVE STRONG. [and] songs like ‘To the Dreamers’ or ‘Long Live,’ these songs…are saying, You know what? If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. We’ve got an opportunity here to celebrate in the face of hardship.”
Staying spiritually refreshed is fundamental for a band determined to remain humble. “The show we did yesterday was the first done in a few days,” he says. “Before each performance, there’s 12 of us out on the road, a bit of a ragamuffin group, we have a time where we just get together and connect. Read a little bit and say a prayer. It’s that consistent, Hey, let’s come back to the drawing board here. You work through something and then you come back to it again. I think the biggest thing is that moment on the road is huge for us … It’s our church, if you will. It’s also the consistency of it. It’s staying in it. It’s staying in the race.”
This determination to share the truth carries through all For KING & COUNTRY’s projects, most vividly in his upcoming film that just wrapped in Albuquerque called Priceless (2016, For King & Country/Word Entertainment). Smallbone leads the cast while delving into the reality of human trafficking and the value of a life.
“Evil prevails if good men do nothing. It’s feels like it’s our time to raise up and do something about it.”
“It’s real gritty,” he says. Describing his character as a “bit of a reluctant hero in some ways,” Smallbone and his brother were instrumental in developing the storyline. “In a lot of ways [it’s a] dark story that follows a guy by the name of James, who I play. His wife has passed away. His daughter had been claimed by child services because he couldn’t look after her sufficiently. Can’t hold a steady job, in and out of prison. A buddy of his comes to him and says, ‘Hey, I’ll give you two and a half grand for a transportation gig. It’s not drugs. You just need to take these items from here to here, and don’t ask any questions.’ Mid-way through the trip he finds out he’s got two girls in the back of the trunk. It kind of unfolds from there.”
A song of the same name recorded for the film is featured on the anniversary edition of RUN WILD.LIVE FREE. LOVE STRONG. “This film just feels kind of serendipitous,” Smallbone says. “Our hope is that the message of this film will really hit home with a lot of men, hit home with a lot of women, and raise awareness. [It’s] something in human trafficking that is a bit of an epidemic.”
Whether you know them for their music or on-screen performance, For KING & COUNTRY aims to deliver more than just feel-good entertainment. They are on a mission to change culture. “Evil prevails if good men do nothing,” says Smallbone. “It’s feels like it’s our time to raise up and do something about it.”