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For King and Country's Luke Smallbone keeps the faith

Brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone make up For King & Country. The Christian pop duo performs Dec. 14 at Amalie Arena. Photo courtesy CMA Media Promotions
Published Oct. 31, 2018

A few years ago, Luke Smallbone of the Christian-music duo For King and Country, battled life-threatening ulcerative colitis.

The singer spent months in and out of hospitals, dropped to 125 pounds and tried multiple treatments. His brother Joel, the other half of For King and Country, toured without him.

In 2015, Luke Smallbone went into remission. For King and Country became Grammy-Award winners and reached No. 13 on Billboard's top 100. The brothers wrote music for the film Priceless, about human trafficking, in which Joel starred.

In January 2018 Luke Smallbone nearly lost his 2-month-old son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Doctors discovered the infant needed skull reconstruction surgery. He's now recovered.

Through it all, the singer and his family never lost sight of joy, Smallbone says.

In May 2018, Joy, the first single released from For King and Country's album Burning Ships, hit No. 1 on Christian radio.

On Dec. 14, For King of Country brings the "Little Drummer Boy Christmas Tour" featuring Zach Williams to the Amalie Arena.

"It's the highlight of our year," Smallbone said of the show that features holiday classics, For King and Country Originals, big lights and Christmas décor.

I spoke to Luke Smallbone about the tour and keeping the faith.

You write a lot about maintaining joy through difficult circumstances. How is the theme relevant to the Christmas season?

Well, the reason I wrote Joy, I was literally scrolling through Facebook seeing all these horrible things going on in the world and I couldn't help but feel sad. So, I wrote the song about how you can choose joy or you can choose to let things affect and defeat you. I know a lot of families really feel the effects of things like loss during Christmas. Maybe our tour can play a part in helping people hold onto joy despite their struggles.

It's a theme in a lot of your music. How has it played out in your personal life?

I know it's definitely been a reality in my own life, with circumstances like my own health and other things my family has walked through. There are times when I had the choice to allow sadness to overcome me or to find joy through the different seasons. For us, even when I was really sick, it didn't mean my wife and I didn't make some beautiful memories together. I had to ask myself am I going to be someone who chooses joy or focuses on what I don't have. I look back at some of those moments in hard times as being positive. It's not possible to feel joy all the time but we can be mindful and change our outlook.

How is your son doing?

Leo is doing really well. We walked through this journey where he was at an age these are not things he will remember, but he is now such a content happy child. It really has proven to me that the experience of trials can produce strong characteristics of perseverance.

Many Christian artists mention For King and Country as a musical influence. What music inspires you?

Switchfoot is one of the bands that really inspired me to get into music. They are always finding ways to reinvent their music but also remain culturally relevant.

Switchfoot receives air play on secular radio? Are you interesting in crossing over?

For us it's really about finding places where our music can live. I believe music should be used as much as possible and as widely as possible.

With the Christmas tour, will you be home for the holidays? What are some family traditions at home?

Our last show is Dec. 21 so we will be home. Really, Christmas isn't just one day. It's really until Jan. 1 that we are with family and making family memories. We like to go to a Christmas tree farm and pick out a tree together. There are fires burning in the barrels at the farm and it is really a feel-good experience.

In Tampa, the Little Drummer Boy tour sold-out but they added more seats to accommodate interest. Does it still surprise you how many people want to see your shows?

We are grateful people want to make us part of their Christmas celebrations. It is a tremendous honor. When we are performing for a few thousand people it can still feel surprising. We are extremely serious about our live shows. We want them to be wildly entertaining. We are competing with cell phones so we want to make sure heads are looking up.

•••

For more information and tickets visit, https://www.forkingandcountry.com. Concert begins at 7 p.m. Dec, 14 at the Amalie Arena. Ticket prices start at 22.50.

Contact Sarah Whitman at sarahrothwhitman@gmail.com.

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