For King & Country’s Luke Smallbone drums up some Christmas cheer

Being an internationally recognized, Christian music “rock star” comes with its privileges. Luke Smallbone gets that. 

But there’s a flip side to all those accolades and pats on the back, too. Something that Smallbone, like everyone else, is always having to face, no matter who he is: real life. While, the 35-year-old Smallbone is an important one-half of four-time Grammy-award winning group for King & Country with his brother, Joel, it doesn’t mean he gets a pass to walk through life unscathed. Quite the opposite. 

Smallbone has faced a myriad of hurdles through the duo’s run to the top of Christian charts that began in 2012. Most recently, his very livelihood was on the line after having to undergo vocal cord surgery to deal with some troubles he’d been having with his voice for over a year. Thankfully, the surgery was successful, and Smallbone is back doing what he does best: putting smiles on people’s faces via song.

As for those challenges? While they may not have been the most appreciated during the storm, looking back, they are now, he said in a recent interview with ListenIowa.

“As I’ve gotten older and I reflect on life, the things that were easy, I don’t have much recollection of why,” he said. “The things that were difficult, I learned an unbelievable amount. The scriptures say that suffering produces courage, joy, and ultimately leads to hope. We have to remember there’s truth there. I’ve had health issues, nearly lost my son, my wife walked through some addiction situations. I’ve had some bumps. But in those bumps, God has been revealing such tenderness and love.”

The group is in the midst of its “A Drummer Boy Christmas Tour,”performing their Top 10 album, “A Drummer Boy Christmas” live in concert for the first time. The tour includes a stop at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines this Thursday night. ListenIowa caught up with Smallbone to talk about life challenges, the tour, new music and adding more hardware to list of accomplishments with a second-straight Dove Award for Artist of the Year in October. The duo have won 10 Dove Awards in their illustrious career. 

Congratulations on another Dove Award win. How does it feel winning these awards now, especially after you already have a mantle full of them.
You never sign up for these things when you start this. You sign up for it for the love of it, and you believe in the power of music. You believe that a song can change someone’s destination. So when things like this come along, you take it like a hug, or a pat on the back. I wake up the same way the day before I won as I did the day after I won. Nothing changes, but I do think that encouragement to anyone’s soul is valid. 

Your acceptance speech was moving.
Yeah, I’ve had vocal surgery about five months ago. From the moment I decided to do music, I’ve had complications at a lot of different turns. So it was kind of par for the course. God has these things take place in the course of my life, and I just feel like he teaches me so much through them. I had some folks tell me that I may lose my voice, and for about five days after the surgery, in the time that I couldn’t speak, that’s when the questions start coming. What if I can’t do the things I’ve been called to do? But it was at that moment that I just feel God saying, “Luke, it’s never been about a voice; it’s never been about a song; it’s never been about success or failure; it’s about that I love you.” And look, when you have those moments with God, the moments after that, I felt like I could do anything. I felt such love and care. So I wanted people in the room (at the Dove Awards ceremony) to know that God cares about them individually. At the same time, I hope the best for them, and for them to succeed.

Let’s talk about the matter at hand, your “A Drummer Boy Christmas Tour” that’s currently underway. It looks spectacular.
It’s be the biggest production that we’ve ever put together. We’ve got a wonderful team of people who have these crazy, creative, brilliant ideas. I think Christmas feels very, very deserving of being celebrated this year. We needed it in the midst of the pandemic last year. The reminder of Jesus and who he is and his birth, this year, we get to do it together. I think there’s an explosive joy that takes place when people come together. We get to sing some of the greatest songs ever written at Christmas time. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. They’re tried and true and tested. There’s something about getting together with an arena full of people and singing some of the greatest songs ever written. 

Do you have any favorite Christmas tunes?
I’m a sucker for “The Little Drummer Boy.” We play it all year round. Maybe it’s because I feel like the little drummer boy. Look, I’m not the most gifted person in the world, but I have a drum, and I can play it. That’s what that song is written about, a little boy who doesn’t have anything to give, but he has a drum, and he played it for Jesus. Now, I’m not sure how Mary felt about him playing that drum for Jesus (laughs). I feel like that song was written about me, just that I’m a large person, and not little (laughs).

You guys have teamed up with the Salvation Army on this tour. How did that come about?
When we came to America, we were very, very poor. A first grade class heard that we weren’t going to be able to have Christmas, and they got together to do something special for us. They basically gave us a Christmas when we could not afford one. So we’ve remembered that, and wanted to do a toy drive. God has given us all so much, and we want to be a part of making a difference, of giving people joy. Sometimes people need something to visually represent the things that are taking place in their heart, and sometimes it’s a toy. There’s nothing better than seeing a smile on a kid’s face. 

You guys have a new album set to be released next year, “What Are We Waiting For?”
Yeah, it’s going to come out March 11. We wrote it while we were home, as I’m sure a lot of other musicians did. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they can’t wait for things to get back to normal and get back to the things we were doing. I think, for me, I’ve realized that I’ve actually learned a lot of valuable things through this pandemic. I want a new normal. I don’t want to be doing some of the things that we all had to do, but I don’t want to just go back there and forget some of the lessons we’ve learned. “What Are We Waiting For?” is a summary of that. It’s taking all that we’ve learned and putting it to song. “Relate” is a song that talks about what it’s like to show compassion and empathy for a person even if you disagree with them or align perfectly. “What Are We Waiting For?” is the question that we’ve all been asking. What do we do with this time? What are we going to do? Because sometimes we sit in the wings and wait. And there are times when we should. But there are other times when we should “do.” And this album encapsulates all of that.

So what can we expect when For King and Country hit the stage Dec. 9?
I often joke that if you were to take eight folks on a basketball team and throw them into the orchestra pit, and you take that energy, that’s what you get on stage with us. We’re going to be wildly entertaining, but so that people will listen and have an encounter. Maybe a song that they’ve heard their whole life will speak to them a bit differently this year. Maybe it means something a little bit more. That’s what we hope will happen in Des Moines.

for King & Country
“A Drummer Boy Christmas Tour”

Thursday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines