This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features someone from the world of music, Luke Smallbone, from the band for KING & COUNTRY. The band is composed of Luke and his brother Joel, who actually went by Joel and Luke before settling on for KING & COUNTRY as a band name. “For king and country!” was a battle cry uttered by English soldiers during war and the guys liked how that could apply to their music, which is for their King (Jesus) and country (people). A few of their songs that you may have heard include: “The Proof of Your Love,” “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)” or “Light It Up.”
Luke comes from a large and musically gifted family (Rebecca St. James is his sister), who moved from Australia to Nashville, Tenn., when he was young. He joined us to talk about music, the NBA, his own hoop dreams that were shattered by injury, how God presented him with a new dream, and why Christians should make the best and most inspired art. To hear the full interview, click the link to the podcast below, as Luke talks about sports and the band’s upcoming tour.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: You come from a musical family, and your guys traveled a lot, but basketball became a big passion of yours.
Luke Smallbone: All of us brothers were real close. We just played sports like crazy. It was probably one of our favorite things to do. And in high school, We were still traveling and I played quite a bit of basketball and I told my parents my junior year that the last two years, I’m really gonna focus on basketball and just see what happens. You know I really wanted to try and go to the next level.
I had gone through training camp, I was feeling great, and the first game of basketball I played my junior year of high school, I had a great first quarter and I was thinking to myself, “Man, I’ve put the work in and it’s paying off.” And everything was great. And then in the second quarter I made a cut trying to get a rebound and I tore my ACL. And after that, it was kind of what I had spent most of my time doing, and really what I put a lot of my value in honestly.
Through that time I had a conversation with my mother and I said, “Mom, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. This is really what I had planned for me.”
And she told me something. She said, “I really believe that God told me, that by the time you graduate high school, there’s gonna be one thing left for you at the end of the tunnel.”
And sure enough, when I was about to graduate high school, my brother Joel came to me and said, “What do you think about doing some writing and some work in music and demoing up a few songs and see where it goes?”
And the ironic thing about that is that we haven’t stopped doing that since. The brokenheartedness of tearing that ACL brought me to where we are today.
Luke Smallbone: Yeah it really did. I was always, growing up, singing. I never had any training or anything, but I always knew how to harmonize from a young age. I guess something just clicked with singing and things, but I never really put a whole lot of thought into it; it was just always something that I could do. The joke was when I was younger, their reason why they wanted me to sing is that I could always sing the girls’ parts with my sister. I still, to this day, can sing relatively high and it’s kinda funny how, yeah, I guess I kind of just grew up singing in the shower like everybody else did.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Now do you also play instruments as well?
Luke Smallbone: We’re kind of an interesting band. There’s not really a main instrument that we (use), both Joel and I are primarily singers, but I grew up playing a lot of drums and so we use a ton of percussion on stage. Joel plays the piano, and this instrument called a harmonium that we play. We kind of just do a bunch of different, eclectic things on stage. So it looks like we’re playing a ton of different things, but we don’t really have just one main thing that we necessarily glue ourselves to.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Back to basketball real quick, had you picked out a school that you had really wanted to go to, or a dream school or anything like that?
Luke Smallbone: No, you know, I played for a really small Christian school and what I realized with that team that I was playing with was that I really had to be scoring about 25 points a game to be able to get any attention. But it was very possible, you know. I had a team that was really built that year. I mean, I remember my coach saying, “Hey, this is your year.” We had a good point guard. We were really primed to have an inside out kind of game. I’ll never forget my coach’s face when I tore my ACL. He (laughs) knew something was really wrong and I think he saw, not that I was the be-all end-all, but anytime you see a player that you know is one of your main ingredients for that season go down, for a coach, that’s a hard thing. And I was really planning on my junior year, trying to see what was available and see what was going to happen from there.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Was there a guy in the NBA that you patterned your game after?
Luke Smallbone: Not necessarily, the guys that I liked, you know. I’m a Los Angeles Lakers fan. Back in the past few years, I was a big fan of Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom. Some of these guys who are not necessarily the Kobe Bryants of the league but I loved the way that they played the game. They were very aggressive and they knew their role and did it well. I’m also a big Pau Gasol fan. If there was a guy that I played most similar (to), I was a little bit like Pau Gasol. You know, not too rough and tumbly inside, could take a jump shot and was probably a lot quicker inside. That was probably the guy I played most like.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: And after high school, you guys formed the band. Are you the primary songwriter, or do you guys do it together?
Luke Smallbone: We always write, pretty much, all of the songs together. I think on the last album, there was one song that (Joel) wrote without me and there was one song that I wrote without him. Joel and I have really become kind of the iron-sharpens-iron team. His talents are very different from mine and my talents are very different from his. And so I think when we’re working together, we function as one solid member of society, or really, creatively. We do really try to focus on working together as much as possible because we do understand there’s a strength in that.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: And what’s that songwriting process like from start to finish?
Luke Smallbone: We usually always write with one other person. So usually there’s three of us. And the other person is usually more of an instrumentalist. We typically start out with a melody, I may, I’m a melody guy, so I’ll come in with a little bit of a melody or lyric idea or Joel might. You know, we kind of toss it around the room to see if it’s got any legs going anywhere. You know, we really do try and get all of the melodies and everything worked out before we really move on to the lyrics and refine it and finish off the rest of the song.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: And if you get writer’s block you can always call up your sister, right?
Luke Smallbone: (Laughs) You know, we have written a couple of songs with her over the years. That’s always been a lot of fun.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Now, I wanted to ask you about your song called “Light it Up.” You wrote this for a friend, correct?
Luke Smallbone: Yeah, you know, we had a friend of ours that struggled with depression. And we were sitting around in our writer’s room and really just felt that we should really write a song for him. And so, we were out in LA, and we wrote the song, and we came back to Nashville, and we played it for him. And we just wanted to see how he would respond. And we didn’t expect the response. He was like, “Man, that’s my favorite song that you guys have ever written!” And he’s a musician as well, so he had heard all of our stuff. And we were like, “Oh, wow!”
Well, we were kind of scared to tell him that it was about him. We weren’t really sure how that was going to go over. But weeks went by and eventually, we were like, “We’ve got to tell him this song is about him.” So he came in and we said, “Hey man. We just want to let you know, ‘Light it Up’ was written for you. And it was written about you.” And once again we didn’t get the response we thought. We thought he’d go “Aw man. That’s one of my favorite songs. That’s awesome!” But he, just kind of listened and then walked out of the room. And we were like, “I hope we didn’t offend him by writing a song about him or whatever.” And we thought that was it. But twenty minutes later he gave us a call and said, “Thank you so much for writing that song for me. It gives me hope, it encourages me.”
And I think, through that time, you know, we’ve always understood the power of music, but when it happens in a way like that, it gives you kind of a new sense of what it can do in somebody’s life. Especially when it’s a personal friend. And I think the other thing we’ve realized is that when you merge the power of the Gospel, with a great melody and a great song, there’s something, it’s like double the power. And something incredibly amazing takes place when you do that.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Yeah, I’ve always felt like Christian music should be the best.
Luke Smallbone: Man, you are preaching to the choir on that. You have no idea. In my mind, us as Christians should be making the best art, whether it’s a painting, an artist of whatever type, it really should be the most inspired and most amazing.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: What are long term goals for you and your brother for for KING & COUNTRY?
Luke Smallbone: I think that remains to be seen. I think we’re just flattered that things are working out the way that they are. You kind of pinch yourself at times. One of the things that we talk about, you hit on it earlier, you know, Christians should be the best at their craft. We really feel as long as we’re making music, as long as we’re in the arts, we’re going to do everything in our power to make the most outstanding, the most statement making music and art that we can. Because we really feel like, the Scriptures talk about, with your time, do your best. Do everything, do your best unto the Lord.
And so you know, as far as the future, I think with trying to do your best at everything, the reason why we want to do that is because we want to impact people for Christ. And that’s where true hope is found. That’s where being away from home and working as hard as what it requires, that’s the only time it makes sense. If we’re doing this for ourselves, I’ll go do something else. Because there’s other things that are easier, there’s other things that have us be home a little bit more. But doing your very best unto the Lord and doing it for the Lord is the reason why we do music. And our hope is that if it’s three years, if it’s six years, ten, fifteen years that we do this, that will always remain the goal and always remain the vision.
Getting to know Luke
Favorite Bible Verse
Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Favorite Bible Character (other than Jesus)
I’m probably gonna go with Peter on that. Just because he was probably like us in a lot of ways where he was making a lot of mistakes but Jesus still loved him a lot.
Favorite thing to do to pass time on the road
Typically I’m probably reading ESPN.com, catching up on all of my sports news. I check that probably 20 times a day, unfortunately.
What sports do you follow?
I’m really a sports geek. I follow it all. The only sport that I probably don’t follow that well is the NHL. I didn’t grow up with it that much, so I’m not that familiar with it. So basketball, football, baseball to a lesser extent, but I still follow it quite a lot. The Olympics. When the Olympics was on, that was amazing.