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For King & Country bring unifying new album to FirstBank Amphitheater

For King & Country bring unifying new album to FirstBank Amphitheater

Portrait of For King & Country at In:clite Studios in Franklin, Tenn., Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Stephanie Amador / The Tennessean

To make a new album, For King & Country needed to come home.

After years of globetrotting tours and suitcase writing sessions, the best-selling Christian pop duo did something that previously never seemed possible: They made an album without juggling cross-country touring, unexpected projects or backstage demos.

Listeners hear the final product on 2022 release "What Are We Waiting For?," a 13-song album that extends open-armed songs to listeners in a time when coming together once felt like a far-away dream.

"The album's asking a lot of questions, so maybe people feel like, 'Well, are they sure about things?'" Joel Smallbone said. "We're coming into this new season with a new lease on what it means to be a duo and brothers and artists."

He added, "We've had time to be still and contemplate and slow down. Now, coming into this, I think there's a renewed energy."

Now, this weekend, the first tour behind "What Are We Waiting For?" ends where the album began: Middle Tennessee. The Australian-born, Nashville-based group closes a two-month run Sunday at FirstBank Amphitheater at the Graystone Quarry in Williamson County.

Read on for highlights from a new Tennessean interview with For King & Country brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone, who answered questions on following up the success of 2018 album "Burn The Ships," what stories fueled "What Are We Waiting For?" and what audiences can expect when the group headlines FirstBank Amphitheater this weekend.

On telling stories for today

"What Are We Waiting For?" isn't an album about the COVID-19 pandemic, but lessons learned — about family, spirituality and unity — during the peak of a global health crisis in-part shaped the messages on For King & Country's 13-song album.

Stories take on undismayed faith ("For God Is With Us," "Benediction"), unbreakable family bonds ("Unsung Heroes") and unfiltered empathy ("Relate," "Unity," "Love Me Like I Am"). Thematically, it's a "universal" album, said Joel Smallbone — and that "felt new, in some ways, to the way we'd written in the past."

He said: "Even down to the title: It's not 'What am I waiting for?' or 'What are you waiting for?. It's 'What Are We Waiting For?' There was this intent to look outward at where we find ourselves as a country — as a planet — and write about those themes."

Luke Smallbone added, "It's an album that is very much in the tangible, in what's going on right now."

On moving beyond 'Burn The Ships'

The brotherly duo kick into a new album cycle after a wave of accolades propelled by 2018 effort "Burn The Ships."

With boundary-pushing theatrics and deeply emotional storytelling (plus one collaboration with country legend Dolly Parton), the album launched For King & Country to a pair of Grammy Awards — bringing the band's career total to four — and back-to-back Artist of the Year recognition at the Dove Awards, a marquee Christian music ceremony.

But don't expect Joel or Luke Smallbone to rest on past victories. For "What Are We Waiting For?," rehashing creative roads already traveled wasn't an option, Luke Smallbone said.

"If you're competing against yourself all the time, you're missing the point of art," Luke Smallbone said. "For us, where we sit, you have to start at the art. 'Burn The Ships' was a special piece of music, but it's also three years old now. Those stories are stories of the past. It's time to tell new stories.

"Is it gonna be as successful? That's for others to decide. The question we have to ask ourselves: 'Was it real and true to us?'"

On making time for music at home

For years, For King & Country laid groundwork for album-making on the road. They demoed songs in green rooms, workshopped at sound check and composed on the back of tour buses.

Still, retreating to Middle Tennessee to write a collection of unifying melodies backed with a rich production that pushes Christian music's sonic landscape? Not exactly a vacation for the brothers.

"Being home and allowing yourself to see struggle, allowing yourself to see hardships with these people was probably the bedrock of the album," Luke Smallbone said, adding: "What does it mean to be empathetic in this 21st century that we live? What does it mean to have compassion? To me, in some cases, it was an incredibly uncomfortable places to write songs"

Portrait of For King & Country at In:clite Studios in Franklin, Tenn., Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Stephanie Amador / The Tennessean

On closing tour in hometown

With a fourth album out, the brothers bring to FirstBank Amphitheater a handful of so-called new "ingredients" to cook a show that hopes to reach flavorful new heights.

Dante Bowe, a fast-rising Christian singer who won a Grammy Award earlier this year, opens the show. It marks the last date on For King & Country's expansive spring tour.

"We have been more methodical and thoughtful and dedicated in setting this tour up and dreaming in a way than ever," Joel Smallbone said, adding: "I think we both look at it and go: 'This [tour] has the makings to be unlike anything we've done.'"

And after months on the road, it should be a well-earned homecoming for the group.

"I'm so glad that Nashville is the last show," Joel Smallbone said.

For King & Country performs during the 51st annual GMA Dove Awards show at TBN studio in September 14, 2020, in Hendersonville. Tennessee. Don Claussen / Trap The Light Photography For Dove Awards