Every now and then, we’re lucky enough to have a meaningful conversation with somebody who is changing the world, every single day, in a truly powerful way. This time around, that “somebody” is the ever inspirational Joel Smallbone of the band for KING & COUNTRY. If you haven’t heard of for KING & COUNTRY, you’re most definitely missing out. If you have, then you’re in for a real treat, because you probably already know their rep for being all things wonderful—music and messaging alike.
Our own Cynthia Onyejiji was lucky enough to connect with the Godly fellow halfway through his tour in Knoxville, Tennessee to chat about a few topics we know we’ve been eager to know more about (it’s okay, we were jealous, too), and boy—was he a trooper.
Here’s the inside scoop on what Joel had to say about faith, relationships and his music:
Have you ever had a moment when you just didn’t quite feel God?
Absolutely—I think we all have.
I actually took solace a few years ago after Mother Teresa passed and the Cardinal came out. I don’t know if you know this, but he released some of the communication that they had shared. And this woman, who was so rightly celebrated for her selflessness and connectivity with God, wrote that she had rarely felt God. Ever since she was a teenager, really.
Many people were appalled, but I took a lot away from it. That’s because it was clear that her mission, her focus in life was built on more than just an emotion. In a time of when culture is so centered around doing whatever it is you feel like doing, this idea of living a certain lifestyle, even when you don’t feel like it, is something that I find to be so much more Biblically sound than the other side of the coin, which is to only interact and express allegiance towards God if you’re feeling like it.
We think feelings lead dictate our actions, when it’s more true that actions ultimately lead to feelings—like acting in kindness.
What’s your advice for those times when you feel like God is silent? Especially when it comes to a relationship?
My understanding is that God gives us a lot of outlets. For example, wisdom in the counsel of many. I also find that if you really set your mind to using all the tools that are available to you, like communication with those you respect, and you search the Bible for references pointing to your situation, you will find what you’re looking for—at least in my experience. Of course, you have to be careful not to manipulate the Bible into saying things that you simply want to hear.
So God is never really silent, is what you’re saying?
I think the issue of the silent God is less about God speaking and more about us. You know, the promise of scripture is “I am there.”
Now for relationships…some of the girls have been asking: how do you explain to somebody that you just want to be friends?
At the risk of sounding a bit silly, I have always approached romance with the modus operandi that honesty (with tact) is the best policy.
But when it comes to matters of the heart, I think were often void of doing the hard thing, which is sitting down with somebody, looking them in the face and expressing your feelings.
And we get ourselves into a lot mischief when we don’t communicate openly and honestly. I know how hard it is, because I’ve walked through it, but difficulty should never be the reason for not doing something.
My mom actually had a very similar conversation when her and my father were dating. She told him, “I don’t think you’re where you need to be spiritually. I really like you, and I don’t want to change you, but if you find God in a deeper way—let’s talk again.”
Six months or so later, my father had a come to Jesus moment (so to speak) and here we are.
What gave you comfort or patience when waiting for “the one”?
Before Moriah, I’ve only dated two girls seriously. The first relationship was a sort of teenage, nonsensical crush. The other was with a girl I met when I was 17, and it was on and off for about 5 years. She was a sweet girl, but we were that classic story of “we loved each other but we just weren’t right for each other.” Our family dynamics and spiritual perspectives were just very different, so when it came to being married, living life and raising kids together, it started getting a little precarious.
And I’ve got to tell you, [ending it] was, to date, the hardest thing I have ever had to do. As adults, we had simply moved into different places, but it was heartbreaking.
Afterwards, I was in that classic post-being-in-love stage where you have a lot of doubts and you’re feeling a bit “woe is me.” But when I met Moriah, I had a very immediate understanding of how fantastic she was. And all the things that had been missing from my last relationship were more clear, because they were there. And the more we grew, we grew together. So, the end result of that prior relationship was really a deeper understanding of who I wanted my wife to be. And when I met Moriah, I was very diligent about seeing things all the way through, because I knew that this was it.
Was it love at first sight?
Well, we met at my brother’s wedding. Moriah was in town from California, visiting some records labels. A mutual friend of ours actually brought Moriah as a guest with the intent of introducing her to me—we still joke about how she was a wedding crasher. I remember turning around—and I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was “love on first sight” because love is so much more than that initial feeling—but I will say this: there was a spark.
And you know, that following day, the thought that, “there’s a chance I just met my wife last night” actually popped into my head.
Just out of curiosity—how did the two of you get to talking beyond that?
I was a typical, foolish guy. Meeting her caught me so off guard, but I did manage to coerce her into dancing with me—there still pictures floating around of her and I. Anyways, she was in town for a week, and long story short, I suggested that we write together.
We spent about four days writing a love song, which was a duet called “I’ll Wait for You,” and now it’s the second track on the first record that she and I sang together as a married couple. Really, the whole thing was very serendipitous.
What is the absolute greatest gesture of love that your wife has shown you?
She’s pretty wonderful, but one of the things that we have been void of since marriage is time—being together often means traveling all over the place.
We had moved into an apartment and in the beginning stages there were boxes and all sorts of things scattered about the place. I went away for the weekend, and she spent almost three days, on and off, just setting up the house.
She’s so methodical in the way she thinks about things, so when I came home, there was of course this sense of love and appreciation for her, but also this feeling…like I’d come home for the very first time. I’d spent most of my twenties bouncing around, so she knew I would appreciate this.
How do you maintain such close ties when you’re busy with separate musical careers?
Well, I think a big part of that is connectivity. There are a lot of things we can relate to and celebrate together because we’re both musicians and we know what we’re working for. Also, whether it’s writing a song, touring or anything in between, she knows the sacrifices and the pressures that come along with it.
There will be a time when things begin to settle down, but we also decided, a very long time ago, that we would be together—whatever it takes. Even if that sometimes means a lot of traveling just to be close to one another.
So how do you two recover from a disagreement?
Our disagreements don’t take long to resolve- at least not at this point. But I read through a book before we got married, and it sort of burst the myth for me that opposites attract. We think very similarly, her and I. So the times that we do have a disagreement, I think we both make an effort to very clearly convey our feelings, and to hang on to the idea that we’re for each other, even in that moment that we feel so against each other.
What has been your most rewarding moment with for KING & COUNTRY thus far?
It might be because it’s the freshest, but just this last Sunday, we were fortunate enough to win two Grammy awards. That was something kind of special in and of itself because we were with our families, we were with other bands and we really felt this sweet sense of…this wasn’t just our award, but an award for the a younger generation of musicians.
We set out to be creative, and to hopefully impact not only the listener, but also our genre and the environment around us.This was real encouragement that we were heading in the right direction.
Have you ever had a moment as an artist when you felt like your work wasn’t serving a higher purpose?
For KING & COUNTRY only came on to the scene about three years ago. Prior to that, Luke and I were an independent group, and at that point, we were really focused on writing music for the general market. Because there wasn’t quite the same component of writing vertical songs to God, there were a few times when I questioned where we were heading, what we were saying and what the point of it all was.
Since for KING & COUNTRY began, I don’t either of us have questioned too much. We get so much affirmation of the impact we’re making, whether it’s a show or online, and that really holds us in good stead.
What’s your all-time favorite love song?
I think I might love this song because of the time frame and how I saw it then, but “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You” by Bryan Adams. Listening to it now, it seems kind of cheesy and so “1980’s rock and roll,” but man—the first time I heard that song, there was just so much heart.
Is there a fan that has made a particular impression on you?
Many. One of the major ones was last year. When giving a show, we’ll often talk about respect and honor with regards to relationships, and then I’ll give a girl that’s close by a necklace or a bracelet. Anyways, during one such show I saw this girl, and she seemed a little down, so I handed it to her and she just began crying—a real guttural kind of crying. And she kept crying, even when we started the next song.
I spoke with her afterwards in the signing room and she mentioned that she went with a boy to prom the night before, and he had dumped her at prom for another girl. She laid in bed all night thinking, “I’m worthless.” And then, though she wasn’t really sure how, she ended up at our show, in the front row. She told us that it had been so very impactful—a real game-changer for her.
And that’s one thing that you forget on stage, because you sort of live in a bubble—thousands of people are stepping into this room or these arenas with very present hurt or losses or joys. When you intersect with them for thirty minutes or an hour, your stories become intertwined and you’re able, hopefully and by the grace of God, to change the way that they see things.
Have you formed any ongoing connections with your fans?
There’s a lot of folks that are very special to us, and it’s so important for us to show support for them in the same way that they support us, whether it’s following them on Instagram or checking in with fan pages.
What comes to mind now is a pair of young ladies that will always bring us caramel apples during our shows.