Contemporary Christian music runs in the family of Joel and Luke Smallbone, the brothers at the core of For King & Country.
If they wanted some tutelage on managing life on the road, they had to look no further than their dad, David Smallbone, an artist and tour manager. And the artist he was managing was their big sister, Rebecca St. James, who was the top female solo artist in Christian music for most of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
"She had sung a little bit in Australia," Joel says, recalling the days after the family made the move from Down Under to Nashville. "So dad took her around to different record labels and she got a recording contract. We ended up traveling with her — the whole family, the five boys, two girls and my parents — kind of the Australian version of the Von Trapp family singers.
"We were the load-in crew. We would help set up all the gear, and I would do a little bit of background vocals, stage managing. It was probably where the seeds were planted. We got to see the power of music and how it could really impact someone's day or even really change the course of their life in some way. And we also got to learn the craft of music."
Luke's attention had always been on sports. But after a major injury, Joel says he approached his brother about giving music a go.
And he did.
Like most overnight success stories, For King & Country was a going concern well before the world collectively noticed. But its 2012 debut album for Warner Music Group, Crave, did catch a lot of ears with Christian radio hits such as Busted Heart (Hold on to Me) and The Proof of Your Love. That led to honors like the 2013 Dove Award for best new artist. And it also put a lot of attention on the duo's follow-up.
"Crave was this real rock-solid foundation for us," Joel says. "That was the record where we extensively, arduously, painfully at some points, wrote these songs. Luke had never written a song before we started working on that album. So then, 100 songs or so later, we had Crave.
"Between that and this album, we had two and a half years of performing. But for all intents and purposes, the band had not formed, and there were seven of us on stage together ... We discovered the rhythm side of For King & Country and even the orchestral side."
That experience and personal situations during the time, including Joel's marriage and Luke suffering a serious illness, went into making the follow-up album, Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong.
Songs like Fix My Eyes pound and soar, marrying universal actions to personal endeavors: "It takes a soldier, Who knows his orders, To walk the walk I'm supposed to walk," they sing in music that should have a familiar feel to fans of St. James and her pointed messages of faithful devotion and personal responsibility.
And Joel says that seeing family dynamics in music gave him and his brother confidence to forge ahead together.
Joel acknowledges that working as a family can be daunting. Just ask anyone who has been in prolonged scraps with their siblings. And he points to dysfunctional families in entertainment that serve as cautionary tales, such as the Jacksons or Angelina Jolie and her estranged father, Jon Voigt.
"Coming into this with my brother, and my dad also manages us, and the rest of the family is involved in various shapes and forms, I did wonder, 'Can this work,'" Joel says. "I would offer, if you can keep your head above water as an individual and you can tame your pride, then the family dynamic is more powerful and potent than any other experience, because you have that incredible decade of understanding and those decades of trust, and that understanding that you're not going anywhere."
Well, nowhere except to the top of the charts.