Coronavirus

For King & Country Talk Collaborating With Tori Kelly & Kirk Franklin on No. 1 Hit 'Together'

For King & Country, Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin.
Courtesy of King & Country

For King & Country, Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin.

On May 1, For King & Country, the Australian duo comprising Joel Smallbone and younger brother Luke, released "Together," featuring Kirk Franklin and Tori Kelly.

The track, backed with gospel choir vocals, is a call-to-arms to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. The brothers wrote it with another pair of siblings, Ran and Ricky Jackson, as well as Josh Kerr and Franklin.

"Together" arrived at No. 4 on Billboard's streaming-, airplay- and sales-powered Hot Christian Songs chart dated May 16, marking King & Country's 12th top 10. In its first week ending May 7, it sold 10,000 downloads, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, and launched atop Christian Digital Song Sales.

On the latest Christian Airplay chart (May 23), "Together" pushes 24-23 as the list's Greatest Gainer, up 41% to 2.4 million audience impressions. It also ranks at No. 26 on Adult Contemporary.

"Together," whose official video incorporates many of the duo's fans holding homemade signs sporting the song's lyrics, is set to be included on a deluxe version of for King & Country's latest album, 2018's Burn the Ships. The release date is still to be determined.

As the COVID-19 crisis unleashed its darkness over the world, the duo had just launched a Canadian tour. After just two shows, in Ottawa and Toronto on March 12-13, the act cancelled the remainder of the trek. The Smallbones are currently hunkered down in their respective homes in Franklin, Tenn.

Via Zoom, Joel Smallbone chatted with Billboard about "Together" and the challenge of recording music and more while sheltering-in-place.

What were those last couple of shows in Canada like?

On the day of the first concert in Ottawa, we walked into a television station to promote the show and, plastered on all of the screens, it just kept saying "pandemic." It was over the next couple of days that we started to hear about everything shutting down. We played the show in Ottawa and about 10% of the audience didn't show up. The next night, it was kind of touch-and-go whether it would happen in Toronto or not, but we played that show and about 30% didn't show.

Was there any kind of eerie quality to the last show?

Yes. I had the feeling that it would be the last one for a while, and the deepening of both the beauty and sadness of a last concert.


So, you came back to Nashville and you've been in quarantine mode ever since. How did "Together" originate?

Call us old-fashioned, but mostly we write songs for a record, and we wrote this body of music for Burn the Ships. "Together" had started to be crafted but it was sort of this orphan.

You didn't think it fit for Burn the Ships?

It wasn't right, or we couldn't wrap our hands around it. We'd pick it up every now and then. I was actually getting frustrated because I knew there was something special about the song. Fast-forward to Toronto; we walk off stage and I distinctly remember Luke turning to me and saying, "That's the song we need to release now."

Do you feel that "Together" is a source of comfort for your fans?

Yes. Its message is about bringing people together and on the song you've got two Australian guys, a Hispanic woman [Kelly], an African-American man [Franklin] and two gospel choirs. Then we've got some of our fans from all around the world featured, holding up signs or singing along.

How did you get fans to submit videos?

We actually have 100,000 people on a text thread. We popped it out to them first and also hit it on Facebook and other platforms. The mission was to reflect togetherness while being socially isolated.

I see you as a perfectionist that's challenged to be done with something. Is that true?

Yes, and I want to respond to that by confession, actually. I take a lot of pride in that in a sense and then, equally, especially in a time like this, I think that there's really nothing that's perfect ever. If there was ever a time when the perception of perfection is thrown out the window, it's now.

How did working with Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin come about?

I put them as the great salvation of the song. I called Kirk and he offered to pull in his choir and his band, and I have a lot of admiration for the effort he went through. The icing on the cake was having Tori. Her part was the final piece of a puzzle.

In the end of the video, each of you pulls back a black curtain and the viewer sees your kitchens or living rooms, a great view that conveys that we're all in the same boat.

We went to Tori and Kirk and just said, "Hey, we know you're on lockdown but we're going to send you a black curtain, a stand and a light to set-up for a backdrop. Set it up in your living room or whatever, then record yourself on your iPhone seven or eight times. It'll be awesome, I promise!"

During this unique period, how are you dealing with business and your crew members?

That's hard, and there are two major pieces that are the most difficult for me right now. One is just the great loss of the music community overall, particularly for young bands and artists; for them, this is a death blow. Then there's our crew and band; their bread and butter is through shows, so we're trying to be creative, do benefits and projects here and there to give everyone something to do.

Anything else, Joel?

I truly think that it'll be the artists that are going to help people stay connected to God and to one another during this time. I would argue that music is more important now than it's been in a long time.

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