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For King & Country And Hillary Scott On Why Their "For God Is With Us" Collaboration Was "Meant To Be"
(L-R) Luke Smallbone, Hillary Scott, Joel Smallbone

Photo: Mitchell Schleper

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For King & Country And Hillary Scott On Why Their "For God Is With Us" Collaboration Was "Meant To Be"

Christian pop duo FOR KING & COUNTRY transformed "For God Is With Us" from a Christmas song to a year-round message, then tapped Lady A singer Hillary Scott for a powerful new rendition. Now, they're celebrating a 2023 GRAMMY nomination together.

GRAMMYs/Jan 18, 2023 - 05:15 pm

Since 2015, FOR KING & COUNTRY have won four GRAMMYs and only lost twice. One of those losses came in 2017, when Hillary Scott & The Scott Family's "Thy Will" took home the golden gramophone for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song. The artists meet again in the same category at the 2023 GRAMMYs — but this time, their names are on the same song.

The Christian pop duo recruited Scott for a collaborative version of "For God Is With Us," a meditation on faith, hope and God's love from their fifth studio album, What Are We Waiting For? Not only does the track swell to bombastic heights as the three vocalists harmonize, but it has proven GRAMMY worthy, nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

It's a full-circle nomination for Scott (who is best known as co-vocalist of country group Lady A) and FOR KING & COUNTRY's Smallbone brothers, Luke and Joel. Their first meeting was at the now fateful 2017 GRAMMYs. "It wasn't on great terms, because, you know, we were nominated in the same categories and she won everything," Joel quips.

Of course, there was never an actual rivalry between the camps. In fact, six years later, they're now friends who cross paths often in the Nashville music scene, and, fittingly, at Sunday church services.

Scott and the Smallbone brothers' camaraderie is apparent as they hop on the phone together for a chat about their nomination. Below, the three discuss the journey "For God Is With Us" took, from its beginnings as a Christmas-inspired FOR KING & COUNTRY track to its fully blossomed version featuring vocals from their pal.

Joel and Luke, you originally released "For God Is With Us" as a single in 2021. Why did you decide to re-record it with Hillary?

Joel: We started crafting it in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. We were working on a Christmas album [2021's A Drummer Boy Christmas], 'cause we felt like, this year of all years, in this country and around the world, we could use the beauty and the importance of what Christmas represents — this idea of joy and love and redemption. We wrote it initially for that project, but the song felt like a red herring on that album. Not because of sentiment; it just didn't feel like it belonged. 

Simultaneously, the owner of our record label, Mike Curb, called with his wife Linda and said, "Hey, we love this song, and we think it's a song that could last all year 'round. What if we pluck it off the Christmas album and pop it on your next project?" So we slipped it off and then wrestled the lyrical bull down by the horns of shifting it just enough to maintain the sentiment of what it always was, but taking it out of the sleigh-bell, Christmasy land [Laughs]. 

[It] became maybe the most spiritually overt song that we've ever written, about the journey of the birth, the death, and the redemption of Jesus Christ. We just stayed sensitive to what the song wanted to be. The ultimate [version] of the song was when Hillary's voice was on it. It was like, "Ah, that's what it was always meant to be." Our only frustration may be that she's not on the original version. 

How else did the song evolve?

Luke: We had lyrics like, "no room in the inn" originally, and we had a ton of sleigh bells. We had all sorts of things, 'cause we were trying to make it a little bit more Christmasy. When we took it off the Christmas album, we had to do the opposite, which may have proved even more difficult because the sonicscape was kind of set. We ended up rewriting quite a lot of lyrics. 

The sonic aspect of it didn't come until really the fourth quarter of the album. I think we were putting it off because we knew it was gonna be difficult to take it out of Christmas land. Eventually, at the last minute, we settled on some of the sonics of what it was, and it finally felt like the song was meant to be.

Hillary, how did you get involved?

Hillary: Honestly, it was a call that I was so honored to receive from Joel and Luke, just gauging my interest in a collaboration. Over the years we've run into each other at so many different events. 

Joel: Specifically running to each other at the GRAMMY Awards. I would debate that's the first time we met each other. 

Hillary: I think you're right. I think it was the '17 GRAMMYs, 'cause [the Hillary Scott & The Scott Family] record [Love Remains] came out in '16, so I think it must have been that following end of January, early February.

Joel: And it wasn't on great terms, because, you know, we were nominated in the same categories and she won everything.

I think what you're saying is that you brought her in as a ringer. 

Joel: Or a good luck charm. 

Luke: We wanna be on the same team now. 

Hillary: I've been, to continue with the teammate metaphor, on the sidelines, such a fan of everything they have been doing. We talked about this in the studio the day I recorded it — it really stretched me to a place, vocally, [where] I got to explore this new part of my voice. It took me out of country into a bit more pop vocals, which was so much fun.

Luke: Pop diva! [Laughs.

Hillary: Not only is the message of the song so hopeful, it is so worshipful. I was a fan of it before I got to feature on it. To be part of it with just two of my dearest friends — and the more we hang out, I feel it is such a special bond and friendship. I know I've personally been so open and excited to collaborate and just really waiting on the timing to line up, and I feel like this was the time. 

After the camps met at the GRAMMYs in 2017, how did that friendship grow? 

Hillary: There were a handful of events where we would run into one another. I know Luke went to a [Tennessee] Titans game with my husband with some friends. There's been a couple different random moments like that, and just a real mutual respect for the music, for their hearts, their calling on what they're doing for the world. It's just so inspiring and positive and uplifting, and something that I was more than honored to be able to stand alongside and support and believe, because the world needs it. 

What was the vibe in the studio when you recorded Hillary's performance? 

Luke: We knew with Hillary coming on that there would be some changes to the instrumentation, but I think [they] made your voice shine. You're an amazing singer; it's like, "How can we make that accentuated even more?" It's one of the coolest vocals I've ever heard you do. 

What was exciting for us is to actually see Hillary really enjoy it; to see her in the vocal booth trying things. For both Joel and I as singers, we know what that feels like, when you're on the precipice of something exciting. I think we got a glimpse of that feeling.

Hillary: I'm so accustomed to having my [Lady A] bandmates, Charles [Kelley] and Dave [Haywood], alongside me. They're the brothers I never had. [But] I felt immediately comfortable with the warmth of Luke and Joel, and also the fact that you're getting this familial experience and coming into this team that's so tight-knit. It was so special. 

On my way out of the studio, I got the most precious tackling hug from Luke's little boy. It was just the sweetest way to end a really beautiful day. To have it culminating now with this nomination, and getting to go to the show with two of my closest friends, I couldn't be happier.

Joel: We might even coordinate our outfits.

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Why is it so common for country artists to cross over to contemporary Christian and back again? There's this whole sharing of talent and ideas, particularly in Nashville.

Joel: That's what we've seen from other people towards us. There's been this, "Hey, why don't you come along?" kind of extending the invitation. And I think we've obviously been trying to do the same. 

One of the joys is getting to share these moments with each other in this pretty tight-knit community. I think we're all rooting for each other. The country community in general has just magnificently embraced us. It's been this whole world that was unlocked with Dolly Parton with "God Only Knows." 

At the end of 2019, we were asked to perform on the CMAs, and there was this moment — [we were] at Bridgestone [Arena], backstage, we have our little dressing room back there, and it became this little meet-and-greet room where it was like, Little Big Town is there saying, "We're such supporters of you." And I feel like we ran into each other that night, Hillary, because you were performing with Halsey, which was a great performance. We were sort of wooed by this camaraderie and the beauty of the country community, particularly with how they rally around women.

Hillary: Collaborating is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world, and so any chance to do that with people that I love and respect and just really click with creatively, that's it for me. 

So, are y'all ready to put this rivalry to bed?

Hillary: What better way to put it to bed than to win together? 

Joel: We collaborated with Hillary last year more than I think we've collaborated with anyone other than artists on tours, live shows and that sort of thing. So, you know, if you can't beat them, join them. 

Luke: Truth is, when she won all those GRAMMYs, it was actually a thrilling moment for us to see that take place. Hillary, to see your joy, and your family being there — we can joke about the rivalry, but it was actually a thrill. And at the end of the day, "Thy Will" is a ridiculous song, and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Joel: That's what we say for GRAMMYs 2023 — "thy will."

Hillary: Thy will be done. There you go. I love it.

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Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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The Puerto Rican mega-star brought a slice of his homeland to the 2023 GRAMMYs stage with a pair of tracks from his latest album, 'Un Verano Sin Ti,' which made history as the first Spanish-language album nominated for Album Of The Year.

GRAMMYs/Feb 6, 2023 - 01:29 am

Bad Bunny kicked off the 2023 GRAMMYs by bringing a bit of Puerto Rico straight into the Crypto.com Arena.

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Initially hailed as a crossover success, Bunny's ability to win over audiences around the world — while retaining the core of his identity and continuing to deliver songs in Spanish — has become something far greater. His fourth record, Un Verano Sin Ti, shot up the charts in a handful of countries upon its May 2022 debut, landing at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the US — the second of Bunny's records to hit that mark, and only the second all-Spanish language album to do so.

With more than 2 million copies sold, the album has also gone down as one of the best-selling non-English releases in US history. And with "Después de la Playa" and "El Apagón" as the album's 4th and 8th singles respectively, Bunny clearly had plenty of options for this performance, making the perfect union here that much more impressive.

Un Verano Sin Ti helped the Puerto Rican superstar add three more GRAMMY nominations to his resume, as the album is nominated for both Best Música Urbana Album and the highly coveted Album Of The Year, while the record's second single, "Moscow Mule," will vie for Best Pop Solo Performance.

Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

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GRAMMYs/Feb 6, 2023 - 01:53 am

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Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Atlantis The Royal

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Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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Brandi Carlile is up for seven golden gramophones at the 2023 GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year and Best Americana Album for 'In These Silent Days.'

GRAMMYs/Feb 6, 2023 - 01:31 am

Brandi Carlile came raring onto the stage at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards with a stirring performance of her twice-nominated single "Broken Horses."

Adorably introduced by her wife Catherine Shepherd and their two daughters Evangeline and Elijah, Carlile proved that wild horses know not only how to run, but how to rock out as well as she wailed, “Tethered in wide open spaces/ And fields that lead for miles/ Right into the barrel of a gun” with support from a high-octane band and pair of backing vocalists.

"Broken Horses" was originally released as the second single off Carlile’s 2021 album In These Silent Days — and even before the telecast had begun, had earned the golden gramophones for both Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance. Carlile took home the award for Best Americana Album as well.

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Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs