The season of youth can be a paradox. A joyful time of excitement, growth and learning, it can equally be a period of uncertainty, confusion and nervous expectation of the future. With first-hand understanding of the range of emotions and problems facing teens today, Phillip and Natalie LaRue have stepped into the music world with an acclaimed debut, and most importantly, a Hope they are compelled to share with their generation—and beyond.
If critical praise for their self-titled first recording is any indication, LaRue’s music and message promise to reverberate through their own generation loudly and clearly for years to come. Billboard magazine called the album “a stunning debut,” and the duo’s first single, “Waiting Room,” quickly became a Top 10 hit at Christian CHR Radio. Already reaching beyond traditional Christian audiences, viewers of The Disney Channel were introduced to LaRue when the network added Phillip and Natalie’s debut video, “Reason.”
Both LaRue’s sound and songs are straight from the heart of teenagers to teenagers, with 18-year-old Phillip and 15-year-old Natalie sharing the songwriting duties and vocals. Produced by Rick Elias (“the Jesus Record,” “That Thing You Do”), Ken Mary (The Beach Boys), Mike Linney (Newsboys) and Quinlan (Rebecca St. James), LaRue features warm, lilting harmonies atop fresh, energetic guitars, for a result that’s closest to acoustic-based pop, but hints of modern rock on the edges. Filled with accessible, radio-ready cuts like “Waiting Room,” “Reason” and “Picture Frame,” the album displays challenging, soul-bearing honesty and an impressive understanding of human nature that belies these young songcrafters’ few years.
Posing philosophical lyrical questions such as “And I am me, but who am I? And will I ever find the reason for life?” (“Reason”), Natalie and Phillip make an instant connection with their peers while striking a resounding chord of understanding with adult listeners. Complementing the introspective cuts are equally engaging less serious tracks. The album’s lighthearted “Stars” is a tongue-in-cheek musing of the negative effects of fame and fortune. “I am a movie star, I drive a big car. I’m on the silver screen, I am a citrus queen.” Natalie and Phillip sing the lyrics entirely in jest, serving to prove just how down-to-earth they strive to be.
“We want people to know that through our music, we’re not trying to be plastic; we want to be who we are,” explains Phillip. “We’re just regular people who want others to walk away with an awareness, after they listen to the record, that God loves them. No matter what their circumstance is or what will happen to them in the future, if they come before God, He’ll love them.”
Sharing songwriting duties is a task Phillip and Natalie enjoy. Over time, they’ve developed a signature songwriting process that gives them both an equal stake in the song. “It happens naturally, but we try to make sure that neither one of us goes off and writes a song by ourselves,” says Natalie. “We like to come together before God and pray so that we can keep in check with each other on what He wants to say through the song, instead of what we want to say.”
“Often, when I have a strong feeling in my heart about something,” adds Phillip, “I’ll come and ask Natalie what she thinks, and find out that she’s been feeling the same way. So we tell God that we have this idea for a song, ask Him to bless it, and then give it to Him.”
This writing process has rendered such poignant songs as “Someday,” a hopeful prayer for the siblings’ future spouses. The idea began as a poem by Natalie, but the duo found the message was an issue equally important to them both, and together they developed the verses into a song.
“I think it’s a special thing when you listen to an artist and can hear they’re vulnerable with their audience,” relates Phillip. “I think it creates more intimacy between the artist and the audience. I pray that when people hear our music, they will see our hearts.”
It’s likely that Phillip and Natalie would have never become songwriters, let alone recording artists, if it weren’t for Phillip having to give up his hopes for a soccer career. At 14, a bout of mononucleosis left him bedridden for the better part of a year. It was during this time that the siblings’ father encouraged Phillip to pick up a guitar. Within his first week, Phillip was already using the three chords he had learned to write music. Not long afterwards, their mother encouraged Natalie to lend a hand with Phillip’s songwriting endeavors, and the two penned “Picture Frame” as their first musical collaboration. A statement of their talent, “Picture Frame” is one of the album’s featured tracks.
As their song cache grew, Phillip and Natalie were soon playing concerts for Phoenix-area youth groups and turning heads of more than just teens. A demo recording found its way into the hands of Reunion Records executives in Nashville, and as quickly as they had learned to write songs, LaRue joined the likes of Michael W. Smith, Gary Chapman and Kathy Troccoli as a Reunion recording artist. Soon after, the siblings found themselves signing with Blanton/Harrell Entertainment, the management team that has guided the careers of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith for more than a decade.
With their debut already generating critical acclaim and strong sales, it would be easy for these two teens to fall prey to the trappings of their success, but they are surrounded with friends and family who help keep “real life” in perspective. In addition to parents who have instilled and nurtured a profound faith in their children, 13-year-old twin sisters Brianna and Rachelle have proven to be inspiring and encouraging to both Phillip and Natalie.
“Brianna has had a huge impact on our lives and career,” Natalie says of their sister, who has cerebral palsy. “At 13, she really knows who she is in the Lord, and she doesn’t worry about what people think of her. Brianna’s our biggest fan—always listening for us on the radio. It’s neat she is so enthusiastic about our music.”
According to Phillip, Rachelle’s caring personality also provides emotional support for the siblings. “She’s our cheerleader. Before we play a show she’s always encouraging us and making sure we feel ok, but she cares mostly for our hearts. Rachelle’s always been a great listener, and she’s very into hearing what we’re going through.”
With undeniable musical gifts and a message of Hope in Christ, Phillip and Natalie LaRue are in a unique place to rally the faith of their generation. “Both Phil and I have a call on our life to be in the ministry of reaching people and doing the Lord’s work,” says Natalie. “I think it’s a real advantage that we’re the age we are, because there are so many young people out there, and so often they define themselves by the music they listen to. We just pray that people can find who they are in Jesus through our music.”
“Years from now,” Natalie concludes, “We want to look back and be able to say that whatever we did, wherever we went, and whatever we’ve made plans to do, we were trying to share God’s love and Word with as many people as possible. We want people to know that we both have a desire to feed our generation—and anybody else who wants to listen.”
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