As a vocalist, Natalie LaRue’s performance has been described by critics as “amazingly passionate,” “beautiful,” “soaring” and “mature.” Likewise her songs have been praised for their compelling, profound and worshipful honesty.
Since becoming a popular CCM writer/performer in her early teens, Natalie has stuck to her musical convictions. “I’m always going to be true to who I am,” she says. “I’m always going to write my own songs and always speak out about those things that are on my heart.”
After ten years since her last album, the 28-year-old wife and mother of three is excited to release her newest EP of songs chronicling the lessons of faith, family and love that are on her heart from the past decade.
From performing in church choirs at an early age, Natalie has had a passion to sing. When her brother, Phillip, learned to play guitar while being bed-ridden by mononucleosis, Natalie, aged 11, teamed up with him to write their first song.
Natalie was 14 when she and Phillip were signed as a duo to Reunion Records under the Provident Music Group. Their self-titled debut album LaRue was released in early 2000 featuring 11 original tracks she her brother had co-written. They gained quick popularity in the CCM scene for their acoustic-pop style, bright melodies and lilting, rich vocal harmonies. Songs like the softhearted and memorable Someday, written to Natalie’s future husband and Phillip’s future wife, and Reason, a statement of faith amidst doubts quickly established LaRue as beyond their years in talent and maturity.
In 2001, LaRue released their second album Transparent. It also featured all original songs written by Natalie and Phillip, but exhibited new lyrical themes and an edgier, rock-influenced sound. Critics were wowed by Transparent for its musical and lyrical range from the alt / pop Jaded, a song about changing relationships, to the electro ballad Fallen For You, a love song to God, to the soft and melodious Brianna’s Song, a deeply moving song written about Natalie and Phillip’s sister with cerebral palsy. The album solidified LaRue’s place among top CCM performers and the music video for Jaded captured the No. 1 spot on the Disney Channel’s Top 5 Video Countdown alongside videos from Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and Nelly Furtado.
At age 17, Natalie and Phillip, 19, finished their third album, Reaching, and received high praise for it’s sophisticated harmonies, matured lyrics and fuller alternative rock feel. Reaching had several stand out tracks as the siblings’ musical talent and lyrical honesty reflected their artistic maturation. The album’s catchy pop title track reflected LaRue’s passionate worship to God. Likewise, Natalie’s vocals soared over the strong beat and guitars of Tonight, a rockish anthem about being committed to God. Other songs like Ok to Cry, about grieving amidst hope, and Summertime, about longing for a soul mate, openly addressed teen issues in the light of Christian faith. Critics called the album “amazing” and named it among the few best CCM albums of 2002.
While on tour in the United Kingdom with her family in 2002, Natalie’s life took a big turn. “I was very goal-driven, independent and self-reliant. I didn’t want to get married or have babies till I was in my 30’s because I had things I wanted to accomplish,” she says. During an unexpected break in Sweden, however, she took some time to walk around Stockholm and reflect on things. “I felt like God just wrecked my heart. I felt like He carved a hole inside of me and I ended up just being an emotional wreck,” she recalls.
Within days of this experience her dad approached her with an interesting challenge. She recounts, “One day he said to me, ‘The thing with you is that you’re so walled up and arms-length with everyone. So do an experiment with me: if you see a guy and he looks like a great guy, just show who you are to him. Be a little vulnerable.” That same week she met and quickly fell for her Rob, a fellow performer from South Africa who was playing in the same music festival that LaRue was headlining. As the two got to know each other more, it became clear that Natalie wanted to pursue a new path in life: marriage. “I’d had concepts of who I was and who I wanted to be,” Natalie says, “and the Lord took those and disintegrated them.”
The following year LaRue amicably ended their musical duo. In just five years after starting off they had toured internationally, shared the stage with acts like Rebecca St. James, Bebo Norman, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, produced several chart-toppers and sold over half a million records.
Soon after marrying Rob in 2003, Natalie and her husband welcomed their son Noah into the world. And with two more daughters coming after –Ella and Viola– Natalie once again turned to songwriting to express her feelings of family life. After several years, new themes and music emerged from the young wife and mother. “I had something to say and I had a specific audience that I wanted to reach,” she says. However, being a full-time parent afforded little time to consider getting back into the studio, until this most recent holiday season.
“It was after Christmas time and we had time to reflect about the new year and Rob turned and looked at me and said, ‘My New Year’s resolution is for you to record this year.’ It was kind of out of the blue,” Natalie says. “I didn’t know how we could record and do it on our terms. I’d loved to record but, with me, being in a studio and just recording with an engineer – I’m going to go insane. I need to have someone that I can throw things at that’s going to catch them and turn them into something.”
With Rob’s motivation, Natalie brought in Don Chaffer (Waterdeep) to produce the record. “Don and I started meeting and talking about the songs and the directions we wanted to go,” Natalie says. “He helped me finish a song that I hadn’t finished in years. And it just clicked. I just felt good. It felt like he was the missing piece to my puzzle.”
In February, Natalie and Rob posted an album announcement on Kickstarter.com, a web-based service where fans can donate funds towards a creative project. “Within three weeks we had the money for the record,” Natalie says, “Some of the donors we knew, some of them were old LaRue fans. It was humbling. I really enjoyed having that network of support.”
What emerged two months later is the EP Even Now, with Natalie, a self-taught pianist, playing and singing on six new songs about her experiences of the past decade being a wife, a mother and Christian.
The upbeat and uplifting track May You Have Victory is a poignant statement about finding God’s transcendence in daily difficulties. Similarly, the reflective Back to You is about finding regular strength and courage in God’s faithful kindness. “My relationship with the Lord now is a lot more of a daily bread kind of feeling rather than big emotional, spiritual feasts,” Natalie says. “My life is a lot more simple, peaceful, restful and yet completely refining than it used to be.”
The gospel track Glory is a meditative reflection on the greatness of God. “It’s this absolute acknowledgment of weakness in light of God’s love, in light of His transcendent awesomeness,” Natalie says.
The memorable, hymn-like Humble Me was written a year after Natalie’s son was born. “The theme of Humble Me is the question of ‘what does that look like to love like the Lord loves?” she says. “The way I was glorifying the Lord in my life was so different than how it was than three years before that. And it was very humble. I was asking the Lord to shift my whole mentality.
Baby Boy is a melodically-soaring lullaby about Natalie’s son, Noah, and the transformative process of becoming a mother through a difficult labor experience. “I learned a new kind of suffering that I hadn’t felt before and so that was very heart shaping for me,” says Natalie. “That song came out of that significant time. It was an identity shift.”
“The first part of the song Home was written from place of meeting Rob and falling in love,” Natalie says of the album’s sweeping final track. “It’s about what it feels like to get married and depend on someone. And then the other half of the song was written later, after we had kids. It’s about how much of my identity is actually rooted in him in the best of ways, and how peaceful it feels. So it’s cool because I feel like it’s got both parts to it as a love song.”
Even Now is the first solo work of Natalie, working apart from her brother, Phillip. And she takes the spotlight well, tying all of the tracks together with her amazing voice, which has matured in its distinctively pure timbre. Her expression is sweet, rich and full of conviction.
“I’m really, really proud of Natalie,” says her brother, Phillip LaRue, “It has been too long since her voice and her music has been available for the world to hear.”
Musically, Even Now differs from LaRue’s past, guitar-founded pop sound with it’s beautifully sophisticated piano compositions. “I’ve really developed my own voice, my own style of music,” she says. “It looks and feels and sounds like me.”
In likeness with past albums, the lyrics genuinely reflect the experiences of their author. “Lyrically,” Natalie says, “My biggest goal is to beautifully transpose what I’m feeling to a point where it’s very tangible and palatable and done artistically.”
“Having navigated a transition from very young pop stardom to a very normal domestic life, the last ten years of Natalie's life have yielded a beautiful family, and some golden reflections on her place within that family,” says producer Don Chaffer. “They're also full of real prayers, and a sense of deep surrender to God. It's been a beautiful thing to watch her pull these songs up and out of herself and offer them to the world.”
Starting June 15th, Even Now will be available for digital download on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and other major online music distributers.
When asked what she hopes to say in her new EP, Natalie contemplates for a few seconds and then answers freely. “Even Now is about these really big concepts of becoming a parent and becoming a spouse. For me, it’s about becoming someone who walks with the Lord.”
“The songs are about this very specific stage of life I’m in right now, the push and pull dynamic of what that looks like on a daily basis. And I feel like it is very palatable to a very significant demographic of people that are having babies and being spouses while seeking to love the Lord.
“I’m in a place where I’m openly needing people, openly needing the Lord and finding vulnerability isn’t a bad thing. It’s where some of the most beautiful revelations can happen. I’ve learned to find significance and purpose in loving and serving others and being loved in return. Significant relationships are supposed to be in our lives and the Lord very much cares about those relationships.”
When asked if it will be another decade before she hits the studio, her answer is much quicker, “Definitely not. This fall I hope to get with Don and get back in the studio... I’ve got a lot more songs in my back pocket.”