14 Aug 2018

Married duo Terrible Sons on parenting, intentional living, and being a 'streaming band'

From RNZ Music, 3:30 pm on 14 August 2018

Marriage and children didn’t end the musical careers of Lauren and Matt Barus, but it did change the music. Kirsten Johnstone catches up with the Christchurch couple as they release their debut EP as Terrible Sons.

Terrible Sons - Matt and Lauren Barus

Terrible Sons - Matt and Lauren Barus Photo: Johanna Macdonald

“It happened really fast,” says Lauren. “It feels like a seismic change,” says Matt. “A tectonic plate-shifting change,” adds Lauren.

Becoming a mother four years ago was almost the end of Lauren’s music career. As L.A. Mitchell she had given it a good go, both solo and as a member of husband Matt’s group Dukes, but she was exhausted. Adding children to the mix, taking them on tour - “We weren’t really sure we wanted to tackle that.”  

She wanted to devote her entire energy to her family and be a calm mother.

“Protecting the space so that I can be available to my kids, to help them with all their massive emotions. If I’m really stressed out or have too much on, then I’m not available to them. And there’s definitely aspects of performance and music that mean you’re giving virtually a hundred percent of your energy to a project outside of your family unit, and that’s the part that I couldn’t juggle.”

Musicians can’t stop themselves making music. But Terrible Sons make music on the Barus family’s terms, in their own time. In the years following the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, an album’s worth of material was slowly put together in the back shed, in those stolen moments any parent craves. There are gently plucked strings, whispery vocal harmonies, and vague lyrical phrases that wash over you.

“When you’re younger, you want the big moments,” says Matt. “And then when you slow down in life, particularly having children, suddenly it’s all about little moments. It’s about feeding a child - it’s nothing spectacular, but there is beauty in it.”  

Lauren adds: “Sometimes there is an intensity to that situation, that requires a big picture, so that you can grapple with the tightness and the hardness of some of those little moments, like having a child who’s really struggling with a sibling and is really frustrated and lashing out. And you have to be strong enough for that. And often I’m not.”

In case you have been misled by the name, Terrible Sons have two daughters; no sons. The name is a reference to Matt and his brother, who formed Dukes together. Lauren joined in 2007. For Matt and Lauren, it was not love at first sight.

“We actually disliked each other,” says Matt.

“I always thought Lauren was cold and careerist, and then Lauren thought I was…”

“Puritanical,” states Lauren. “And had too higher expectations of women.” She chuckles.

“I disagree with that,” says Matt defensively.   

Christchurch band Dukes, Lauren and Matt Barus centre

Christchurch band Dukes, Lauren and Matt Barus centre Photo: supplied

They kept their professional distance for a few years until spending time in 2010 recording the second Dukes album Still Life. Boundaries were widened and they found themselves enjoying each other’s company, having deep existential conversations, and finding they had more in common than they thought. So they went all in, got married and had babies and moved in to an intentional Christian community in the Christchurch suburb of Addington.

For the Barus family, this means they have committed to a group of people and don’t stray too far from their home.

Lauren explains: “Often it’s meals, it’s hospitality, it’s inviting people in. It’s going places with them that maybe they can’t get themselves. It’s sharing experiences together, as a way of building relationships and understanding other perspectives. I think you have to be intentional with that, because that’s not the way the world typically operates.”

Lauren wasn’t religious until Matt brought her to the Christian faith, but she says she wouldn’t have embraced it if it just meant turning up at church every Sunday.

“Watching the community as a point of outreach, seeing how faith is an action … was the thing that made me understand Christianity and be inspired by it.”    

Barus is a Sumatran name, and Matt and his siblings were brought up travelling “in-between two cultures” - Indonesia and New Zealand. It was to Asia that Matt and Lauren looked when they were getting their first music out, sending tracks to a small publicity company in Singapore who shopped it to radio and eventually got them signed to Canadian label Nettwerk records.

They started to notice that their Spotify streams were mostly coming from Singapore, Tokyo and Taipei, and their songs were being added to Spotify’s well-subscribed playlists. To date, Terrible Sons songs have had around 10 million streams - a big number for a band who almost never play live and are pretty much unknown in their home country.

“It’s great, you know, your music has its own life in 0’s and 1’s online,” says Matt.

Terrible Sons have no plans to play live at the moment, but you can hear their debut six track EP on all streaming platforms now.

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