Siblings Phillip and Natalie LaRue are best buds these days. They playfully tease each other. They finish one another's sentences. They seem to know what the other is thinking. Then there's the music thing.
Fittingly called "LaRue," this Nashville-based bro and sis act released a self-titled debut CD (Reunion) that's making some pretty big waves in Christian music. Written and performed by the teen duo, the album offers well-crafted pop-rock tunes about God's love and faithfulness amid the struggles Christian teens face.
Both are quick to point out that the music is a shared effort.
"We totally need each other," says 16-year-old Natalie.
"We love writing and singing together," adds 18-year-old Phillip. "We need each other's input both lyrically and musically. We can be totally honest with each other."
Best of friends. That's how they'd describe their sibling relationship. But this wasn't always the case. When they were 10 and 12, long before they'd even thought about a music career, they were far from close. And it had a lot to do with Phillip's desire to gain acceptance at his new school.
"Our family had just moved from California to Arizona," says Phillip. "I'd just started sixth grade and I didn't know anybody. I wanted to fit in so bad."
With his good looks and athletic ability, he had no problem fitting in with the most popular kids at school. By seventh grade, he'd definitely found his niche.
As he was striving to be Mr. Popularity, Phillip was pulling away from his sister. In fact, he'd become distant, moody, and sometimes angry.
"This one time I brought up something about him being one of those jock types," says Natalie, "and Phil punched me really hard in the arm. He was so mad at me, and I didn't know why. I remember thinking, This is not my brother."
"It felt like she was pointing out something I knew deep inside was a weakness," says Phillip. "I didn't know who I was or who I wanted to be. I knew I was a Christian, but I was still trying to be friends with the coolest people.
"There was tension in my life. I guess I took it out on Nat."
Phillip eventually came to a crossroads.
"By eighth grade, I'd started making friends with some high school students," says Phillip. "They'd ask me to go to parties where there'd be drinking and sex. I knew I had a decision to make."
He decided against playing the popularity game.
"I'd finally realized that people weren't liking me for who I really was," says Phillip. "I realized I was basing my life and my decisions on people I might not even know a year later."
He felt he needed to make a radical change. After completing eighth grade, he asked his mother to homeschool him—a move that would help him get away from the pressures that were pulling him away from faith and family. The public school, however, allowed him to remain involved in its sports program. Because of his love for track, he appreciated the school's willingness to let him participate.
Around this same time, Natalie had also been struggling with some friendship pressures of her own. After attending a Christian summer camp just before seventh grade, she felt challenged to get serious about her relationship with God. "I decided from then on that I would try hard to think less about what others thought of me," she says.