Seemingly with a fondness for NZ music, having worked with a variety of Kiwis such as Neil Finn, Finn Andrews and The Veils, Graeme James and Leisure, Canadian indie label giant Nettwerk recently signed alt-folk duo Terrible Sons, the phoenix from the ashes of award-winning Christchurch band Dukes. Husband and wife Lauren and Matt Barus, alongside drummer Joe McCallum, bassist Jo Barus, Cam Pearce on the trumpet, and Tom Healy on production duties, have been busily working away on a new EP due in February 2021, and have just released their “poppiest” song yet in new single You Are The Gold. Matt gave us this brilliant insight into the song and its genesis.
Last year I was driving through a sun shower on my way between Invercargill and Gore, listening to James Blake’s song Into The Red. It’s a beautiful, gradually building song about the depths of the writer’s love. There’s this line, ‘She was the goldrush’, and I couldn’t keep away from the idea that he’d drop everything to chase this particular person. That was our story, right beneath our nose. We wanted something sweet, a little vulnerable, and somehow a bit of a celebration of all that.
Initially, we had this idea of a field chant – there’s a team thigh clap that runs through half the song and the vocals at the start are Lauren, Jo Barus and I singing into one mic. The song itself was two parts pushed together – a verse and then a chorus that had no chords but just a riff and a high falsetto. We wanted to try this idea that in some parts, all instruments would stop and something new would hold the next part – so in the first chorus the band stops and this stately piano takes over. And then it builds to Jo’s bass line in the outro section. Different parts fused together.
We worked closely with Tom Healy who we found out can do anything you ask. He went with the idea and made it happen, his guitar lines, amazing. And of course Jo Barus’ bass lines and Joe McCullum’s percussive exploration. We were worried that the piano line in the chorus would feel too grand, hopefully, we reigned that in. Lauren has a green Russian piano called a Cherny, it’s not a Steinway but it sounds good to us.
I think we talked about some reference songs, Bon Iver joining folk and electronica together. We wanted it to stick with what we’ve done as Terrible Sons but to have some modern production in it.
We initially sang it full bore to match the euphoric-ness of much of the song but it felt too much. Again it felt like we were pulling too far away from our TS sound, so we recut the vocals more gently. Vocally, where we ended, I like to think our verses sound as if some lucky guy is singing with Dolly Parton.
We didn’t end where we started. Once we got tracking the song started to run somewhere else and Lauren and I were worried it wouldn’t sit with our material… Tom took the tracks back to Auckland and added some 12-string guitars in the verses and that gave it a country-folk vibe. He also cut down the outro which went on for another minute or so.
When I listen to the song now, I always listen out for the ‘Bury me, bury me, bury me’. That countercultural idea of a relationship where the self is not the most important thing – where the death of two people’s previous ‘selfs’ may lead to the birth of something better together.
I really like when the groove kicks in near the end and Lauren’s piano riff is streaking past before any lyrics come in. That’s where the song settles for me.
It’s by far the most pop song we’ve done with Terrible Sons. We go through stages of binging on ‘pop’ playlists, thinking about how they work and were written.