Alumnus Devin LaRue’s diverse musical talents on display in debut album ‘Finding Peace’
“That was really nice,” LaRue said of what was surely one of his favorite pieces of “feedback” he’s received over the past few months.
The University of Missouri–St. Louis music alumnus has heard more overt messages of praise from friends, other family members and fellow musicians, too, since the album’s release last fall.
Some have complimented him on a particular track. Others simply called to commend him for completing the project, which a Riverfront Times review in December called “ruminative” and “an ambitious entrance for someone whose day job as an audio engineer keeps him behind the scenes.”
LaRue has welcomed all the responses after having it in his mind to make an album for maybe a decade and working intensely on it for more than a year.
“It has been really rewarding,” LaRue said. “It’s something I wanted to do a long time, to actually formally publish my work. I’ve always had obstacles keeping me from doing it. To finally have something out there shows I can do this.
“What’s especially rewarding is the friends I know that really enjoyed it, that got a lot out of it. That was the important part.”
“Finding Peace” follows a first-person protagonist who tries to run away and escape from his life. He wrestles with questions of spirituality but ultimately returns home to find peace.
LaRue – whose biggest influences include singer-songwriters such as Sufjan Stevens and Justin Vernon of the folk band Bon Iver – describes the album as “half abstract.” It is more than half instrumental, with only five of the 12 tracks featuring lyrics.
“I wanted to make a story that was concrete enough to have an arc but abstract enough for people to assign their own stories or images,” LaRue said. “Every other song is instrumental, more or less, and then there’s songs with lyrics between each instrumental just to sort of keep the story on the rails.”
“Finding Peace” manages to showcase all the musical skills and talents LaRue has amassed and refined, including during his two years at UMSL, where he completed his BA in music in 2010. On the album, LaRue plays guitar, piano, trombone, euphonium, banjo, accordion and djembe drum and provides all of the male vocals. He also wrote all the lyrics to the songs, handled all of the arrangements for the string and brass players who accompany him and recorded and produced the final product.
Music became LaRue’s passion not long after he started taking piano lessons as an 8-year-old kid. He joined band in sixth grade and soon took up the euphonium after his teacher decided LaRue wasn’t coordinated enough to be a percussionist. Later, he learned to play trombone, then picked up guitar.
Euphonium remained his best of his still-growing list of instruments when he graduated from Waynesville High School, so he planned initially to make that his college major at the University of Missouri–Columbia. He laughs now at the thought of himself as a teenager telling his private instructor about his ambition to become the best euphonium player in the world.
His interests would shift in college as he became interested more in music composition.
“That’s something I really enjoyed because it’s like individual expression,” LaRue said. “I felt like I could make some sort of art.”
He’d also transfer schools after meeting his future wife, Lindsay, while serving in the Missouri Air National Guard Band.
She was a student at Maryville University when the two began dating, and when they decided to get married, he opted to relocate to St. Louis. His friend Brian Owens, now the Des Lee Fine Arts Collaborative Community Music Artist in Residence, encouraged LaRue to look at UMSL.
“I found a lot of peace and freedom at UMSL,” LaRue said. “I felt permission to sort of be my own musician. I felt creative and welcome. The students in general were nice and personable. I liked the whole vibe.”
He’s maintained ties to the university, and that’s evident on “Finding Peace.” Three of the musicians who performed on the album – tenor saxophone Neil Ostercamp, trumpet and flugelhorn player Kyle Allen and bass player Joe Paule Jr. – all have ties to UMSL. He also solicited UMSL alumna and artist Ashley Kopp Wenzel to do the cover art for the double-LP.
LaRue picked up audio engineering toward the end of his time as an undergraduate, and those skills have helped him support a growing family since he finished his degree. He and Lindsay now have four children, the oldest 9, the youngest 3 months.
His day job has him doing contract work as an audio-visual technician for Events/com Inc., which provides audio and visual production services for corporate meetings and events.
While accompanying several local bands over the years, LaRue never lost the desire to put out his own music and decided a complete album would be the best form to convey his style.
LaRue has no illusions of taking his act on tour, but he is hopeful the album will make it easier for him to get chances to collaborate with other bands, songwriters and producers.
“That’s kind of how I thought about it,” LaRue said. “I was holding it with an open hand while I was writing because I want it to be successful, but at the same time, I know that publishing music is a lottery. I was just holding it with an open hand and saying, ‘Well, if it doesn’t pan out to be the next big thing then I’m fine with it being sort of a resume.’ I put everything I had into it. This is what I can do.”
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