Earlier this fall, while I was reviewing the music of Phillip LaRue, I was told that he had a very interesting story that would make for a great interview. Ever interested in learning more about the musicians I listen to, I got in contact with him to learn more about his journey. All I knew about his recent struggle was the following information (as summarized by Yahoo News):
“LaRue nearly lost his ability to play music after shattering his elbow in an accident, which led doctors to consider amputating his arm. While ultimately avoiding that fate, his arm was barely functional and he endured an excruciating recovery period, retraining his muscles to move and allowing him to pick up his guitar once more.”
But I’m not one to settle for a couple of sentences when it comes to life-changing events. Without further ado, let’s hear what Phillip himself has to say about his injury, recovery, and more.
Q1. My understanding is that you very nearly lost the ability to continue making music due to an arm injury. Can you tell us the story behind that incident?
I was playing a little show in Florida, and the venue jimmy-rigged the sound system above these old-school bleachers (the kind that pull out in gyms). I was walking down and slipped and rolled down awkwardly, shattering my right elbow. It completely busted my radial head bone, which happens to be the center point of your arm. Long story short; due to my severing almost everything, they were briefly debating amputating my arm. Thankfully, they didn’t, but I had to go under a serious surgery. Although it was successful, I still had no movement in my arm for over a year. It was a painful, beautiful experience. It forced me to find my identity without music or applause. It forced me to lean on my wife like never before. It’s a beautiful thing to look at yourself and to really be forced to recognize your weaknesses.
Q2. You mention the beauty of recognizing your weakness and relying on those you love when you need them most. Are these themes something you’ve worked into your most recent music? Do you plan to develop that in future works?
I think recognizing your weaknesses can be someone’s greatest strength. Vulnerability most of the time is seen as weak, but the men I look up to the most and trust the most are the men that are real, honest, and not afraid to share their past scares. I think honesty is what drives the best songs, so I hope I can live this out through my music. The best song that reflects this honesty is the last song on the album You Got a Hold. It’s really my heart having a wrestling match with God, yet at the end accepting the fact that I do believe.
Q3. What has the road to recovery been like, and how were did you stay motivated to get back into your work?
I had one thing drive me to recovery and it wasn’t music; it was the dream of being able to one day play with my kids like I always wanted to. We weren’t even pregnant at this point, but I just kept pushing myself to the point of tears for this dream, and I’m grateful that I did.
Q4. While you were in recovery, how did you stay musically “in shape?” Were you able to practice at all?
I honestly wasn’t able to do anything except listen to music in this season. I was fighting a lot of anxiety and depression while on all the pain medication, and due to not being able to play anything, all I could do was listen. However, it reminded me of my love for music and why I got into this game a long time ago.
Q5. Let’s revisit what you said about “a wrestling match with God” and the importance of your belief. I’ve seen you branded as both a pop artist and a Christian musician, but how would you describe yourself? A little of both? Neither?
Branding is interesting – it’s importance is vital. If people don’t know how to brand you, then they don’t know how to digest you as an artist. But then again, one of my favorite quotes is, “when you mix art and business, it’s like shooting an empty gun”- David Rameriz.
It’s tricky. I’m definitely a Christian and completely unashamed about this title, despite the fact that it carries undertones that make me feel uncomfortable. However, I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian artist by the standard definition. I have a faith, and it bleeds in everything I do, but without an agenda. In fact, that’s my life’s motto: love without agenda. And honestly, at this point in my life, that’s what this record is; it’s music without an agenda. Knowing that some people will love it and some people will hate it in advance frees me up not to care as much.
Q6. Family is obviously important to you – how do you balance that responsibility with touring and recording? Is it all that different from other people’s work-life balance, in your opinion?
Listen, there was a time I thought I’d never even play the guitar again, let alone make a record. I’m just overly grateful and realize how fleeting most of the fluff is. Success for me is getting to do what I love and getting to be home at night to play with my kids and connect with my wife. I’m grateful for my ups and downs because they’ve helped me recognize what winning for me looks like. Every day is a new challenge. One kid is sick, one has dance class, one has a dirty diaper…it’s a mess and it’s beautiful, and honestly we’re still trying to figure it all out. My wife Lia is amazing, which helps a ton. I have learned one thing: some of the most anxious and fearful people I’ve met here in Nashville are also some of the most successful people I’ve met. A lot of that, I think, happens because once you reach the top, then the temptation is a feeling of how to perpetually stay there, which can breed a lot of different dysfunctional emotions. So the best bet, as I see it, is to settle in your story. Work hard, play hard, and try to not miss out on the beauty in the midst of the madness.
Q7. Last question, but an extra thoughtful one to wrap up with. How do you see this stage in your life ultimately impacting your big-picture view of life? Your faith?
Not sure how to answer this last question, but I’ll give it a go. My faith in a loving God that is for all people has made me less critical of my own flaws (as well as flaws in others). We’re all just looking to be known at the end of the day. Whether it was growing up with a handicap sister, my wife getting thyroid cancer, or almost losing my arm, I’ve been gifted with trials that have helped me see life a bit differently. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as screwed up as the next guy. Definitely still walking this out, but I’ve been blessed with the great highs and great lows, and for this I’m thankful. When you talk to a mountain climber, they barely chat with you about the view on top of the mountain, but they spend a fair amount of time telling about the climb. Life is about the climb, and I’m thankful that I see that now. I didn’t before.