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Terrible Sons: Big Emotions, Small Folk-Pop Gems

Meet the Christchurch husband-and-wife duo, nominated for Best Folk Artist at this year’s Aotearoa Music Awards

Terrible Sons


“We’re a couple living in a small brick house with two kids making music as and when we can,” say Christchurch folk duo Matt and Lauren Barus.

As Terrible Sons, their music is far from being this humble. It’s gentle, keenly observant and deeply felt folk-pop with a unique power in its soft beats and dreamy vocals, proving the adage that less is indeed more. Their nomination for Best Folk Artist at this year’s Aotearoa Music Awards, alongside Tom Lark and Adam McGrath, is testament to their talent.

Their latest track, “Thank You”, just dropped, marking a year since their impressive debut album, The Raft Is Not the Shore.

Like the shifting tides in their quaint seaside music video, “Thank You” captures the ups and downs of life, exploring that mix of thanks and frustration towards those who push us forward. With hushed percussion and even some Thai gongs (a nod to Matt’s Java roots), this tender tune shows the duo’s talent for turning tangled feelings into art. “But the current runs deep between me and you.”

You can catch Terrible Sons for one last gig at The Piano in Christchurch on Sunday, May 19th, if you’re in the area. Tickets are avaliable here.

To celebrate the one-year milestone of The Raft Is Not the Shore, Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with Terrible Sons for an in-depth chat about the album. Read the full breakdown of their debut album below.

Terrible Sons’ “Thank You” and The Raft Is Not the Shore is out now.

The Raft Is Not the Shore Track by Track:


Lauren had a 30-second phone recording titled “Birdsong in Port Levy” which was the seed of the song. The strings and interweaving guitars were an homage to Bobbie Gentry’s “Jessye’ Lisabeth” from her 1968 album The Delta Sweete. One of our folk and soul heroes and a suggestion for the sound palette for the LP. 

“Sunset Swimming”

This song comes with an image in my head of Te Rāpaki-o-Te Rakiwhakaputa, one of our favourite bays to swim at. It’s just over the Port Hills in Christchurch, through the tunnel. I’ve been going there for over twenty years. That’s a lot of accumulated memories, trekking over the path, with friends current and long gone. It’s got a grassy hill, like a small auditorium, that looks out over a sandy beach studded with pesky, sharp rocks. So many of our songs come from being by the water, we can’t keep the longing out of that. 

“Easy Love”

I think this song contends with this bandied about idea that love is about getting your own way, getting ‘my best life’. That’s probably one of my most hated lines. I think we were looking at a relationship and thinking about how much communication and conversation there was to get somewhere, how hard that is and yet how good that can be. It wasn’t about getting your own way, but through conversation, and probably compromise, finding a new way together. And maybe it would end up feeling like your own way!


Inspired by an image of a particular cloud formation that may follow a storm – it presents as ‘roughness’ but generally dissapates without developing further. Yearning, yet with the tremor of what has transpired still lingering in the air.

“You Can Choose”

Family. What more can you say?

“Yelling in the Wilderness”

A concocted version of yourself, wanting what we think others have, but never getting it. How do we hold each other accountable? Lauren wanted it desolate.

“Alright, Alright”

Things are not good now, but it’ll be okay, maybe never fixed but something new will come. The song came quick after a terminally alcoholic friend of Matt’s visited. Lauren was thinking of Feist’s song “Got It Wrong, Got It Right” from Metals.

“Hold Your Light High”

Reading Reginald Dwayne Bett’s book of poetry Felon and thinking of our broken prison system in New Zealand where Maori make up 52.7% of the prison population despite only making up 15% of the population of the country.

“Tomorrow Always Comes”

Our life inside a pinball machine, 2020-2021. Full of joy, thinking of Flying Nun’s Bressa Creeting Cake and Illinois-era Sufjan [Stevens]. This song went through three incarnations before we settled – it took a while to match the upbeat music with a lyric we wanted to sing about. It’s about inevitability; we’re learning that our life as we know it may not march on, but time does. 

“Watching and Watching”

Citizens of earth first, not citizens as individuals. In New Zealand we have a famous whakataukī, a Maori proverb, “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata!” It asks, “What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people!”

The Beatles and Blake Mills having a baby in waltz time.

“Young Blossom”

Every 27 seconds someone vulnerable is trafficked or sold. Reading about Alan Kurdi, the lifeless Syrian child on the beach in Greece, also opened the refugee story. Alan’s aunt Tima later wrote a book about the family. In an interview she said, “It made them think, what if this happens to you, if you lose everything, your home, your country, you have no safe place, no food, no money and what will you do?”

We were inspired when listening to John Tavener’s moving choral piece “The Lamb”.