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Interview: The Handsome Family

The Handsome Family are husband and wife duo Brett Sparks and Rennie Sparks. They formed the band in 1993 along with drummer Mike Werner, while guest musicians complete line-up for recordings and their live work. They are perhaps best known for their song ‘Far from Any Road,’ which was used as the main title theme for the first season of HBO’s crime drama True Detective.

The band will be visiting the south coast this weekend when they play at The Brook in Southampton and St Georges Church in Brighton. I was fortunate enough to have some time with Rennie, where we discussed the band’s inspirations and how Andrew Bird came to write an album of Handsome Family covers.

Could you tell me about how you initially got involved with music and who influenced you most?

I’ve always loved stories. Brett has always loved music. Guess we pooled our talents. Brett is inspired by classical music. He used to put on his dad’s Waylon Jenning’s 8-tracks though. I was exposed to Burl Ives at a very impressionable age and have never fully recovered.

The Handsome Family by Jesse Littlebird

For those who are new to your music which three tracks would you encourage them to check out first and why?
Weightless Again‘ because unless you’ve thought about suicide at least once we’re not the band for you. ‘Glow Worm‘ because if you believe in a hollow earth we are the band for you. ‘So Much Wine‘ because we all have a drunk friend we’d like to help.

I am a big fan of Andrew Bird. Could you tell me a little bit about your relationship with him and how did you felt when he approached you to explain that he wanted to record an album covering your music?

We have been in awe of Andrew’s genius since we stumbled across him in Chicago many years ago. He’s completely unique and brilliant. I was moved beyond words to hear he was recording our songs. He has paid us the highest compliment one songwriter can pay another— he says that when he can’t write he listens to our songs and remembers how it feels to be inspired.

We have been in awe of Andrew’s genius since we stumbled across him in Chicago many years ago. He has paid us the highest compliment one songwriter can pay another— he says that when he can’t write he listens to our songs and remembers how it feels to be inspired.

Could you tell me about the point in your life where you remember making a conscious decision that you wanted to become professional musicians? Am I right in believing that during the 90’s you were still holding down jobs while touring the States?
It’s more like we lost our other jobs by going away so much. Eventually you are good for nothing besides music. It’s terrifying.

Over the years has your approach to performing live changed and if so how?
I try to feel grateful that we have an audience instead of being afraid of them. Better to start from a place of thankfulness.

I first became aware of The Handsome Family when ‘Far From Any Road’ was featured as the title track to HBO’s True Detective. It prompted me to find more of your music online. Could you tell me about how that came about?
We have no idea. We had no sure idea until the moment it broadcast. It’s been an amazing stroke of luck in a life that never has seemed lucky before. Very glad you found us.

While on tour do you get very much time to explore the towns and cities that you are playing?
Yes, but it’s usually at about 2 am when nothing is open.

What does the rest of 2018 have in store for you?
Lots of pet portraits painted and lots of cat whisker collecting— my two main passions.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of The Handsome Family’s Through The Trees. To celebrate its release you can pick up a special The sky blue-coloured vinyl comes with an exclusive “Invisible Trees” bonus CD, comprising of 15 tracks of “out-takes, live performances and bickering.” The band will be incorporating much of Through The Trees during their UK tour. There are a limited number of tickets available for Friday’s show which can be picked up at the-brook.com.

The Handsome Family by Brandon Soder

Photos by Jesse Littlebird and Brandon Soder


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