Interview: A Conversation with The Handsome Family

Unlike much else around at the moment, Brett and Rennie Sparks have created something very special; The Handsome Family. With their uniquely captivating sound, the pair released their first album in 1995 and since, have grown from brilliant, to even better. Taking inspiration from a variety of people and places, their dark yet distinctively beautiful music soothes the soul and no doubt leaves the listener wanting more.

Currently touring the United Kingdom with the sublime Daniel Knox, the pair play Manchester’s Martin Harris Centre this Saturday (21st March).

We spoke to Brett about Bach, books, and bitches (the dog sort, obviously!)


Which other bands/artists do you take inspiration from?

We’ve taken Daniel Knox on this tour because we are in love with his song writing and voice. He’s utterly unique, eerie human.

What bands/artists are you currently into? What sort of music brings you joy?

We are obsessing over the perfection that is Bach these days. Bach when we wake up, Bach when we’re falling asleep. There are mysterious patterns of beauty in his work that always inspires.

You’re influenced by historical figures which is reflected in your music, why do these certain people influence you? It’s such an interesting thing to do!

Life is always stranger than we can imagine and it is always rewarding to know more on any subject: parsley, for example, was a sacred plant laid on graves in ancient Greece. The Roman emperor Commodus killed 125 bears in front of a wildly applauding crowd of 50,000 one afternoon.

Your lyrics have strong storytelling components, are you avid readers? If so, what literature do you enjoy reading and do you feel this influences your musical style too?

History and nature are my main book choices. I take comfort in connecting my own brief appearance in this world to the lives lived before me and all around me.

How did the Andrew Bird album ‘Things are really great here, sort of…’ come about? Are there any of his takes on your tracks that you wish you had originally done?

Andrew’s been a fan of our songs a long time. I think he’s a musical genius and don’t presume to have any of his motivations figured out. It was a great gift and a lovely honour.

Looking at your Spotify numbers, it’s clear that having ‘Far From Any Road’ be the theme tune to ‘True Detective’ has had an impact in that department (8.8m plays vs the 475k of Weightless Again) but how has it impacted in the grand scheme of things?

It has only helped us keep going. Nothing bad to say except that if we’d gotten a popular theme song in 1980 we’d probably have sold enough records to never work again. Not the same in 2015, but we are still eternally grateful to True Detective.

Going all the way back to when you first started recording, is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d have known back then?

I needed to be on some heavy antidepressants.

With your back catalogue, this might be a hard one to answer. If you had to choose three songs to play to someone who had never listened to your music, which three would you choose and why?

Bottomless Hole, Tesla’s Hotel Room, So Much Wine…Those are the three corners of our obsessions: the bitter-sweetness of life, the importance of mystery and wonder, and the amazing things that really happen all around us.

And finally, is there a question that you’re never asked that you wish you were. If so, what is it? Then you can answer it as well if you wish!

If there was an operation that could change you into a dog what dog would you become? Gold retriever! They’re eternal optimists.