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handsome family interview

Zoe Brookes speaks with alternative country duo The Handsome Family’s Rennie Sparks about True Detective, writing music with her husband, and Donald Trump.

When did you and Brett first meet, and when did you start writing music together?

We met in college, in New York. I think it was 1986 – and from the day we met I had tequila in my purse. We were married for years before the idea of developing music together occurred. They always say ‘don’t work with your spouse’ – but it worked well for us. I would change his lyrics and he would write the songs.

Where did the name ‘The Handsome Family’ come from?

I guess we listened to family bands ourselves, like the Manson Family and the Carter Family, and we were influenced by them. It harkens back to older times – and we are a family, of course, although the handsome part is a bit ironic…

What is your thought-process when you write songs, both lyrically and musically?

We are always trying to tell a story. Creating something new, producing a reality we never had before. I like to think of it as adding to the space that we dream in.

Where were you and what were you doing when you first found out that Far From Any Road was going to be used as the theme for True Detective?

We were in New Zealand and we were quite down because we were right in the middle of a bad tour. We received an e-mail from HBO asking if our material could be used in an interrogation room scene in a new crime miniseries and then a little further down the e-mail they said they wanted to use it for the theme too! It seemed incredible. And, as it turns out, it’s a show we really liked. It was a great choice – we belong together.

In what ways has this exposure affected your careers?

New people found us! If you were describing us, people might not understand us right away. But, our songs are stylistically on the edge of storytelling, like True Detective.  I like to say: if you like Johnny Cash – you’ll like us.

Your songs have been covered by the likes of Jeff Tweedy and utilised by Guns n Roses on tour. Is there anyone in particular you would like to use your material – or to collaborate with?

Anyone. I love to hear new interpretations of our songs, it takes it beyond your dreams and into someone else’s. Andrew Bird covered some of our music and that was such an amazing experience. He taught us our own songs in a different way.

With regards to touring – and your upcoming UK tour – have you had a strong reaction from the UK to date?

Yes – we’ve always had really nice shows across the UK. We always find friends and something really seems to resonate over there.

Do you find that you have to alter the way you perform, or the songs you use when touring Europe – in comparison to back home?

No, not a lot. In Spain we introduce lyrics in Spanish, but if anything the people in the UK just get what we do. It’s very familiar to the folk tradition that comes from Scotland and Wales.

Have you got a favourite track on the newest album Unseen?

[Laughs]. Probably Gentleman. It’s all about William Crookes – a really fascinating Victorian scientist who finds clues to the invisible, things that might lead us to alternate realities. I find the people who push boundaries like Crookes and Tesla so interesting.

Finally, what are your thoughts on Donald Trump becoming President?

Terrifying! It really is a scary prospect. It’s our reality. I guess we’ll have to wait and see; history is a story told really slowly.  But yes, a scary prospect!

The Handsome Family, The Globe, Cardiff, Sat 18 Feb. Tickets: £16.50. Info: 075 9047 1888 /

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