The Handsome Family: A couple of great musicians

by Jared Curtis 

Making music as a duo has the same pros and cons as a regular four- or five-piece band, but when you add a relationship into the mix, things can get crazy. But a strong foundation for a band can add so to a marriage, just ask Brett and Rennie Sparks, also known as The Handsome Family. The pair has been married and performing together for more than 20 years and couldn’t be better.

“If you asked us years ago if we would still be around 20 years later I’d say, ‘Hell No,’” Rennie laughed. “In musician’s years we’re centuries old, so it’s an unexpected miracle to still be making music together for so many years.”

Rennie believes being married has created a bond stronger than most bandmates share and allows them to tour whenever.

“Being married helps that we don’t have to leave loved ones at home angry and lonely. But on the other hand, we do spend a lot of time together. On tour the only time we’re alone is when one of us goes to the bathroom,” she laughed.

Rennie believes The Handsome Family is past the point of just trying to make a go of it, this is the couple’s life and they are happy to enjoy the ride.

“I think that after two to three years, most musicians realize that if they keep at this they’ll be unemployable in any other field, which scares most away,” she said. “Once we passed the point of no return to mainstream society we were stuck here. But it’s not a bad place to be stuck, of course.”

The Handsome Family has released 10 studio albums, but none have grown in popularity like Singing Bones, which was released in 2003, but become an overnight success thanks to the use of the song “Far From Any Road” as the opening credits in HBO’s “True Detective.” The show became a pop culture phenomenon in 2014 and The Handsome Family’s song led the way.

“We have no idea how they found our song. T Bone Burnett never approached us and we didn’t speak to anyone who works directly on the show,” Rennie said. “We’re glad it was included though, it’s all mysterious and wonderful, a great gift from the ancient gods.”

The band’s catalog is growing in popularity thanks to other artists covering their work, including Andrew Bird, whose 2014 album, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…, is an entire record of The Handsome Family’s songs.

“Any time people learn about our work is a blessing,” she said.

The couple is currently working on their next record, an untitled work that will be released in 2016. The album is still coming together, but Rennie had some insight to what fans should expect.

“The new record has a color theme,” Rennie said. “So far the colors are green, white, red, yellow, gold and silver. Brett and I are arguing over whether we can claim clear as a color. I say yes, it’s sort of the unseen spectrum.”

The album, much like the majority of their records, is being recorded in the couple’s converted garage studio.

“It makes it very easy to get to the studio and often times we’re recording in our pajamas,” she laughed.

Writing and recording as a married couple can be a challenge, but Rennie and Brett have been making music together for so long, the arguments as well as the new challenges of writing and recording disappear into the process.

“It definitely gets harder each time you write a song. We only have so deep a well and we’ve been dipping into it for years. Still, I feel the sweetest water is yet to be drunk,” she said. “You just have to try, try and fail. Then it’s time to take a break and try again. I write the words first and the Brett works on the music and then we argue, A LOT, but that’s the process we’ve discovered works for us.”

The couple spent March touring around the United Kingdom and Ireland. They are looking forward to returning to the states and playing some new songs for fans. But recording and touring wont be the only thing keeping Rennie busy this summer.

“Along with finishing the color album up I’ll be busy tending to my beehives and painting portraits of pets,” she said (the last album, Wilderness, featured a companion book that included animal portraits and art by Rennie).

The Handsome Family will be making a stop at the Green Frog on Saturday, May 2, and fans can expect a unique night filled with murderous ballads and mayhem.

“Our live show is something akin to the murder of Orpheus when crazed women tore him to pieces yet his gorgeous severed head continued to sing,” she said.

Sounds like a party!

LIVE SHOW: See The Handsome Family perform at The Green Frog on Saturday, May 2. Tickets are $10. For more about the band, see www.handsomefamily.com.

Published in the April 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine