The Handsome Family

Sunday 05th May 2024
Location: SET THEATRE (Roots Festival 2024)
The Handsome Family’s new record (released Sept, 2023) began with a scream in the night. “It was a bleak winter during the middle of the pandemic,” says Brett Sparks. “One night around 4 a.m. Rennie started screaming in her sleep. She screamed, ‘Come into the circle Joseph! There’s no moon tonight.’ Scary as it was, I thought, man, that’s a good chorus!”
The Handsome Family (songwriting and marriage partners Brett and Rennie Sparks) have been defining the dark end of americana for over 30 years. Brett writes the music and Rennie writes the words. Their work has been covered by many artists including Jeff Tweedy, Andrew Bird and most-recently Phoebe Bridgers. Their song “Far From Any Road” was the opening theme for HBO’s True Detective season one and still receives thousands of Shazams every week from all over the world.
Handsome Family songs take place under overpasses and inside airports. Historical figures like George A. Custer and Nikola Tesla appear alongside a flying milkman and the whisper of an air conditioner against a plastic tree.
Their eleventh studio album, Hollow (out Sep. 8, 2023) delves into the natural world at the edges of the man-made. It is a record lush with leaves and shadows and echoing with occult mystery.
It begins with the dream-inspired “Joseph”— full of Mott the Hoople swagger and electric guitar so overdriven it sounds like an organ run through a vacuum cleaner. Next is the haunting “Two Black Shoes” which filters a Portishead groove through the highway motels, homeless encampments and McMansions of post-pandemic America.
“I wanted to get an electronic feel with organic drums, “says Brett, “So I chopped up our drummer’s takes into little bits, quantized the beats, and ran those through an Echoplex. I really like that hybrid of real and fake.”
“The King of Everything,” brings Brett’s harpsichord background into the mix plus Rennie’s time on the back porch taking muscle-relaxants and watching the white-winged doves.
“Squirrels in the basement / Raccoons in the walls / Centipedes with stingers,” Brett sings on the mischievous and mysterious “Skunks.” The spooky Beethoven-inspired piano and Brett’s eerie whooping create a jingle for an increasingly desperate business. “Call us anytime at night,” Brett sings. “Call us day or night.”
“The Oldest Water” is the real story of a primordial sea found deep in a Canadian mine. Dave “Guts” Gutierrez’s trilling mandolin gives the song an old-timey parlor elegance and the rushing feel of flowing water.
“Mothballs” is a simple hymn for voice and piano. “A buddhist friend of Aleister Crowley’s always wore this old purple coat,” says Rennie, “and moths were continually flying from its pockets. The man refused to harm even the tiniest wool moth and I think that’s something we should all aspire to.”
The softly-strummed “Shady Lake” is based on a real fishing hole hidden in the cottonwoods outside of Albuquerque where soft waves lap the reedy shores as turtles dive from wet rocks into the
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