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Tere’s nothing like a married couple to create music that is filled with love, heartache and life lessons. One such couple is Rennie and Brett Sparks, otherwise known as Te Handsome Family. And handsome they indeed are. Writing songs about dark histories, tragic tales and the beautiful world of nature in the folk tradition, they bring their own slant to the proceedings. Tey play a million instruments, and when they’re not snuggled down in their love nest in New Mexico they’re touring the world. Tey love Norwich having played here several times before, and this March they’ll be at Norwich Arts Centre to play us some tunes and make us laugh and cry with their witty and tear jerking performance. I spoke to Rennie about how they cope with spending all of their time together, and how much she loves opera.


he Handsome Family have been a band for over 20 years now. How

have you changed in that time? It was all very silly at first. We just were kids doing something fun on the weekends and really happy to get a free beer for playing. I don’t drink beer anymore and am not nearly as silly. Overall just amazed that we’ve survived; most of the bands from my youth are gone. How did you meet and get together? Strangely we were married for five years before we collaborated on anything. I was always writing and Brett was always writing songs, but we were firmly separate. At first I was just the bass player, but finally after he had too many lyrics with the word ‘baby’ in them I offered to give him some help. We met in NY where we were both going to school. I had a tambourine and a bottle of tequila in my purse. He was waiting for another girl, but I got there first. Is it hard to be with each other all the time, in leisure and work time? Yes, we argue about lots of things, musical and non-musical. Tere is a clear line down our house where my nice, orderly stuff ends and Brett’s piles of chaos begin, so we both have our caves to retreat to in times of duress. We often agree on songs and the direction they need to go, but when we disagree the song usually gets lost in limbo. Neither of us is good at compromise when it comes to music. Often on the road we are tired and irritable, and greatest task of touring is to stay connected to that sense of excitement and mystery that drew us to writing and playing music to begin with. Te audience often can save us or send us further into the abyss. Tere have been

26 / March 2015/

“I’m unable to resist buying an objects that have otters or badgers on them.”

times when my bass line is far more ‘angry’ than it ought to be. How did you discover your joint passion for Americana and folk music? When we first married we lived in Michigan where there were many transplanted southerners who came up north to work in car factories. Lots of great country music abounded. We were at a flea market in Ypsilanti, Michigan once and an old man suggested we buy Tragic Songs of Life by Te Louvin Brothers. It was a thunderbolt to the brain; I’ve never been the same since. When I’ve seen you live before I’ve laughed a lot during the gig; there’s a thin line between tragedy and humour. Do you find that? Yes. I have often found dread in happy days and strange absurd mirth bubble up in times of tragedy; things are never clear cut. I do think it’s helpful to laugh when we feel sad, even if it doesn’t cheer us up. It does get some of the muck out of the water. You’ve played in Norwich loads of times, mostly at the Arts Centre but also in the Spiegeltent during the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. When you visit do you get the chance to look around Norwich at all? Yes. It’s a lovely place to walk around. I will hopefully hit all the charity shops I can

while there. I am a book hoarder and also unable to resist buying an objects that have otters or badgers on them. Is there a new album on its way in 2015? Yes. We’re well into recording. We’ll see when it finally gets finished, but 2015 would be nice. Who do you enjoy seeing live or listening to? I love tragic operas; that’s really the only music that I go out of my way to see live. I love Wagner. Te idea of sitting through a four hour opera sounds daunting, but once the opera begins I am entranced. I wept uncontrollably last year at a local production of “Madame Butterfly” even though there were several people around me in the audience who were fast asleep. Brett and I both find listening to Bach a never-ending good time. Far from any road was used as the theme tune for True Detective. How do you feel in general about your music being used commercially? It was a great gift for that show to pick our song. I can’t possibly find anything bad to say about it. It’s very difficult to survive as a musician these days and licensing is one of the easiest ways to be heard these days.


Te Handsome Family play Norwich Arts Centre on 23rd March. Tickets are available from Read the full interview online at

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