The Handsome Family, comprised of husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks, has been releasing deeply haunting albums since 1995. They’ve built up a solid career over time, blending murder ballads with hidden histories and gaining fans like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr. Now they’re experiencing a boom thanks to musical maestro T Bone Burnett, who as the show’s music supervisor helped pick their evocative 2003 tune “Far From Any Road” as “True Detective’s” theme.
In a phone interview from their Albuquerque, N.M., home, the couple — who have been married for 20-plus years — mused about the music they make together, the curiosity behind “Far From Any Road” and how this exposure has affected their careers.
When did you guys first meet and then when did you start writing music together?
Brett: We first met in New York where I was going to school and she had tequila in her purse that I could smell from five miles away. But we were married in 1988 or something and it was five years before we could ever write a song together.
Rennie: Basically when he couldn’t find a bass player for his band he was like well, chicks can play bass and brought me on and now I write all the lyrics.
Brett: Yeah, when my rhyming dictionary ran out of words for baby, I thought I’d bring her on. [Laughs] I’m not what you would call a wordsmith. I’m not a lyricist, I’m just a hack that throws together chords so it was easy to work with her since she’s so good.
Where did the name “The Handsome Family” really come from?
Rennie: Well, his version was that we had a drummer that kicked us out of a band because he said we “couldn’t rock hard enough” and he always said it kind of sarcastically to Brett. But for me, it reminded me a bit of the Carter Family and the Manson Family and I feel like we kind of live in the middle of those two.
Specifically for “Far From Any Road, ” what was going through your mind when you wrote that song, both lyrically and musically?
Rennie: I saw some Jimson weed and it’s a plant that only blooms at night and you can see these huge white flowers and there are these moths that feed on them just at night so it’s like a secret night time blooming and romance. Jimson weed actually goes back to Jamestown and there’s a story of it driving people insane because it’s psychedelic and because it gets into people’s water all the time. So it’s about these moths and this sexy, forbidden ritual they have in the darkness.
Brett: The vernacular here is that it’s “loco weed.” So the song is basically about psychedelic plants and love and dark love.
Rennie: And also the poisonous plants that you can’t get really close to. I found that really interesting.
Brett: So if you have any questions about Rennie’s lyrics, you can go to nature, that’s usually the first step.
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