WHEN SPARKS FLY.
from the time i first heard husband & wife tag team Rennie & Brett Sparks murder the Leonard Cohen ballad ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ way back when, i sat up and started taking notice of (what has since become to me) America’s foremost purveyors of Gothic Americana, THE HANDSOME FAMILY. i now worship at their unholy altar, candles aglow & glow worms about. think of a campfire rave on a serious moonbeam nite bender and you’re halfway home. & halfway lost in the woods, too. and boy-o-boy-o-chef-boy-ar-dee does it feel, look, sound & taste good.…..and speaking of home, i caught Rennie @ hers in Albuquerque, NM just as they were heading out to Chicago & Mid-West points beyond touring in support of their latest dose of other-folksy-brilliance, ‘Wilderness.”
what’s with the whole ‘Glow Worm’ thing, Rennie?
Not sure if this is a question or you are trying to annoy me? Have you ever been to a glow worm cave? It’s an amazing experience. Makes you feel like you’re staring up at stars millions of miles away when you’re actually looking at insects a few inches away.
with ’Wilderness’ you’ve created the perfect album to listen to while sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair….and i own neither a front porch nor a rocking chair. thoughts?
Hmm, have you tried horseback along a cliffside? I actually get slightly seasick in rocking chairs and hammocks so any suggestions of seating found in the music is surely unintentional.
what was it like covering (‘I’m Your Man’) Leonard Cohen / live / in front of adoring legions / surrounded by rock royalty?
There was no one wearing a gold crown on the stage with us. Just a bunch of musicians who all love Leonard Cohen. Those are great songs to live inside of no matter how briefly. Once Leonard was back on tour he rightfully put us out of business.
how has this tour been different than any other you and your husband have been on?
I have a very expensive new carry-on bag. It is designed to appear light while actually carrying about 70 lbs of merchandise. Vinyl records are hard to travel with. We also rented the new Dodge Caravan that lets you see a video of what you are backing into as it happens!
nothing beats life on the road, with the one you love, in support of a masterpiece…..does it?
Life at home with a loved one in our pajamas watching old movies with cats on laps. That sort of wins every time, but it doesn’t pay the bills. The cats, in fact, make no effort to contribute to household expenses.
i’m a sucker for a great duet…..and you guys got ‘em by the barrel full. does it ever get tired?
No. Singing harmonies with someone you love is one of life’s secret delights.
i hear a lot of Willard Grant Conspiracy / Robert Fisher in you? do you?
We have done a few tours with Robert Fisher so I suppose he’s rubbed off a bit on us. Really, in the end, though you just sing as you sing and let others find the worlds and connections to describe it (for good or bad).
are you friends of Low? heard their latest, ‘The Invisible Way’?
Don’t know them. Know of them and have always liked what I heard. Haven’t heard the latest yet, but I’m sure it’s lovely.
i’m sure there’s an algorithm that either validates or debunks my theory that there is only a finite number of melodies possible. and that we are approaching it. quickly. does that ever keep you up at night? if not, what does?
It surely gets harder writing songs with each song you write. At first there are so many obvious things you want to say. It gets more and more subtle as time goes on and, I hope, that makes for better, more thoughtful work. What keeps me up at night, though, right now are all the dead limbs on trees in our yard that I have not found time or energy to lop yet. I hate leaving a tree with a dead limb. I can hear them crying out to be free of such cold weight!
your signature sound is all “you”…..is that a producer’s touch? or simply the alchemy you and Brett bring to the party?
There’s no producer except for Brett so, yes, I guess it is all ‘us’.
Cohen or Dylan?
As Jewish writers go I would have to chose Kafka.
Blur or Oasis?
For strutting white males I’d have to go with The Rolling Stones.
Kanye or Jay Z?
Early NWA, Ice Cube or Public Enemy. Rap has been commodified, as all popular music, in the end does, but there was a great moment when it seemed revolution was afoot and Chuck D might lead it.
i hear poetry being sung as i dissect your oeuvre. got any favorite poets? writers that inform your music?
Been reading Moby Dick again and again. It’s all in there.
as a dog lover and art freak, i love your paintings…..if i send you a picture of a chocolate lab we just put down could you “bring him back?”
Yes, but if you’ve read “The Monkey’s Paw” you know this is a dangerous game. I prefer to paint lost pets into a heaven of their own dreaming so that the grieving owner can look through a window into a paradise.
i think some of your songs are some of your best paintings…..i see ’Glow Worm’ as much as i hear it. how do you weave such ephemeral imagery into your songs?
I think of it and then I write it down. I get physically ill when I hear someone sing “Baby” just to fill up two syllables in a song verse that they couldn’t find an image for. The cliche festival that is pop music is very disheartening to the modern lyricist.
YOUR 'high in that chrystal palace / i've built a sailing ship / mastered wheel of polished brass / sails of gold & silk’ reminds me of Marc Bolan / T. Rex’s 'we are the children of rarn / we are the seekers of space / we’ve seen our master’s face / it’s young & gold & silvery old’………….that’s not really a question, is it? ok, flattered or confused? (i’m dating myself here, be careful….)
I suspect that we may have taken some of the same drugs as Marc Bolan. I know I used to listen to T Rex a lot on LSD. Surely he and the drug are still stored somewhere in the molecules of my spine.
it is an honor “speaking” with you, Rennie. and getting to ask you questions. (and having you answer them is even cooler still!!) got any for me?
Have you seen the line of dried chewing gum running across the entire side of the building next to the Narrows Center? Amazing piece of outsider art!
i have, actually. it’s in (sorta) scenic-by-the-bay (kinda) Fall River, MA. and calling it ‘outsider art’ when you (meaning Rennie) are in one of the world’s greatest ‘outsider’ acts (meaning THE HANDSOME FAMILY) is nothing short of preternaturally sublime. each song of theirs is like a George Saunders short story: spooky saturnalia on steroids, only their palette’s way more warped than his. if that’s possible. and even if it isn’t, it’s a huge compliment; and what makes them one of this-land-is-our-land’s true hidden treasures. and why i was so greatly relieved to hear Rennie wisecrack her way through our time together on the horn. it pays to have a sense of humor. and hearing their magnificent oeuvre through the years, i wondered about THE HANDSOME FAMILY….i wonder no more. except, of course, at their sheer genius. in true dada spirit, then: famous glow worms wearing blue raincoats about sums it up…..can you dig it?