The Handsome Family's unique variety of alt-country and Americana music has been leaving its mark on listeners since the group's formation in 1993. The band is made up of married couple Rennie and Brett Sparks. You may be familiar with their song "Far from Any Road," which served as the theme song for Season 1 of True Detective. We cannot recommend this group's music strongly enough, and our personal favorite albums are Odessa and Through the Trees.
The couple is based in Albuquerque, NM and Rennie was kind enough to participate in a Q&A with us. Below she discusses a few of the band's tracks, recommends some music you should check out, and relates some of her pizza experiences both real and imagined.
Enjoy! Then grab a slice and relax to some Handsome Family music.
1. Your first two albums (Odessa (1994) & Milk and Scissors (1996)) were just released for the first time on vinyl. If you had to choose a few songs from those albums to share with someone who isn't familiar with your band, which tracks would you select and why?
“Tin Foil”— my personal philosophy: everything you build will be swept away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the momentary sparkle of a sheet of tin foil.
2. None of our members have ever visited New Mexico. So they are dying to know - What is the pizza scene like where you live in Albuquerque?
Confused. We have a lot of out of town chains trying their hand. My husband’s family chooses Papa Johns and frozen as their prized pizzas. Texans. We have one or two suspiciously good pizza parlors in ABQ that I assume are run by people in witness protection programs. I’m from NY and I expect a line of orange grease to drip down my hand when I fold a slice. I lived in Chicago for 12 years. They make you wait 40 minutes for those soufflé’s they call Chicago style. No way. Those things take 8-10 years to digest.
3. Unfortunately, your European tour this year had to be cancelled, but you have played concerts in Europe many, many times. What are the differences between the kinds of crowds you get in the USA and the kinds of crowds you get in Europe? Also, what types of foods do you tend to eat when travelling abroad? Have you ever had pizza overseas?
The one thing I’ve found is recognizable in languages all over Europe is: pizza margarita. I don’t know how it turned into a drink here, but in Europe everyone knows this is the basic pie (cheese, sauce, crust). In Ireland we had chicken curry pizza. It was raining and we suffered through though I think it was the filling from an old sandwich cooked on a slightly pizza like platform. I’ve seen a lot of curry powder on pizza in Europe. I see a lot of fresh rocket (arugula), ‘white’ anchovies’ and a lot of canned corn. Pizza in Italy was not pizza as we know it, but it was good. I’ve only eaten one thing I didn’t like in Italy: a breaded chicken cutlet sandwich in Ravenna that I ate on the street surrounded by old men watching every bite go into my mouth. And, I never ended up seeing the old mosaics.
People in Europe have never seen orange grease drip down their slice into their sleeve. I’ve tried to explain but….
Where I grew up, Long Island, NY— we had serious pizza wars. If you bought the wrong cheese or used the wrong box sometimes they fire bombed a store. It kept the level of pizza uniformly good though.
4. Your song The Giant of Illinois (from the album Through The Trees) has some absolutely beautiful lyrics and is a favorite among members of our club. However, best we can tell, the lyrics do not relate specifically to life experiences of Robert "Giant of Illinois" Wadlow, although perhaps we are wrong about that. Was Mr. Wadlow, the tallest man of all time, your inspiration for that song?
Yes he was, but also the monster of Dusseldorf. He murdered a swan one night when he couldn’t find a woman to kill. Robert Wadlow was known as the gentle giant. I guess somewhere between those two ideals we find ourselves? I did realize many years later that the reason the sky was a woman’s arms was that I wanted to build a hug big enough for poor Robert who was 6ft tall by the time he was six.
5. Besides Handsome Family albums, do you have any suggestions for what music our members should listen to while they are cooped up avoiding COVID-19?
Some little heard peeps we love and you can google and listen: Daniel Knox, Gral Brothers, Morgan Geer.
6. If you could have a pizza dinner with any 4 people from history (dead or alive) who would you choose to eat pizza with and why?
I had a pizza party with two other girls once and we had two huge Chicago pies: one with spinach and feta, one with mushrooms/cheese. I wanted to try both (obviously) but the other girls didn’t even eat all of their first slices. So I refrained. I regret it to this day and now am able to take a slice of something without waiting for the entire room to eat first so I think I could handle Leo Tolstoy and Rasputin. Leo would eat nothing but freshly picked berries and Rasputin would eat all the pizza and then rub his greasy fingers into his hair. I imagine they would argue a lot and I could just hang out and watch the fun. I suppose I’d have to learn Russian first. How would I explain pizza to these two: it is godly to eat a meal that requires no plate, fork or spoon. Maybe we’d eat naked in a kind of nineteenth century Russian hippie/peasant way. Surely this is how they ate in the originally holy garden? We’ll see how long it takes for one of them to ask about Eden’s pizza oven. I suspect neither one of them ever cooked anything so I could tell them a pizza oven is a naturally occurring rock formation. Now if I wanted this party to get really fun I’d add Jerzy Kosinski so he could offer recipes he survived on while wandering the forests of Poland hiding from Nazis (as described in “The Painted Bird). Not sure that Tolstoy and Rasputin would let me and Jerzy (two jews) pick first slice. Maybe we order two smaller pies marked Jew and non-Jew? I’ll work it out. That’s a lot of great men who probably wouldn’t be that excited to hang with me. I’m no Czarnina. So... I guess it couldn’t hurt to invite Jack Kerouac. He wouldn’t eat anything, just scowl in the corner while chugging Canadian whiskey. I don’t think he’d liked any of us. Least of all Rasputin who would probably convince drunk Kerouac that the best part is the crust. We keep eating until someone decides it’s time to try and kill Rasputin. I’m sure he was insufferable.
Stay well all, Rennie