The Handsome Family

We chat to Rennie from The Handsome Family off the back of a 20th anniversary re-release of Through The Trees and a UK tour that brings them to the Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds tonight, in which they will play the classic album in full. We found out about tales from the road, writing the theme tune to True Detective and Rennie’s unusual collections.

Interview by Jane Howkins

Feature photo by Jesse Littlebird

You just started out on a new tour across the UK – how has it been going so far? Any good tour stories?
So far all is well. No sprained ankles, food poisoning, flu, shingles, which have all happened before. We have learned that our guitarist loves to see people step on grapes, took a while before we saw the pattern and got wise. We had to completely rebuild my autoharp one night when it broke, including soldering, super glue and lots of screws in Gateshead, that was scary but successful.

Is there anywhere you are particularly looking forward to playing? It’s quite an extensive tour, isn’t it!
I look forward to it all and try my best to ‘be here now’.  Any show where I feel totally present is a good one. A bad one is when it feels like the audience hates me (usually a projection of my tired head) and I have to fight to keep going. I also love any day I have time to visit a charity shop or find a new can of dog food for my collection. Yes, I have a dogfood can collection, and a cat whisker collection.

You’re playing two gigs in Yorkshire – one in Leeds and one in Sheffield. Are these areas you enjoy playing in, and would you ever come up to York and perform for us?
We have played in York many times back in ye olden rock days, at Fibbers with Willard Grant Conspiracy (RIP). Two amazing things happened at Fibbers: first I found out Yorkshire pudding wasn’t a dessert and second, I encountered my first stinging nettles.

Why do you think people should come and see you perform live, and what can people expect from a The Handsome Family gig?
Huge explosion, the conjuring of occult spirits, swooping crows, and good, old fashioned story songs.

Before the re-release of Through The Trees, your last studio release came out back in 2016, titled Unseen. What can you tell us about that, and how would you describe it to those who haven’t heard it yet?
It concerns the numinous as well as bank robberies and state fairs.

Have you been working on any new music? If so, when do you expect that to come out? How do your music has evolved since Unseen was released?
Yes, it’ll be awhile. We just moved into the most haunted house in Albuquerque, New Mexico and there are still ghosts whispering, ‘I’m cold’ in the background of all recordings. Probably a boiler issue.

Unseen was released on your own record label, Milk & Scissors Music, in the US (Loose music in Europe). How long have you had the label for, and how did you come about setting that up?
Our old USA label basically closed shop so we’re doing it all now. Luckily, this haunted house we moved into has a lot of storage for CDs and LPs, also a secret room behind a bookcase.

What other artists are currently on the label, and who would you recommend we check out from the roster?
Just us right now but you never know.

The track Far From Any Road was used as the title theme tune for HBO’s True Detective back in 2014. How did that come about, and would you ever be interested in having another track on a soundtrack like that? Do you think it brought the band a lot of exposure?
I guess all my lazy attempts at chaos magick finally brought me some luck. Working on more spells up in the secret room. We’ll see if I conjure a demon or another great track usage.

Any last words for the fans?
Please bring kitten teeth to the show. I am building new instrument.