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Thursday 01 March 2018

The Handsome Family: HBO Hipsters Bring Tracks New & Old To Brighton

In 2015 The Handsome Family became famous for providing the theme tune to Season 1 of HBO's hit TV drama series True Detective, introducing them to a whole new audience and a whole load of new fans. 

The featured song, Far From Any Road, has been streamed over fifty million times and counting. They suddenly became a little less of a secret. 

However, even before this worldwide success, the band weren't short of admirers, counting Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr amongst their fans, and with the likes of Jeff Tweedy, Amanda Palmer, Cerys Matthews, Christy Moore and Andrew Bird all having covered their songs. 

In 2016, the band released Unseen. The highly anticipated new record explored the unseen stories, people and places of the American west.

However, it was way back in 1998 when Brett & Rennie Sparks got their first big break, with the release of the The Handsome Family's third album, Through The Trees. 

Rennie recalls the recording process: "We wrote and recorded all the songs for Through the Trees in a third floor walk-up loft in the heart of Chicago. 

"This was the actual forest of Through the Trees— an old warehouse space with high, crumbling ceilings, huge chains hanging from cracked sky-lights, fat black cockroaches wobbling across the uneven floor, a broken elevator, a DJ booth (where we slept) and eight foot high windows preparing to fall out onto the street. 


"Light bulbs exploded when turned on and frost formed in the living room. We named one of the many large paint chips hanging from the tin ceiling (Chippy). Outside was a garbage-strewn, urine-stinking street that was a constant parade of wind-beaten people.

"Walking home from a bar one night I saw a rat scuttle behind a dumpster and felt a surge of joy. I began to notice pigeons cooing in girders below the highway and the way leaves fluttered in the scrawny branches of sidewalk trees. 

"Living in a man-made wilderness made me begin to see nature. It made me begin to write about falling snow, barking dogs, snakes, forests, mountains, fire... So began the songs of Through the Trees

"When Brett recorded a take in that make-shift loft studio I had to stand perfectly still so the floor wouldn't squeak. 

"We still managed to make so much noise that our downstairs neighbour often turned his stereo on full blast, pointed the speakers up at the ceiling then left for the day. We deserved it. We were two crazy kids. Literally."

Dave Trumfio, who had produced The Handsome Family's first two albums, encouraged Brett to make the record on his own. In those days making a record outside a studio was fairly unheard of, but Brett was determined to learn. 

"We couldn't afford to buy recording equipment, but we found a rental company in the suburbs. We did own a drum machine. Our drummer, Mike Werner, had called it quits a few months back and Dr. Rhythm (Boss DR-770) had taken his place. 

"The rental equipment wasn't easy to work with or of high quality, but it was a start.
During this time, our favourite venue was Chicago's legendary Lounge Ax. 

"The owner of the club, Sue Miller, had just married Jeff Tweedy. Brett had given Jeff a cassette with some demos on it. 

"Jeff offered to let us borrow a bunch of gear he had but wasn't using (an ADAT, a Mackie mixer, Lexicon reverb and a fabulous Tube-Tech compressor). 

"This was a huge gift - Jeff gave us more than gear, he gave us time. We returned our rental equipment and slowed our work pace. 

"We were finally recording music without worrying about how much money each hour was costing us. It completely changed how we worked."

This year marks twenty years since the release, which Loose will be celebrating with a 20th Anniversary Edition of Through The Trees to be released on 9th March. 

The Handsome Family play.St George's Church, Brighton, on 24th March 2018. CLICK HERE for tickets.

by: Mike Cobley




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