For Folk’s Sake Interview: The Handsome Family

For Folk’s Sake: Your 8th album is due for release in 2009. How does it compare to your older stuff?
Rennie: This record is more consciously romantic than any of our other records. It’s romantic in the truest sense of the word (a sense of great awe and heightened emotions inspired by contemplating nature’s mysteries).

This album is meant to celebrate 20 years of music. Have all your albums been autobiographical?

Rennie: It’s actually to celebrate 20 years of marriage! Everything we write is autobiographical in some sense, but sometimes you have to write about insects to tell your darkest secrets.

Which album is your favourite? Why?
Rennie: The new album was written in a very a good time in our lives so I feel very close to it.

Do you prefer to play with a full band or just the two of you?
Rennie: It’s nice to have the chance to do both.

How do you like London? What do you think of the Half Moon in Herne Hill?
Rennie: I was very excited to learn the story of Herne for the first time. Now I want Brett to grow antlers. We had a really nice show at the Half Moon. We love to play in the UK. People are very attentive and thoughtful. I always feel I am among friends here. The best venue we ever played? Probably the Sydney Opera House. That was pretty dang fancy.

You’ve been making folk music for years now. Do you think your music relates to the younger generation of folkies?
Rennie: I hope so. Seems like there are both young and old people at our shows.

There’s a fastly growing folk scene in London thriving with under 30s – have you checked it out? Any favourites?

Rennie:  I just found out the Carter Family broke up so I¹m way behind in learning about what’s new in the folk world.

Has life experience changed the way you write music? Is it important to write songs from life experience?
Rennie: I don¹t think you have to live through things to write about them. You just need to have empathy.

What other instruments would you like to introduce to the band?
Rennie: Human bone xylophone…Hard to find one in the shops though and difficult to construct on your own. Still the sound is said to be intoxicating, maddening, akin to a thousand glass harmonicas echoing across a moonlight valley.

Rennie – your skin look positively luminous last night.  What face cream do you use?  Any beauty tips?
Rennie: Thank you! I always imagine myself looking like an old man with a long grey beard and so am always surprised then to look in the mirror and find I am neither. I would still like to grow antlers or horns or a little goat beard.

Brett – do you always like to have a bucket of beer on the stage?  What is your preferred beer?

Rennie: Brett says he likes to drink swill. The cheaper the beer the better. He also prefers frozen pizza to the real thing. He has not one lick of class or taste.

Did you start making music together and then fall in love?  Or vice versa?
Rennie: We were married for six years before we ever tried to play a song together.

Do you think it is important to be married in order to make sweet music?
Rennie: Gosh no. I think for some songwriters (like Leonard Cohen) being heart-broken and alone is vital.

Do you think you would still play together if you weren’t married?
Rennie: I hope I never have to find out.

When you have an argument does it show on stage?

Rennie: Oh yes! We¹ve had some nasty nights, but if it was mostly bad we certainly wouldn’t keep at it. There is something really wonderful about singing a harmony with someone you love that tends to heal a lot of hurts.

Any Handsome children?
Rennie: No, but I do have a lot of stray cats wandering my yard.

Is your fiddle player related to you?  If not, we would like to suggest you adopt him.
Rennie: I think we have sort of adopted him. Once you’ve had to share a room with Brett snoring you’re forever part of the family.

Who would you most like to collaborate with from the folk scene? Or any other scene for that matter.
Rennie: We¹re pretty obsessed with Martin Carthy. We also love Alasdair Roberts. We paid him to play in our living room once.

FFS particularly enjoyed the song about Insect love last night. Is that a topic that’s close to your hearts?  If you could be any insect which one would you be and why?

Rennie: Definitely a hawk moth. They come out at night in New Mexico and sip at the nectar in the night blooming flowers. …ALthough perhaps a snail, someone last night described to me how snails make love and it seemed pretty damn amazing. Lots of mucus and kissing.

Finally, as much loved and respected folk veterans, would you like to offer any words of advice to the up and coming folk starlets storming the London folk scene?
Rennie: Be grateful to your audience

Interview: Mary Liggins