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Country, bluegrass, and murder ballads, pharmaceuticals, home brews, and macabre stories.  These are but some of the things that form the Handsome Family’s sound—not least their at times haunting lyrics – Through the Trees (1998) was deemed the Best New Country Album of the Year by Uncut. Their next CD, Honey Moon, releases April ‘09 (Carrot Top). Rennie and Bret Sparks tell PopMatters 20 Questions, with tongue in cheek, about fascinating, fantastical elements in the world as they see it. All rather compelling, but proceed with caution regarding their fashion advice.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Rennie: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Only five thousand years and all trace of human life will be gone, even plastic shopping bags. Hallelujah!
Brett: Bedknobs and Broomsticks because I’m frightened of Angela Lansbury. I cried like a baby.

cover art

Handsome Family

Honey Moon

(Carrot Top; US: Apr 2009)

cover art

The Handsome Family

Last Days of Wonder

(Carrot Top; US: 13 Jun 2006; UK: 29 May 2006)

Review [15.Jun.2006]
cover art

The Handsome Family

Singing Bones

(Carrot Top; US: 7 Oct 2003; UK: 13 Oct 2003)

2. The fictional character most like you?
Rennie: H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. We both like basements.
Brett: Huckleberry Hound because he’s a gentleman, but also a dog. He talks slow.

3. The greatest album, ever?
Rennie: Robert Redford’s, The Language and Music of the Wolves because you can hear how wolves always harmonize with each other across the mountain ranges and never step on each other’s notes.
Brett: That’s a terrible question. There is no greatest album. That answer is always changing for me. I used to love medieval composers, but this week it’s Music for Airports by Brian Eno.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Rennie: Neither. Superstring Theory and the hope that Dark Matter is a nice place where run-over dogs go to frolic in green meadows.
Brett: Trek. I dig the persistence of the musical motifs.

5. Your ideal brain food?
Rennie: Ergot poisoning.
Brett: Mickey’s Big Mouth Malt Liquor.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Rennie: I have been collecting cat whiskers for 15 years now. I have 53. One day I’ll have enough to make a cat whisker cape and then things will change around here.
Brett: I finally made it through The Sound of Music.

7. You want to be remembered for…?
Rennie: My cat whisker cape.
Brett: My moustache.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Rennie: The dinosaurs. They ruled the planet for a lot longer than we’re going to. Who’s laughing now?
Brett: Ancient astronauts. Either them or the Runaways (Marvel Comics). Because you can only see their drawings from a great height. The same thing with the Runaways

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Rennie: The Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches”), because I want to believe that the Devil is waiting in the forest for me and that little frogs will one day suckle on my third nipple.
Brett: The invention of that glass ball that makes lighting storms when you touch it.

10. Your hidden talents…?
Rennie: I can explode any light bulb by looking at it and thinking about puppies.
Brett: All have been revealed.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Rennie: Leave your hat out in a field overnight to collect snakes.
Brett: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-32)

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Rennie: Peachwood dousing rod stolen from snakes.
Brett: A “penny-farthing” bicycle. You know, the one with the little wheel in the back (the penny) and the really big one in the front (the farthing).

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Rennie: Sackcloth and ashes.
Brett: Dickies and chain mail.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Rennie: Five squirrels wearing vests and spectacles—and then they’ll owe me a dinner!
Brett: Irving Berlin. He wrote some of the greatest pop songs ever. He wrote both the music and the lyrics because he didn’t want to split the money with a partner. Obviously I’d have to pick up the check.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Rennie: Italian ruins, 19th century— to wear a tight corset then hopefully faint and be dragged away by wolves.
Brett: Medieval Britain, to finally get a decent pint.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Rennie: Watching pigeons cooing under train trestles.
Brett: A nice, long walk.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Rennie: Wellbutrin SR, 400mg daily.
Brett: Lithium Carbonate, 1800mg daily.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Rennie: Inside the empire of the ants and/or a finch nest.
Brett: The Belgian Congo.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Rennie: Please try not to solve problems with bombs or waterboarding.
Brett: If you wanna have a cigarette, you’re gonna have to go outside.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Rennie: A painting of squirrels flying through the forest.
Brett: A Handsome Family live DVD.

Karen Zarker, Managing Editor at PopMatters, works with a talented array of writers throughout the magazine. She manages the PopMatters Books Series, and also holds many behind-the-scenes operational responsibilities. She can be reached at zarker(at)

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