The Handsome Family
We spoke to Rennie from the Handsome Family about dressing up cats, the state (with a small "s") America's in at the moment and the wonderful world of alt-country...
Interview by Mark Whitfield, June 2001
What are you both up to at the moment?
Right now I am regretting eating octopus for dinner. I am only eating things that I could imagine killing which leaves my meat options: spiders, octopus and sardines. Oh well. Also, we are packing all our belongings in boxes and are moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico in two days. They have rattlesnakes there. I could probably eat one of those.
How was your recent UK tour? How do you find touring over here compared to back home?
The drives are a lot shorter which is very nice. Less road rage in our "tour bus." The audiences in the UK are very attentive and thoughtful too. The US shows tend to have more drunks screaming, "Freebird" which gets less amusing every time it happens.
When we came to see you last year on tour, you actually amused quite a lot of people in the audience with your between song conversations about dressing up cats and the like - is that all spontaneous? Have you ever dressed up a cat?
My cat is dressed up like Sherlock Holmes right now. Having some trouble keeping the pipe in his mouth. I like animals more than people, I guess. I really like vegetables and trees. If I could give birth to a head of lettuce I would get pregnant pronto.
A lot of bands considered to be alt-country nowadays just prefer the term "country" - how do you feel about it?
I really don't feel one way or another about it. I think of myself as a songwriter and I don't really concern myself with genres. It does bother me when people like Johnny Cash seemed to have been cast into the "alt." camp. At least George Jones still has his TV show. But, we are not consciously "alt." anything. Mostly, I just yearn to write beautiful, timeless pieces of music, and when you have yearnings like that you tend to be inspired by a lot of country music cause there's been a lot of great songwriting there. Plus, my damn husband is from Texas and so even when he sings Schubert it sounds like "Hey, how y'all doin?"
Rennie - I picked up your "Evil" book at a Chester gig you did last year (did you know that place burnt down? spooky...) - How did you get the ideas for the really vivid stories? Do any of the stories relate to any songs you and Brett have done or will do?
Who knows where writing ideas come from. Moments of life sometimes resonate with meaning or mystery and compel me to ponder them with pen and paper. It is similar to psychosis, where suddenly a familiar word or object becomes menacing and charged with meaning that must be investigated in endless thought loops. But, it all comes down to fear and trembling for me. I am that nervous lady walking down the sidewalk with her head down. I don't really give a lot of conscious thought to where my ideas come from. That's a good way to not get any writing done.
Which bands are you currently listening to at the moment?
Grandaddy, Howe Gelb, Barry McCormick, The Aluminium Group, Goldfrapp.
Who do you rate as the greatest singer-songwriter that's ever lived?
Hildegard Von Bingen
You use so many different instruments when you perform, and a minidisc player when I saw you last. Do you ever (or would you over) perform a totally acoustic set, and which do you prefer doing?
We just do what we can to make the songs happen with two people. We've done shows without the minidisc, but it's nice to have a beat going behind you. I would love to have a full band, but the difficulties in travelling, expenses, bickering etc. are daunting.
What kind of state do you think America's in at the moment?
A very shitty one. We are a nation of dumb-asses who have elected a simpering chimp as their leader. We have worshipped the idea of the individual to such an extent that we have completely ravaged our landscapes, inner and outer, and are all totally disconnect from each other and living in perfectly sterile white bubbles, lost in private spiritual vacuums that we vainly attempt to fill with shopping, drinking, eating, killing, etc. in order to avoid all thoughts of our own mortality until our last breath.