As fans of HBO's hit show "True Detective" eagerly await this Sunday's finale, KPCC invited the band behind the dreamy theme song — New Mexico's The Handsome Family — to perform a live acoustic version of the theme, "Far From Any Road," and talk with Take Two about the show.
Set in Louisiana, "True Detective" follows two homicide detectives on the hunt for a ritualistic serial killer preying on women and children. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson star as the team tasked with unraveling the twisted mystery.
Its popularity marks yet another success for HBO, but it has also helped introduce a wider audience to a particularly dark Americana band from New Mexico:
The Handsome Family's song "Far From Any Road" was chosen as the show's opening theme and has since become synonymous with the landscape and tone of "True Detective." The Handsome Family — consisting of Brett and Rennie Sparks — began with a live version of the song, which you can hear below.
The Handsome Family performs "Far From Any Road" live on KPCC:
How did you find out your song had been chosen?
Rennie: "We didn't know for sure until the show was aired. There was some talk about it, we had some emails back and forth, but I guess because they were working on a million other things they never quite confirmed with us that it was going to be our song. ... So we were sitting there waiting for the first episode to come on, holding hands and trembling, and then, it happened."
Wow, no one told you?
Brett: "We were on tour, too, at the time. Like, two weeks before the show premiered. So we were out of contact a lot, too, and we were wondering, 'Wow, I wonder what's going to happen with this show?' We were back and forth with a lot of people."
Rennie: "We had a verbal agreement, of course, but I think we've been doing this for 20 years, and we've had a lot of 'almost' and 'maybes.' We've had a lot of things taken away from us at the last minute, so we didn't want to get too excited until it happened."
Brett: "It kinda made it all that much more special. I punched myself in the leg so hard I'm still black and blue."
Rennie: "The people at the show told us that they'd used our song originally as a placeholder while they were looking for the real song they were going to use. But I guess evidently they tried a bunch of songs, and they kept coming back to us, thankfully. "
Are you happy with the way it was paired up with the title sequence?
Brett: "I sat one night and watched the opening credits, 30 or 40 times with my headphones. I may have had an adult beverage, but I was watching just the images unfold with the song. Obviously I'm a little biased, but they did such a fantastic job."
Rennie: "The plot of the show seems to really fit with what we're talking about in the song, too. I think there's an emotional landscape that takes place on the show that I think our song also kind of lives in. This place of sinister mystery and unearthly mystery and beauty and things that can't be really spoken about, but you can show a picture of or sing a song about."
Brett: "We do get a lot of people that write emails, and they're like, 'What does it mean?' We're like, 'Well, you know, whatever you want it to mean, really. You can try to figure it out.' You can try to figure the show out."
Rennie: "There's no point in writing a song that's easily understood, I think. Otherwise, you know, if you could easily understand it, I would just say it in a sentence. Someone wrote us and said, 'Look, I've got four kids and a job, just tell me what the song means.'"
The finale's coming up, do you guys have any insight that you could share with us?
Rennie: "Neither Brett nor I are the Yellow King; other than that, we don't know. At least I don't think he is."
A husband and wife team, married making music for 20 plus years, can you tell us the story about how you met?
Rennie: "It involved some tequila ... "
Brett: "On the radio?!"
Rennie: "I was walking around my college campus with a little purse full of tequila, and a tambourine."
Brett: "And a tambourine and a Thomas Pynchon novel ... ."
Rennie: "And a really frightening flower dress. Most people were not interested in getting to know me better."
Brett: "I, however ... "
Rennie: "Wanted the tequila. ... Ladies, always carry a little tequila in your purse, you never know when its going to come in handy. You know, it really was, though, like a great gift. You say things about love at first sight, but I think we both said that when we saw each other, it was like seeing somebody I've been looking for my whole life and not knowing that I was even looking for him. I said to myself, 'Oh, there he is.'"
When did you realize you could make music together?
Rennie: "That's the strange thing is that, immediately, we were in love, and we basically never spent a moment apart after that, but it took us six or seven years before we even thought about trying to write music together. You'd think it would have come up earlier."
Brett: "We've been good friends for a long time, and have a lot of mutual respect. ... I think it's a collaboration that's kind of unusual in these days. We're still working the Tin Pan Alley angle, where somebody writes the lyrics and somebody else writes the music, and never the twain really do meet."
Where does the name The Handsome Family come from?
Rennie: "We were in someone else's band, and he called Brett handsome sarcastically, and Brett was writing a lot of the songs, so it was the Handsome Family, but someone else was the bandleader, and then he kicked us out of the band because he said we didn't rock hard enough."
Brett: "This is a guy who played snare drum with a manhole cover and a hammer."
Rennie: "Yeah, so, to be fair, we couldn't keep up with him. So he kicked us out of The Handsome Family, but then gradually we decided, 'You know, he's not really using the name.' He broke so many drums with those hammers."
Brett: "We liked the way it sounded. It's kind of an arcane word in the English language. Handsome, it's like toothsome, or something that can be manipulated with the hand. It's kind of a weird word, and you see it used in other countries in different ways. Like, in England, here's my handsome family. ... And it also kind of sounds like the Manson Family, and it sounds like the Carter Family, and the Stoneman Family, and kind of like that country tradition."
You've been successful at this for two decades, and the music business, obviously, isn't an easy business to be in. What would you say is the biggest obstacle you both have had to overcome together?
Brett: "Impatience. With the universe to throw something back at you."
Rennie: "You don't always know what a song or a concert means for a long time. And sometimes, the shows that, I think, went the worst, and the nights where I feel like we were resonating with anybody with what we had to offer, those are the nights sometimes years later someone will say,'That's the night I fell in love with you and when your songs really spoke to me.' I think patience and faith that what you have to say. ... If it's important to you, then it'll be important to other people."
Has having this song on a hit show affected your music career much?
Rennie: "We're No. 2 in Tajikistan today. Kyrgyzstan we're doing pretty well in, too. We're charting all over the world, and it's amazing. It's changed everything."