The Handsome Family Release New Song “Tiny Tina” on American Songwriter
Unseen out on September 16
First Album Following Unexpected True Detective Fame
Husband and wife duo The Handsome Family will release their 10th studio album Unseen on September 16th via Virtual Label. It’s their first release since their song ‘Far From Any Road’ was picked up as the True Detective Season 1 theme song which launched the couple into sudden and unexpected worldwide fame. With its unique mix of country instrumentation and intriguing surrealist lyricism, the album explores the unseen stories, people, and places of the American West, where members Brett and Rennie Sparks live (Albuquerque, NM) and shines a light on the obscure and forgotten. This morning, American Songwriter premiered their new song ‘Tiny Tina’ which tells “the tragic story of tiny-horse-meeting gone awry.”
Listen to ‘Tiny Tina’ via American Songwriter here:
“Every year at the state fair I went determined to see Tiny Tina the world’s smallest horse,” explained Rennie Spark. “Every year I came home without doing it. One year she just wasn’t there. Why didn’t I go see her when I had the chance? Maybe I was afraid of disappointment? Maybe I was afraid of not being disappointed? I did see a hypnotist at the state fair one year who was so terrifying that I felt like I was having a psychotic break. The devil himself may have been at the fair that year. Carnivals are always that way— teetering between joy and insanity. Is this why so many people are afraid of clowns? We hope you hear all these things in this song: joy, fear, heartbreak, awe— all the things the sight of a really tiny horse ought to make you feel.”
‘Unseen’ continues The Handsome Family’s embrace of things beyond easy view: the slow dive of the sun, enormous bugs awakening in thorny yards, sirens, and coyotes that cry out to the purple sky. An epic western gothic masterpiece, Unseen draws from real life events. Lead single ‘Gold’, debuted by Wall Street Journal, began when a bunch of twenty-dollar bills blew in Brett’s face in a parking lot dust storm, while ‘Gentlemen’ is a tribute to William Crookes who built the first vacuum tube in 1875, hoping to detect spirits from alternate dimensions. Many tracks fix around the idea that light emanates from things we can’t see, including behind ‘The Red Door’ in the empty hands of blackjack losers (‘The Silver Light’), and amidst desert bones bleaching in the sun (‘King of Dust’).
The album was recorded in the Sparks’ home studio at night “with only hawk moths listening” and features a rich tapestry of instrumentation conjuring images of the magical landscape of the Sparks’ New Mexico surroundings. Guest performers on the record include David Gutierrez (mandolin, dobro), Alex McMahon (guitar, baritone guitar, pedal steel), and Jason Toth (drums).
The Sparks have released 10 albums since 1995’s Odessa. Their songs have been covered by artists including Jeff Tweedy, Amanda Palmer, and Andrew Bird (who released an entire record of Handsome Family covers). Guns ‘N’ Roses used “Far From Any Road” as stage entrance music for a South American tour and both Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr are fans.
02) The Silver Light
03) Back In My Day
04) Tiny Tina
05) Underneath The Falls
06) The Sea Rose
07) The Red Door
09) King Of Dust
10) Green Willow Valley
US Tour Dates:
09/15 – Minneapolis, MN @ The Cedar
09/16 – Madison, WI @ The Frequency
09/17 – Milwaukee, WI @ Shank Hall
09/18 – Chicago, IL @ Old Town School
09/19 – Chicago, IL @ Old Town School
09/21 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway
09/24 – Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar
09/25 – Cleveland, OH @ The Music Box Supper Club
09/27 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe
09/29 – Portsmouth, NH @ The Music Loft
09/30 – New York, NY @ The Mercury Lounge
10/01 – Brooklyn, NY @ The Knitting Factory
11/12 – Albuquerque, NM @ The Launchpad
11/30 – Bellingham, WA @ The Green Frog
12/01 – Seattle, WA @ The Triple Door
12/02 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
12/03 – Arcata, CA @ Humboldt Brews
12/07 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
12/08 – Felton, CA @ Don Quixote’s International Music Hall
12/09 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Bootleg Theater
12/10 – Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace
12/13 – Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
Beautifully surreal – THE INDEPENDENT
Haunting, primal and strangely heroic —THE TIMES
They come from Hell’s ditch armed with love— NME
Through the Trees (1998)—10 essential Americana records of all time — MOJO
In the Air (2000) —One of the most important records of the 21st century — UNCUT
“Weightless Again”—100 best songs ever written about heartbreak— THE GUARDIAN
Southern gothic spin that’s as raw as the cloying dust from those forgotten roads – FOLK RADIO
Cult husband and wife duo The Handsome Family release ‘Back In my Day’, the second single from their forthcoming 10th studio album ‘Unseen’, released on 16 September on Loose.
‘Back In My Day’ is a tongue in cheek celebration of years past and sees the band harking back to a time where we could “drink from the river”, had “mile-high glaciers”, when “the birds were always watching” and “There were monsters in the sea”.
“Back in My Day” grew out of my frustration at the new street lights put up around our house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It no longer gets dark here. We get a half-twilight orange dusk for a few hours and then the sun comes up again. I miss the dark night. I miss the stars and the calm that comes from looking out into black space. In this darkness-deprived state I can’t be held responsible for whatever false memories pop into my head, but I truly do remember playing music on rings of ice. I remember trying to fold a map. I remember feeling the entire forest watching me as I wandered off into the pines. Brett says all the instruments used to record this song were actually made from ice. He still wears a wristwatch. It may not be removable. He has seen monsters in the sea.— Rennie Sparks, The Handsome Family
The forthcoming album, with its unique mix of country instrumentation and intriguing surrealist lyricism, explores the unseen stories, people and places of the American west, where The Handsome family live – in Albuquerque, New Mexico. ‘Unseen’ shines a light on the obscure and forgotten.
The album’s first single, ‘Gold’, recently released to rave reviews and support from streaming services such as Spotify (New Music Friday Playlist UK) is a modern classic murder ballad set against a backdrop of “wide empty streets, the air shaking with heat.” ‘Gold’ paints intense images of a protagonist, with snake tattoos, a ski mask, and gun shot wounds – all the result of feeling “hungry to do something mean”. The first track on the album – ‘Gold’ is the beginning of a journey taking the listener “past the last lights of town” – driving us into the unknown – a place familiar to The Handsome Family.
In 2015 Rennie and Brett Sparks saw their song ‘Far From Any Road’ about “fire ants on their drive way” picked by American actor Matthew McConaughey to be the theme tune to the HBO TV smash hit: “True Detective”.
Rennie Sparks describes an event that personified the band’s strange experience of being propelled into a surreal state of limbo by their post True Detective fame, when she miraculously disappeared in an airport. Rennie stated: “At the height of True Detective S1 excitement I disappeared one afternoon while waiting for a flight at O’Hare. A middle-aged businessman, McDonald’s bag in one hand, rolling-bag handle in the other — walked up to me and, without pause, turned and sat down on my lap. A second later his French fries and rolling bag were on the floor and he was sputtering apologies, insisting he’d seen an empty chair. This strange invisibility felt similar to the night Brett and I watched the series in our little house in Albuquerque, feeling oddly alone. I have learned to embrace my power to vanish. As a songwriter you have to be willing to disappear and let your songs outshine you in order to embrace points of view bigger than your own. It was great that a song written about ants in my driveway became a song about cops in Louisiana. That’s the best any songwriter can hope for. ”
And so Rennie happily remained invisible, even as the band became visible to millions, with Youtube counts for The Handsome Family’s ‘hit’ song climbing to twenty million and more. The song was in the top 10 in US and UK Spotify charts and spent months in the iTunes top 100 in countries as far-flung as Vietnam, South Africa, and the Ukraine.
‘Unseen’ continues The Handsome Family’s embrace of things beyond easy view: the slow dive of the sun, enormous bugs awakening in thorny yards, sirens and coyotes that cry out to the purple sky. ‘Unseen’, an epic western gothic masterpiece, draws from real life events. ‘Gold’ began when a bunch of twenty-dollar bills blew in Brett’s face in a parking-lot dust storm. ‘Gentlemen’, is a tribute to William Crookes who built the first vacuum tube in 1875, hoping to detect spirits from unseen dimensions. Many tracks fix around the idea that light that emanates from things we can’t see — behind “The Red Door,” in the empty hands of blackjack losers (“The Silver Light”), and amidst desert bones bleaching in the sun (“King of Dust”).
‘Unseen’ was recorded by Brett at his home studio at night – “with only hawk moths listening”. It features a rich tapestry of instrumentation, which conjures images of the magical landscape of the Sparks’ New Mexico surroundings. David Gutierrez plays mandolin on “Tiny Tina” and dobro on “The Silver Light.” Alex MacMahon: guitar on “The Silver Light,” baritone guitar and pedal steel on “Gold.” Jason Toth: drums throughout (except “Green Willow Valley”). Rennie wrote all the lyrics. She sang and played banjo and autoharp, but “didn’t bother to write down on which songs.”
The Sparks have released 10 albums since 1995’s Odessa. Their songs have been covered by countless Youtubers and well-known artists like Jeff Tweedy, Amanda Palmer, Cerys Matthews, Christy Moore and Andrew Bird (who released an entire record of HF covers). Guns ’N’ Roses used, “Far From Any Road” as stage entrance music for a South American tour, and both Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr are fans. Decades into their careers, after winning the TV theme tune jackpot — the Sparks still find their greatest reward in disappearing into new songs.
Unseen, the new album from The Handsome Family, will be released 16th September on Loose. Available on 180g pond green vinyl, CD and download.
2. The Silver Light
3. Back In My Day
4. Tiny Tina
5. Underneath The Falls
6. The Sea Rose
7. The Red Door
9. King Of Dust
10. Green Willow Valley