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Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family chats about music, their career and more ahead of Norwich show

PUBLISHED: 10:45 16 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:05 16 March 2018

The Handsome Family. Photo: Jesse Littlebird

The Handsome Family. Photo: Jesse Littlebird

Jesse Littlebird

We had a chat with Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family ahead of their show at The Waterfront in Norwich on March 20.

The Handsome Family. Photo: Jesse LittlebirdThe Handsome Family. Photo: Jesse Littlebird

Husband and wife songwriting duo Brett and Rennie Sparks are better known as the musical brains behind Americana outfit the Handsome Family.

Hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the band return to Norwich for a show at The Waterfront following a sellout appearance at The Arts Centre last year.

“We’ve had some really special shows in Norwich.” Rennie recalls. “It always feels like a strange faraway island barely connected to the UK.”

The tour marks the 20th anniversary of the group’s breakthrough album Through the Trees. The record was a DIY effort recorded in an abandoned warehouse in Chicago.

“It was a very important time in our lives,” Rennie says, “The time when we began to tour so much that we lost our jobs. Also a time we were both dealing with a lot of mental illness.”

Performing the songs again after two decades is proving a cathartic experience. “For many years it was too painful to play some of them so it feels healing to sing them now,” Rennie says.

The Handsome Family. Photo: Jesse LittlebirdThe Handsome Family. Photo: Jesse Littlebird

Rennie is the main lyricist of the group with Brett composing the music. She doesn’t know the secret to the success of their partnership but says: “We swear to be honest with each other even when it is hurtful. It’s not easy and it often fails.”

She says they often disagree but she always knows when a song is ready: “I get rush of emotion when hearing it sung. If no emotion rushes, then I think it’s not done,” she explains.

The band’s last album Unseen, released in 2016, explores the unseen stories, people, and places of the American West.

Rennie cites recent influences as the non-human world and “chaos magicians” inspired by English occultist Aleister Crowley. “It’s reality manipulation,” she says, “I’m trying to learn.”

Asked about new material she will only say: “Something made through a vision given by reality manipulation, and there will be animals.” But fans can be sure of a rich selection of Handsome Family favourites at the Waterfront.

Tickets are still available for their show next week from the UEA Box Office website for £19.25 advance.

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