Meet the Minds Behind the 'True Detective' Theme: The Handsome Family
  • THURSDAY, MARCH 13, 2014

  • Posted by: Matt Howard

Think back on the eight-episode saga of True Detective and plenty of key character names will infest your recent memory — Rust Cohle, Marty Hart, Maggie Hart, Reggie Ledoux, Billy Lee Tuttle, and more — but there was an additional character who played an integral role in the process of ensnaring our attention on the Bayou murder mystery. They're called The Handsome Family, and their song "Far From Any Road" introduced us to every mind-bending episode in the series' stunning opening credits sequence.

This husband-and-wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks has steadily written and released these mesmerizingly desolate, pastoral ballads for 20 years now, and they have a catalog of 10 albums to show for it. "Far From Any Road", a song off their 2003 release Singing Bones was hand selected by the show's iconic music supervisor T Bone Burnett, who's idolized in the film world for being the Coen Brothers' right-hand musical man.

We recently spoke with Rennie Sparks about having "Far From Any Road" chosen as the True Detective theme and the unexpected, true meaning behind the song's cryptic lyrics.



So it's actually over. How did you feel about the epic conclusion of True Detective?

Loved it. It was all very surprising. Not the horrified insanity I thought we were building to. More feel-good than Lovecraft. It did feel epic though. A lot happened in eight episodes.

Can you tell me about how your song "Far From Any Road" came to be the theme of the show?

No. We actually have no idea! Just got an email one day out of the blue that said HBO was considering it. Then another one later said they'd like to offer us a contract.

How did it feel to receive that sort of recognition from an icon like T Bone Burnett?

Wonderful! Feeling very fortunate to be found. We have lived a long time well under the radar. Amazing to be seen and understood and placed in such a great and surprising way.

Lyrically, the song's story has been speculated by many (I've read it's about a cactus or a woman?), and its tone tells its own haunting story. Can you explain what the song was born?

It was inspired by getting bit by fire ants in my Albuquerque driveway. It hurt, but I felt like it was a secret message from the queen of the ants.

You have a lengthy history, and an enormous catalog. Can you tell me a little bit about your history as a duo?

We've been married 26 years; been writing songs together for 20 years; still haven't killed each other and still take joy in working together...pretty amazing.

What are some of your influences?

Old anonymous ballads from the British Isles. All great songwriting, especially tin pan alley. Also the melodrama and romance of opera.

What goes into writing the perfect murder ballad?

A thousand years.

For a new listener, which of your own murder ballads would you suggest as a beginner's guide to the genre?

I don't think we've written too many murder ballads. Definitely not the genre we'd consider ourselves in. I think we're Americana in that our songs are always about what it feels like to live in America here and now. Much inspiration was found for us in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. The purpose of murder ballads, I do know, though. They are catharsis and they are safe way to experience things we all know and fear namely that all beauty must die.

Would the narrative of True Detective warrant its own ballad?

Sure. The ballad of the spiraling M-Brane. It writes itself.

Were there any scene/song combos that stood out to you throughout the series?

I have to say I'm partial to the opening sequence with our song. It's one of the most striking pieces of video I've ever seen. I love that they even snuck some jellyfish in there which I feel like they did just for me. I love 'em.

What's up next for The Handsome Family?

Dreaming about jellyfish. Maybe writing a few new songs too.


The Handsome Family will be embarking on a European tour next month (DATES). To explore more of the duo's ballads, check out their discography.



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