Artist: Norma Tanega Track: You’re Dead Album: Walking My Cat Named Dog Label: New Voice Records Year: 1966
I first heard this song as the theme to the hilarious New Zealand Vampire Comedy Mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, and I was floored. Of course I thought it was probably the work of some modern, indie singer-songwriter lady, but it turned out to be by former camp counsellor and erstwhile lover of Dusty Springfield, Norma Tanega.
Honestly, I had heard very little 60′s Folk music that had such beautiful darkness to it… the song just seemed to be thematically post 80′s. You would have thought that Norma Tanega would have been more likely to have been the girlfriend of Rennie Sparks rather than Dusty Springfield… but you, like I, would have been wrong.
Married couple Rennie and Brett Sparks have been making songs together as The Handsome Family for 21 years. In 2014 they gained much wider fame when their haunting song, “Far From Any Road”, became the theme for the first season of HBO’s True Detective. The duo’s dark, surreal lyrics come from Rennie, and the music, which draws from country music and church hymns, is written by Brett. Their latest album, Unseen, is based on their experiences living in desert southwest.
Rennie tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that she often has a different notion from her husband of what the music will sound like.
“He’ll come back singing these words in a very different way, and bringing a whole different mood to them,” Rennie says. “That’s part of the excitement of working with him.” For Brett, this musical mind-meld is “almost like a third person is writing the song.”
Rennie makes no apologies for the often macabre nature of her lyrics, “You know, it’s catharsis; it’s a safe place to experience really terrifying things. And that’s what art is for.”
An Interview with Andrew Bird by Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family
In the song “Eyeoneye” you sing, “No one can break your heart so you break it yourself.” Do we need our hearts broken?
Well, I think it might be impossible to break one’s own heart but I thought it was worth bringing up as a possibility. We all know that massaging your own shoulders or cutting your own hair doesn’t feel the same as when someone else does it. The idea that one’s heart has to be broken so that one can know love and therefore have lived, that’s sort of a backward way of going at life.