A Life Lived in Bars: Wandering the Darkened Backroads with mr. Gnome

Nicole Barrile & Sam Meister.
The Cleveland-dwelling duo of Nicole Barrile and Sam Meister, better known as mr. Gnome, are honestly one of those bands that have to be witnessed live and in-person to truly be believed. Without seeing the pair onstage, both band members pounding away on their respective instruments (guitar and drums) and vocalist Barrile alternately quietly crooning and howling, you’d almost be forgiven for assuming the crushing, ever-shifting stewpot of a sound the band’s crafted must come out of a small orchestra of people. But nope — the thunderstorm of murky, swirling, genre-slipped rock emanates from nothing more than Barrile’s diminutive frame and Meister’s insanely-fast drumsticks. And it’s awe-inspiring to behold.

It helps, naturally, that the band sounds like nobody else out there, cobbling together an esthetic that throws in bits and pieces of Portishead, Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Totimoshi, Muse, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jucifer, and the A Frames but emerges as its own distinctive entity. And with new album Heave Yer Skeleton, the band throws in almost a bluegrass/country influence, despite their urban upbringing; there’s a weirdly backwoodsy tinge to some of the new stuff, although it still definitely sounds like the same band. The music’s haunting, dark, sneering, creepy, heavy as fuck, and yet still gorgeous and poignantly sweet a fair amount of the time, like a cracked-mirror version of Eisley. Oh, and it’s loud. I mean really, really fucking loud, the kind of loud that rattles your ribcage and makes you feel your heart flutter inside.

Through it all, Barrile’s voice soars and swoops like that of a siren luring you out to the rocks to die. She switches in a heartbeat from yelp/shriek mode to the sultriest, almost Sara MacLachlan-esque gentle voice you’ve ever heard, then switches right back as soon as that heavy-ass guitar kicks back in. mr. Gnome make music that could be the soundtrack for those unsettling dreams you get where you wake up feeling nervous and freaked-out but can’t quite pinpoint why or even what the dream was about; you just know that it was scary and unnerving, and that’s enough. All in all, they’re a ridiculously, totally unique band, one that makes my jaw drop every time I hear or see ’em.

With all that in mind, we here at SCR were able to chat a bit with Ms. Barrile about the band, touring, folk art, and centaurs; enjoy.

SCR: So, how the hell did the mr. Gnome sound come about? Was there any kind of vision you were both working toward, or was it accidental?
Nicole: Well, the mr. Gnome sound truthfully came from us having no idea what we were doing. I think if we knew what we were getting into by being a two-piece and how hard that actually is to pull off, we may have been a little more hesitant. But we were young and stupid and had a nice false confidence that gave us the courage to struggle through that first year of sucking. I’m not sure we really had a vision…it was more like we were into so many different styles of music — at that time we were just getting into bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, but also loved bands like Tool, Pink Floyd, and Otis Redding — and that inspiration always drove us to go with whatever direction each song would take us. So I would say it was all pretty accidental…

Speaking of that, can you go through the history of the band a little? Where’d the name, lower-case “m” and all, come from?
Drugs can make you name things without thinking. They seem really clever at the time, but then you create a Website and pay for the domain name and say, “What the hell did we just name our band?” When we first stared we were just called Gnome…and then found out there was one other band that already had that name, so we slapped a tiny “mr.” on the front of it — hence the lowercase.

We started the band in 2005 — released our first EP that year, our next EP the following year, and that’s when we began touring nationally, as well.

Sam Meister. Photo by J. Hart.
What are things like in Cleveland, music-wise? Is there much of a scene there these days?
There’s a lot of great music in Cleveland. The scene is a little divided…indie kids stay with the indie kids, metal kids stay within themselves, and so on. I’m not sure where we fit into any of that. We always just enjoyed playing with nice people whose music we respected — never really cared what genre that fell into. If These Trees Could Talk are one of our oldest “band friends” in the area…they play some amazing instrumental post-rock and are our good friends, as well. Wonderful people.

You’ve got a brand-new 7″ out now, right? Is that totally new stuff?
Yes, it’s titled Tastes Like Magic, and it’s just two B-sides from our latest album, Heave Yer Skeleton. They just didn’t seem to fit the record when we were makin the final call. One song is super heavy — one of the heaviest songs we’ve ever written — and the other is extremely poppy. The light and the dark side.

It may be my imagination, but Heave Yer Skeleton sounds a bit more countryish than the songs on Deliver This Creature.
Yeah, I don’t know how that crept into the writing this time around. We don’t really listen to too much country…this rockabilly/twang style just seemed to make its way into some of the tracks. Watch out, Kenny Chesney! We’re comin for ya…

I know it’s early yet, but any plans for a subsequent release?
Yes, this winter we hibernated in our home a little outside of Cleveland and began writing and experimenting with a whole bunch of new songs and sounds. We just got some new toys, as well, that we plan to use on the next record. As long as we get enough songs finished that we feel happy with over the summer, we plan to record in late summer/early fall and then hit the road behind Heave Yer Skeleton for one more tour…and then release the new one early next year.

Nicole Barrile. Photo by J. Hart.
Who does all the artwork? It’s very distinctive stuff; the cover of the new 7″, frankly, is creepy as hell.
We actually do all of the artwork. We’re both pretty big art dorks and are always geeking on new artists that we discover. A lot of our stuff is inspired by an artist named Henry Darger…and various other folk artists. I love that primitive style in folk art. There’s something very pure about art that is created without any schooling behind it…it just seems so real. I’m sorry we creeped you out with our new 7″ cover.

Well, I was creeped out mostly in a good way, don’t worry… I really like the promo photo where you’re both wearing facepaint — is that a Dia de los Muertos sort of thing, there?
Thanks so much! Yeah, our booker lives in Tucson, and him and his wife introduced us to the world of Mexican folk art. Tucson is only 30 minutes from Mexico, so that city is just drenched in gorgeous Southwest art…vibrant colors, a lot of Day of the Dead artwork… They also do this huge parade there where people dress up in Day of the Dead costumes and just go all out. That culture is extremely interesting, and the way that they view death and the afterlife. We got the idea for the photo shoot through all of that inspiration and a particular portrait of Frida Kahlo.

How’s the tour been going so far? Any sordid tour stories to share?
Oh, man…there’s always so many stories to be told! Living in bars never gets boring or uneventful. The tour has been pretty awesome so far; so many great people along the way. We got to open for a couple of great bands already — A Place to Bury Strangers, Sleepy Sun, and last night we opened for Red Sparowes. Pensacola was a very flattering night…people made us food, cake, I signed a boob, got offered drugs… Extremely hospitable people in that town.

Did you really hang out with Lil’ Wayne the last time out? And I have to say, I was very happy to see Houston’s own RenFest centaur on the blog…
Hang out with Lil’ Wayne? We only wish; however, we did see him standing on the streets of downtown Orlando. Although tempted to stop and compare grills, we just slammed on our brakes and said, “Holy shit, that’s Lil’ Wayne!”, and then slowly drove away. He’s pretty easy to recognize…is he going to prison soon? Poor dude.

Ah, yes! That guy in the centaur outfit! I didn’t realize that picture was from Houston. I believe we named him Barney in our blog. I’d really love to party with that guy… END

[mr. Gnome play Thursday, April 8th, at Rudyard's.]
SOUNDS:

Interview by . Interview posted Thursday, April 8th, 2010. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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One Response to “A Life Lived in Bars: Wandering the Darkened Backroads with mr. Gnome”

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: the last place you look + mr. Gnome + Scratch Acid + A Sundae Drive + More on October 18th, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    […] mr. Gnome/The Baker Family/Osirus @ Rudyard’s And here’s Fallback #1: I’ve seen mr. Gnome twice now and been blown away both times; those Clevelanders are some strange, dark, murky, alluring people, and they’re so fucking loud they make it feel like your heart’s going to vibrate out of your chest. (In a good way, mind you.) And hey, if you feel like reading it, I was able to interview Nicole Barrile & Sam Meister before one of their shows here last year — check it out. […]

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