Although male/female duos of the indie rock persuasion have become a delightful cliché of recent years — and one that I’m highly guilty of indulging in – mr. Gnome are quite a bit more complex and satisfying than the average boy and girl who boast quirkily sing-along-able tunes based on an admittedly well-listened catalogue of pop music history’s most significant sounds. The Cleveland-based outfit, comprised of singer/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer/pianist Sam Meister have spent nearly a decade kicking out jams that reflect the beauty of psych rock, the heyday of college radio, and those sadly and romantically downtrodden individuals who have produced the most profound music that America can call its own. In addition, they have continually both costumed and cinematically recorded themselves in a carefully cultivated manner that would make them more than a band, but a 3-dimensional performance art project… which still really rocks in the traditional sense. Last month mr. Gnome released their fourth album, The Heart of a Dark Star, their most accomplished effort yet. The album’s title was inspired by a phrase Barille read in Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and the narrative of the album itself would seem to shine a knowledgeable light on the existential perils of our world… but while offering a both educated and sugar-coated solution to those willing to transgress those ever so pesky “norms” we ever so casually allow to shackle us. The band are about to wrap 2014 up with some local shows on Decmber 19th at The Basement in Columbus, OH and December 20th at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland. The duo were recently kind enough to take some time to talk to me about their latest output.
Izzy Cihak: You recently spent some time on the road. Have there been any particular highlights, whether especially great audiences or even exceptionally great off-stage experiences?
mr. Gnome: It’s been a pretty amazing month of touring. We brought our good friends, Young Tongue, on the road with us for the past three weeks – they’re a wonderful band from Austin, Texas. Really was so refreshing to have such good friends on the road with us this time around. The audiences across the country were so great to us. We feel extremely lucky to have the support that we do in so many cities.
Izzy: And how would you characterize your approach to live performances? What does it draw inspiration from?
mr. Gnome: It’s taken years to really tweak and hammer out our live show. It was really a challenge in the beginning – being a two-piece – but wanting to have the live show be so much more than just a stripped down version of what we were able to do in the studio. So it’s taken quite some time to find the right assortment of equipment to pull this all off. I think, if anything, we draw inspiration from other bands we’ve seen perform and the way they make us feel as audience members. There’s definitely a distribution of energy that happens at a live show and we want to make sure we’re always doing our part of giving as much as possible from the minute we start. Radiohead back in 2001 was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. I also saw Queens of the Stone Age back in 1999 in a club that held about 200 people… maybe less. The heaviness of that show, mixed with those sweet, sweet vocals…and in such an intimate setting…definitely made me view live shows in a different way.
Izzy: You recently release The Heart of a Dark Star. How do you feel that the album compares to previous releases? I understand it’s the first thing you recorded entirely by yourselves.
mr. Gnome: Making The Heart of a Dark Star was quite an adventure. We decided to tackle self-recording after already recording a bunch of songs out in L.A. We were writing a ton of material after that initial recording session and felt like we had a lot more to say before we called it a wrap. So we decided to give it a shot and record all of this newer material ourselves. It was honestly the most fun we’ve ever had recording and also the scariest experience as well. We finally had the freedom and time to really orchestrate these songs in a way we weren’t able to in a studio setting. There’s nothing like waking up, grabbing a cup of coffee, and heading downstairs to record until the sun goes down! I think this album ended up being a little more upbeat because of the way that we made it. It had a different energy behind it than our past albums.
Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the album?
mr. Gnome: Everyone’s been really positive towards this record which has been extremely flattering… especially after we recorded it ourselves. You tend to lose perspective when you spend a lot of time working on something. We knew it was a bit different than our other stuff, but people seem to “get it,” which is always a good thing.
Izzy: Do you currently have a particular favorite album track? I completely fucking love “Star Stealers,” which sounds like twee psych rock both sonically and in lyrical sentiment, although I also love “Odyssey,” for sounding like the perfect alt rock interpretation of Americana.
mr. Gnome: Thank you for the compliments! One of our favorites on the record is the song, “Light.” That one was pretty different than anything we had ever made in the past and we felt like it came together nicely.
Izzy: Your music videos, artwork, and even personal fashion sense are all quite striking and cool. What is it that inspires the visual elements of mr. Gnome?
mr. Gnome: We’re definitely inspired by artists like Frida Kahlo, Henry Darger, Alphonse Mucha… so many more. We love surrealism and have always been attracted to art that can open up your mind and soul.
Izzy: And since 2014 is coming to a close, I’ve been asking artists if they’ve had any especially exciting moments with new music this year. Have there been any albums to drop that you are especially fond of? Have you seen any live performances that you found to be especially inspiring?
mr. Gnome: Love Ty Segall. He’s a really fun, exciting artist making albums right now. Our friends that were on tour with us, Young Tongue, have a wonderful album out right now called Death Rattle. Their live show is really amazing… had so much fun watching them night after night. We had the insane pleasure of opening for Built to Spill at Boise’s Treefort Music Fest back in March. Definitely a career highlight of ours.
Izzy: Finally, how is it that you hope and plan to spend 2015? Anything especially big in the works yet?
mr. Gnome: We plan on writing Album #5 as soon as this tour ends. We already have a ton of songs that we wrote right before this tour started, so excited to get back to the writing process. Definitely plan on hitting the road again in the springtime!