Inspired by a taste for the surreal, Cleveland’s Mr. Gnome has been creating a singular amalgam of gritty, space-psychedelia since 2005, gaining them an ever-growing cult following across North America and Europe, as well as praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, Paste, Spin, Bust and more. Singer/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer/pianist Sam Meister bring an unfiltered approach to their craft, allowing for emotional and sonic variance. With a nod to the off-kiltered, the constantly touring duo are supporting their third full-length album, Madness In Miniature, which was recorded at Josh Homme’s (Queens of the Stone Age/Them Crooked Vultures) Pink Duck Studios in Los Angeles. While the previous two albums offered mere glimpses, the new album is an all-encompassing gaze into two delicate yet roaring, hypnotic and beautifully disconcerting minds that come together to make sense as one. Here, the Rock Hall catches up with Barille and Meister, in advance of their live free concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 1, 2012, as part of the Summer in the City concert series.
Rock Hall: What was the first record/CD you ever bought and do you still listen to it?
Nicole Barille: I'm pretty sure the very first piece of music I actually bought was a DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince cassette tape because I loved the song "Summertime." Pretty classy. No, I don't still listen to it, but I probably should break it back out for the summer.
Sam Meister: Ween and Faith No More.
RH: What artists did you listen to when you were growing up and what about them appealed to you? Any Hall of Fame inductees?
NB: I was just getting into music when the grunge scene was still exploding. I listened to a lot of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Radiohead (The Bends was one of my favorites). When I met Sam in high school, he turned me on to a lot of classic rock and soul that I hadn't gotten into yet - the psychedelic side of Pink Floyd, Iggy and the Stooges, David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Lou Reed, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke. And together we discovered more of the trip-hop scene – Portishead, Massive Attack, Bjork, Tricky...
RH: What do you remember about playing your first gig – how old were you, where was it, when was it, how’d it go, the crowd?
NB: The very first gig that I played was in middle school. My cousin Greg and I played a bunch of Nirvana and Green Day covers for a party in someone's basement. A bunch of sweaty 12 and 13 year olds jumped up and down around us screaming. We played out of these tiny little Crate amps and sang without mics. It was hilarious and a lot of fun.
SM: It took me a long time to get up on stage for an official first show. Nicole went behind my back and booked our first show as "Gnome" in Kent, Ohio, at the Outpost – a converted strip club turned music venue. We had just finished up college at Kent State and our buddy was doing the booking at the club. We were pretty green and terrified to be up there – I think we played our 25 minute set in 15 minutes, maybe less – and all 10 people there were drunk enough to think it was just okay. So we kept going, and here we are today.Thank God for alcohol.
RH: What current bands/artists do you admire and/or are listening to these days? What about those particular artists has captured your interest?
NB: I love music that evokes emotion, transports the listener, has some grit to it occasionally. Vocally, Otis Redding will always be one of my favorites. Others that continue to inspire me: Tame Impala, Built to Spill, Portishead, Crystal Antlers, the Flaming Lips, Beach House, The Good, The Bad and the Queen, Bibio, Billie Holiday, Radiohead and on and on and on… (pictured: Mr. Gnome's 2011 album Madness in Miniature)
RH: How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard it before?
SM: Soft, loud, psychedelic, dreamy, weird, stormy, crunchy, aggressive, ghostly, sweet, dark, bright, spastic, schizophrenic – pretty much, we're all over the place!
RH: What’s it like being on the road?
NB: The road is an adventurous wild ride of madness. Every day is different, every day is extremely interesting and we get to play music as our job – there's not much more you can ask for! It's really an amazing experience despite the long hours, lack of sleep and the fact that we live in bars. This country is insanely beautiful, and we've met so many wonderful people and musicians along the way, been exposed to new ideas, instruments, pedals, sounds… I don't think we would've grown in the way we have without living on the road as much as we do.
RH: Do you have a favorite city where you like to perform? If so, why?
NB: Cleveland of course! We love our hometown so very much. The energy at our Cleveland shows is very unique. Other favorite cities include Chicago, Portland and Seattle. Chicago is just a fun lovin' party city, and the Pacific Northwest is probably our favorite area of the country – love all the greenery, the cities are just amazing and the music scenes are extremely supportive.
RH: Do you have a favorite concert? One by someone else? And one by you?
NB: I saw Radiohead in 2001 – incredible set list and they just blew my mind. As far as our own shows, our last tour was my favorite by far. Luckily, every tour we do generates more buzz and more bodies in the clubs, so the shows on the last tour were a blast. But like I said before, there's no place like home and our homecoming shows are always a bit surreal. We're always overwhelmed by all of the support Cleveland continually gives us.
RH: What can your fans expect when they come to your show?
NB and SM: Magic, unicorns, wizards, intoxication, loud guitars, crashing drums, sex and sweat.
WATCH: Mr. Gnome "Night of the Crickets" (from Deliver This Creature)