Nicole Barille of Mr. Gnome
Porn, drugs, and married life on the road
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When Nicole Barille and Sam Meister got hitched in 2005, they honeymooned in an unusual fashion. Instead of sightseeing or relaxing on a beach, the couple cooked up Mr. Gnome’s debut EP, and the two have dedicated themselves to the foreboding post-punk act ever since. Empyreal guitar lines swing and gnash against looming drums, with Barille’s breathy voice alternating between croons and screams. Equal parts delicate and deranged, the Cleveland duo’s creature-populated stories have the creepy, fantastical aura of an early, lost Tim Burton flick. Having just recorded a third full-length, Mr. Gnome is hitting the road, stopping by the Hi-Dive on Tuesday. Before Mr. Gnome’s show with Il Cattivo and The Firebird 4000 Project, guitarist-vocalist Barille spoke to The A.V. Club about porn, drug metaphors, and kids’ shows gone wrong.
The A.V. Club: The band just finished a short film/music video for “Vampires” from 2009’s Heave Yer Skeleton, but you also have a new record coming out. Why devote that effort to what’s now an older song?
Nicole Barille: We thought up the idea about a year ago when we released the record. We wanted to do it last winter and didn’t find the time, so we got a nice little cast and crew together in August. It’s a big beast of a project. The premise is [that] a children’s public access show goes terribly wrong because some part of the cast gets infected. [The clip is] going to clock in at 10 minutes. It’s pretty ridiculous. We’re going to release an edited version, too, that cuts straight to the song.
AVC: What inspired you to turn that track into an extended clip?
NB: It was one of the happier songs we have written, and we always joked how funny it would be if we were playing on a kids’ show because it’s super-happy and ends up as a huge bloody mess. We named the song “Vampires” because Vampire Weekend blew up at the time we wrote this poppy song. Right after that was the vampire explosion, where every TV show was [about] vampires. We were like, “Aw, shit!”
AVC: There's a definite divide between Mr. Gnome’s public persona versus the one on record. You and Sam are lighthearted in interviews, and your blog’s header image involves “a horseman shitting a rainbow,” but your work is grim and sober. Why does that dichotomy exist?
NB: We try to put ourselves out there with the blog, if people want to start reading on the more personal side of things. We’re just going to be who we are. We have senses of humor and definitely love comedy—I think you have to—but at the same time, the world’s pretty screwed up, and how we’re affected by that goes into a different art form. We express that through music.
AVC: It often happens that when Mr. Gnome is mentioned somewhere, porn is a subject that follows. Among other examples, you have a “Mr. Gnome Is Better Than Porn” shirt, and you’ve mentioned in an interview that you like porn. Any story behind that connection?
NB: [Laughs.] We’re both guys at heart. We’re just perverted, I guess. Everyone likes porn, and if they say no, they’re lying. A lot of people come up to us and say they have sex to our music, so maybe there’s some correlation. They’ve been planning to say that, and you never really know what response they want to hear. It’s like, “All right!”
AVC: What attracts you to the quiet/loud/quiet dynamic Mr. Gnome frequently uses?
NB: We started doing that formula just to separate parts. Now, with a couple more pedals, it’s all [about] building climaxes within songs. Our new record has that soft/loud thing going on every once in a while.
AVC: What separates the new album from past work?
NB: We made a joke that if Heave Yer Skeleton was heroin, this album is cocaine because it’s a lot more upbeat. Heave was more serious [because] stuff like close family deaths was going on in our lives. The new record has a lighter, happier edge. There are definitely some dark moments sprinkled throughout.
AVC: How has your relationship with Sam been affected by Mr. Gnome’s vigorous touring, versus you being a normal couple that maintains day jobs in one place?
NB: I don’t think we’ve ever been too normal. We’ve always been crazy people. [Laughs.] Learning how to be on the road with one person all the time, and drive 10 hours together every day, definitely changes things a bit. We’re barely home. You don’t have too normal of a lifestyle, but we like it that way.
AVC: Would you ever consider adding another player to Mr. Gnome?
NB: If the time was right and it complemented everything, we’d totally be open to it. We’ve just been so busy that we don’t think about it. If people want to jam with us, it’s one thing. But, to throw someone else in and take them on tour, we’d have to sit and think about it.
AVC: After being married to Sam for five years, how has your relationship developed, and how have any changes affected the music?
NB: We’ve just been growing up and doing our thing. Creating together and doing everything the way we do is really cool. It’s interesting to be able to have someone you can tell your true thoughts to of whether you like or don’t like something. We’re always straight up with each other. Because of that, the final product is always us in our most true form.