Interview with mr. Gnome

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Delusions of Adequacy:  Hi Nicole and Sam!  You’re currently on tour in the U.S. through December 18th in support of your sophomore album, Heave Yer Skeleton, which was just released on November 10th.  What’s this tour been like for you so far?  Are you mixing up the setlist with older material and cuts off the new album?

Nicole:  The tour’s been great so far. Yeah, we’re playing about half of Deliver This Creature and about half of Heave Yer Skeleton on this tour.

DOA:  I am so taken by your sound that has been described by various reviewers as “intense”, “expansive”, “heavy”, “melodic”, and “atmospheric”.  I’d like to add that you transport the listener into a surreal, powerful, and ethereal to eerie sonic space with a setup of mainly vocals, guitar, and drums.

You recorded, and later mixed and mastered, Heave Yer Skeleton at Josh Homme’s Pink Duck Studios in L.A. and from what I’ve read, you had a ‘grand buffet’ of instruments and other equipment to choose from.  Did you incorporate more diverse instrumentation or try out different recording processes on the new album?

Nicole:  Thanks so much for the compliments.  They are greatly appreciated.  Yeah, being at Pink Duck was definitely a bit of a surreal experience.  That place has a wide array of instruments to drool over.  It definitely motivated me to really think more about my guitar sounds…

DOA:  Going along with the previous question, did you deliberately try to change, or maybe expand upon, the sound from your debut album, Deliver This Creature in 2008, and your two previous EPs (s/t and Echoes On the Ground)?

Nicole:  No, we definitely didn’t set out to write an album that deviated from what we had done before.  We never set out to sound a certain way and that’s probably why our music tends to be so schizophrenic!  I think it’s only natural that your style is going to change a bit as time goes by or (hopefully) evolve.

DOA:  What was it like to get an invite from Josh Homme to record at Pink Duck Studios?  How did he invite you?  Was it by phone or email or, goodness, in this day ‘n’ age, I guess a message via MySpace or Facebook, or wait, maybe an old-fashioned letter in the mail?

Nicole:  We got invited to Pink Duck by Josh’s studio manager, Justin Smith.  Just a regular ol’ phone call.  Nothing too crazy!  Once we met Justin, we realized that we all had a lot in common: A love for Battlestar Galactica, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Techno Viking and John Titor.

DOA:  You spent seven days holed up with Pink Duck studio manager Justin Smith earlier this year.  When you went in did you already have song compositions and lyrics already on paper (well, on computer)?  What guidance did Justin give you or did he let you run wild in the studio?

Nicole:  We wrote all the songs back in Cleveland and sent the demos over to Justin just so he could have a good idea of what this beast would sound like and maybe recording techniques he might want to try with us.  So yeah, everything was pretty much written when we went out there.

DOA:  You also did some studio work at Ante Up Audio in Cleveland, Ohio, where you’re both from.  What procedures did you need to do at that studio?

Nicole:  We just needed to tie up a whole lotta loose ends.  Finish up a bunch of things that hadn’t been done at Pink Duck…mostly vocals and some guitars.

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DOA:  I’m curious about your (g)nomenclature – why is the “m” in “mr.” not capitalized and is mr. Gnome a reference to the ubiquitous ceramic garden gnome, or does it have any relation to certain fairy tales, or do you really just love someone, or something, named mr. Gnome?

Nicole:  mr. Gnome is a reference to a recurring character from an acid trip…but don’t tell our moms that.

DOA:  Nicole, your vocals call to mind (at least in my mind) a blend of the fierce wails of early and “Fire On Babylon”-era Sinead O’Connor, Chan Marshall and Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes on the quieter segments and the wounded cries like in your song “Pirates”, and even the sharpness of Ann Wilson of Heart, especially on the first verse of your song “Slow Slide”.  You press your voice so much in your songs and I read that you lost your voice at a San Francisco gig earlier this year.  What was that experience like and have you changed the way you take care of or warm up your voice?

Nicole:  Fortunately, me blowing out my voice didn’t have anything to do with how I sing.  At the time, I had a viral throat infection which I had picked up somewhere around Boise and it was in full effect by the time we got to San Francisco.  Definitely a bummer!  I went to an ear, nose and throat doctor 2 weeks ago to make sure I hadn’t done any damage on my vocal chords and they stuck a camera in through my nostril and down my throat.  This is something I don’t recommend.

My usual vocal warm-up is chugging a beer or taking a shot of whiskey.

DOA:  Sam, you are so swiftly kinetic on the drum kit, where you create intricate, time-sensitive combinations that sometimes resemble the bash of choppy ocean swells like on your song “Pirates” and at other times skitter trippingly along like on “Night of the Crickets” or strut and stop on a dime like on “Vampires”.  It’s one thing to record in the studio, but what it is like playing the drums live?  Are you exhausted or euphoric by the end of the night after a gig?

Sam:  I just try to hit everything as hard as I can.  Sometimes I get a little tired but that’s what drugs are for.

DOA:  You are known for your touring skillz and spend a good chunk of time roaming far ‘n’ wide over the U.S. playing gigs.  What is the traveling lifestyle like, how do you get from show to show, and how to you stay sane on the road?  Have you toured in other countries yet or is this on your future itinerary?

Nicole:  We travel in a sweet mode of transportation known as “The Silver Bullet,” aka a sweet ass van.  Our sanity is definitely questionable…I think you kind of have to be insane to live this way!  We listen to a lot of music on the road, read books, work on art…For us, it’s still a constantly inspiring process to tour so I think that’s a good thing.  We’ve played in Vancouver and Toronto but that’s about it for other countries.  We definitely plan on makin’ it over to Europe some day soon.

DOA:  You’ve remained faithful to the Ohio-based record label El Marko Records which is releasing Heave Yer Skeleton, I’m assuming in the “hard copy” CD format.  What’s your take on the whole issue of selling/buying physical CDs versus computer downloads?  Is it still profitable to sell CDs?  I hope so!

Nicole:  People definitely still buy CDs…probably not as much as they used to.  Surprisingly, vinyls have made an incredible comeback.  We just recently re-released Deliver This Creature on vinyl and released Heave Yer Skeleton on vinyl as well.

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DOA:  Who did the artwork for your two albums?  I love the fanciful images that suggest childhood dreams gone awry, or at least a warped take on the “sunshine ‘n’ lollipops” mentality.  Is there a hidden significance to the rabbit imagery, maybe representing lost innocence or lost time or a skewed view of Alice In Wonderland themes or, hey, Donnie Darko time/mind/meds/space travel?

Nicole:  We do all of the artwork for our albums, websites, etc.  As far as the album art goes, Sam and I brainstorm on a concept that would work with the mood of the album and then we pretty much just go from there.  The rabbit figure kind of emerged when I wrote the lyrics to our song, “Rabbit.”  More than anything, it’s a representation of the subconscious.  We’re really inspired by surreal art, folk art, and even the whole Art Nouveau period, so some of those elements tend to sneak into our covers.

DOA:  Your two EPs are out of print right now.  Will you re-release them at some point?  Are the EPs similar in sound to your first album?

Nicole:  The two EPs are out of print individually but they were re-released last year as one CD (mr. Gnome/Echoes on the Ground Double EP).  The EPs are an extremely raw version of mr. Gnome…a less refined version of us…very raw…from the writing to the recording.

Live - 6/27/09 - Photo Credit: Jonah Meister

Live - 6/27/09 - Photo Credit: Jonah Meister

DOA:  Sam, you do some piano/keyboard work on the song “Spain” off the new album and Nicole, you play the guitar.  What other instruments do you play?  Nicole, what is it like to sing and play guitar?  Would you rather just sing?  Sam, when you play “Spain” live, do you switch between the keyboards and drums?

Nicole:  Yes, Sam plays both drums and keys onstage…he’s a maniac and needs to constantly re-focus his attention.  I don’t really play any other instruments…I played the flute in 6th grade band…Does that count?

DOA:  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Cleveland.  Have either of you been there?  What musicians/bands/singers do you admire?

Nicole:  I was there on a field trip in high school and I haven’t been back since.  Sam was there for an after-prom and puked in the corner of the Jimi Hendrix exhibit.  Well, that’s how he remembers it…

We’re inspired by so many artists and musicians…everything from Otis Redding to the Frogs to Micachu to The Stooges.

DOA:  You’re internet-savvy with a visually-appealing official website at http://www.mrgnome.com/ , a MySpace profile a http://www.myspace.com/mrgnome , and a blog at http://www.mr-gnome.blogspot.com/ .  Oh, and you’re even Twittering now!  How do you keep on top of it all and where can we purchase your work?

Nicole:  Well thanks very much!  It’s hard to keep on top of things but we do our best.  Damn internet!  Back in the day all a band had to do was jump in a van and drive from town to town.

You can purchase CDs, vinyls, download cards and t-shirts at our store: http://mrgnome.bigcartel.com/ .