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The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Hall and Oates. These greats all have one thing in common: they’re duos. I’m starting to really see a pattern in this less-is-more approach when it comes to bands like Mr. Gnome. Vocalist/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer Sam Meister have created a world of weird, haunting, and mysterious projects, from music videos to comic books, that blur the lines between music and visual art. Mr. Gnome first caught my eye with the trailer for their latest graphic novel, “House of Circles”, a good vs evil epic that Nicole describes as “Dark Side of the Moon meets The Wizard of Oz.” In addition to their creative prowess, it doesn’t hurt that their music is a refreshing blend of pixie-like vocals coupled with thrashing guitars and drums, creating a whimsical sound you won’t soon forget. I would go so far as to consider their Madness in Miniature LP as one of the best albums I’ve heard in recent years.
I called Nicole while she was in Oregon walking into a Safeway grocery store to buy some of their specialized deli sandwiches. The duo had been on the road for a while touring, so a pit stop for sustenance was much needed. We chatted about everything from Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise (something she’s happy about since she wasn’t a fan of the prequels) to some of her favorite movies (Lion King was a top contender), before I asked her our standard set of random questions. Mr. Gnome is performing at LaGrange tomorrow night at 8 p.m. with The Baker Family.
FrontRow: What time do you usually go to sleep?
Nicole Barille: For the past week and a half, usually like four in the morning. So, this has been a super brutal week where we drive eight to 10 hours a day. Me and Sam, it’s just the two of us.
FR: If you could choose anyone to be leader of the free world, who would it be?
NB: Someone very peaceful. Maybe a woman, or Ghandi or something. Someone with a very peaceful mind.
FR: What do you make of the commercialization of youth culture?
NB: I think ever since we started in 2005, we’ve seen the entire music industry change. Everything changed, in general, with technology. When we travel we hear a lot of people that aren’t in their early twenties complaining about kids. When we grew up in the 90s, just not having the Internet and not having technology in your face, it was so different. I think there’s something to be said about surrounding yourself with nature. And we watch shows like American Idol and someone just literally gets on a stage and they’re out there. People think it’s easy to be an overnight success.
FR: If you could choose anyone in the world as your partner, who would it be and why?
NB: Me and Sam have been together for quite a long time so I think I’d have to choose him or he’d be mad at me. We do everything together. We create all the art, make music, travel the country. So it would have to be him.
FR: What instrument do you wish you played?
NB: I’d have to say the harp. I know that’s weird, but have you ever heard of Joanna Newsom? She plays the harp and sings. It’s the most insane thing. She has to have a certain lighting on stage to see the strings so when I see that, I’m like, man I wish I could do that.
FR: What do you hate most about performing?
NB: I guess just anxiety in general. Just that feeling, which I don’t have too often but when I do have it, it’s that overwhelming feeling and everything you know and everything you’re comfortable doing is out the window. It can hit you at the weirdest times, because you can play a string of shows and be fine. And then you feel a little funky.
FR: Who would you want to tour with most, who you’ve never toured with before?
NB: I think Radiohead would be number one. We’re huge fans of them. Their catalog is just absolutely phenomenal. There’s another band out of Australia called Tame Impala and they’re really bad ass. I don’t know if many people know them in the States but they’re blowing up right now on Sirius radio.
FR: If you weren’t playing music and had the talent and circumstances to do anything else, what would it be?
NB: I graduated with art education and I got to teach in the poorer areas of Cleveland and if we weren’t so busy doing this I would like a job where we could help people. In the back of my head when it’s all said and done, that’s what I really want to focus on. Help people that need it. That would be my hippie answer.
FR: How does the theory of evolution and natural selection make you feel?
NB: Right now, during the election and the way you see how mean people can be to each other – we’re at a different level of social evolution. We’re falling short of doing amazing things. I think people can be so much better than they are. People are still very primitive and focused on their own things.
FR: If global warming melted the ice caps covering 90 percent of the known world with water, what city would you hope was spared so you could live there?
NB: (Asks Sam, who’s sitting next to her) Sam says Cleveland. We grew up near The Great Lakes so if there’s ever any shortage of water, I think we’ll be okay. We’ll stay at home.
FR: What is the best thing (food/substance/drink/thing) you ever put in your body?
NB: As far as the alcohol route, tequila. We’ve also started making Kombucha, which is a really amazing drink. Maybe you can combine them.
FR: If immortality was achievable by downloading your consciousness into a database and spending eternity in a virtual reality, would you do it?
NB: Dude, this is insane because we always talk about this! We’re big sci-fi dorks. I definitely would not go that route. We always talk about that because phones are getting smaller and smaller and technology’s getting insane. There’s this theory out there that man and machine will compute together one day, by putting computer chips in people’s brains. Sam always says that would completely ruin art, because if we don’t feel any struggle then that means there’s no art. I don’t know if I would take that option.