Mr. Gnome’s third single release, “Golden Daze,” embodies the space-psychedelic rock that can only be emerged from a gritty, Midwestern upbringing. The wedded Cleveland rocker couple of Nicole Barille and Sam Meister have been diligently working on their upcoming double album, The Day You Flew Away — of which, “Golden Daze” is set to be featured — for the past couple of years. While their latest track hints that the album will be an upbeat musical trip, the project also contains a darker side, one that deals with trauma and loss.
The whopping 26-song collection set to make up The Day You Flew Away strikes a precise balance. The first half of the album revolves around grief, and the latter half seems to bring a sort of joy and light that pulls listeners out of the hole and into hope.
The harmonious composure of the album is, in part, based in the realities of the duo as they created the project. Back in 2017, just as the two began working on the album, singer and guitarist Barille experienced the major loss of her father. With that looming darkness came light as well. Two weeks after losing her father, Barille became pregnant.
“It was a really confusing, crazy, just devastating but beautiful moment,” Barille told journalists. “It was really hard to find our way out of the darkness through all of that. All of the sudden, understanding we’d have this new addition to our family gave us a new light in every aspect of life, and especially through creating.”
The Day You Flew Away expresses that perfect, natural balance of life and death, light and darkness. Listening through the project feels like hovering above the earth just to get a greater understanding of what is going on below.
Here at Music Mecca, we got the chance to check in with Barille about the duo’s songwriting process, the Cleveland rock scene, advice for young musicians, and much more.
So I was hoping you could talk about how the two of you met, and the genesis of Mr. Gnome?
Sam and I met in high school and bonded quickly over our love for art and music. We jammed here and there in the beginning, but didn’t really start writing songs until after college. I had a bunch of song ideas that I could never finish, but once we started jamming as a two piece, we just kept writing and writing and never stopped. We loved the freedom of being a two piece, just being able to go anywhere, and we were both inspired by so many different styles of music. We always allowed the music to go anywhere and never put too many limitations on it.
What messages or feelings do you try to convey in your music?
I’m not sure we’ve ever been the type of musicians that have set out to sound like something in particular or write about anything in particular. I’ve always written music (since I was in my early teens) to deal with life and work through emotions. It’s always been extremely therapeutic to me. I think life just naturally slips into the songs that we make, emotions, the highs and lows, the light and the dark. I tend to write about the darkness just to work through it, but I don’t really write lyrics before the song. I try to find the message in a more autonomous process, more than ever these days, because I like the feelings to guide the words and melodies versus overthinking what the song’s gonna be about.
What does the songwriting process look like between the two of you?
Every song is a bit different. In the beginning, I would either write the main riff and melody by myself and then bring it to Sam and then we would see where it could go. Then as we kept growing as a band, we started experimenting a lot more, just jamming for hours and seeing what we could come up with without really thinking, just feeling the music and gravitating towards whatever was exciting us the most. For a few songs on this latest record, Sam brought some music to me and I took my time writing the melodies and the structure of the song through the verses, bridges and choruses. It was so fun and freeing to just focus on the vocals and really tap into whatever was hiding in my head.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of songwriting? The most rewarding?
The most challenging part can be keeping things fresh when you’ve been writing for so long. We never want to repeat ourselves and just make the same record over and over and we always want to be excited and inspired by what we’re doing. Songwriting is so rewarding in itself. It’s extremely addicting, searching for that sound, that melody, that structure that you’ve never touched on before or just something that excites you that didn’t exist an hour before. Creating something out of nothing, it really is the best.
What’s one or two favorite moments from your time performing or touring?
There’s something about performing that is so magical, the energy of it all, the nerves, the adrenaline, the connection to the audience. There’s nothing like it and we really do miss it so much. Before 2017, we had been touring for over a decade, pretty much nonstop. The best moment on every tour was when we would end each run playing in our hometown of Cleveland, performing for our oldest and most dedicated fan base. It always ended the tour with a sense of appreciation for everything we’ve been able to do and a sense of accomplishment that we made it all the way across the country and got back home in one piece!
How did you decide on the name Mr. Gnome?
There’s no fun answer to this! We were called Gnome when we started, found out there was another band with the same name and threw a Mr. on the front of it. We made the decision right as we were setting up and paying for our new website and we were like, “I guess this is our band name!”
So it was your late-August single “Gold Edges” that caught our ear. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind the track?
“Gold Edges” is just our way of saying you have to look at the silver linings of things in order to not lose your mind. For me, focusing on the beauty and light of having our son after the passing of my father and allowing that to pull me out of some very dark places. Our son was almost a year old when we wrote this song, and it was his favorite in the batch of material we were working on. He would dance to the demo like crazy in our living room, inspiring the lyrics for the chorus.
And it looks like it’s going to be part of your upcoming double album, The Day You Flew Away. How long did it take to get all of these songs written/recorded?
We wrote a bit before the end of 2017, but then in September of that year my father passed away unexpectedly, and two weeks later I found out I was pregnant. That really inspired a whole new period of writing, working our way through all of those contrasting emotions, all of that grief, all of that excitement. We really used the writing process and music in general to find our way out of the darkness. We kinda just wanted to write forever in that moment. The whole process of writing and recording this album took years and allowed us to really experiment and touch on all different kinds of styles and sounds.
Where were they recorded and who was involved in the production?
We recorded and produced the entire album here at our house. We have a little studio on the first floor. Sam’s brother, Jonah, who has been playing with us on and off since he was a teenager, became a huge part of this record. He plays on about half of it and he’s just a fantastic player. He really helped add a lot of depth to certain songs and helped take the overall production up another level through his contributions. When it was time to mix we reached out to Mark Rankin (Queens of the Stone Age, Adele, Santigold, Iggy Pop, Florence & The Machine, Bloc Party) and Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Tennis, Temples, Panic at the Disco!, Parquet Courts, Ra Ra Riot) and they were both enthusiastic about mixing, which we were so stoked about! They’re both absolutely amazing engineers and we were so excited to work with them. They really put the finishing touches on these tracks.
How did y’all get hooked up with El Marko Records?
We started El Marko Records in 2008 when we released our first full length album, Deliver This Creature.
“It’s extremely addicting, searching for that sound, that melody, that structure that you’ve never touched on before or just something that excites you that didn’t exist an hour before. Creating something out of nothing, it really is the best.”
When looking back on the album in ten years, what might you reflect back on most fondly?
This album is the most personal record we’ve ever made. The first half is, in all honesty, really hard to listen to at the moment. It is a diary of our experiences filled with the greatest grief and sadness I’ve ever experienced, but then the second half of the album is the greatest joy and love I’ve ever felt as well. So it is a bit of a conundrum to wrap our heads around. I think looking back we’ll be so grateful to have captured life in its rawest form on record and happy we were able to work through all of this pain and make something tangible and meaningful. I feel like I could have really gone in another (much darker) direction after the passing of my father, but my son and getting lost in the creative process really helped save my soul and I’m so grateful for that. So although there’s so much sadness sprinkled throughout the entire album, there is also so much love and happiness and a triumphant feeling that we got to the end and finally released it.
What is the Cleveland music scene like for people (like us) who aren’t familiar?
We’ve been a bit out of the loop for the last few years, so we feel a little disconnected at the moment. We haven’t played shows or been able to get out to shows in so long, and we were so excited to get back into it, but then COVID hit. These are some of the bands we love: If These Trees Could Talk, Automatic Weapons, The Katy, John’s Little Sister, Leah Lou, Punch Drunk Tagalongs, Modern Electric. Cleveland is amazing, so real, so honest. There is a lot of really great music being made here. We have some wonderful friends that work so hard and are doing some really great work. The rawness and realness of this city seeps into the art that’s made here so it’s gritty and emotional and beautiful.
What advice would you give to young up and coming songwriters trying to “make it” in the indie rock scene?
Work as hard as you can, write as much as you can and don’t focus on anything other than getting better and becoming the best you can be. Challenge yourself, push yourself to grow and expand, listen to as much music as you can so that you’re always inspired to evolve as an artist. Don’t get too knocked down by rejection because it will happen all throughout your career, but it only matters if you let it slow you down.