Music News & Reviews

mr. Gnome loves to experiment, and fans are starting to 'get it'

Nicole Barille is the singer and guitarist, and Sam Meister is the drummer and pianist for the duo mr. Gnome. The band's difficult-to-classify music is just "weird," Barille says.
Nicole Barille is the singer and guitarist, and Sam Meister is the drummer and pianist for the duo mr. Gnome. The band's difficult-to-classify music is just "weird," Barille says.

To slap a category or genre on the Cleveland duo known as mr. Gnome — no matter how painstakingly attempted — would do the band a disservice. However, the husband-wife team of drummer/pianist Sam Meister and singer/guitarist Nicole Barille do have a word for it: weird.

"I know our stuff's weird," Barille said. "I don't realize it until we listen to it a year later and we're like, 'We are really weird.'"

The band's embrace of the experimental is something the two bring out of each other. Barille and Meister started jamming together with friends in high school and continued in a band in college in the mid-2000s, with Barille playing lead guitar to Meister's role of creative force and frontman.

As Barille started to feel comfortable sharing her songwriting ideas with Meister, a five-person project eventually became a creative partnership — and a romantic one that resulted in marriage in 2005.

The band's initial EPs and three full-length albums (2008's Deliver This Creature, 2009's Heave Yer Skeleton and their latest, 2011's Madness in Miniature) established mr. Gnome's affinity for something classic. You can hear scrappy Rust Belt blues, Black Sabbath-size slabs of metal and Stooges-esque anarchy and aggression in the combination of Barille's guitar chops and Meister's rolling drums. But the band has a soft spot for, well, soft spots. That might come in the form of spacey interludes, psychedelic keyboard bends, rhythmic detours or Barille's vocals, which can wail like Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O or be the soft, angelic and vulnerable coo around which the melodic chaos orbits.

"I don't think we've been afraid to take a song anywhere as long as we like the final result," Barille said.

Aside from the music, mr. Gnome has a full creative grasp of its visual presentation. With Barille's art education degree and Meister's schooling in electronic media production, the two create the band's album artwork and all of their music videos. (The dark, trippy video for Vampires was accepted into several international film festivals.)

The band spends most of its time on the road — it will stop Saturday at The Green Lantern in Lexington — and Madness in Miniature has been getting a bit more mainstream praise. Mr. Gnome received critical acclaim for its latest release, most notably a solid review in Rolling Stone. This doesn't change the band's status as a DIY, touring-in-a-van outfit, but that, and an increased following, show that mr. Gnome was right to stick to its uncompromising aesthetic.

"It's cool that people get it," Barille said. "We're always flattered by the fact that people care."

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