Mr. Gnome has never really been a “play by the rules” kind of band.
Madness in Miniature—the Cleveland duo’s third full-length album—features singer/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer/pianist Sam Meister doing what they do best: playing whatever the hell they want. Although Barille is blessed with a vocal quality that recalls the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O at her most seductive, the group’s sound veers from Björk-like vocal experiments to raging White Stripes-styled bashers, to modern alternative experiments infused with a love of classic ‘70s rock that are hard to pin down, pulling off the rare feat of sounding both familiar and alien at the exact same time. It’s something that must be heard to be believed.
Prior to prepping for their big tour, the band sat down with PopMatters to answer our famed 20 Questions, here expressing a deep-seated love of Battlestar Galactica, engaging in the long-running debate of whether or not Kevin Bacon is cooler than David Bowie, and revealing the delightfully unsettling details behind what a “forgy” is . . .
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Nicole: Definitely The Book Thief. That book ripped my heart out of my chest and tore it into a millions pieces.
Sam: Men don’t cry. They break things.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Nicole: Smufette. I’m usually the only girl surrounded by groups of guys that are blue and horny.
Sam: Alfalfa, because I’ve got a song in my heart and for some reason there’s a pack of small children that follow me around everywhere I go. Down, Spanky! No, you can’t type the next answer…
3. The greatest album, ever?
Sam: It’s a toss up between the Footloose soundtrack and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Both classics, both will live on forever. While the Footloose soundtrack has had a more immediate impact on me as a human being, I’m going to have to go with Ziggy Stardust because David Bowie is ultimately way cooler than Kevin Bacon.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Nicole & Sam (in unison): Neither. Battlestar Galactica! BSG! BSG! BSG!
5. Your ideal brain food?
Nicole: I love coffee so much that I get excited at nighttime in anticipation for my morning coffee. It’s a sickness, really, but this wonderful liquid amps me up, makes me wanna punch through the wall, and gets my creative juices flowing like no other. Coffee followed by marijuana and Tequila . . . now that’s a day filled with creativity . . . and sometimes vomit.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Sam: I’m proud every time I make it through a Cleveland winter without killing myself. Have you ever been in northeast Ohio for an entire winter? The skies are gray every day, the wind is frigid, and the accumulation of snow is ridiculous (the most snowfall in the US). It does however allow me to delve into the deepest darkest corners of my soul, which definitely comes through in our art. “What the fuck is wrong with you guys?” is a question we get a lot. Cleveland winter, my friend. Cleveland winter.
7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?
Sam: At the end of my life I’d like to be remembered for my amazing accomplishments in time travel—unfortunately I haven’t actually done this yet, but there’s still time . . . travel.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Nicole and Sam: John Titor (technically he’s from the future), Captain Adama (also technically from the future . . . or is it the past?), Henry Darger, Otis Redding, John C. Reilly, Jerry Blank, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Ram Dass, Chris Farley, and last but not least, our chicken Scissorbeak. She was born with a crooked beak yet overcame all odds to become the leader of the chicken roost. She’s a survivor in many regards and has even escaped several hawk attacks, while some of her sisters were not so lucky. Let’s have a moment of silence for all of the fallen chickens.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Sam: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Pure genius.
10. Your hidden talents . . . ?
Nicole: Cartoon voices.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Nicole: My Dad told me that I was not going to become a tattoo artist. I followed his advice and decided to become a dirty musician instead. Thanks Pops!
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Nicole: Definitely my 1959 Silvertone, “Black Beauty”. My favorite guitar of all time. It fell over onstage at a show in Oklahoma City about a year ago and the neck snapped off instantly. It was like watching an old person take a spill and crack in half. I was heartbroken and devastated, but my main man Ron was able to snap a new neck on it and now she’s a screaming banshee again. Thank you Ron for saving “Black Beauty’s” life. I will never drop her again. Drop her once, shame on me. Drop her twice . . . wait, how does that go?
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?
Nicole: Neither Armani nor Levis. Hannah Montana pajama pants. Sam’s mom bought them for me because they have guitars on them, but she didn’t read the words Hannah Montana printed all over those suckers. They’re pretty freaking awesome. I would wear them on stage if I could.
Sam: Levis. No Shirt. Keepin’ it real. Gotta let those nipples breathe.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Nicole: I just read Be Here Now by Ram Dass—amazing book and story. I’d have to go with him.
Sam: Probably Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann so I could smack their heads together before making sweet, sweet love to them on the dinner table. Look, I may not agree with their politics, but a man’s got needs.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
Sam: This may be the best question so far; actually it just may be the best question ever. Thank you for asking such a wonderful question. I would like to travel back in time to the day we decided to become musicians, grab us, shake us, punch us both square in the face, and scream, “Why would you do this? What’s wrong with you? You’ve got a bright future! The industry is crumbling, no one buys records any more and you make really, really weird music.” Then I’d probably invite the past us’ to have a four-way with the present us’ (also known as a forgy). Awesome.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
Nicole: Well, drugs are actually a lot more affordable than a hit man or a spa vacation, so I’ll have to go with the cheaper of the three.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?
Sam: All of those things are pretty awesome but I’m going to have to go with tequila.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Nicole: The country . . . for sure. We tour so much that I really appreciate being out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a necessity to clear out my brain. I heart Ohio.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Sam: Hang in there buddy. I still love you, Barry.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Both: We just wrapped up our latest album, Madness in Miniature, so we’re getting ready to hit the road for a lengthy tour starting the first week of October and ending late December.