Interview: mr. Gnome
Cleveland’s mr. Gnome released their third album, Madness in Miniature, in 2011 via El Marko Records. The psychedelic, distortion-heavy record was one of the best releases that year and made an appearance on several year-end lists, including Verbicide’s.
The band tours incessantly — even making a critically acclaimed appearance at SXSW 2012 – and we caught up with the Sam and Nicole backstage at one of their West Coast shows. The cheerful, friendly duo shared insight on their trippy videos, their creative process, and what it’s like to be married to your only band mate.
You look so fresh and awake.
Nicole: Do we, really? (laughter)
Sam: Thank you. We’re the exact opposite…we don’t sleep a whole lot.
Nicole: Not lately — the past couple of days have been pretty brutal.
Sam: When you come out to the West Coast, everything’s so far apart. The past few days, except for today, we’ve been doing, like, seven- or eight-hour drives…
Nicole: or 10!
Sam: …and that’s after you get out of the club at 3 a.m., get to a hotel or couch at 4 in the morning, and then get up. It’s kind of a beast once you get west of Illinois, you know?
Do you have roadies or a driver or anything?
Nicole: No, no. It’s just us.
And you’re married right?
Aww, how is that, being married to your bandmate?
Nicole: (laughter) All girls react the same way; they’re like, “Aww!”
Sam: Guys are like, “Aww!” (laughter)
Nicole: Because we’re that cute!
You guys just look so happy and stuff. I would think that being cramped on the bus with your spouse might drive you crazy.
Sam: (smiling) There are moments of madness, but it’s fine.
Nicole: I think touring [as a married couple] is really easy. I can’t imagine doing it with other people. [This is] the only band we’ve ever been in. We can be totally honest with each other, so it’s just easy to get over things. I think that’s why we write [music] as quickly as we do because there’s no tip-toeing around each other, you know what I mean? Like, with people who are your friends, you don’t want to hurt their feelings.
I can relate. I’ve been with my husband since high school, and we’re always together. We don’t feel the need to go hang out with other folks to escape each other or anything.
Nicole: Yeah, we’re not really like that either.
Sam: We’re pretty much a foot away from each other 24 hours a day.
Nicole: Get outta my face! (laughter)
Sam: When we set up on stage, and we load, and we sit in the corner of the pub or whatever, you know, we’re like this far away. [Gestures to the distance between Nicole and him, about a foot] It’s weird, actually, but it’s what we do.
You think it’s weird, but then over time it’s like you meet a lot of people who are like that. So, back to the music, I wanted to ask your “House of Circles” project — how long has that been in the making? The trailer is impressive.
Sam: We wrote a graphic novel concept after we finished Madness in Miniature. We were going to release a graphic novel with the CD, but of course, we got pushed out on to the road too fast…so we kind of put that on the back burner. We had the story and we’re like, let’s just make a condensed version as a music video.
Nicole: Kind of condense the whole thing into six minutes.
Sam: So, January and February we shot it…
Nicole: …just the dead of winter in Cleveland, no big deal. (laughter) We shot it in this barn [where] we shot our video for “Vampires.” We did this all [with a] green screen and it was crazy. By the time we went on tour we were kind of happy just because we weren’t putting in 12 hours a day on that. We worked really hard, but we didn’t end up finishing it.
Sam: Yeah, the editing has just been a beast. I really didn’t think it was going to take as long as it started to take. (laughs, turns to Nicole) How long was I working on it? Like a week?
Nicole: Yeah, like 12-, 14-hour days, where I would like come downstairs and be like, “Are you okay, man?”
Sam: Well, I was doing 18 hours on some of those days too because I really thought I was going to be able to finish it before we went on tour. I got half of it done, so I just put the trailer up. As soon as I get done with the tour and get home I can work on it.
Nicole: I’m excited though; the trailer’s just the beginning of how much stuff we shot. We tried to make a really Wizard of Oz-y, Alice in Wonderland-type of psychedelic storyline. It gets really, really tripped out, so I’m excited to see if he can finish it. (laughter)
Sam: I hope I can.
Nicole: I’m excited to see what you’re going to do.
Sam: I’m excited to be done with it at some point.
Nicole: I know, you’re never going to want to listen to that song or watch that video.
Is making a video harder than making a album for you? Is it more tedious?
Sam: It’s different, it’s different.
Nicole: I don’t think so. Making an album is just such a beast in itself.
Sam: Yeah. They’re both bitches, you know what I mean? The creative process is my favorite part — I like coming up with concepts and writing the music, and then writing story ideas and storyboarding.
You’re an idea man.
Sam: I like [coming up with concepts] a lot more than actually doing it. Once we get in the studio, it’s a bitch — it can be for us. There’s a lot of pressure sometimes.
Do you draw — I mean, for the graphic novel and storyboard and everything?
Sam: Well, we do digital collages, so it wouldn’t necessarily be a official graphic novel, but yeah, we do digital art.
Nicole: For “House of Circles” and “Vampires,” we storyboarded out all the ideas and stuff like that. We go pretty in depth with everything.
You guys don’t seem to have very many people involved in your work.
Nicole: No, not at all, no. Sam’s mom, she makes all the costumes for our videos. Especially with this last one she was a total committed team member, out in the barn helping us all of the time. She’s so badass, it’s awesome.
Awesome. I wanted to ask about the portraits you guys have for promo pics. They’re really cool. Who does that? Is that you guys too?
Nicole: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
You guys just say, “You know what we’re going to do? Cover ourselves in gold paint!”
Sam: (laughter) Pretty much. I’m like, “Put this on.”
Nicole: And I’m like, “What are you doing to me?” (laughter) Sam always comes up with cool ideas for [photo shoots]. I think it all started just because having to do press shots — it’s very awkward and weird. [Making] it artsy is just a way out of sitting there looking all dorky or whatever.
Standing in an alley?
Nicole: (laughter) Exactly, yeah, or in front of a brick wall.
So, speaking of art, in almost all of the reviews and interviews regarding the album, folks mention how the bunny on the Madness in Miniature cover looks like the rabbit from Donnie Darko.
Has that gotten to the point where you’re like, “Okay, enough!”
Nicole: Yeah, totally. I don’t see that, I guess. I don’t know…Donnie Darko‘s so evil, you know?
Sam: I guess I understand, because it’s a humanoid rabbit. Other than that, I don’t. People always need to compare everything to something else to feel comfortable about it, so if that makes them feel comfortable about it, that’s great.
Nicole: When we were shooting the “Night of the Crickets” video we went to the costume shop and we found this rabbit costume in the corner of the store and we spent like 150 bucks on it. We were like, “We shouldn’t spend all this money, but if we put in a bunch of stuff…” so that’s kind of how we started incorporating the rabbit in everything. I think we bought for the “bad guy” in that video, but it ended up becoming the boy’s, like, subconscious.
Do you have any details for me about new music?
Nicole: We have a ton of material. We’re always writing stuff. We probably have 10 songs or even more…just pieces and parts that we’re working on. When we get home this summer we’ll start [working on it]. The thing is, we can have all these pieces now, and then we begin writing in the summertime and they could come out totally different.
This summer you’ll be home, going to back to Cleveland. I think it’s interesting that you guys have never done that musician thing, where folks seem to start out in the Midwest and then move to the coast. What is it that about Cleveland that keeps you there? Is it family?
Nicole: Yeah, family for sure. We did our first record, Deliver This Creature, and a bunch of our friends had moved out to [the Pacific Northwest] and San Diego and stuff, so we kind of floated out here just to couch-surf…we were kind of thinking of moving out here at that time — that was 2007. So we were just staying with friends, going into practice spaces for like five hours a day, and just like working on a record, just trying to be full-time musicians. I think we got a taste of what it would be like — we were gone for about six months. We missed home so much. I have a pretty big family, lots of nieces and nephews. We didn’t really want to be too far away from everything all the time. We’re already touring all the time, so it didn’t really seem to make sense to move, because what would be the point? And Cleveland’s cheap too.
Sam: Yeah, and I mean it’s home, and I do like it. I like going back, and I like being from there, and I like our families, our friends. We have a really great support system there, people that want to help us succeed and stuff. [Cleveland] is a great place for us to always go back.
Nicole: It’s nice too, because we live kind of out in the middle of nowhere, so after we do these huge tours where you’re just sitting in bars every night, it’s really cool to get back and get into the creative mode and start working on stuff 24/7. Like two polar opposite lifestyles. Our friends call us when we get back and they’re like, “Are you alive? Are you going to come and hang out?” And we’re like, “We’ve been in bars for two months, dude!” (laughter)
Sam: Not doing anything , ever again.
Nicole: We usually end up getting drunk for like a week straight. (laughter)
Sam: Sit in my underwear, close the curtains. (laughter)
What kind of music do you listen to? You guys are huge Pink Floyd fans, right?
Nicole: Yeah, for sure. We like psychedelic rock.
Do you have a big record collection, everything Floyd has put out or something?
Sam: We have a couple of boxed sets, you know, and vinyl . My favorite thing of theirs is Live at Pompeii, which is a video that they did in which they played in an old coliseum in Pompeii. It’s insane, it’s so awesome. They play to no one — it’s just them, live.
Nicole: It’s amazing, you should really see it. It’s one of the greatest videos of all time.
Nicole: [talking to Sam] When we first met, I think we smoked a blunt in your car in your parents driveway — we were pretty young — and then we walked downstairs to their basement and we watched that. I mean, I was probably only 16 or 17 years old, and it, like, changed my whole perception of music in general. I think it just opened my eyes; it’s a pretty amazing video. [Talking to Heather] You should check it out…the drummer’s in this purple butterfly tank top. Only he can pull off wearing that tank top and still look like a bad ass. (laughter)
Are you guys ever going to do a live video?
Nicole: Yeah…um, maybe! It would be fun. I think we have so many projects going on that we’d have to get someone else [to film and edit it]. We’ve had a lot of people ask us to do a live album just because it’s a lot different than the record. [Our live show] definitely has a different energy to it — it’s not as calculated, it’s a lot more on the verge of totally falling apart the whole time. It’s a little more explosive.
Yeah, you’re really great live from what I understand. The writer we had sent to cover SXSW really enjoyed seeing you “shred” in Austin.
Nicole: What show did he come to?
I can’t remember off the top of my head…I think it was a day show.
Nicole: Okay, it was the Red 7 party, then.
Nicole: Yeah, it was crazy because we played Dallas the night before, and Austin is about three hours south of Dallas. We went to bed at four o’clock in the morning, but we had to be at that day party by 10, so we had to wake up at seven. We got three hours of sleep.
Oof. That’s rough.
Nicole: Then we woke up, drove down there, got there, and it’s like, “Put all your stuff up on stage! Do a sound check!” All that stuff…we were drinking coffee and beer before we had breakfast or lunch.
Sam: Ugh, I was sick…
Nicole: Yeah, it hurt to even breathe. I looked over before we started and I was like, “Dude, are you going to be okay?” (laughter)
Sam: I started losing my vision. I was like, “This is not going good.”
Nicole: It was sleep deprivation. It’s really weird to perform that early in general, so when you haven’t really slept, it’s very out-of-body…it was weird because at the end of the day it felt like we hadn’t played, it was very bizarre .
Sam: We were done by two in the afternoon and just went to bed. We woke up and I was like, “What day is it? What happened? Where am I?” (laughter)
Nicole: Saturday we were like, “Get me outta here!” (laughter) I think we went and got drunk in our hotel room that next day…
Sam: …to celebrate.
Nicole: Yeah, we drank a ton of tequila.
So, do you guys play covers?
Nicole: Do we play covers? No…
Yeah, it doesn’t seem that you do. I don’t see any little YouTube videos of ya’ll doing that — it’s all your art, your music.
Sam: Yeah, I think we could try once. We just never feel right playing other people’s music, you know? We might, some day.
Nicole: We always talk about it…I never know which one to do. We talked about doing Otis Redding or the Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” — we were messing around with that one day and that was kind of fun, bringing distortion into it, you know? Totally doing a different take on it and making it a little more psychedelic. I think a million bands have already done that.
Do you guys worry a lot about that whole “it’s been done” thing? I mean, that would make sense, you tend to do things I haven’t heard others do. I think your sound is really original.
Nicole: Oh, thank you very much.
Sam: Thank you.
Nicole: We just have a lot of influences, and we don’t really think too much about what we’re doing. If we like it, then we go with it, instead of being like “Well, I don’t really want to get too heavy,” or whatever. We’ve never been like that. A lot of bands seem kind of afraid to use a distortion pedal nowadays, you know?
Nicole: We grew up on grunge, so you know, we like the distortion pedal. (laughter)
Sam: We like a lot of things. We just like the process to be very organic. We just write, and if it feels right we’ll do it. We’ll go there.
Nicole: I mean, I think if you dig it and it moves you that’s kind of, the whole point of writing. We’re not really afraid to go anywhere.