mr. Gnome: His, Hers

A Cleveland duo unveils its Skeleton stew.

Sam Meister was into Portishead and Björk when he started writing music with Nicole Barille, a fan of heavier acts like Tool. She soon introduced her new collaborator—the duo took the name mr. Gnome—to the more abrasive, harder end of the sonic spectrum."We've known each other for a while, and we've always turned each other on to different styles of music," says vocalist and guitarist Barille via phone while shopping for last-minute supplies on the eve of the band's tour in support of their second full-length, Heave Yer Skeleton (out this month on El Marko Records).Mixing wildly contrasting sounds is a gutsy approach to music-making that can easily fail, even in the most capable and ambitious hands. While a mélange of influences can make a band's sonic palette richer, it can also make it muddy or schizophrenic—an inherent risk that Cleveland's mr. Gnome has successfully avoided since they began stirring the pot four years ago with their hybrid of dark psychedelia, punk-informed lullabies, and soaring, operatic rock. "So I think those [influences] kind of fused and made our sound what it is," Barille says. "Or what it began as—experimenting and exploring with all the influences we already had."The band's exploratory mission led first to two EPs hinting at their potential, which was fully realized on 2008's full-length, Deliver This Creature, a deeply seductive kaleidoscope of serrated guitars, primal and powerful percussion, and Barille's otherworldly vocals. Planning a follow-up, they found themselves with the pleasantly unexpected opportunity to record at Pink Duck Studios in Los Angeles, owned by Queens of the Stone Age/Them Crooked Vultures leader Josh Homme. Studio manager and engineer Justin Smith, who's previously worked with QOTSA, Eagles of Death Metal, and Arctic Monkeys, helmed the sessions."It was a really cool process," says Barille. "It was different than other times we've been in the studio...Justin was always coming up with new ways to record us and bring out our sound even more."Heave Yer Skeleton expands upon the groundwork of Deliver This Creature, with Barille's vocals foregrounded even more strongly—something she never envisioned having the confidence to do when young. "When I was 13, I was all infatuated with the whole grunge scene going on, and tried to write my own songs like that and sing when no one was home," she recalls with a bashful giggle. "I'd set a microphone up, swing it over my closet door, and turn my amps up as loud as I could. I'm sure it sounded horrible. I never thought I'd be singing in a band."

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