No Place Like Gnome 

They dropped everything to follow the music. So far, so good

Page 3 of 3

Those fans have plenty of options to choose from. The band's first video, for Deliver This Creature's "Night of the Crickets," features a visually complicated Alice in Wonderland scenario that opens with a young man and a life-sized rabbit in a girlish white-mesh-and-pink-flowered bed, and ends in a forbidding forest complete with graveyard imagery (Sam and Nicole being laid to rest?). Then there are the mysterious beings in cricket-like headgear. Juxtapositions of dark and light, soft and hard, masculine and feminine, peril and safety, confinement and freedom course through the five-minute piece.

Their latest clip, for the new song "House of Circles," features ominous figures in metallic cloaks and headgear inhabiting an eerie blue sci-fi underworld. That's the one Sam's been editing during those late nights before the start of their current tour.

Making such elaborate productions reality is an enormous undertaking, and the band draws on a team of family and friends to get them done.

"We sit at this table and go over scripts," says Sam's mother, Barb Meister, sitting with her husband in the cozy dining room of their Chardon home, beaming as she talks about what "the kids" have accomplished. "Sam does the script. Nicole does the storyboarding. I do the costumes. Anything they do with photo shoots, I work closely with them. They feed me ideas, and we see what we can come up with for the least amount of money. Like they had a vision of Nicole's hair exploding in the new video. We found Christmas ornaments in a sale bin, and we put them in her hair with glitter." (The resulting imagery can be seen on the opening page of this story.)

The process resembles a full-scale Hollywood production, minus the budget. When they filmed "Vampires," from their second album, Heave Yer Skeleton, 20 people toiled for three days.

Barille and Meister are admitted "control freaks," and so the creative side of things — recording, writing, touring, filming videos — has come to occupy more and more of their time. Last year, Kerry and Rivers formed a management company called Shlomo Diego, primarily to manage Mr. Gnome. They landed them three showcases at Austin's fabled South by Southwest music conference in March. A third partner, Dan Coleman, works on publishing and licensing. (Money from snippets of music used for the TV show Final Witness enabled them to buy home recording equipment.) The band has signed with a press company, which has just begun the task of landing performances on late-night TV.

"Our next job is to find them a larger booking agent, so they can go out with larger bands with larger audiences," says Rivers. "They don't need a larger label that's going to change them. And when you are on a major label, they want you to utilize their people. Mr. Gnome doesn't need that. They're a complete package. They handle all of their own creativity, and I don't see the talent running dry."

Meanwhile, Back in Chardon ...

Deciding they'd had enough of their vagabond life, Barille and Meister returned to an apartment in Chardon, where they quickly found the confines too cramped to run a business, create music, make videos — and live.

That's when Sam's parents happened upon a property in town that included two houses and a barn that had sat empty for years. It would become the perfect spot for two families and a burgeoning music business.

Nicole and Sam immediately moved into the back house — the former Chardon town hall — and set up their new life there; after months of renovation, Sam's parents moved into the front house. The two homes reflect the residents: Barb and Mark's is neat and traditional, with antique furniture, cages filled with chirping birds, and prints and ceramics with animals of various kinds decorating the walls. A couple of dogs wander around, leaving chew bones under the dining room table.

Nicole and Sam's place feels like a combination ski lodge and urban loft, with rustic beams and open space. Everything here is redolent of their constant creativity, whether it's the artwork by friends on the walls and shelves, or the rack of costumes from their videos and photo shoots in the corner of their downstairs work area.

On the landing are shelves and boxes stuffed with vinyl and T-shirts. A small office, with a table piled with CDs Nicole's been stuffing for the upcoming tour, leads into their living area, where the kitchen table is stockpiled with healthy snacks and energy drinks soon to be loaded into the van. (They make an effort to eat well and stay healthy on the road — Nicole's even "trying to be a vegetarian," but says they both like their meat.)

The adjacent barn, with its green screen and lighting equipment, is their video studio. Step carefully, or you'll trod upon their "underworld" — a two-by-three-foot construction of cardboard and dried plants made by Sam's mom that sits on the floor just inside the door. Incredibly, what looks like a middle school science project in person comes off onscreen as a jarring scene from an icy hell.

The Meister estate gives everybody the gifts of proximity as well as distance. It also gives them plenty of space to indulge their creative whims, whether it's Barb's informal costume shop in the basement or the ground-floor rehearsal space that allows Sam and Nicole to roll out of bed, head downstairs, and work on their music without disturbing the neighbors. Though the neighbors are eating it up.

"As parents, we're amazed by the success they've had," says Mark Meister. "It's amazing stuff that comes across Facebook, what people say about them as artists. Kids are going to be playing their music in 20 years because it's important to them at this time. That's so cool. It would be nice if they made a million dollars. But how you measure success is, are you doing something you love?"

Shortly before Mr. Gnome embarked on their current tour, they needed an audience to test-drive their music.

"They came over and said, 'Do you have time to listen to our set?'" says Barb. "We were like little kids: 'Can we? Can we? Can we?'"

Nicole is acutely aware of the exceptional situation they enjoy.

"Our life is this," she says. "We have just two people in the band. We're not dependent on other people to come for band practice. I think that's why we write as much as we do. It lets us be more experimental."

That the two are so obviously in sync with each other is another bonus. Whether onstage or hanging out at the house, they're relaxed and respectful, keying into each other's remarks without stepping on them, each one speaking admiringly of the other's contributions.

That's probably how they survive the tens of thousands of miles logged each year, the constantly changing venues, the hundreds of new people they meet. But it's clear they like to be home too — writing music, filming videos, tramping the countryside with Scout, and playing for the friends and families who will turn out for their Beachland show. Soon enough, they'll be back in town.

"The tour has been amazing!!" Nicole e-mails from the road. "But so very long ... can't wait to come back home. Currently making the very long drive from Salt Lake City to Denver today.

"Please hug Cleve-o for us."


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