Next month, Cleveland indie rock outfit mr. Gnome will share an epic double LP called The Day You Flew Away that documents intense grief, intense joy, and everything in between. More specifically, it sees the husband-and-wife duo of Sam Meister and Nicole Barille grappling with the loss of Barille’s father and searching for hope amid that loss.
“We decided to do a double record because it’s more like two separate records that we put together, as opposed to one big thematic piece,” Barille told me over the phone a few weeks ago. “It is like a diary of life, but they were two separate times in our life: one is darker and one is lighter.”
mr. Gnome’s new single “Golden Daze”—premiering below—appears on the darker half of the record, but as its title suggests, it nods to a brighter place.
“Whenever I would hang out with my parents and we’d have a really great night of just having some drinks and laughing and everything, I would always tell Sam, ‘These are the golden days. Everyone’s healthy and life’s just good right now,’” explains Barille. “I knew that things wouldn’t be like that forever. That song is just a yearning to hang onto that moment.”
“Golden daze / don’t you fade away,” Barille wails in the track, which comes after the band’s latest singles “Psychonaut” and “Gold Edges.” “I don’t think I’ve ever done very well with change, and the past couple years have been nothing but,” comments Barille. “I think that song’s a cry for wanting things to stay the same.”
We caught up with Barille about The Day You Flew Away and the crazy story behind its title track, which Barille calls “a premonition song.” Check out the full interview and listen to “Golden Daze” below.
American Songwriter: It’s been six years since you released your last album, The Heart of a Dark Star, and now you’re getting ready to release a double album. What have you been up to in the interim? When and how did The Day You Flew Away start to take shape?
Nicole: Our last record was released in 2014, and we did a ton of touring behind it. We started working on this one right after we [finished] touring that record, a couple years after we had put it out. My dad ended up passing away unexpectedly, then two weeks later I found out that I was pregnant and that was also unexpected, so it was just this rollercoaster of emotions—the saddest of times and the happiest of times.
I’ve been playing music since I was a kid, and I always turn to writing music as a way to deal with everything. It’s always been extremely therapeutic, so that’s what we did through all of this as well. We wrote a little bit before my dad had passed away—that was in 2017—and then continued everything over the last couple years. We put so much into this record not knowing that it would be a double record. Having our son, we weren’t able to tour for a while, so it really gave us the opportunity to just write and explore. We listen to so much different music, so it allowed us to explore everything we’ve been wanting to try to do. Nothing was off the table.
When we went to put it together there was just so much—so many different moods and a lot of different styles. We decided to do a double record because it’s more like two separate records that we put together, as opposed to one big thematic piece. It is like a diary of life, but they were two separate times in our life. One is darker and one is lighter, and we tried to reflect through the way we put it together. I was afraid to start super emotional, and we took a really long time ordering it because we were gonna start super upbeat and pop-y but that wasn’t really the story we were trying to tell.
You mentioned that your father passed away, then you found out you were pregnant soon after. Are there certain songs that nod to those events or explore that juxtaposition between loss and joy?
The first song used to be called “Say Anything” and we wrote that before my dad passed away. Sometimes with writing you can have these autonomous lyric moments where we’ll be working out a song live and jamming on it for the first or second or third time and lyrics will just come out of you and you don’t know what they’re about. But luckily when we’re doing that we record a lot of stuff, so I’ll listen back and if I like the way that it sounds I’ll just keep the lyrics.
That’s what happened with that song, which is the very first song on the record, “The Day You Flew Away.” The day that my dad passed away I realized that it was a premonition song where all the lyrics were about that day. It’s all about a Friday and it’s all about losing someone and [that loss] taking your breath away. The second verse is all about trying to accept it and trying to grow from the experience.
Then, the day after he passed away, I was out walking in the yard and I heard the melody in the air. I know it sounds crazy, but I know I didn’t imagine it. I thought it was Sam trying to come find me in the yard. I came back in the house and he was still in the house. It was an insane moment, and we ended up wanting to lead the record with that because it meant so much to us.
That’s what’s hard about this record: it’s so insanely personal that it was almost hard to put it out to get reviewed. It’s like asking someone to review your diary, asking someone to review the work you made in the darkest moments of your life. But listening to other peoples’ music has helped me so much, and I hoped that it would do the same for other people. That song specifically was crazy, and I realized it in the hospital that day. I realized that I had written it all right before it happened.
The second record starts on song 13, which is called “Psychonaut,” and 13 until the end of the record is a lot more hopeful. It’s a lot like trying to find the light in your own head instead of losing your mind. With death, when you experience it with someone that you’re so close to, you can really lose yourself in a really negative way, and I think you can also really evolve and change and start living your life in a different way. So I tried to take the more positive route, probably ‘cause I got pregnant, too. I feel like if I didn’t, I would’ve gone down a much darker path.
Reflecting on the production of your last record, you said, “We’ll layer GarageBand demos and I’ll layer vocals on top of each other and just see where things are going to go. With this record it was different because we had the time to sit and layer stuff on top of it.” How has your process or approach evolved since then?
I switched from GarageBand and was working right in our Pro Tools files on this one, which is where we were actually recording all the final tracks. I would just sing all my vocal ideas through an amp in the other room. The vibe of it was really inspiring, just ‘cause it was really reverb-heavy and I like disguising my voice when I’m trying to come up with ideas instead of being really raw. It’s more fun and it lets me lead the songs to a million other places.
Was this all in your house or a separate studio?
Our last record, The Heart of a Dark Star, was the first one that we did here where we live. We have a studio set up in our basement, so for this one we did the same approach again. It’s very chill, very relaxing. There’s just no pressure. There’s something I really do like about going into a studio setting, but there’s something I really love about doing it this way too. I like to experiment and I feel like this is the way to do it.
Is it weird that you’ll put out this release without any plans to tour?
For sure. We talked about that a lot. I think once we put the whole thing together and listened to it mixed and mastered it was really tough to get through the beginning, just because a lot of it is about my dad. For anyone that’s gone through that—losing a parent, especially when you’re really close to them—it’s just gut-wrenching. As time goes by, it does get easier, but it’s tough. So listening to this musical diary, a lot of it was dedicated to him whether I wanted it to be or not. It was even hard, like I said before, to let it go and decide to have people review it.
We kept being like, “Maybe we should hold off.” Then, when we got it mastered, my cousin who is [like] my brother and my best friend, he passed away. This was the beginning of the pandemic. Two months after that, Sam’s brother passed away. So once all that happened, we just wanted to let it go and we understood that this record was bigger than us. It represents so much loss, and then we went through even more. We just didn’t want to hang onto it anymore and wait for a tour.
It’s been weird because we’re practicing and getting ready to do some recorded live stuff, but usually we’re getting all our gear checked and getting ready for the road.
It’s sort of another loss around this record. You won’t have that live audience connection.
Yeah, I love talking to people that come to our shows. We’ve met so many amazing people and our fanbase has been with us for so long. We’re so appreciative of it. I know we’re very fortunate. To not hear their stories or how they’ve been doing or how they connected with the record, it’s a bummer. But people are going through so much right now. We’re trying to stay positive in life.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new single “Golden Daze”?
I lost my grandparents when I was pretty young and I’m the youngest in my family, so whenever I would hang out with my parents and we’d have a really great night of just having some drinks and laughing and everything, I would always tell Sam, “These are the golden days. Everyone’s healthy and life’s just good right now.” I knew that things wouldn’t be like that forever. That song is just a yearning to hang onto that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever done very well with change, and the past couple years have been nothing but. I think that song’s a cry for wanting things to stay the same.
There is so much sadness splashed across this record, even on the second part, but there’s a lot of light too. It’s just the human experience. If you’re going to write over years, it’s gonna cover everything unless your life’s perfect. But then you’re probably not a musician! [laughing]
Sam once said in an interview that “our general fear of the world probably inspires most of our characters. Our basic storytelling is just good versus evil.” Have you listened to anything recently that’s inspired hope or optimism?
One of my favorite artists that I’ve been listening to a bunch is Big Thief. I think [Adrianne Lenker] is amazing and so rad. I’m not sure she’s super hopeful, but her lyrics are really interesting and beautiful. I dig into the old stuff. Even Otis Redding, as sad as he can be, I find so much hope in his voice.
The Day You Flew Away is out October 16 via El Marko Records. You can pre-order it here.