“Gnome” is a song about killer gnomes.
What I like about it, and about the work of Charlottesville band Films on Song generally, is its emotional realism. Songwriters Jonathan Teeter and Francis McKee collage stock images from science fiction with snippets of everyday speech, making stories set in someone else’s dream of your hometown.
I talked with Teeter and Francis about writing for the band. Their answers often drifted away from reflecting on their own process to expressing admiration for their cowriter’s work.
Teeter: “I like melancholy stuff, I like stuff that has a beginning middle and end, even if it doesn’t quite make sense… and it’s actually funny, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody else in Charlottesville who I would trust to write a song for a band besides Francis.”
Francis: “Oh sweet. I’ve never heard this before.”
T: “Yeah, because your songs are good, and I feel like the lyrics strangely are right on par with what I’m doing –”
F: “They do fit.”
T: ” – if not oftentimes better –”
Francis, in a voice deep as graves: “Not true. We’re not playing that game.”
Francis observed that when Teeter sends him ideas for a new song, “I can hear a lot of different stuff, because it’s very fresh and new to me. So I have to ability slightly restructure stuff. I think it’s a good mix.” Their excitement about each other’s writing seems central to their process.
Films on Song’s lyrics perch on the edge between the impossible and the everyday.
“Gnome” works in the genre of the suburban gothic, where everybody’s so invested in their performance of the American dream that they ignore the horrors under its surface. It’s a genre well-explored in comics, film, and fiction, but I don’t know of many people who are telling these kinds of stories in song. The horror discovered here is that the neighbors would let you be eaten by gnomes before they’d look away from their baseball game.
The lyrics build up to the couplet, “They want to tell you that you really should, should, should / They want to eat you, you’ve been looking good, good, good.” Thick on the ground of this world are people eager to tell you what you really should do. The realism of the first statement prompts the listener to question which side of the line the second one belongs to. Who’s hungry, the gnomes or the neighbors? Whose praise is a kind of devouring?
Erin O’Hare’s bass provides a sense of shifting shadows in which small, malevolent figures might lurk. Carolyn Duren’s keyboard tones seem like intruders from a more mystical dimension. Max Bollinger’s drumming gives the song a sunny, inexorable momentum – he’s the voice of everyone in town who says, “Gnomes? They’re just lawn ornaments, they don’t eat people. Calm down, and get that blood away from me.”
I told the Teeter/McKee songwriting team that I like the way their songs leave space for my own imagination to go to work. Flashes of scene, flashes of action, dialogue without explanation. The writing doesn’t tell me everything that happens, or why.
“Leaves some gaps in the story,” Francis said.
“Like a dream,” I suggested.
“Or hopefully like a convoluted film of sorts,” Teeter ventured.
“Gnome” is out now.