“I’ve broken into this new style of performance that I’m calling ‘fucked up cover songs,’” singer-songwriter and comedian Shirley Gnome divulges in her interview with encore last week. She’s preparing to make her triumphant return to ILM after winning the Cucalorus Buzz Repeat 1 last year. “I’ve kind of been doing it for a while—like last year at Cucalorus I did a cover of an Adele song,” she recalls. “Except, instead of singing it, I played it with a Kazoo … and I put the Kazoo in my genitals. So, I was playing a serious Adele song but playing it in the most ridiculous way possible.”
Shirley Gnome’s presence onstage is as large as Dolly Parton’s, with her bright country-western garb and blonde locks, capped with a cowgirl hat. Her act, however, is far from anything found on the “The Porter Wagoner Show.” Gnome will return to Cucalorus 23 with a new show and album—plus, fun, silly merch. But, sorry, folks, she won’t be hosting a cooter-Kazoo performance workshop—at least, not this year. “It’s a very difficult skill and it’s a very big secret, so it’d be an expensive workshop!” Gnome quips.
Still, she’s excited to return. The response from last year’s crowds were invigorating, but Gnome wants to actually get a chance to perform and enjoy the festival for 2017. “I didn’t see as many films [last year] that I wanted because I was quite busy,” she tells. “This year I specifically asked to just emcee two movies—and to not do [standup at] Dead Crow—so I can watch as many movies as possible this time.”
Gnome’s show is a one-woman country-folk-rock-comedy cabaret, wherein she plays some guitar and sings with a full band backing track. Her lyrics and songs typically cover risqué topics, such as sex, sexuality, human nature, emotion, and the like.
“It’s stuff you wouldn’t bring up at the dinner table,” she confirms. “Unspoken truths and things people think about but don’t necessarily say out loud, and I make them into fun and catchy country-pop songs.”
She is currently signed to 604 Records, with whom she released “Taking It Up The Notch” earlier this month. Gnome’s been touring with her latest work, from Canada to Australia and across the U.S. Nevertheless, she’s been trying to come up with more Kazoo covers. In fact, when she performed at Australia’s Melbourne Comedy Fest last April, her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” went over so well they invited her to close out the women’s comedy showcase for around 2,000 people. “And I won’t spoil it for you, [but] I’m hopefully going to do it at the festival,” she adds.
Gnome is set for two performances at North Front Theatre (formerly City Stage) in downtown Wilmington on Friday, Nov. 10, and Saturday, Nov. 11. “One of the shows at 1:45 p.m. [on Saturday is] a terrible time for a show like mine,” she observes, “but if people show up for that one, I promise it will be super weird and special.”
One of Gnome’s favorite songs in rotation right now was written specifically for her last tour to Australia. It’s an ode of sorts in celebration of being able to say the word “cunt” without shattering sensitive ears.
“[Laughs] Yes, the naughty, naughty ‘c’ word that’s so taboo here,” she says, “but [in Australia] it’s a compliment. I’m really proud of that one! That’s really the most poppy song I’ve done. I worked with this great producer in Vancouver who’s really good at making those kinds of tracks for a living. . . . I want to try to do one super-catchy pop song a year.”
However, Gnome has to be cognizant of how some material goes over on this side of the pond. For example, the aforementioned “cunt” tune did not resonate with Floridians at a recent Orlando show.
“I don’t know if they get a lot of Australians in Florida,” she muses. “Sometimes when I’m doing a run at a festival, I’ll do a preview night where I do every single song and sort gauge reactions—because, of course, there’s cultural context for everything. But at things like Cucalorus, where I only have one or two shows, sometimes I’ll just ask the audience and feel out the room to see if a song’s really going to go over. But the only way to really know is to try.”
While Cucalorus audiences are more open-minded about artistic content, let’s face it: If Gnome was applauded for her Kazoo performance last year, then Cuc-fans are likely up for anything she throws their way this week.