The Alpaca Gnomes close out the year with a toy drive

From bars and parties to weddings and festivals, The Alpaca Gnomes have built up a loyal following since launching as a trio in 2010. Today, the seven-piece rock-folk jam band, known for its stomp-and-groove style, has played hundreds of gigs, has two albums under its belt and will close out the year with its annual pajama attire-approved, holiday show/toy drive at Norwalk’s Wall Street Theater on Dec. 20. Andrea Valluzzo spoke to founding member Benny Mikula (guitar/vocals) about the show.

Andrea Valluzzo: How did the name come about?

Benny Mikula: (laughs) I knew you were going to ask that first. It’s really not as interesting as it would seem. I was playing with our fiddle player Kimberly and our percussion player Matt. We were playing as a trio. We had our first gig lined up, needed a name, and we liked the idea of gnomes. We figured there was probably a band out there somewhere with gnomes so we envisioned gnomes riding around on alpacas and it lent itself to some nice imagery and artwork later when we put the full band together.

AV: What are your influences?

BM: Our influences are so wide. I feel the albums come off that way to where it’s not just one genre of music. There are a lot of jam bands out there and we like to jam some of the songs but I would not put us in that category. Most of the songs have been written on the acoustic guitar so they have that folk singer-songwriter element to them and then with the fiddle there’s a little tinge of country to it. We have a reggae song that’s going to be on the next album and then there is just straight rock and roll songs and a couple songs that are a little poppy so I think it touches on a lot of genres and then our influences are so wide between each member from funk to Dylan to old country to the 90s grunge and everywhere in between.

AV: What will your set at the Wall Street Theater be like?

BM: We had the privilege of playing Wall Street in January for our second album release. We played the whole album in its entirety and did a full set after that. A lot of our fans are repeat customers so we try to treat them with some different songs. This show will be heavy on all the originals and then a little recap of the year of songs that we don’t always play but we played this year. It’ll be mostly originals with select covers thrown in there.

AV: How long have you been doing the annual toy drive?

BM: For the last six years we’ve done an annual toy drive. We had the opportunity this year to move it to Wall Street, a bigger location, and see if we can collect some more toys. It benefits Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Southeastern Connecticut. It’s been very successful over the years; the families have been very appreciative. Our fans are amazing when it comes to rallying for a cause. The last few years we’ve turned it into a pajama jammie-jam and we play in our pajamas and we invite the crowd if they want to wear pajamas, instead of an ugly sweater thing. And it’s reduced admission with a toy. It’s a fun way to end the year with a show.

AV: How is the energy in the room at your shows?

BM: The crowd is one of the most important parts of the show. The more into it the crowd is, the more into it we are and the more experimental we get when we are playing and it just keeps us super loose and keeps the set list fun. We have fun playing no matter what but it’s just so much more fun when are fans are fully engaged. They really are just amazing people, we’ve gotten to know many of them over the years. We are just playing music and having fun and they are always there to support us.

AV: You wrote “Welcome Home.” What inspired that song?

BM: There is a fabulous group of human beings and some of them are in a band called The Kazoo Crew Family Band and they are dear friends of ours. They have this tucked away farm in Connecticut and they do a little festival up there and we played up there. As we were pulling in, there was a sign that said Welcome Home and they have a handmade stage and we played up there. It was just a beautiful magical place and I was truly inspired by the feeling of being home and just like how that is kind of a state of mind. We all loved the Gathering of the Vibes Festival when that was around and this had the same feeling of just going somewhere but knowing everybody and that feeling at home. So that song is about carrying that feeling with you that you are home wherever you go.

AV: What’s on deck for 2020?

BM: Definitely get the third album out. We’d like to put out a live album as well. We consider ourselves more a live band than a studio band. Hopefully, do some more writing and return shows and just keep making it up as we go along.