Vercua Salt Dishes On Getting Back Together, Nostalgia For the '90s, and Finding Redemption Through Music
Vercua Salt Dishes On Getting Back Together, Nostalgia For the '90s, and Finding Redemption Through Music
Text: Erica Russell
It’s been just over two decades since Veruca Salt, the little alt-rock band from Chicago, released their youth-defining debut to the world, 1994’s rollicking, bratty, American Thighs. It was all crashing guitars, fierce sonic energy, and declarative lyrics, sung defiantly and girlishly in unison by lead singer-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post. The band—which also included bassist Steve Lack and drummer Jim Shapiro—had arrived during a very particular moment during the zeitgeist of 90s music, a moment in which young women were taking back their power through unapologetic, raw music... and a heaping dose of attitude.
Like Garbage’s Shirley Manson, Hole’s Courtney Love, and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, Gordon and Post had arrived just in time for the resurgence of the woman rocker in all her wailing post-punk, no-holds-barred, femme-embracing glory. They were sugar and spice and everything noisy, and this was no more apparent than on their ’94 haze-rock hit “Seether,” the video for which made it into heavy rotation on MTV. The band had quickly joined the ranks of American grunge royalty, and spent most of the mid-90s reigning.
Yet as all kingdoms eventually fall from war, so did the band. This particular conflict, however, was internal. In the spring of 1998, Rolling Stone magazine reported that Gordon had left the group; rumors of a bitter feud between Gordon and Post ran rampant, and as the women will openly attest to today, this was exactly the case. Thus, the next few years would see a menagerie of new bandmates come and go, as well as the various solo career attempts and side projects of Gordon, Post, Lack, and Shapiro. Finally, the killing blow came: In March of 2012, the group announced on their web site that they were on an indefinite hiatus. For heartbroken fans, it seemed as though there was nothing left to fight for in Veruca Salt.
On March 15, 2013—almost exactly a year after announcing their aforementioned disbanding—the group announced the return of their original lineup on Facebook. Later that fall, the band released a limited edition 10-inch vinyl EP featuring two new songs as well as a twentieth anniversary reissue of “Seether,” shortly thereafter embarking on a commemorative reunion tour in the U.S. and Australia. And now, with hatchets buried, friendships rekindled, and guitars blazing, the alt-rock quartet has properly returned on July 10 with Ghost Notes, Veruca Salt’s fifth full-length studio album and the first to feature Gordon, Post, Lack, and Shapiro together again in more than a decade. To celebrate the return of the band in all its original glory, V caught up with Gordon and Post to discuss recording the new record, ’90s nostalgia, and finding redemption.
What are you feeling now that you’re all back together?
NINA GORDON It’s been pretty celebratory and exciting. The album is out [this] week. We’re super proud of it. We’re getting ready to play our first shows since last year and to play these new songs for the first time, because last summer we didn’t play them. We played our old songs, but this summer we’re playing all our new songs. We’re just feeling pretty stoked and lucky to be able to enjoy this again.
How long has it been since all four of you jammed together? Has it been like, 18 years?
NG Oh, it sounds worse to hear it like that! [Laughs] I guess it has, because my brother Jim, who played drums on all of the albums we made together, he left the band right after we recorded Eight Arms to Hold You. I guess that might have been 18 years ago, but Louise and Steve and I played together more recently and that was like, 15 years or something.
LOUISE POST Yeah, it was 14 years between the time the three of us played together.
Did you have any trepidation in terms of the direction you wanted to take the music? You were all obviously coming back together from different places in your careers and lives.
LP Well, we didn’t make the decision per se to go out and make a new album. We got back together first and foremost just to reconnect as people and as friends. As anyone who has been in a band knows, being in a band is like being in a family. So [at that point] it was just to heal those wounds and, even though at that point no one was really angry anymore, we still had a lot to say; a lot to pour over and look at and inspect closely in order to get to the bottom of things. We made big and small apologies to one another. By the time we started playing together again, we didn’t know if it was going to simply be a reunion of sorts, or if we were actually going to make a full blown record. It just grew organically from me and Nina playing a couple of songs from American Thighs in our basement on acoustic, to both of us bringing new songs to one another, and really it came about very much the way it came about the first time around—just writing and being excited by the songs.
How did the boys fall back into the mix?
LP Well, all of a sudden we had a handful of songs that we felt passionate about, so Steve came up from San Diego to play music with us and eventually Jim flew out from Chicago and started playing drums on the songs. At first we thought we were just going to release the 7-inch with Minty Fresh, our original label who we put out “Seether” with, which was the first thing we ever put out. They had reached out to us and asked if we wanted to release a something for Record Store Day with them. We said yes, and it just happened that our producer from American Thighs, Brad, was in Los Angeles. We reached out to him and without a breath he said, I’m in, let’s do this [laughs]. So we recorded with Brad. Everything sort of came full circle in a very natural way and before we knew it, we were on our way to making a record. If there were ever a moment where any of us felt just like wow, this isn’t really amounting to anything, or if we didn’t feel passionate about what we were doing, then we would have probably abandoned ship. We have to work very hard now with all of our busy lives to make this happen—it’s not like we can just drop everything and make a record. We don’t have that luxury on any level, so we wouldn’t have done any of this [it that were the case] because it was really hard work and time intensive. It was a labor of love and we wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t meaningful for us individually and as a whole.
So then do you feel things have come full circle in that way?
NG Oh yes, it’s full circle in so many ways, in particular in the way that the whole process has unfolded again. You know, really there are so many reasons, but it’s particularly because this is just about the love of music. There’s no expectation again. You can only make a first record once, but in a weird way this is like we just made our first record again. When we made American Thighs, we just loved playing music together. We did not think anyone would hear it; we just thought our boyfriends and our parents would hear it, and that would be enough. We loved what we were doing. It was a huge surprise how successful it was. And this time around—because so much time had passed and because we had really put Veruca Salt to bed; we really had—we had no expectations when we got back together other than that this would have to be fun, we would have to believe in it, we would have to love the songs and love what we were doing together, and that’s it! Everything else is gravy. In that sense, we have that innocence all over again… of loving what we’re doing and not really caring what other people think.
It seems like the stars truly aligned for this, then, because if this wasn’t going to work out the way it needed to for you guys, and in the way where it felt wholly fulfilling and authentic, then it wouldn’t have happened. Do you agree?
LP Absolutely. I think this needed to happen. I think it’s been an incredibly healing process for all of us. And I feel like these songs needed to be written and were destined to be written. That’s sort of my gut feeling about that.
Were you guys able to find redemption and forgiveness on Ghost Notes?
NG Yes, absolutely. That’s a huge part of what makes it so fruitful for us because we were truly able to buy the hatchet. You know, we were plagued for years—all of us, personally—about the ways things ended and we missed each other very much. There were years where we didn’t really allow ourselves to miss one another, but always deep down there was something missing. The first time the four of us sat in a room together we went around in a circle just apologizing. It was a round robin-apology session, and that was so important. We could not be doing what we’re doing right now if there weren’t a huge amount of forgiveness, understanding, and burying all of the hurt feelings and all of the anger. We’ve gotten to a point where we have been able to just love each other.
Now that you’re all back on the road with one another, what are you looking forward to the most?
LP We did tour last summer together, and then in the fall in Australia for a couple of weeks.
Oh yes, for the Record Store Day reunion release, right?
LP Yeah, so the most incredible part of touring [for that] that I don’t think any of us could have anticipated were the reactions from our fans. People who had been waiting and hoping against hope that we might reunite someday; people to whom our music was very special and impactful. We know what our favorite, beloved bands and records are that we grew up with, but it’s hard to imagine that you are the source of that for other people. That’s what we experienced last year just by the people we reconnected with on tour. The whole thing sold out very quickly, so we knew that the people who bought tickets were the ones who were ready to push the button with their finger when tickets went on sale. These were huge fans of ours. It was a massive celebration of our reunion, and we played only stuff from the past with the exception of the two songs we released on Record Store Day. It was perfect and exactly the thing we needed to do at that time. It was so meaningful and so profound for us. Now we are equally excited to go play our new album for the same people.
As a listener, the album seems like a perfect continuation of where you last left while also serving as an evolution for Veruca Salt. There’s aggression and rowdiness, but also celebratory and mellow, thoughtful moments. What are some of the things you wanted to explore with this record?
NG You know, most of the songs are about us. It used to be that I would write about me, and Louise would write about her, and it was all very individual and personal. This time these songs are still personal, but it’s about us and our friendship, our band, what it was like to be us back then. And where we’ve ended up now. So a lot of the themes are themes of regret for things that were said, jubilation for being back together, sadness for mistakes that were made, and also just looking back at who we were. It’s about the excitement of being a young band, and what it meant being in Chicago at that time, and also looking forward. It’s very much an album about being in Veruca Salt.
I love that you’re reflecting as well as owning where you are in the moment. It’s great to be able to hear about your journey and your story as a group through these songs. And there’s so much honesty.
LP There really was no point in making this record if our lyrics weren’t going to be honest, you know? Our breakup was shrouded in secrecy and mystique and whatever you want to call it for so long. Now we’re back and we’re not ashamed of our past. We’re happy that we’ve come so far and that we’ve grown up as much as we have. We can make sense of it through our music and, as Nina says, celebrate where we are now. It’s cathartic to write about that time and have it not be like when we wrote our separate records when Nina and I were in the throes of anger. There was a lot a lot of vitriol and just sort of seething emotions—no pun intended—so it’s nice to have come around to a place of peace with both the present and with the past. The song “Lost To Me” in particular was very healing in that I was able to write about what it was like to be without my band, how dearly I missed each of them, and what it felt like to have been ripped apart. I always had such a hole in my life where each of them was concerned. Now we have had this incredible blessing of being reunited and I can write about it without falling apart. Those emotions are no longer frightening to look at.
You guys have never really had a façade or persona; you were who you were.
NG Thank you for saying so. Those are very nice words to hear.
Speaking the way things were, Veruca Salt is certainly regarded as one of the quintessential 90s bands. What do you think of the resurgence of the 90s in our pop culture canon that’s taking place?
NG You know, it’s not nostalgia for us, because it’s our past and it’s our lives. We don’t really look at it with a sort of wistfulness, though I suppose at times on the album we do. I think it’s just natural. Isn’t that the way it works? Every twenty years you look back two decades previously and then that’s what’s popular. I think that’s the nature of nostalgia, right?
LP I’m curious how you feel about it.
Well for me, as a girl growing up in the ’90s, the music, and culture, and imagery is very embedded into who I’ve become. I hold it dear, but at the same time, it’s not just longing; it empowered me, it shaped me—especially the music.
LP We’re a little older than you are so it’s interesting that you were growing up listening to “Seether.” I was curious what that was like for you. For us, it’s definitely a weird phenomenon to notice that, like you said, the ’90s are now a “thing,” and that they happened long enough ago that it’s become a trend to do and act and dress like you’re in the ’90s. To look like us [laughs]. It’s comical, really. Also, a lot of bands we knew back then are either still making records or currently reuniting, but we don’t necessarily feel part of that either. We didn’t jump on some bandwagon. It just so happened that there was a synchronicity of events—a proliferation of ’90s reunions, as it were, that we happen to be a part of, though we didn’t intend to do it at any specific time. The stars just aligned for us to get back together. We’ve realized that on some level it was kind of now or never we. We have really busy lives and we live in separate places (with the exception of me and Nina, who are both in Los Angeles), so we didn’t want too much time to pass that we wouldn’t be able to heal our wounds and get our shit together for another chapter of Veruca Salt. Thankfully we did it when the time was right. Now we’re in the thick of it and we’ll see where it takes us. We’re in it for the long haul.
GHOST NOTES IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM EL CAMINO RECORDS.