Q&A: Veruca Salt’s First Joint Interview In 17 Years + “The Museum Of Broken Relationships” Video (Stereogum Premiere)
If you came of age at a certain time — say, that musical sweet spot around 1993/’94 when the “Alternative Nation” was just coming into full bloom — chances are Veruca Salt were/are very important to you. In 1994, I was enduring my first year of college, and American Thighs — Veruca Salt’s much-beloved debut album — was basically the unofficial soundtrack of my life. Not only were Veruca Salt ostensibly just very cool — a band fronted by two badass guitar-wielding women, Nina Gordon and Louise Post — their music was oddly prescient as well, neatly ushering in a swarm of other bands who understood the benefit of marrying snarly guitars with undeniable pop hooks and gooey vocal harmonies. Given that “Seether” — the band’s breakthrough single — was one of the most omnipresent songs of the ’90s, the future seemed (at least in that moment) to be Veruca Salt’s for the taking. They sold more than a million records, they toured with other, similarly great bands (Hole and PJ Harvey among them) and played an arena show in front of 10,000 people in their hometown of Chicago. Still, the story of Veruca Salt — like so many of their ’90s brethren — would turn out to be a cautionary tale of sorts. After releasing their Bob Rock-produced sophomore album, Eight Arms To Hold You, and doing a lengthy round of touring, Gordon abruptly left the band in what she now describes as some real Behind The Music bullshit: “It was drugs and cheating and all that junk.” Both Gordon and Post would soldier on making music (Gordon under her own name, Post under the Veruca Salt moniker), but it would never really be the same. Sadder than the end of their musical partnership was the end of their friendship, something that both Post and Gordon mourned for the better part of the next two decades.
But this story has a happy ending. Twenty years after the release of American Thighs, Nina Gordon and Louise Post officially reunited as Veruca Salt, having quietly rekindled their friendship over the past several years. In 2013 the two women re-teamed with their other original bandmates — drummer Jim Shapiro (who is also Gordon’s brother) and bassist Steve Lack — to make some new music. As a result, the band just released a special 10″ vinyl for Record Store Day (including two brand-new and classic-sounding tracks, “The Museum of Broken Relationships” and “It’s Holy”), and are currently hard at work on material for a new Veruca Salt LP with producer Brad Wood (the same person responsible for producing American Thighs back in 1994). They’ll also be hitting the road this summer. I had the good fortune of chatting with Gordon and Post about their reunion and their enduring friendship, for their first interview together as Veruca Salt in 17 years. Read the interview below then check out “The Museum of Broken Relationships,” directed by Gary Kordan, at the bottom of this post.
STEREOGUM: So this is the very first press thing that you’ve done together for a long time …
NINA: Since December of ’97 probably.
STEREOGUM: That’s so wild. Well, I’m very happy to be talking to you. Your band meant so much to me when I was younger and I have a very emotional attachment to American Thighs, so I’m really pleased to be able to write about it.
NINA: Can I ask you how old you are?
STEREOGUM: I will be 40 in just a couple of months.
NINA: So when American Thighs came out you were 20-ish?
STEREOGUM: Yeah. I was in college in Oklahoma. I saw you guys play a couple of times during that era with different people. I think I once drove with a bunch of people to Dallas to see you play, because nothing ever came to Oklahoma, so we always had to drive.
LOUISE: I think we played in Oklahoma City, didn’t we, Nin?
NINA: We did. Maybe with Live or with Bush? Opening up for Live or Bush? I remember being in Oklahoma City. I remember a hotel room. I remember a mall. I don’t really remember the show.
STEREOGUM: So it must be very surreal to finally be making music together — and doing press together — again. Did you assume this would never, ever happen? Or did you always feel like maybe it might?
NINA: I did not really think it would ever happen. I definitely had dreams about it, strange dreams where I would find myself on stage with Louise. I also had dreams that I was on stage with the Beatles. These were fantasies. I didn’t think it was really possible. I think we both had kind of written it off … except obviously there was something stirring under the surface all these years. I think I had at some point reached my limit and just felt like, I want to do this. We have to do this. We were cut short, you know? Just for personal reasons. But we had so much music to make together. Now it just feels incredibly natural. It doesn’t even feel weird to be doing interviews or to be in the studio together. Every so often we pinch ourselves, and say, “Can you believe we’re doing this?” But really it all came back so quickly and naturally.
LOUISE: It’s sort of like we picked up where we left off without missing a beat. By the time we finally got together and had dinner, we had been in touch for some time but still hadn’t seen each other in person. When we cracked through that barrier, we still didn’t go full throttle. We took our time and got used to each other’s company. It took us a while to sing together again. But I think once that door was open, it all started to come into play naturally. If I hadn’t resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to work with Nina possibly ever again, and not going to make a [post-Nina] Veruca Salt — or as we call it now, Veruca Starship — record again … if I had not resigned myself to that, like concluded it with clarity, then I don’t think it could have happened. I sort of had to come to that conclusion before it was even it was even possible for Nina and I to make music again. There’s something about the surrender before the new era. It also felt like the stars had to be aligned for us to play music together again, and to really be actively friends again, and to know each other’s lives as intimately as we do now. It’s really pretty profound to be part of one another’s personal worlds again, and to have our families intertwined, and to be sharing our intimate thoughts and secrets, and to be doing all those things we did then … but with so much time having passed and catching up in the meantime. We’ve basically been “back together” as friends for nearly two years now, so it’s not as shocking as it is possibly for our fans and people in general who are seeing that were are releasing some new stuff. It all feels pretty natural to us at this point. And still very exciting.
STEREOGUM: How old were you two when you made American Thighs and your career as a band really exploded?
LOUISE: Like 27, Nina?
NINA: Like 26, definitely. Definitely old enough to say when I was 25 in the song “25” … so must have been 26.
STEREOGUM: Thinking back on what popular culture was like in that moment, and thinking about how many of us feel in our mid-20s — which is that kind of weird age when you’re not a teenager anymore, but you’re certainly not an adult — it kind of makes sense. I was trying to imagine how most people would feel experiencing that kind of success — a success that’s also so closely connected to one of your most intimate, personal friendship relationships — and trying to navigate that experience while a bunch of people are watching you and telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s understandable how that can so easily implode in a lot of different ways. I’m sorry, I guess that’s not really a question …
NINA: It was beautifully said! I wish I had said it. It would be a great response to what actually happened to us back then. I like it.
LOUISE: You can just attach Nina’s name to what you just said.
STEREOGUM: I mean after the two of you started speaking again, and then met in person, and the wheels started turning again on your friendship, did it make you wish that had happened sooner? Or maybe it couldn’t have happened sooner than it actually did? There are a lot of lost years there when the two of you didn’t speak at all.
LOUISE: I feel like that is our biggest regret, that it didn’t happen sooner. And Nina, I don’t know if you and I talked about this, but I also had dreams about us, and I had dreams about the Beatles as well! Like being on stage with the Beatles and not knowing how to play the songs. It’s so funny. We were having the same dream.
NINA: I definitely had a lot of Beatles dreams, but I would have Veruca Salt dreams all the time. But just to answer your question, Cole, when we first sang together a year and a half ago in my basement, the first notes we sang together were “Get Back.” We were just playing with acoustic guitars and as soon as we started to play it was so moving. It was so exciting. It was a happy moment, but also filled with the regret of “Why did we waste all this time, why didn’t we do this sooner?”
LOUISE: We split up for personal reasons, but we didn’t split up for creative reasons. We had another record we were working on at the time we broke up. It felt like we never got to make that record. The good news, the miraculous news, is that we get to make it now. But yeah, there’s definitely some melancholy around missing so much time together and all that we could’ve created as a band. I think I can confidently say that the boys [in the band] share in that too.
NINA: And yet there is that feeling that everything had to happen this way. Healing takes time. It took us this long and now we here we are, and it’s pretty amazing.
LOUISE: I can bet you that even a year prior to talking to Steve Lack about playing again with Veruca Salt, I can imagine him saying, “Hell no.” But when I asked him, it happened that he was ready. And the same with Jim. All of the stars had to align.
STEREOGUM: I think it’s generally unhealthy to focus on the whole could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. It’s so destructive ultimately. Sometimes it’s important in therapy-speak to go back and revisit “why did that happen?” or “why did we act that way?” but ultimately being able to appreciate the now is what’s important.
NINA: We do a lot of that, going back. And part of it is just for fun. It’s fun to go back and talk about all that stuff. I think it’s also part of what we have to do. But I think one of the big regrets is that we wish we had someone in our lives, whether it had been a manager or a band friend or somebody, who said, “You guys, just duke it out and get back to work.” We just sort of wish someone had been wise enough to know how special what we have together is. Then again, we’re here now, and it’s thrilling.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting to think about the legacy of the music you did make together. When it was announced that this was happening, several of my friends went early to buy the new release on Record Store Day. There was such a groundswell of excitement that this was happening. Does that aspect of it surprise you? Were you aware that this music you made together has had this enduring life outside in the world?
NINA: Well, because of social media we had this inkling that there was a smallish group of people to whom we continued to be very important, and that was very lovely and encouraging. But truthfully this is all happening in a shockingly similar way to how it happened the first time around, because when we made American Thighs, we really did not know if anyone would care or if anyone would hear it. We were really just doing it for ourselves and for — I think what I said at the time — our boyfriends. We basically wanted our boyfriends to like our record. And then we were shocked by how well-received it was and how quickly things happened. We have a similar cocoon-like feeling this time, where we really just went into this for ourselves because it was such a joy to be playing music together, the four of us all together again. So it has been really fun over the past couple of days to be aware of how excited people are about new music. It’s really surprising and lovely.
STEREOGUM: After your reunion announcement was made, I went back and watched one of my favorite clips of you guys playing at the Glastonbury festival in ’95. It’s so amazing. You guys look and sound so great. I was thinking how weird it would be to have done that and then to not be doing it anymore. To have that experience and then kind of lose it all.
LOUISE: It did feel like the rug was pulled out from underneath us and our lives went from something very recognizable to something entirely unrecognizable. We both continued to play live but we never had that same level of high-profile festival gigs. The magic that was there was different. It was strange to have shortened prematurely the trajectory that we were on. We were like a shooting star, so to speak. Ejected into space and then suddenly the rug fell out from underneath us, the floor dropped out. We had to find our way back to Earth. It was a trying time. I didn’t really recognize myself or my surroundings, and I had to really establish an identity without Nina, which was challenging. We were very much tied at the hip. We were so intertwined that being separated was like separating twins or something.
STEREOGUM: How has it been writing new music? I would imagine your processes for writing songs — and writing songs together — has changed pretty radically in the intervening years?
NINA: Yes. It’s changed completely. Back then Louise and I, in our 20s, had a lot to say and were very passionate about our feelings and our voice being heard. We wrote our songs pretty much independently, so I would bring in a song and Louise would bring in a song, and if I wrote the song I would sing lead on it, and Louise would do the same. There was room for arrangement changes and we would certainly shape our songs together as a band, but songs would come in pretty fully formed. This time around Louise and I still have a lot to say but we don’t have a lot of time. We both have families and small children. We don’t have the time. My process used to be — and I know Louise’s was too — that you can spend all day and all night writing a song. You can take a nap. You can go, Oh, I’m going to write a song that sounds great. Oh, you know I’m kind of sleepy. I’m going to sleep at 2 in the afternoon and wake up, maybe eat something and continue writing all night. Now we’ve got kids and schedules we have to abide by, and we don’t have all that time to be up at 3 in the morning, writing a song. So it’s actually been kind of amazing because I’ll bring in a little snippet of a song or Louise will bring in a piece of a song and we’ll write together and throw these ideas out at each other and say, like, “Hey, do you have time to write a chorus? Do you have time to write a bridge? Go write a bridge!” Some songs are fully formed and some songs and are complete and total collaborations, and that’s really exciting. In the past, collaborating never felt satisfying to me. It always felt like, Oh now it’s not my song anymore. It’s not my voice anymore. And you throw that sort of narcissism away when you have kids and it’s not all about you anymore. It feels way more collaborative and exciting. It changed the whole process. It made it more exciting but also more practical for us.
LOUISE: We’re just in a different world now. It’s fresh and it’s fun. It’s a good place to be.
STEREOGUM: Where are you at now in terms of record making?