One summer day in 2012, Veruca Salt’s vocalist-guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post sat downstairs in Gordon’s basement in Los Angeles and sang together for the first time since the two ended their friendship and musical partnership 14 years prior. “We played ‘Get Back’ and ‘Wolf,’ and it was just . . . how do I even describe it?” Gordon says. “It was sublime. Our voices hadn’t changed. We just locked right in and it was heaven.” “I thought, ‘We’re just going to melt into a puddle of tears when we start singing,’” Post says. “There were so many emotions. Nina and I had missed these huge chapters in each other’s lives. It was like, ‘So how much did you love Strangers With Candy? What did you think of The White Stripes?’”
Gordon and Post’s reunion eventually led to the pair reforming Veruca Salt with their original bandmates: Gordon’s brother, drummer Jim Shapiro, and bassist Steve Lack. This year sees the release of their first album-length collection of new music written by all four original members – a record called Ghost Notes, produced by Brad Wood (who produced their gold-selling debut album, American Thighs).
But before we get to more about that, let’s cut to the early ’90s. The seeds of Veruca Salt were first planted in Chicago in 1991, when Post and Gordon were introduced by a mutual friend (actress Lili Taylor) who thought the two should make music together. With Shapiro and Lack on board, the group hit the city’s thriving club scene at a time when local acts Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, and Liz Phair had begun to receive national attention. In 1993, Veruca Salt played its first gig in the neighborhood of Wicker Park, Chicago’s indie-rock epicenter, and soon released the “Seether” single on local label Minty Fresh.
Then everything went crazy. After a major-label bidding war erupted and the band signed to Geffen Records (home of Nirvana), Veruca Salt experienced a meteoric rise, doing everything a young band coming of age in the grunge era could hope to do. They toured with alt-rock royalty Hole and PJ Harvey. They released an album, American Thighs, which eventually sold a million copies worldwide. They scored features in Spin (which called American Thighs “a flawless teenage memory glass”) and Rolling Stone (who dubbed their music “heady pop confections laced with a dash of menace”). They recorded an EP, Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt, with noise-king engineer Steve Albini. They also played a hometown arena show in front of 10,000 people with Weezer, Hole, and Dinosaur Jr., kibitzed with Matt Pinfield on MTV’s 120 Minutes, performed at the UK’s prestigious Glastonbury Festival, and appeared on Saturday Night Live.
But trouble had begun to set in before Veruca Salt went into the studio in Hawaii to record their second full-length album, Eight Arms To Hold You, with Metallica/Mötley Crüe producer Bob Rock. “I just think we were so overwhelmed,” Post says. “We couldn’t appreciate everything that was happening to us. We weren’t grounded. We had been writing and singing together for some time before we even played a show, but we didn’t know what was happening to us. We didn’t have anyone saying, ‘All right, this is going to really mess with you guys.’” “Well, Vicki Peterson from the Bangles warned us,” Gordon says. “She said, ‘People are going to try to pit you against each other; they’re going to try to come between you. Management can be really divisive. Producers can be divisive.’ All that stuff. And we were like, ‘No, no, no, we’re best friends. That's never going to happen to us.’”
In February 1997 Veruca Salt released Eight Arms and hit the road for an arena tour opening for Bush. Shapiro had left the group after the album was completed to pursue his own music. “Jim was the moral glue in the band,” Gordon says. "His leaving was big.”
Veruca Salt broke up in early 1998 when Gordon suddenly left the band. Though she and Post aren’t eager to give exact details about what led to the breakup, they will say that ultimately a lack of coping skills led to their implosion. “We understand that people want to know the gory details,” Gordon says. “Just watch the Fleetwood Mac Behind the Music. It was drugs and cheating and all that junk, and the two of us not talking about what was really going on. If it were Mick and Keith or something, Louise and I would have just had an old-fashioned fistfight and gotten back to work.”
The split took a heavy emotional toll on both Gordon and Post, who describe their sisterly bond as akin to that between soulmates. Each tried to sort out their feelings through music, Gordon on her first solo album, Tonight and the Rest of My Life, and Post on a subsequent Veruca Salt album, Resolver. Years went by without the two speaking. Then, in 2003, they began to very slowly mend fences, emailing sporadically. By 2008, both had married and started families and they began to lean on one another as new mothers. “We never talked about music, ever, in those years,” Gordon says. “It was all about our families. Nothing else. And we never met face to face."
Then in 2012, Gordon read that Mazzy Star had reunited and were performing together for the first time in 15 years at Coachella. “Something about that scratched my soul,” she says. “It gave me this pang of wanting to sing with Louise again, like really wanting to. I emailed her and said, ‘Hey, Mazzy Star are playing Coachella, shouldn’t we?’ And she said, ‘Maybe we should start with coffee.’"
The two met for dinner instead and wound up talking through years of unresolved pain and resentments, emerging from their teary, hours-long meal with hope. “Friendship was the most important thing there, but I couldn't help but jump right ahead to playing music,” Post says. “I thought, ‘Now that we’re talking again, when do we start playing?’ I almost couldn’t differentiate between the two. It seemed like now we’d pick up our guitars and play, because that’s what we do.”
Post had been in touch with Lack over the previous years and broached the subject of a Veruca Salt reunion with him. “I said, ‘Would you consider possibly playing with the band again?’ He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment for years. I didn’t think this would be my answer, but yes, I would.’” Shapiro, too, was on board, and in August 2012, the four original members sat down together for the first time. “We went around the circle,” Post says. “Whoever had the floor was to make an apology for something, big or small. That was the running joke, but it was actually very profound.” Adds Gordon: “‘Steve said, ‘I’m sorry I threw a shot glass at your head in New Orleans, Nina.’ And I said, ‘Well, I'm sorry I made you feel underappreciated in the band, Steve.'” Shapiro apologized for leaving the band. “Turns out it had bothered him for years,” Post says. “He had regrets, too.”
The quartet first played together in June 2013. “It was really exciting,” Gordon says. "There were moments where I could picture myself on stage for the first time in 15 years. Then there were moments where it was like, ‘Oh god, this sounds like shit. How could we possibly?’” It also became clear that the band didn’t want to just do an American Thighs reunion. “Nina and I started asking each other, ‘You got anything new?’” Post recalls. “We quickly began working on new songs we had been tinkering with on our own that we thought would be fun to play with Steve and Jim."
Meanwhile, Veruca Salt had been contacted by Minty Fresh about a 20th-anniversary edition of American Thighs, which was first released in September 1994. “It was very timely,” Post says. “And we thought, ‘What if we were to release something new, too?’ I sent Brad a message saying, ‘Hey, we’re recording some songs for Minty Fresh for Record Store Day. How crazy is that?’” Post says. “Would it be any crazier to think that we might record it with you? Is that totally insane?’ And he wrote back saying, ‘AMAZING. I’m in.’ It was exactly the thing we needed to hear and we said, ‘Okay. We're doing this.’” Two new songs on a 10” and a sold-out national tour later, the band reconvened with Wood to work on a full album of new material. “We didn’t know we were making an album with him, but it’s turned into that,” Post says. “It’s been a really cool journey of just writing together and discovering that we want to do this again.”
The new songs on Ghost Notes pick up where Veruca Salt left off 15 years ago, with their sing-along hooks, melodic pop smarts, thundering sonic aggression, reference-packed wordplay, and angelic harmonies still intact. “Anyone who has ever sung in a group, whether it’s a rock band, a choir, or whatever, has felt that buzz when your voice is locked in with someone else’s,” Gordon says. “It’s the greatest feeling in the whole world. Louise and I have always had that. Starting in 1991, we would sit in my living room, and we would sing together, and it was just dreamy."The biggest difference is that Veruca Salt’s new songs are a wholly collaborative effort. Previously, Post and Gordon had written separately before bringing songs to the band. "We were more precious about our songs back then," Post explains. "This time around we are eager to share the responsibilities. We have busy lives, and it's easier sometimes to write a verse and then hand it over to the other for the chorus. One picks up where the other left off. The guys are contributing, too. There’s no more 'Nina song' and 'Louise song.’ These are simply Veruca Salt songs."
“It’s miraculous to have this brand-new, beautiful chapter,” Post says. “We never saw it coming, and yet, here we are. To be able to reconnect and play with these dear friends of mine who are like my family . . . it’s such a gift. As meaningful as it is for our fans, it is that much more meaningful for us. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. Everything is where it’s supposed to be.”