Salt in the Wound

Can't we all just get along? Not if you look to the demise of Veruca Salt, which went down in flames two years ago after singer/guitarists Nina Gordon and Louise Post had a major falling out. The band scored big with its 1994 debut, American Thighs, and seemed destined to join the estrogen-powered altrock sweepstakes alongside Belly, Hole, Lush, and the Breeders. But following a sophomore slump, Gordon abruptly bowed out in early 1998 while the band had been working on a new album.

Initially the rift appeared to spell the end for Veruca Salt, but Post has opted to soldier on with an entirely new cast. Gordon has embarked on a solo career. Post (the brunette) and Gordon (the blonde) handily updated Heart's are-they-twins-or-lovers mystique for the Nineties, and the attractive duo often was slapped with the tag "waif-rock," much to their chagrin. Both women went on record touting a party line of sister power, women supporting women, and a fun sense of feminism. "Seether," an anthem penned by Gordon, packed those concepts into an explosive pop-metal single, which dominated rock radio and MTV. The duo's success made their subsequent schism all the more painful.

In Post's eyes the new Veruca Salt (which performs a radio showcase in South Florida this week) is exciting but tinged with regret. She realizes fans may feel the same way. "Yeah -- like, 'Why couldn't you keep it together?'" Post wonders, in a recent phone chat from her hotel room in upstate New York. "It certainly was a marriage, and it certainly has been a divorce. It's been really traumatic. We used to joke about the fact that we had everything but the ring."

Once the shock of the split wore off, Post restocked Veruca Salt with fresh flesh and stayed the course with a new record, Resolver, released last week on Beyond Records. "This is my baby, and she left, so fuck it," Post remarks. "I felt there was a lot more life to be breathed into this band."

Post and Gordon met in Chicago in 1991, dubbed themselves Veruca Salt (after the rich, snobby kid in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), and began looking for a female rhythm section. When that failed they enlisted Gordon's brother, Jim Shapiro, on drums, and Steve Lack on bass. Released on the independent Minty Fresh label, American Thighs burst on to radio three years later with a concoction of blistering guitars, wailing vocals, and the necessary dash of sugary pop. "Seether" accosted listeners with its barrage of buzz-saw guitars and an addictive chorus. Post and Gordon struck a snarling poise that might well have been copped from AC/DC.

A stop-gap EP, Blow It Out Your Ass It's Veruca Salt, kept the quartet in circulation just as word broke that it had landed a lucrative deal with Geffen. The group's major-label debut, Eight Arms to Hold You, (1997) failed to live up to American Thighs' promise, and the production by Bob Rock (Aerosmith, AC/DC) gloss-coated the bombast and dulled the drums, resulting in a pop-metal product that tarnished the its indie credibility. Apparently Veruca Salt bought into its own metallic leanings, because the subsequent tour found both Post and Gordon in the throes of hair-swinging, cock-rock posing.

Gordon's unexpected resignation came in late February 1998. A flurry of speculation followed. Most observers claimed a man had come between Post and Gordon. Gordon has even admitted breaking up with both Post and her boyfriend at the same time (and given the tawdry subject matter of Post's new songs, that scenario seems likely), though none of the individuals involved have been eager to rehash the mess in public.

The more pressing question, of course, is whether Post will be able to carry the Veruca Salt torch on her own. Resolver, a return to the pleasing stridency of the original Veruca Salt, immediately removes any doubt. With studio assistance from ex-members of Failure and Triplefastaction, plus ex-Filter/nine inch nails guitarist Brian Liesegang (who also handled production chores), Post took the reins and packed the album with singles-in-waiting. The band's permanent lineup features drummer Jimmy Madla, guitarist Stephen Fitzpatrick, and bassist/singer Suzanne Sokol.

"Alternative rock" has lost a good deal of cachet since Veruca Salt's initial salvo, but Post isn't certain if that description fits the band anyway. "At first that phrase always confused me," she says, "but I think now I understand it better. When I think about Bush, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Hole, the Breeders -- I can see a school of music that's pretty distinctive. But I'm kind of confused by what I hear on the radio right now; I just don't like it. I'm certainly not out there buying the new Limp Bizkit. There's been a big gaping hole in radio, and I'm glad to be carrying the torch again, to bring female-fronted bands back to radio in the form of rock, not in the form of Lilith."

Ironically the Lilith tour is exactly where Gordon ended up last summer, testing the solo waters. Gordon's Tonight and the Rest of My Life is due out on Warner Bros. next month. Although the record is being produced by Rock at his Hawaiian retreat where Veruca Salt made Eight Arms, Gordon has traded some of the hard-rock fretwork for buttery ballads. Still, song titles such as "Hate Your Way" indicate animus below the surface.

On Post's end the bitterness coloring the music following the breakup works just as well as the blue-skied optimism and teamwork of the old days. Several of Resolver's tracks openly address the split, among them "I Used To Know Her," which throbs with palpable anger. "When I wrote that song," Post explains, "our friendship was already failing. I was already feeling like I lost her. One of the sad things about growing up is learning that things come to an end; I had to learn to go on without her."

In the same vein is the alternately anguished and pretty "Only You Know," on which Post tosses barbs such as "I've given you too much thought/Don't blame me for sinking the ship/You're a hopeless liar and a hypocrite.... You should have thought it through before you blew it." The album concludes with the acidic "Hellraiser," complete with crunching axe-work, an extended wail from Post, and the promise, "you will pay for your mistakes."

Interestingly Beyond is issuing Resolver in two versions: a standard package and a "clean" version, which edits out Post's four-letter frolicking (and a good amount of punch). For example: After the false security of a minutelong solo piano piece opening the album, Post busts out the screaming fire-pole-slide intro to "Born Entertainer" and shouts, "This couldn't get any better/She didn't get it, so FUCK HER!"

"It's kind of a sensitive issue because I don't really ascribe to the idea of censorship," Post says. "But I was coerced into doing a version of the album that was clean, because I swear a lot on the record, or enough, anyway, for them to try to get me to do this. There are a lot of small towns where the only place kids can buy albums is Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart's not going to carry an album with explicit lyrics. So I basically caved and allowed them to do a clean version."

Combined with the shriek of Veruca Salt's guitars, the lyrics offer a cathartic, cleansing burn. And Post makes it clear she's happy to have the heat of the spotlight to herself. "It's just me and my vision," she adds. "I'm not trying to keep a balancing act going with another songwriter. That conflict disappeared when Nina left the band."

Reluctantly Post acknowledges that Veruca Salt's comeback can't begin with a completely clean slate: She's performing a few Gordon-penned tunes on the band's current tour. "I had a lot of pressure to play 'Seether,'" she admits, "and I just flat-out said no. I said that for some time. [But] people still want to hear the songs that they know, and once again I kind of caved to some pressure from my label. Otherwise I'm playing songs from the past records that I wrote and songs from this album. Beyond that her songs are going to disappear. But this is such an audacious move to make on my end, and it is a transitional time right now where people are still wanting to hear those songs. And they may always want to hear them, but I'm not always going to want to play them."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton