Salt in the Wound

Veruca Salt

Can't we all just get along? Not if you look at 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 was 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 audiovisual agenda for the '90s, and the attractive duo were often 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 that fans may feel the same way.

Breaking up is hard to do: Veruca Salt sticks it out
Breaking up is hard to do: Veruca Salt sticks it out

"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 Charlie and 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 onto 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 pose that might well have been copped from AC/DC.

A stopgap EP, Blow It Out Your Ass It's Veruca Salt, kept the quartet in circulation just as word broke that they'd landed a lucrative deal with Geffen. Its 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 band's 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 that a man had come between Post and Gordon. Gordon has even admitted to breaking up with both her boyfriend and Post 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 has 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 singer-bassist 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 Brothers 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 fret work for buttery ballads. Still, song titles such as "Hate Your Way" indicate animus below the surface.

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