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INTERVIEW – Nina Gordon, Veruca Salt – September 2014

INTERVIEW – Nina Gordon, Veruca Salt – September 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Veruca Salt - Nina Gordon 01

Band reunited and friendships rekindled, Indie rock darlings of the mid-90s Veruca Salt are back with their full original line-up and new tunes, and they’re touring Australia right now. SHANE PINNEGAR checks in with singer/guitarist Nina Gordon.

Riding high in the indie charts and all over Triple J with alt-rock hits Seether, Number One Blind, Victrola and Volcano Girls from their first two albums American Thighs (1994) and Eight Arms To Hold You (1997), Veruca Salt seemed on the cusp of a major breakthrough when Nina Gordon abruptly quit in 1998. Her co-vocalist, guitarist and best friend Louise Post carried on with various line-ups, releasing two more albums and several EPs, but things were never the same.

Until now.

We’ll get to the breakup later. For starters, I have to express how much of a shock it is that it’s been a massive twenty years since their debut album, American Thighs, was released!

“Yeah, it is,” Gordon laughs quietly. “Definitely shocking, to me at least!”

Are those songs still relevant to who you are now?

“That’s a good question,” she muses briefly. “Yeah, they are. When Louise and I first started playing together, all those years ago, and wrote the songs, we were young women in our early twenties, and we were extremely passionate about what we were doing. We had a lot to say. We had endless hours to write the music. That’s really all we did.

“There was always a little bit of an issue – I think most bands and artists feel this way – the more and more and more you play songs over and over again, they tend to get a little less immediate and whatever the feeling you had when you wrote it, it gets a little more diluted as time goes by and the more you play them. Because we took such a long break, the songs themselves have so much life to them, for us at least, and we’re certainly not tired of playing them. That is part of the reason we are writing new material and feel the need to write new songs because we’re in very different places in our lives, obviously, and there is a feeling of just needing to express ourselves in who we are now.

“[So] I guess it’s yes and no,” she continues thoughtfully. “Yeah, relevant – yes! I mean, there’s a lot of meaning, but the meanings change, so that’s the thing about music and art. For us, I guess, they have had the ability to continue to live and breathe.”

Veruca Salt 2014 02

Relevant though their old material may be, Gordon is adamant that it was essential Veruca Salt had new material to play together live.

“Well, we’ve only really done three weeks of shows in the last 15 years!” exclaims the musician. “We just did three weeks of shows [in the U.S.] over the Summer, in July basically, and then we’re coming over to Australia and we’ll play about two weeks worth of shows, something like that. On the most recent tour, we’ve played pretty much mostly our older material and then two new songs.

“I think as we do this more – if we continue to do this, and I think we will – we will definitely want to start playing more of the new songs. We’ve completed an albums worth of material and so we have all these songs that we’re dying to play live, but we feel like, because we’ve been away for so long, our fans really do want to hear the songs they know. So we’re playing songs that our fans know and then as we release more music, we will want to play that music live.”

The two new songs Gordon is referring to are the excellent – and classic Veruca Salt sounding – The Museum Of Broken Relationships and It’s Holy, which were released as a special vinyl EP and download earlier this year under the banner MMXIV. The band have since recorded enough material for a complete album, though a release date hasn’t yet been set.

Veruca Salt MMXIV cover

“We’re still in the process of figuring out if we are really, truly done – and I think we are, but we may want to run into the studio when we get back from Australia and record one more song.” she explains excitedly, “then, we just have to figure out how we’re going to release it. We have a bunch of different ideas about that and we’re just trying to figure out the best way to do it.”

The band – consisting of Gordon and Post sharing guitar and vocal duties, drummer Jim Shapiro (Gordon’s brother) and Steve Lack on bass – were incredibly influential to a lot of people, their music tapping into hearts and minds around the world. As axe-slinging, take-no-shit riff merchants, both Post and Gordon inspired a lot of girls around the world to pick up an instrument themselves. I wonder if that power was evident to them at the time?

“We played shows back then and there were teenage girls who would come and say how important our music was to them,” Gordon recalls. “We could never really fully process it. It was always very moving and we were always super-… I don’t know, just shocked and excited and really thrilled by that, but it was hard to really let it sink in.

“But now, it’s really interesting… we are aware now that, yeah, there were a lot of particularly young women who were inspired by us and other bands of our time to pick up instruments – and that again, it’s hard to process, but it is a huge honour and certainly there are women that did that for me and for Louise. The thought of being that to someone else is pretty powerful.”

Gordon is only too happy to share her own female musical icons, and it’s an eclectic list.

“Well, the female idols were Chrissie Hynde [The Pretenders], Wendy and Lisa from Prince’s band, Prince & The Revolution and their solo stuff. The Go Go’s, The Bangles, The Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Kim Deal [The Pixies, The Breeders]… I mean, even as far back as for me as a child, Linda Ronstadt and Annie – Andrea McArdle in Annie, the Broadway musical, was a huge influence.

“No, she did not inspire me to pick up a guitar,” the blonde quickly adds, “but yeah, I would say, Chrissie Hynde was a really big one for me [for the guitar]. Yeah, there were a bunch of women that were playing… I’m sure I’m forgetting people right now and it will drive me crazy later!”

Put on those first two albums all these years later and you’re struck by the darkness and light in the bands music. Heavy riffs and pounding rhythms are matched with some beautiful love songs and some dark and brooding teenage and twenty-something angst to great effect. I ask Gordon if it’s hard for her and the band to tap into that nowadays, in their forties and with families?

“Interesting… yeah. If you think about American Thighs, which was our first album and it was the first album either of us had ever made, the songs on that album were certainly not written when we were teenagers. I feel like they were pretty much about young women in their early twenties. I think the things we were feeling were very typical of our generation, in a way, maybe late teens, early twenties and you can lump us all together.

“I don’t think it’s that hard to tap into,” she says. “The feelings of isolation, the feelings of marginalisation, feelings of obsession over a romantic interest, all of those things are easily, easily accessible, I think, at any age in your life. A lot of those songs were about childhood. I’m thinking particularly of one of my songs, Forsythia and one of Louise’s songs, Celebrate You, those songs are very much about our childhood. Those memories and those little anecdotes and stories from our childhood, our separate childhoods, it’s still easy to access that and tell that story.

“The songs are really stories and so you can tell them at any time in your life. We have a song on the EP that we put out [in 1996 called Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt] called Shimmer Like A Girl, and that song is still very much, very potent. We just performed it live in those weeks in July and the feelings, all of the lyrics that we wrote about what it was like to be female and be living in the world – all of those things are still very much relevant, at least to me. I can’t speak for Louise… but I think I can. I think she would say the same thing.

“There really aren’t very many songs that I can’t tap in to, or relate to anymore. I’m trying to think what those would be – there must be a few. Again, the more we play them, If we were to go out on tour for a year, I’m sure at the end of that year, we’d be sick of them and we’d think, ‘you know what, we’re done with that. I said it and I don’t need to say it anymore.’ But I don’t feel that way now – I don’t know if it is for anyone else, but at least for me. I’m not bored.”

Veruca Salt 2014 03 on Conan OBrien

Despite both Gordon and Post being mothers to young kids (Nina has an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son, while Louise has a four-year-old daughter), it’s not restricting them getting out on tour.

“Well, it’s not so much the ability to want to tour [that’s affected.]” Gordon says. “We both really want to tour and so does Jim who also has a young daughter, but we have to be practical about it. Over the past Summer, in the States we were able to do a week away, a week home, a week away, a week home. We did that and that was great for us, but we’d love nothing more than to be able to just go out and hit the road and stay on the road for awhile because that’s when you really get into a groove really good.

“We’re dying to do that, but we have to figure out a way we can do it. Really, the only way to do it would be over the Summer, if we could bring the kids. We’re coming to Australia for two weeks, which will have been the longest that I have ever – Louise or I – have been away from our children. It’ll be interesting. I think we’ll have a blast – we did in the States, but yeah, it changes things, it definitely does. I’m envious of a band like The Pixies, who just got back together and went out on the road 300 days a year.

“That sounds like a ball to me, but I love my children and my husband and I do want to see them. We have to figure that out. There are ways – people do it and hopefully we will figure out a way to make it work so that we can play lots of shows and really get in a groove, but also maintain a [home life] balance.”

When the conversation turns to the Australian tour, and the fact that there are many people very excited to see the band live, Gordon can barely restrain her enthusiasm.

“Yeah, we’re so excited to come to Australia! We always had such a great time when we’ve played there and I will say in response to your question earlier about whether we were aware of the impact that we had on young women, I will tell you that touring in Australia in 1997, we were very aware of it because there were so many incredible teenage girls – and boys, but I remember the girls mostly – who were just so articulate and passionate and interesting. We loved meeting all of them. I’m hoping a lot of them, or most of them, will come back and see us so we can see how they’ve turned out!”

As mentioned at the start of this story, Gordon suddenly quit the band she had formed in 1998, and her and Post had no contact for well over a decade. Rumours abound, the most enduring – though unconfirmed – of which was that one of the two slept with the other’s partner. Throughout the long silence, neither made any public statement about the cause of the bust up (the only direct quote I could find online from Nina Gordon was “it was drugs and cheating and all that junk”), and to the best of our knowledge, they still haven’t, which in this gossip-saturated, reality-television polluted world full of over-intrusive social media, is a matter worthy of no little respect in itself.

The one thing I absolutely was not going to do was ask the reason for the breakup, but I did want the story on how the two reconnected. Gordon admits it wasn’t easy to bury the hatchet and get in the same room together, let alone taking it a step further and strapping their guitars on.

“Well, no, it was so difficult that it took 15 years!” she says with feeling. “We didn’t speak for many years. We didn’t see each other for 15 years. We did not lay eyes on each other. It was a huge hurdle, but time took care of that. It was just up to time to bring us back together and to allow us to have the perspective to recognise what was so special about our musical connection and the chemistry that we shared. I think it was a passage of time that allowed us to look at it and realise that this is ridiculous.

“This [musical connection] only comes once in a lifetime and we have to do this again. Life is too short. There’s some regrets for not having done it sooner, certainly on my part. When we first got together and played, there was that feeling of, ‘oh my God, why did we wait so long?’ It’s crazy. Now that we’re doing it and we’re actually touring again and recording again, the regret is dissipating and the excitement for the present has taken over.”

Was it more important for Gordon to resurrect the friendship or the band?

“The friendship was resurrected earlier than the band,” she declares. “Louise and I, there were years where we didn’t talk and then little by little, we had more and more contact. We would send emails to each other on each others birthdays. The ice was thawing on a friendship level, long before we even broached the subject of being able to play music together again. That was something that I really did not think would happen. I don’t think Louise did either. Although we both, individually, separately had dreams about it… dreams about being on stage together. Some of them were good dreams and some were really bad dreams, ‘oh no, what am I doing in this band again? Get me out of here. This is a nightmare. Wake me up.’ Then, there was the dream of, ‘ah, this is where I was meant to be all along.’ We just didn’t really think that would ever happen. I know I didn’t.

“Over the years, friends would say, ‘why don’t you just bury the hatchet? Why don’t you guys just play together? You guys are so good!’ It was just, ‘no, that’s a closed door. It’s not going to happen.’ Then, something just clicked. It just… I don’t know, I don’t know what it was. It was time. It was the feeling of, I guess, a slight pang of jealousy when I heard that Mazzy Star were playing at Coachella after not playing together for 15 years. I got this jealous pang feeling of, ‘why are they doing that? If they can do that after 15 years, why can’t we? We should.’ I was shocked and I really surprised myself and surprised those close to me.

“I sent an email to Louise saying, ‘Mazzy Star are playing after 15 years of not playing together – we should do it, too.’ She wrote back, ‘yeah, let’s meet for coffee.’ That was the first time we had seen each other in, I think it’s possibly over 15 years. I’m not sure exactly, but something like that. Then it all just fell right back into place, just clicked right into place. We decided to get together and we picked up guitars and we sang. It was just piles of tears and smiles. It was really profound and just awesome. It was really exciting and we both felt like, ‘where have we been for all these years and why did we wait this long?’”

Veruca Salt: back in the day

Veruca Salt: back in the day

After such a heartwarming story I explain to Gordon that I’m not going to ask her why she left the band, and that I really respect that they’ve kept their reasons private.

“Yeah, [and] I think we probably will [keep it private],” she says with a smile and a shrug. “I don’t know at what point we really would need to [talk publicly about it]. It’s pretty easy to imagine… I jokingly say sometimes, if you watch a documentary about Fleetwood Mac, you can imagine the same scenarios. It’s all really cliché stuff and part of it is that it’s the feeling that you know what, I hate to look back and go, ‘this is a big cliché,’ but it really was and we were young and we were kind of stupid. We also had a lot of growing to do and I guess we had to do that separately, so we did and we have and now, here we are.”

With only one minute left and so many questions unasked, it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface with Nina, but we have to find out what Veruca Salt will be playing on their Australian dates – just songs from the first two albums (the ones before Gordon left the band), or right across the rest of the bands releases or even her own two solo albums (Tonight And The Rest Of my Life, released in 2000, and 2006’s Bleeding Heart Graffitti)?

“I think we’re going to stick to the music we made together,” she states. “I think down the line, if we continue doing this – which, again, I believe we really will – and we get bored of all the music that we made together and we decide we want to do some of my solo stuff or some of the Veruca Salt albums that I was not involved in, and Jim wasn’t, and Steve wasn’t, maybe. I doubt on this tour we will. We still have so much material that we want to play [that] we had to cut so many songs. It’s hard to eliminate songs because we recorded two albums and an EP together and then now we have new songs, so it’s unlikely that we will [play anything else].”

Veruca Salt 2014 01

Lastly, I touch base on the two songs she is perhaps most known for, Seether from American Thighs, and Volcano Girls from Eight Arms To Hold You. The former talks about a young lady with a righteous temper, while the latter contains the Beatles-echoing lines:
‘I told you bout the Seether before/ you know the one that’s neither or nor/
Well here’s another clue if you please/ the Seether’s Louise’

If I read the lyrics of both correctly, Gordon is referencing Post’s temper, and they’ve hinted at that in interviews from the time period as well. Not so, says the songwriter, clearing up my misinterpretation very quickly before running off to her next interview.

“Oh, [they] weren’t about Louise’s temper!” she says, more surprised than anything else. “They really weren’t – she doesn’t have a bad temper, no worse than anyone else in the band, including myself.

“Seether was a song about being a girl and being told by society that expressing anger outwardly is unacceptable. It was about trying to beat down my own temper to no avail. Then Volcano Girls was written about me and Louise being on the road nonstop and trying to be Wonder Women of Rock, and being tired and just wanting to give up and stay in bed! The ‘Seether’s Louise’ bit was really just me having a laugh and referencing the Beatles’ song Glass Onion. I had always wanted to do that, and in the middle of writing Volcano Girls I realized that this was my chance!”

another archive shot of Louise & Nina

Veruca Salt play tonight October 2nd in Sydney at the Factory Theatre, and Saturday night October 4th at the Rosemount Hotel in Perth.

INTERVIEW – Nina Gordon, Veruca Salt - September 2014

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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  1. Peter Siersdale says:

    Excellent !

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