An EXCLUSIVE Q&A
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Even if you keep on top of every musical trend that comes down the pike – from hippies to hipsters – nostalgia will always bring you back to the music that had a tremendous impact on you when you were younger. Whether it’s a song by the Everly Brothers, a remix of a Depeche Mode song or the soft and gentle easy-listening vibes of the singer/songwriter brigade, those records from our youth meant something then and they are forever etched in our brains. But nostalgia doesn’t ensure that a song or an album will have an impact on the next few generations of music fans. The music in question must be timeless and relevant then and now. Such is the case with Veruca Salt’s debut album American Thighs, an album that was considered a product of its time but has proven to have more legs than a centipede.
Veruca Salt, named after the spoiled rich girl in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (AKA Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, depending on whether you watched the Gene Wilder film or read the Roald Dahl book) formed in Chicago in the early ‘90s and were embraced by the Rock and Grunge-loving crowds who were worn out by the excessive ‘80s, and bored by the make-up and hair-spray-loving Hair Metal bands. Led by Nina Gordon and Louise Post, who both handled guitars and singing/songwriting duties, plus Jim Shapiro on drums and Steve Lack on bass, Veruca Salt may have arrived during the Grunge era, but the music they made was not tied to any specific genre. Deep, thoughtful and melodic, Veruca Salt created music that was anchored by emotion. They rocked, but in a totally unique way. Signed by Minty Fresh Records, the quartet released the single “Seether” and became one of the most talked about bands on the Indie scene. Then came American Thighs. The album and the single made waves outside the U.S., and the band set out on numerous tours, becoming one of the most critically successful bands of the early ‘90s. However, after a signing with Geffen Records and releasing an EP and a second album, Shapiro left in ’97, followed a year later by Gordon and Lack. Post brought in a new line-up and continued to tour and record under the Veruca Salt name. By the beginning of 2012, Post put the band on indefinite hiatus and began work on other projects.
Exactly one year later, to everyone’s surprise, Veruca Salt announced that the original quartet (Post/Gordon/Shapiro/Lack) had reunited and that they were moving forward with live performances and new material. The first fruit of their reunion was a Record Store Day 2014 10” single release, which will be followed by a full length new album in 2015. Until that new album arrives, Veruca Salt and vinyl fans can rejoice knowing that the classic debut album American Thighs is being released on vinyl to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. Discussions Magazine’s Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to fire off some questions to Nina Gordon, who was gracious enough to fill us in on all the salty details…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The original line-up reunited in 2013, you’ve been out touring, and your debut album American Thighs is just about to be reissued on vinyl. How are you feeling about everything that has gone on in the last year?
NINA GORDON: This past year has been miraculous, really. I don't think any of us thought this was ever going to happen again, but now that it has, it feels like a gift. Playing music together was always such a thrill, and our time together got cut short. It's a do-over for us, and we couldn't be happier.
SPAZ: American Thighs is a landmark album. Rolling Stone recently included it on their list of why 1994 was mainstream alternative music’s greatest year. How do you feel about the album looking back at it now?
NINA: Looking back at American Thighs, I do feel very proud of its combination of innocence, boldness, weirdness and beauty. We had no idea anyone would ever hear that album, so it was completely un-self-conscious, and maybe that's why it still sounds pretty good.
SPAZ: Though it was released during the Grunge era, the album is worlds away from the music that a lot of your contemporaries were releasing. What influenced the direction of the band at this point?
NINA: Well it was grunge in that we did play ratty, heavy distorted guitars. But since it was our first album, our songwriting was influenced by everything we had listened to from the day we were born! That means The Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, Prince, The Cocteau Twins, The Bangles, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, T-Rex, Big Star, The Breeders, Game Theory, The Mamas and the Papas, and the list goes on and on…
SPAZ: The songs on the album seem to come from deep within the soul, and every note seems to have a purpose. Was it difficult to record this album when everyone else seemed content to just turn their amps up to 11?
NINA: It didn't seem difficult at the time. It was completely natural to us. Louise and I were in our early 20s when we started writing songs, and we were really comfortable spilling our guts to anyone that would listen! It only felt right to us when we're bearing our souls in that way.
SPAZ: While everyone hopes for success, were you surprised that “Seether” and the album did so well at the time?
NINA: Yes, it was a huge shock. As I said we didn't think anyone would hear the album – we were happy to be making it so that our friends and family could hear it, but beyond that we had no expectations. It was thrilling to be in the studio, hearing our songs realized, stacking harmonies on, etc. We definitely thought our songs were pretty catchy though, particularly “Seether,” so when it did happen it made some sense. Still, we never imagined it would happen so fast and on such a grand scale.
SPAZ: Bands like Veruca Salt, The Muffs and loads of British Shoegaze bands are becoming more popular now than they have been in 20 years. Do you feel that Veruca Salt’s music belongs to that generation and people are just being nostalgic…or do you sense that the band has become timeless over the last two decades?
NINA: I really don't think its nostalgia. I think there is a feeling that we went away too soon, and some of our biggest fans never got a chance to see us live. Our audiences aren't there to re-live their pasts (nor are we, for that matter), but rather I think they are there because they have been listening to our recorded music for a long time, wishing that they could see us live again someday. Good music is timeless… in fact even bad music is timeless, to the people who really love it. It's all so subjective, and the music we love is a part of our identity for our entire lives. We feel truly lucky that the music we made (and the new music we are currently making) has become a part of people's identity, so much so that they will always be there for us when we are out on the road or releasing new music.
SPAZ: What prompted the reissue of the album on vinyl?
NINA: It's been 20 years, and there are a lot of vinyl fans out there that either don't have a copy, or are interested in collecting all Veruca Salt vinyl that's out there. Anthony from Minty Fresh suggested we do a reissue, and we loved the idea. We're out there playing those songs, loving them, and it seemed to make sense to make the vinyl available again.
SPAZ: You’ve just finished touring the US and Australia. How has the response been to the live shows? Are you planning more shows in the foreseeable future?
NINA: The response has been incredible. Sold out shows all over the place, and devoted fans singing every word to every song. It leaves us inspired, speechless, teary, and deeply moved every time. We will definitely play more live shows, though not until the new year. We are finishing up a brand new album with producer Brad Wood who did American Thighs! That is our main priority at the moment, but we'll hit the road when we're ready to release the new album.
SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your CD, DVD and record players?
NINA: For me it's The New Pornographers’ Brill Bruisers all the time. On the DVD player in my house, it's Miyazaki movies all the time (I have a 7 year old and a 5 year old).
Thanks to Nina Gordon
Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Bob Bell
(20th Anniversary Vinyl LP pressing)