Band reunions have become almost ubiquitous, but few come with a more harrowing backstory than Veruca Salt’s. Like the petulant Willy Wonka character for whom their band is named, its two vocalists, Louise Post and Nina Gordon, made quite a scene when they split less than amicably in 1998 after releasing two successful records, American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold You. Post went on to record music under the old moniker, while Gordon put out solo work in her own name, and though the two never really spoke publicly about what came between them, they seemed to be locked in a bitter standoff. The powerful camaraderie that inspired hits like “Volcano Girls” eroded as the years went by without a word between them. To anyone who had been involved in the project, it seemed like Veruca Salt was doomed — a bad egg, straight down the chute, better to be forgotten.
But all that changed when Gordon heard that Mazzy Star had re-formed to play festival dates and headline a reunion tour. In a candid interview with the Village Voice, she finally opened up about the turmoil that effectively destroyed her band and revealed what ultimately brought them back together to record a new LP and launch a full-fledged tour in support of it, with a stop at Webster Hall on July 31.
“[When] I heard that Mazzy Star was playing at Coachella after fifteen years of not playing together…I felt a little spark,” she says. “Something just awakened in me that had been dormant for many, many years.” She and Post had been in contact here and there via email, but hadn’t broached the subject of making music together again.
“I said, ‘Mazzy Star are playing, why aren’t we?’ ” Gordon recalls. Post agreed to discuss the matter with her former bandmate over dinner; it was the first time they’d seen each other in fourteen years. “[We] just started plotting and scheming again and realized we had more to do and more to say together,” Gordon says. They enlisted original members Jim Shapiro on drums and Steve Lack on bass for a handful of shows last summer. They went on to tour Australia in the fall of last year. Even more shocking than their unlikely reunion, Post and Gordon actually started writing new material together.
In the past, each had written fully formed songs on her own; whoever had songwriting credits on the tune would sing it and play lead guitar, with the other harmonizing. “[We] might change little things, but mostly, the song would be intact, the lyrics would be written. We didn’t fully, fully collaborate from the ground up,” remembers Gordon. She said that this time around, the approach was completely different, in part because both were willing to let go of ego. “When you’re in your twenties, you’re like, ‘Every word I say is precious and it’s poetic gold!’ ” she laughs. Shapiro and Lack also threw in ideas that helped solidify the new material. “This album was much more of a collaboration,” Gordon says proudly. “It’s no longer, like, ‘Louise songs’ and ‘Nina songs.’ They’re Veruca Salt songs.”
The resulting LP is Ghost Notes, a rollicking testament to the power of forgiveness. Released earlier this month, the harmonies have never been stronger or the riffs more resilient. It harks back to their glory days, and it couldn’t be more timely, as bands like Speedy Ortiz and Bully rise to stardom by mining similar Nineties alt vibes. Gordon sees the current swing toward guitar-laden anthems as a cyclical trend that never really goes away. “I think that always kind of happens, where heavy, guitar-driven rock goes away for a while, and pop rules, and then all of a sudden people are like, ‘Whoa, whoa! What happened to the rock?’ ” she observes. “And the rock always comes back.”
When rock ‘n’ roll came back to revive Veruca Salt, Gordon and Post had no shortage of material to draw from. “As songwriters I think Louise and I always gravitated toward whatever the most painful subject matter is for us,” she states. “When we were younger it was family stuff and boyfriend stuff and breaking up and losing your identity and all those kinds of things that happen in your twenties, and this time around the most raw nerve for us was really our own breakup — the breakup of the very important friendship that we shared.”
That was evident early on with the two songs the band recorded for a Record Store Day single released last year, “The Museum of Broken Relationships” and “It’s Holy.” The same themes abound on Ghost Notes tracks, like introspective slow-burner “Empty Bottle,” the easy give-and-take of “Come Clean, Dark Thing,” the triumph of “I’m Telling You Now,” and the wistful remorse on “Prince of Wales.” “The entire album kind of tells that whole story in all of its glory and gory details,” Gordon reveals. “In a universal sense it’s about relationships ebbing and flowing and all of that angst, so I think it does have a universal quality. But it really is very much about me and Louise and what happened to us.”
Looking back, both realize that the drama that tore them apart was petty. “We were having sort of like, clichéd catfights over some dude, you know?” she says. “It’s so dumb now in retrospect — like, really? Seriously? But at the same time, we had to go through what we went through. We had to go about our lives and have our families and do all the things that we needed to do to become healthy and whole, and it’s really miraculous and beautiful that we were able to reconnect in this way.”
Ultimately, writing the record and touring once again has been a salve for the years of festering resentment between the two. Says Gordon, “We both feel a lot of regret for letting it go as far as it did, and letting so much time go by. Because we do feel like the chemistry that we share musically is really precious and rare and we both know what it was like when we were apart. And it was never the same. I made music, and she made music, and we were always searching for that thing that we had together. We try not dwell on the regret because it does feel like we’re being given this second chance.”
There’s a telling line from “It’s Holy” that manages to simultaneously lay old grievances to rest while cementing the sanctity of Gordon and Post as collaborators: “There’s nothing left to prove, the needle’s in groove/It’s holy, everybody knows it,” the pair sing. They sound confident in this new chapter, but Gordon maintains a sense of wonder that it all came together so organically. “It’s a huge surprise to the four of us, because we really didn’t see this coming,” she admits. “It’s such a nice lesson to learn that life is long, and a friendship can be damaged but it’s not irreparable. Sometimes you just need time.”
Veruca Salt play Webster Hall on July 31.