Some rock historians might try to brainwash you into thinking that the 1990s were ruled exclusively by gnarly dude-bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. But in reality the Alternative Nation was nothing short of a massive Fem-rock Festivus, featuring breakout albums from artists like Liz Phair, Tori Amos, Sleater-Kinney and the focus of this latest Oral Hit-story, Veruca Salt.
Perfectly named after the bratty little girl from Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the band boasted two of the most memorable and fiery female voices of the era: Nina Gordon (co-lead vocals and guitar) and Louise Post (co-lead vocals and guitar). Gordon’s brother, drummer Jim Shapiro, and bassist Steve Lack rounded out the lineup. (From left to right in the photo above, you are looking at Post, Lack, Gordon and Shapiro, for the record.) Their first single, “Seether,” which dropped in 1994 on their debut album American Thighs, turned out to be a smash success, reaching No. 8 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.*
By 1997, the band had some major momentum, having just recorded an EP with one of the era’s hottest producers, Steve Albini (he of Nirvana’s final album, In Utero). So it wasn’t that surprising their second full-length, Eight Arms to Hold You, erupted—this time, atop the anti-Spice-Girls, girl-power anthem “Volcano Girls,” which also reach No. 8.
“I love self-referential bands. I had always thought about trying to incorporate ‘the Walrus is Paul’ thing into a song, and it just kind of presented itself in ‘Volcano Girls.’ ”
You may remember the tune from the bizarro high-school murder-flick, Jawbreaker (1999)—or from hearing it a trillion times on the radio in the late-’90s. But did you know that the song is a sequel? It’s a sister to “Seether.” Also, with lyrics about egos and strong personalities, it ironically foreshadowed the end of the band. Just a year later, Post and Gordon would have a volcanic falling out, with Post carrying on as Veruca Salt sans Gordon.
Then, nearly two decades later, the band’s original lineup announced that it would be re-forming, and they’ve since released a pair of strong, catchy singles: “It’s Holy” and the aptly titled “The Museum of Broken Relationships.” We tracked down Post and Gordon to discuss the reunion and the story behind “Volcano Girls.”
Veruca Salt, the character from the Willy Wonka book and movie, was this spoiled brat of a little girl who met an untimely demise. If the Oompa Loompas had written one of their famous songs about the band’s breakup 17 years ago, how would it have gone?
Nina Gordon: You’ve stumped us. I don’t know what the Oompa Loompas would’ve said, but Louise and I wrote a lot of songs about our untimely demise—[and] also about our rising from the ashes. And one would assume, at least from the Willy Wonka movie, that Veruca Salt, who goes down the ‘bad egg’ shoot, doesn’t actually die … that she comes out the bottom, maybe has learned a lesson or two, and can go on to be a better spoiled brat.
It strikes me that some of the greatest rock bands of all time—the Beatles, the Stones, Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac—have had this inner-band tension, and that’s what’s made them great. Do you have a similar dynamic in Veruca Salt?
Louise Post: I would even say it defines us. We happen to have a brother-and-sister team within the band, and beyond that, we are like family. Therein lies the magic. We are really intense people, no one is passive in this group, we are very opinionated, and we all have really strong aesthetic ideas. And we usually don’t tend to take back seats to each other very well, although, we may be getting better at that.
Now, let’s talk about “Volcano Girls.” Do you remember exactly where you were when you wrote the song, Nina?
Gordon: No, I don’t. I was probably in my apartment in Chicago. A lot of times what we did back then was we’d be on the road, [and] I kept all kinds of journals. After the shows, I’d get in my bunk and write, so it’s possible that I drew from some of those [ideas] when I was writing the song. I remember bringing it into the band more than I remember writing it.
The song references your previous hit ‘Seether,’ revealing that its subject was actually Louise. When Nina brought “Volcano Girls” to the band, did it cause you to seethe with anger, Louise?
Post: I wasn’t seething with anger at all. I thought it was hilarious that Nina wrote that lyric, and I loved the Beatles reference to ‘The Walrus is Paul.’** So we love to reference the Beatles and ourselves [laughs]. So much so that we’ve been told that we’re cut off from self-referencing.
They told us ’bout Seether before: Post, Gordon and the rest of the band circa 1993.
That’s interesting, because on your new single, ‘The Museum of Broken Relationships,’ you reference a lyric from Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia.’
Gordon: We do, and we can’t help it. We wear our influences on our sleeve. Our first album title was a reference to AC/DC; the second title was a reference to the Beatles.*** We can’t help it, and who cares? I love self-referential bands. I love bands that wear their own shirt. I love bands that act like a team, that behave like a gang. I had always thought about trying to incorporate ‘the Walrus is Paul’ thing into a song, and it just kind of presented itself in the middle of ‘Volcano Girls.’ Now we have T-shirts that say, ‘The Seether’s Louise.’ No, she’s definitely not seething with anger about that; I think she wears the moniker proudly.
Post: I would wear the T-shirt proudly [laughs].
In the video for ‘Volcano Girls,’ the band was all suspended on bungee cords. I can imagine that led to some massive wedgies and/or motion sickness. Any funny stories about the shoot?
Post: Well, [the video] was the vision of a Chicago artist we had admired a lot—her name is Nancy Bardawil. We liked her a great deal, and we gave her a song, and that was her treatment. It wasn’t perfectly orchestrated. It was a bit makeshift. We were doing it in this big warehouse with bungee cords thrown over… who knows what? Poles? [Things that] had not necessarily ever lifted women and men in the air on bungees with guitars. So, you know, it was kind of like a free-for-all, because you wouldn’t land up and down perfectly [and] it wasn’t a perpendicular thing. I remember the headstock of Steve’s bass just grazing my face. And at one point, Nina came down sideways on my head, and I wasn’t sure if my head was still on [laughs]. Sorta like a mosh pit in the air.
Gordon: One thing I will say about the video is we did not get wedgies, because we had these harnesses on and all this padding, and the challenge of the costume designer was to have us still look like ourselves and look cool.
Both of you have young children. If there were ever, say, a Post vs. Gordon family karaoke battle, what songs would be picked, and whose kids would win?
Gordon: Well, at the moment I would say, unfortunately, it would be something from Frozen, and it would probably be ‘Let It Go,’ and I think I don’t know who would win. Just the kids?
Just the kids.
Gordon: It would be like a Frozen karaoke sing-off. It would be Pitch Perfect with Louise’s 4-year-old, my 7-year-old, and my 5-year-old. They’d be very, very well-matched.
Post: I’m guessing that you are a dad, and you know that we can’t make a decision as to who would win.
[Writer’s note: Actually not a dad … yet.]
Now that you’re playing songs like ‘Volcano Girls’ and ‘Seether’ live again together, have their meanings changed at all for you?
Gordon: What an interesting question. I would say every time you sing a song live, the meaning changes in a way. It kind of depends. There are nights when you play where you’re just singing the words and not necessarily thinking about what they mean, but there are nights when you can all of a sudden zoom in on a feeling or a lyric or something in a song. So I feel like the meanings do change, and certainly ‘Volcano Girls’ feels more like a band anthem or an anthem for me and Louise … and ‘Seether,’ I don’t know what to say about that.
Post: ‘Seether’ feels like, even more than ‘Volcano Girls,’ it doesn’t belong to us anymore; it belongs to the whole room. Like, we’re just playing the song, but it’s everybody’s now.
*In a cool twist, the song’s name would go on to become the moniker for an aughts rock band that had a string of hit singles itself.
**The last verse in the song references the verse-structure of the Beatles’ “Glass Onion” from their eponymous 1968 album, better known as the White Album. So a song that self-references is referenced in another self-referential song. Put that in a pipe and smoke it!
***AC/DC glorifies “American thighs” in 1980’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and Eight Arms to Hold You was actually a working title for the Beatles’ 1965 album Help!