The afternoon's biggest laugh in this San Fernando Valley rehearsal space comes upon mention of an online description of Veruca Salt's breakup as one of …
"'… rock's greatest mysteries!'" Nina Gordon, the band's co-frontwoman, shouts with glee while the other three band members, who have just completed an afternoon's fierce rehearsal a few days before going on tour, laugh along.
"So funny," says Louise Post, the other singer/songwriter/guitarist.
Gordon did leave abruptly in 1998 following a monumental blowup with Post that torpedoed what had been the rising fortunes of this melodically hard-rocking Chicago band, though Post continued to use the moniker with different musicians over two more albums. The two women insist the clash had nothing to with music, but beyond that, if you're waiting to learn the juicy details, keep waiting.
"Nina and I had a defining fight fallout that we just couldn't get past," says Post, in her large-framed sunglasses and off-the-shoulder gray shirt. "And that was that. And that's very private."
"It's all on the album," says Gordon, her long, straight hair streaked blond as she wears a fatigue jacket over a T-shirt that reads, "It's holy, and everybody knows it" — a quote from the reunited band's new song, "It's Holy." ("I have a love of bands wearing their own T-shirts," Gordon says.)
The album, yes — there's that and a whole lot more, including two sold-out Lincoln Hall shows July 12 and 14 in the early weeks of the original foursome's first tour together since drummer Jim Shapiro, Gordon's older brother, left following the recording of the band's sophomore 1997 album, "Eight Arms to Hold You." The who-did-what of the breakup may not be for public consumption, but make no mistake: Intense feelings about the split and surprising reconciliation are the fuel driving these 40-somethings' return to musical unity and the spotlight.
"We never anticipated it, so it's been just this incredible gift to be able to play together again, and there's so much joy in it," Post says. "It's like getting a chance to do a do-over."
Much has changed on the bandmates' personal fronts since Veruca Salt was providing an exclamation point on a progression of breakout Chicago '90s rock acts (Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill, Material Issue, Liz Phair …) and providing a crunching, empathetic soundtrack to many a college student and twentysomething. Gordon and Post both are married with young children (two for Gordon, one for Post) and living in the Los Angeles area, while bassist Steve Lack is married and living near San Diego, and Shapiro, who has a young daughter, is the sole original member still based in Chicago. Gordon and Post moved out west within a year of each other in the early 2000s but say they didn't see each other once between 1998 and 2012.
"Over the years there were a couple of occasions where we had to talk for sort of business-y type reasons, and then, I guess with the advent of email around the turn of the century" — Gordon puts on a mock-announcer's voice for these last words, cracking up Post — "we would just send the occasional friendly email like on each other's birthdays."
"There were like big apologies made during that time via email," Post says. "Mainly via email, wasn't it? And then that kind of turned into just saying hello here and there."
The bond they'd broken had been a powerful one. Introduced to each other by Chicago-area native actress Lili Taylor in the early 1990s, Post and Gordon began collaborating on songs, albeit ones they wrote mostly separately, and eventually recruited Lack and Shapiro to form a band named after the spoiled brat of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
The two women were out front with their intertwining high voices and fat, buzzing Gibson guitars while Lack and Shapiro, a multi-instrumentalist just learning the drums upon the band's formation, powered the rhythmic attack. They signed to Chicagoan Jim Powers' independent Minty Fresh label and entered the studio with producer Brad Wood, who'd recently recorded Liz Phair's acclaimed debut, "Exile in Guyville," with the intention of making a single.
A single did emerge from the sessions — Gordon's "Seether" backed with Post's "All Hail Me" — but so eventually did an album: "American Thighs" (the title a quote from AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long"), which Minty Fresh released in 1994.
"We made this super lo-fi first record because we were lo-fi," Gordon says. "I barely knew how to play the guitar. None of us had ever made an album before."
Success came quickly nonetheless: "Seether," which matches heavy riffs with a buoyant hookiness, took off on college/alternative radio stations and became an MTV staple after Geffen acquired and re-released the album, which went gold. This all happened during the period when the commercial mainstream was embracing "grunge" and "alternative" (Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain had killed himself in April 1994), prompting much consternation over which bands remained authentically authentic.
Some in the rock press reflexively compared Veruca Salt with the Breeders, the alternative band fronted by Pixies bassist-turned-guitarist Kim Deal and her sister Kelley, in part because female-led rock groups were (and are) such a rarity. There was also some sniping about Veruca's apparent ambition, but it's not like the band had pretended to be anything other than what it was: a hard-charging yet catchy guitar band fronted by two confident, headstrong women writing about their feelings and lives.
"We naturally wanted our whole lives to be in bands, and we wrote songs, and we played, and there was a little bit of an aspect of, 'Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me,'" Gordon reflects. "Having to deal with seeing yourself, photographs all the time and videos all the time and approving photos and all that other stuff that you'd think would be easy became very difficult, and there was a lot of infighting about that kind of stuff."
Post recalls angst over the choice of the second single because "Seether" was a Gordon song, and the label and management were split over whether the follow-up should be Post's "Victrola" or Gordon's (and Shapiro's) "Number One Blind."
"Nina and I were always 50-50 everything," Post says. "That doesn't define us anymore, but at the time it was so important. So I remember thinking: But it would make sense that 'Victrola' would follow up 'Seether' because people are going to think you're" — addressing Gordon — "the lead singer of the band." ("Victrola" wound up following "Number One Blind," and neither reached the heights of "Seether.")