This week marks the release of Ghost Notes, the first album from the original lineup of Veruca Salt since 1997’s Eight Arms to Hold You. In the nearly two decades since the core four—Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Steve Lack, and Jim Shapiro—last recorded, they’ve pursued satellite projects and solo records (many of which are great—shout out to Gordon’s Tonight and the Rest of My Life), but it’s great to have them back together. Ghost Notes is a glorious return to form, melding their inherent rawness with a still-remarkable pop sensibility and a forward-looking spirit of experimentation.
But how did Veruca Salt arrive at this place, and what music fueled them along the way? Post and Gordon hopped on the phone with EW to talk about their shared love of Styx, the importance of David Bowie, and the great series of bands from the Chicago scene that also birthed them.
The First Album or Song I Bought With My Own Money
Louise: The one I remember going to the record store and buying with my own money was the B-52’s Whammy. When Nina told me that hers was Styx—what album was it, Nina?
Nina: Paradise Theater, which is not as good as Whammy. It was a picture disc. It had a hologram of the Paradise Theater on the vinyl.
Louise: When she said that, I thought I might have bought Cornerstone with my own money. So both are true, so whichever you think makes for a more interesting story. But I definitely remember the moment I bought Whammy. I don’t remember how I got into them. Isn’t that weird?
Nina: The single was “Song For a Future Generation.” And there was a video on MTV of that.
Louise: It wasn’t that, because I bought the one with “Private Idaho” on it.
Nina: That’s Wild Planet.
Louise: Yeah, I remember I bought both of those together. So Wild Planet I knew, someone had played some of it for me. But Whammy I bought on a whim. So I bought those together, but Whammy was the one that jumped to my mind.
Nina: We are so influenced by B-52’s in so many ways, and they do not get enough credit. Those harmonies and interesting chord changes and melodies—they do the coolest stuff. Those two women were such great singers, but nobody really gives them their propers. People think about “Love Shack,” “Rock Lobster,” the jokey stuff. But there were so many great songs. They were punk rock!
Louise: They were so exciting. As a teenager listening to that? It was so exciting.
Nina: I asked my brother Jim to go down to the record store that was around the corner from our house in Chicago, and I asked him to get Paradise Theater for me. I gave him my money, and he wouldn’t do it. He was too embarrassed. He was not going to go and bring Paradise Theater up to the counter and pay for it, so I had to go do it myself. I think I had heard “The Best of Times” on the radio. I had one particularly heartland rock kind of friend who was really into Kansas and Styx and REO, and she must have made me think I wanted Paradise Theater.
Louise: I saw Styx in sixth grade. I loved Tommy Shaw. I got sneakers like him—he wore these tan Nikes. My friend Emily and I just worshipped him. So whether or not you brought Styx to the table as an influence, I certainly have. Melodically, those guys were brilliant. You gotta admit “Come Sail Away” is a great song.
Nina: I don’t know that I can say whether it’s a great song or not. I can say I think I don’t ever need to hear it ever again. I feel I’ve heard it enough and appreciate it enough.
Louise: Here’s my deep dark secret: Every time I heard that song, I get teary.
The Song or Album That Reminds Me of a First Love or First Kiss
Nina: It’s Special Beat Service, by English Beat. That would have been my first true love. That was college. I hope my high school boyfriend isn’t reading this, because he’ll be hurt. It came out earlier, but the first true love was freshman year of college, like 1985. I was not in a ska period—I was never in a ska period! Who knows, maybe I’ll enter one at some point in my life. I loved English Beat, and those songs were so good, I didn’t even think of it as ska. If you think about “I Confess,” it’s just a beautiful song. “Save It For Later” is one of the most romantic songs.
Louise: Mine’s not as hip at all. It would be KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go.”
Nina: You started early! You fell in love early! All the way back to disco!
Louise: I went back to eighth grade for my first kiss, which was at an eighth grade dance. We also did couples skating at an ice skating rink to that song, and a lot of Air Supply—”All Out of Love” and “Lost in Love.”
The Album or Song That Reminds Me of My Hometown
Louise: That would be Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” That took me negative five seconds to come up with. I’m from St. Louis, and it’s synonymous with St. Louis for me. I heard it my whole childhood. My big brother listened to classic rock, and I grew up listening to a classic rock station called KSHE. Their mascot was a pig, the KSHE pig, and KSHE pig was always smoking a cigarette and wearing shades. KSHE was everywhere, and there was a lot of Bob Seger happening.
Nina: It’s tricky for me, because I moved at 13 from New York to Chicago. So for New York, the thing that reminded me of New York was Supertramp’s Breakfast in America. I really can’t put my finger on a hometown sound in Chicago. But I will say, and I hate to give them props, but if I hear anything by Smashing Pumpkins—like anything from Gish—that definitely does remind me of Chicago and my early adulthood, that kind of cold wintry Chicago feel. My sharpest Chicago memories are from the ’90s when we were really getting a band together.
Louise: When we were coming up as a band, so many of the albums we loved were local. It was weird. I don’t think that’s all that common. Bands like Seam and Hum and Menthol, these lesser-known bands. And Triple Fast Action, just to name a few. And Liz Phair, and Red Red Meat. These were hugely influential on us. Some of these bands became friends of ours, some were recorded by the same person. We went to [American Thighs producer] Brad Wood because he recorded Seam and Red Red Meat
The Song of Mine I’m Most Proud Of
Louise: It’s “Wolf,” from American Thighs. That song just poured out of me so naturally. The memory of it is particularly powerful, because I was writing about someone I had lost and was still grieving. I was living with this guy at the time, and he was an artist too, and we had made a pact that if either of us came into the house while the other was working and mid creative process, we wouldn’t acknowledge one another. This was the first time I put that into practice. I knew that if I even lifted my head and said hello I would lost the song and it’d be gone forever. But I didn’t and I finished it, and it continued to flow out of me. I wrote it all in one sit-down, one session, just me and my guitar. It was so cathartic. It just had to be written. Playing and singing it with Nina was incredibly powerful and meaningful and continues to be. That song carries so much personal weight. I’m not sure if it’s the best song I’ve ever written—in fact, structurally and vocally and melodically, there may be better songs that I’ve written, but that one is the most meaningful.
Nina: If it’s in terms of songwriting, the song I’m most proud of is “With David Bowie.” It’s not necessarily the song that means the most or the song I enjoy playing live the most, but as far as the songwriting it came out really nicely. It just kind of tumbled right out. Certain songs do that. It’s meaningful because it’s about coming of age and my band and being obsessed with songwriters.
Louise: I actually had the pleasure of meeting David Bowie at his 50th birthday party in New York City. I handed him the cassette of Eight Arms to Hold You, which I had just got an advance of that day. He very graciously thanked me and tucked it into his jacket pocket. A couple of days later, he was being interviewed and he said some very nice things about me and about our song.
Nina: Thanks, David Bowie! For so many reasons!
The First Song I Ever Performed Live
Nina: I performed the Kinks’ “Celluloid Heroes” at camp in a talent show in the late ’70s or early ’80s. That was the first time I remember performing for an audience, which was basically my friends and the counselors. There’s something really beautiful about that song. I don’t know why we loved it, but we did. My bunk was super into that song. The performance went well, I think. In retrospect, it would have been way cooler if it was 60 other Kinks songs, but I still love “Celluloid Heroes.” I probably recorded it from the radio and had it on a cassette and brought that to camp. I want to say I was 12 when I did that.
Louise: I have the uncool version and the slightly less uncool version. When I was 12 at camp, I performed at the talent show too, but I played piano and sang “Tomorrow” from Annie. I feathered my hair for it. Then in high school, when I was 14 or 15, I was in a band with my brother called Prodigy. We played “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Gos, who were my favorite band at that time. I played it for a high school talent show. I also had an instrumental of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield,” and I did the dance and sang along to the instrumental version, which was the b-side of the 12-inch single. I had an incredible red mini skirt dress and a big white belt and the little white boots.
The First Album We Bonded Over
Nina: The obvious one would be Pod by the Breeders. That was the one we flipped over together and bonded about, and poured over every little detail. We knew that one from front to back. We were set up on a blind date, basically, but as musical partners, not as friends. We became incredibly close friends very quickly, but in the beginning it was just playing music for each other and singing and playing guitar. So we were in the process of forming our band, but Pod was the album that really stands out as the strongest. Right around when we met, the Safari EP came out, and that was huge for us too. We saw the Breeders together touring on the Safari EP, and we lost our minds, and we knew what we had to do. Steve Albini’s albums really do wear very well. They don’t sound dated. I guess because they’re just so raw sounding, but his albums do really stand up production-wise.
Louise: I was going to say exactly the same thing! I’m guessing In Utero stands up, right? And Rid of Me? Dare I say, I think Veruca Salt’s Blow It Out Your Ass, It’s Veruca Salt holds up extremely well. It’s a total joy to listen to, honestly. I don’t listen to it often, but it sounds great. Everything we’ve been doing so far is strangely full circle. We came full circle with [producer] Brad Wood and with [record label] Minty Fresh, and we jokingly say we’ll have to do another EP with Steve. We jokingly say it, but I’d love to record with him again.
The Album That Reminds Us of Making American Thighs
Louise: Nirvana’s In Utero.
Nina: Before we’d go and play shows, we’d get into one of our cars and blast the song “Rape Me” and scream at the top of our lungs to get psyched to go on stage. There were always these freezing cold Chicago nights, sitting outside the Elbow Room, just screaming along to “Rape Me” at the top of our lungs. We were listening to that a lot, and while we were in the middle of recording is when Kurt Cobain died, so that album just reminds us of that time in a strong way.
Louise: He was a hero of ours, and he passed away right as we were beginning. It was a very strange thing to have happened at that time for us. Everything shifted in the world we were a part of and entering at that moment. I would get terrible stage fright. I didn’t pray to God or anything, I would just invoke the spirit of Kurt Cobain. That’s what got me on stage every night during that period of time. Also just aspiring to those heights, all of it was very motivating. We were enamored by Kim Deal and the Pixies, but it was Kurt’s raw talent that really motivated me to want to perform and to continue to write. There’s a few bands that when you hear them you just want to go write a song right away, and that’s how I felt about In Utero and about Bleach. The rawness of those made me want to write.
Song or Album That Reminds Us of Our First Tour
Louise: My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, that was a defining album for us. When we began, we were trying to achieve that esthetic. We wanted bombastic wall of sound guitars with lilting vocals. We were more thinking ethereal and melodic, and our vocals became more prominent as our singing styles and songwriting evolved. It became clear we weren’t really wallflowers. We were more expressive than that. So it all shifted, but that album was a real rock and roll bible at the time.
Nina: When we first started touring in our van, we used to plug in a CD discman or a boombox so we could play CDs in the van. There were four of us, and we all had different stuff we wanted to listen to and probably fought about it a little bit in the van. We were in that van driving down to South By Southwest, and “You Shook Me All Night Long” came on and we came up with the idea of calling the album American Thighs. So that song reminds me of that first tour, but Loveless was an album we listened to all the time. We had to kind of convince Jim to listen to it, because he probably wanted to listen to ELO or Todd Rundgren. The one thing we all agreed on was Zep—Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.
Favorite Album By a Touring Partner
Nina: There’s one might not be super well known, but it stands out as the number one, and it’s the album Cattlemen Don’t by Triple Fast Action. We toured with a gazillion bands and loved most of them, but of all the bands we toured with, that’s the one that is our very favorite. It never got its day in the sun, but it’s brilliant. That band was hugely influenced by Cheap Trick—they were super heavy but there was a great pop spirit. They were like a much better version of Kiss. And that album was heartbreaking and beautiful and it killed us that it wasn’t revered as it should have been.