Alternative rock band
After an unprecedented wave of major-label sign ings in the mid-1990s, the Chicago band Veruca Salt was one of the first female-fronted bands to achieve superstardom within the alternative rock scene. In a rush to discover the next fresh independent band, prominent labels offered lucrative deals and large sums of cash for bands who remained untainted and unjaded by the music business. Since their launch, Veruca Salt’s two full-length releases, American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold You, have earned accolades and made them one of the most successful alternative acts to emerge in the 1990s.
Veruca Salt formed in early 1992 after Louise Post and Nina Gordon became instant best friends. They were introduced by a mutual friend, who had told Post, “My friend’s miserable and needs someone to make music with,” Gordon recalled in Rolling Stone. Gordon’s interest in music began at the early age of seven. She had been given an acoustic guitar, learning a few songs before losing interest. In high school, she discovered the Pretenders, one of the first successful female-led acts in alternative music. Leaving Chicago for Boston, Gordon majored in French literature at Tufts University and spent a year in Paris. There she listened to Game Theory and bought herself another acoustic guitar. Her brother, Jim Shapiro (Gordon uses her mother’s maiden name), lived in New York and had a band called U Thant; she would phone him long-distance and he would teach her chords over the phone. Until her first performance with Post, Gordon had never sung in public.
Post, a native of St. Louis, took up the guitar relatively late in life. While at New York City’s Barnard College, Post studied English and lived in an old welfare hotel for a time and later admitted to being seriously depressed. However, when she began writing songs after a friend loaned her an acoustic guitar, her depression improved. The instrument, Post told Guitar magazine, “just really moved me. Playing an A7 chord would just bend my heartstrings. I found it such a breathtaking instrument, and it was portable to boot.” An encounter with the first Smashing Pumpkins album, Gish, was a turning point for Post. “It was something that I imagined myself doing, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there,” Post said in another interview that appeared in Guitar World.
Gordon and Post’s friendship revolved around their musical ambitions from the start. “We started playing together, our voices matched, and the whole thing made sense,” Post said in Guitar World. They first performed as a duo on the folk coffeehouse circuit in Chicago, but “both of us were rebelling against women as demure folk artists and seeing women in that way,”
Original members include Nina Gordon (born c. 1967, in Chicago, IL), vocals, guitar; Stacy Jones (former drummer for Letters to Cleo, joined band in 1997), drums; Steve Lack (born c1970; son of a mortician), bass; Louise Post (born c1967, in St. Louis, MO), vocals, guitar; and Jim Shapiro (brother of Gordon and former band member of U Thant; born c. 1965; left band, 1997), drums.
Veruca Salt formed in Chicago, IL in early 1992; signed to Chicago’s Minty Fresh label, released the vinyl-only single “Seether” in March of 1994; released American Thighs LP on Minty Fresh/DGC, 1994; signed five-album contract with DGC Records, 1994.
Post told Guitar magazine. “Both of us wanted to make noise.” They were jolted by seeing the all-female alternative rock act L7 perform live. Consequently, Gordon and Post decided to make their own dream of establishing an all-female band a reality. They placed an ad in the Chicago Reader for a female bassist, but Steve Lack responded. The three hit it off, and they also recruited Gordon’s brother, Shapiro, as their drummer. They named their new band after Veruca Salt, the nasty little girl in the children’s cult movie classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
In Chicago, Veruca Salt began playing local bars like the Empty Bottle and Lounge Ax. At “Around the Coyote,” a weekend-long arts festival in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, the band’s set came to the attention of Jim Powers, who had just started an independent label called Minty Fresh. He matched the band with local producer Brad Wood, best known for his work as a producer for, and studio musician with, another Chicago musician, Liz Phair. For a paltry $5,000, Veruca Salt made American Thighs at Wood’s Idful Studio. Named after a line in the AC/DC song “You Shook Me All Night Long, “American Thighs released its first single, “Seether,” written by Gordon. Its lyrics address below-the-surface anger and fit in with Gordon and Post’s feminist views. “I was talking to someone, and I felt myself seething,” Gordon explained to Rolling Stone’s Al Weisel. “I had this vision of scraping this person’s face on the sidewalk. I was so shocked that I wanted to do that. “The on-line magazine Addicted to Noise called the song “a masterpiece of punk simplicity.”
“Seether” began receiving airplay on the Chicago alternative station WXRT in early 1994, which led to a slot at the influential South by Southwest alternative music industry conference in Austin, Texas. The band’s style—with Gordon and Post both playing lead guitar for a “wall of sound” effect—so impressed the assembled record label executives that a bidding war over the band ensued. Back in Chicago, Veruca Salt was treated to “the creme brulee circuit,” as they called it in Entertainment Weekly— dinners at posh restaurants with label people—and finally decided to sign with Geffen in October of 1994. American Thighs was then released nationally.
Supposedly, Veruca Salt received a half-million dollar advance and a five-album deal with Geffen, a lucrative deal for a relatively unknown, untested band. When “Seether” began making a dent on alternative singles charts nationally, they found themselves on the receiving end of serious media attention, which sometimes included sly criticism. They were described as a more palatable version of the “riot-grrrl” phenomenon: photogenic, liberal-arts-educated, but possessing little solid musical experience. American Thighs confirms that women in rock can now openly address anger while still maintaining their feminine appeal, without being fixed on a trajectory directly to the margins,” wrote Natasha Stovall in a Village Voice review of Veruca Salt. “By presenting themselves as a lot less scary than Courtney Love, they hold on to their chance to be rock stars.” Other critics took into account the fevered climate in which Veruca Salt had been pursued by the music industry. Kim Ahearn of Rolling Stone noted, “While not the most pointed record, American Thighs does serve as a solid springboard for a young band that needs to harness its energy and exert the musical muscle it has proven it can wield.”
During 1995, the band toured extensively in support of their debut album. Following the tour, Veruca Salt released Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt in 1996, an EP done with another famed Chicago producer, Steve Albini. Best known for his work with Nirvana and the Jesus Lizard, Albini was partly responsible for the seminal P.J. Harvey debut, Dry, which had attracted Post’s attention and admiration at one time during her pre-musician days. With months of successful album sales behind them, Veruca Salt was now firmly ensconced inside the alternative rock circuit and headed to Hawaii to record their second full-length work. Eight Arms to Hold You was released in early 1997 on the Geffen-affiliated Outpost Records. The record’s producer, Bob Rock, had previously worked with Metallica and Motley Crue.
Jason Fine, writing about Veruca Salt and the new record for Rolling Stone, noted “a tense, riff-heavy complexity that’s more akin to 70s hard rock than current alterna-pop.” Tracks included the first single, “Volcano Girls,” as well as “Shutterbug”—with its arresting video of Gordon and Post bouncing around a baroque room on bizarre, pleated white skirt-type platforms—and a paean to David Bowie, “With David Bowie.” Sarah Vowell reviewed the record for Spin found that Gordon and Post’s songwriting themes, “which can be boiled down to’I’m lonely’ and’You’re wrong,’ haven’t changed much.” The band, however, believed that their music, as well as their personal lives, had changed significantly. “On the last album, we were still figuring out who we were as people and as musicians,” Gordon told Fine in Rolling Stone.” We’ve gotten beyond that now.”
After the release of Eight Arms to Hold You, drummer Shapiro left to form his own band. Gordon explained about her brother’s departure to Details writer Suzan Colon, “He thought he was just helping out—he didn’t think we’d be a real band that would make real records and tour for two years!” Shapiro was replaced by Stacy Jones, formerly of the Boston band Letters to Cleo. Veruca Salt still make their home in Chicago, but Gordon’s new digs are in the posh Gold Coast neighborhood. And Post admits that the rock-star life she had never even imagined five years ago does have its down side. “Now, I understand that being in the studio is grueling, and going on the road is not that great,” Post said in the Guitar World interview. “I miss my cats and I get a little teary when I have to leave them.”
American Thighs, Minty Fresh/DGC, 1994.
Blow It Out Your Ass It’s Veruca Salt (EP), DGC, 1996.
Eight Arms to Hold You, Outpost, 1997.
Addicted to Noise, January 12, 1995.
Billboard, April 16, 1994.
Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1993.
Details, March 1997, p. 124.
Entertainment Weekly, November 11, 1994.
Guitar, July 1995.
Guitar World, November 1995.
Rolling Stone, July 14, 1994; November 3, 1994, p. 100; January 26, 1995, pp. 19-20; January 23, 1997, p. 31.
Spin, March 1997.
Village Voice, November 1, 1994, pp. 72-80.
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