Into the Buzz Bin With Veruca Salt
Nina Gordon first heard Louise Post sing and play guitar over the phone, from one Chicago New Year's Eve party to another. Post was playing for guests at her house; a friend of Gordon's called her and held the phone out to let Gordon hear. When the pair finally got together in person, "I felt like I'd met my mirror," says Post. "We both immediately thought that we wanted to take this very seriously right then." That was almost two years ago.
They woodshedded for a year, working their way through to a crisp, dynamic pop rock. "We didn't want to get a band together until we'd decided what we wanted to do," explains Gordon. The result, named for the spoiled rich girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who goes down the bad-egg chute, boasts a potent and dramatic two-girl vocal 'n' guitars assault and some rapidly evolving songwriting. All they've done is record a four-song demo and play a handful of gigs, but they've already managed to get themselves buzzed all over town and in New York and LA as well. And they've quickly found themselves in the middle of a cordial but tense battle over who will get the right to record them.
Gordon studied art history and French literature at Tufts before coming back to Chicago, where she'd gone to high school; she's now working at the Art Institute, coordinating a Monet retrospective scheduled for 1995. Post grew up in Saint Louis and studied English at Barnard before coming to Chicago and falling in with the New Crime Productions theater company. She'd decided to throw over theater for music when she met Gordon. It was important to the pair at first to be in an all-female band, but ads in the Reader to find a suitably gender-specific rhythm section produced only Steve Lack, who'd answered the ads anyway. He fit, and so, eventually, did Gordon's brother, Jim Shapiro, on drums.
To some extent the band sounds as young as it is, but there's still something about Veruca that's arresting. Part of it is the confidence of the women's singing, which for the most part eschews the usual rock 'n' roll bellowing in favor of a blend of wailing ululations and precisely enunciated, self-consciously "girl"-sounding vocals. But Gordon and Post don't sound like they're learning how to sing: you get the sense there's a feel, a sound, that they hear in their heads and that they're trying to re-create. There's a similar confidence in the songs, which they write separately. Most new bands alternate overly mannered songs with wildly misconceived ones: Gordon's and Post's, by contrast, all sound like attempts to fulfill a vision. Sometimes they don't achieve it, but the ambition and the nerviness come through strongly anyway. Post's "Spiderman" is a charged, instantly memorable composition that in a cheerfully nonpolemical way posits the male sex as species arachnid. "I'd like to pin you down / And tack you to the wall," breathes Post. The song starts with some stately guitar washes, and then expertly ratchets up the tension with some unexpected harmonies before releasing them with Post's understated recitation of the title word. The band also rocks out cleanly and forcefully: there's a Gordon song "Seether," which begins with a blistering guitar line reminiscent of Cheap Trick's classic "He's a Whore" before sidling over into a raucous groove fully worthy of the reference.
Itching to play out after their long months of practice, the band began doing shows last summer. Minty Fresh Records' Jim Powers heard their tape and booked them in the music festival accompanying Around the Coyote. Powers, a onetime A and R rep for both RCA and Zoo Records, has thus far used his label as a vehicle for seven-inchers by local artists like Stump the Host (now Dolly Varden) and Liz Phair. But he approached Veruca Salt with a plan to record them for the label's first full album.
In the meantime, however, John McFadden of March Records had seen the band's performance at the Elbo Room as part of Columbia College's Independent Label Fest. McFadden is an energetic young scenester who's generally known by the name Skippy; his label has done well with his Uncharted compilations of local bands and albums by the ethereal Big Hat and Smashing Pumpkins proteges Catherine, both of which are being courted by major labels.
Suddenly Veruca Salt was being wined and dined by two suitors. While both outfits are almost literally one-man operations, both are also in the process of negotiating national distribution deals with majors and have a ready network of indie distributors to fall back on. While professing their fondness for Skippy (their show tonight at Metro, with Mint Aundry and Big Hat, doubles as his 25th birthday party), Gordon and Post ultimately went with Powers: they'd known him longer and trusted him. Powers quickly set the band up with producer Brad Wood to record an album just after New Year's, and now all Veruca Salt has to worry about is expectations. "It's a little scary being this buzz band," Gordon admits. "I hope people won't be disappointed when they see us."
Hitsville's annual stint playing Christmas rock 'n' roll on WHPK expands to a five-hour marathon this year, complete with visits from collectors. It's from 8 AM to 1 PM Tuesday on 88.5 FM.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Philin Phlash.