On the roof of the Standard Hotel in lower Manhattan, reunited alt-rock heavyweights Veruca Salt are playing a song called the "The Museum of Broken Relationships.” After fifteen long years of cold shoulders and kiss-offs flung between the group's founding members Nina Gordon and Louise Post, the metaphor is uncanny. "It's a real place," Gordon explains, guitar in her lap, hand affectionately on Louise's arm. They speak emphatically of the actual Museum of Broken Relationships, an interactive travelling art installation that invites people to deposit “relics of lost love” in an attempt to heal. It's a devastatingly simple concept: Leave your pain here and move on.
"The Museum of Broken Relationships" was released as the first single from their new album Ghost Notes, a tongue-in-cheek, self-referential message that Veruca Salt have glued themselves back together again. In their heyday, Post and Gordon quickly became a 90s “it” band, time-stamping the era of alternative music with top ten hits like "Seether" and "Volcano Girls." Here were two 25-year-old girls from Chicago whose folk beginnings grew into blistering pop harmonies with heavy-metal hooks that won over mid-90s radio and sent them on tours opening for Sonic Youth, Bush, and Hole. That winning sound not only tethered their voices and guitars together as one of the most powerful musical partnerships of the decade, but it thrived in a commercial wasteland, when grunge bled out and pop crept in. After putting out and touring two beloved full-length albums—American Thighs and Eight Arms to Hold You—Veruca Salt suffered an irreparable blow. Nina Gordon quit the band to pursue a solo career in 1998, or so the story goes. Louise continued on as Veruca Salt through the early Aughts, but without the spit-fire connection between them, the band would never be the same.
As Post and Gordon both went on to release years worth of their own material, the oral history of what really happened to Veruca Salt became a musical she-said, she-said. A deluge of scathing revenge tracks appeared on the 2002 Veruca Salt record Resolver, suggesting that there were other issues aside from creative differences that played a rather large part in the band's inevitable split. Rumors of stolen boyfriends and problems with drugs made the whole thing so tragically 90s. But finally, more than twenty years after Veruca Salt first hit the scene in 1994, the the original Volcano Girls have exploded again, burying the massive hatchet that cut the band apart. As said in the short note that aired with the announcement of their reunion: "Hatchets buried, axes exhumed," and that is precisely what happened. From the complicated wreckage of their shattered past comes Veruca Salt's fifth and strongest record to date, the foot-stomping, crow-eating, heavy as all hell Ghost Notes.
What makes Ghost Notes such a triumph is the way that each song rips like a chapter torn from the story of what really happened to Veruca Salt. This time, it isn't one girl's word against the other. Instead, Ghost Notes is a story told by two people back to each other so they can hear it out loud. Every track from beginning to end is an intentionally condensed moment, like a relic in the museum. From the album’s opening line ("I wanted to live so I pretended to die"), Post and Gordon do not hold when it comes to the gory details. In fact, they're crucial. To hear twenty years of pain and ager sung back to you is as cathartic as seeing it on display. So Veruca voyeurs take note. If you want to literally see the ship sink, you can. It’s all in there. But after speaking with Nina and Louise both in person and on the phone, and after listening to the album over and over again, it became clear that this album wasn’t written for me. It wasn’t for written you. It was written for them.
Noisey: Something I've always loved about your songs is how self-referential they are. The narrative between some of your earlier hits like "Seether" and "Volcano Girls" really let fans into your world, especially the relationship between the two of you. But Ghost Notes is self-referenial in a different way, like you're telling the story your break-up back to each other.
Nina Gordon: I think we did. I think we needed to go through it together and sort of process everything that happened together. And it was extremely cathartic and a way of letting go of all of that baggage that we’ve both been carrying around for the last 15 years. Louise Post: Yeah and just updating our body of work. Like, let’s get it up to date, let’s talk about it all. And certainly knowing that there were receptive souls out there, people who were curious, who did want to know what happened. I think it was also on some level collectively healing to share our story and this record. And thank you for perceiving it that way, that’s a very astute take on the album, and an accurate one.
It just feels like a lot of the details are intentionally specific. I'm talking about lyrics like "I remember that girl" and "That's the sound of leaving."
Post: We would agree with that.
Let’s rewind back 1998 for just a second, when Nina you left Veruca Salt to pursue a solo career. How did you guys decide that Louise would continue to use the Veruca Salt moniker?
Post: Well, we didn’t decide that. I did it. I decided that. I was encouraged by some people in my midst in the industry to keep it, having been a brand that I had worked alongside Nina and the other members to create. And there was a certain amount of pride in not wanting to let go and let it die, even though we were no longer the band proper. So the original members were no longer there. In hindsight, it was a rather absurd idea to keep it going, but at the time logic was not my friend and reason really wasn’t my friend. I was working really out of a place of anger and although I didn’t make that decision to be hurtful, it was possibly the most hurtful thing I could have done. And it took me a long time to really own up to that and look at it squarely, and ultimately to make amends for that.
Right. There’s that line from “Eyes On You” where you say “I lost the rights to you.” Was there a legal situation regarding the name? Maybe I'm reading too far into the lyric.
Post: That line wasn't about an actual legal fight, but more about not having access to Nina anymore. Not being able to know how she was, not being able to ask how she is, not being able to have any influence over her life, her decisions, not even have a sense of her livelihood. We were just completely separate. It was really jarring having been so close for so long.
I’m sure. Nina, how did it feel to see the band go on without you?
Gordon: It was really painful. But I walked away. People had sort of warned me and advised me like in a divorce. If you walk away, it can be easy or it can be complicated, and the easiest way to separate was for me to walk away and not look back. And so I didn’t. I guess I sort of knew it could be possible that Louise would continue as Veruca Salt, but I didn’t know what would happen. I walked away and let it go, you know? So over the years it was difficult for me because it was sort of like a custody battle. Veruca Salt was our baby. That was our creation. It was our child. So it was sort of like watching her have total custody and feeling bad about it and hurt about it and all of that. And then ultimately, Louise apologized. I felt totally relieved and we were able to move on and reclaim Veruca Salt. And have joint custody again.
Post: There were times we were apart where I thought, “We have to make up.” We did slowly over time, via email and about things other than music. But I remember saying “We have to make up.” I’m thinking things like, “What if something were to happen to one of us and we hadn’t made peace yet?” That would be a travesty, you know? I had dark thoughts like that because life is unpredictable. I'm filled with appreciation and gratitude for having reconciled and being where we are now, releasing this triumphant album.
It really is a triumphant album. That was actually one of the first words I thought of when I was listening to it. You can literally hear the healing as it's happening.
Gordon: Well, yeah. I also think what’s has been so powerful about this process, in addition to it being a catharsis, is in the past when Louise and I wrote we each wrote our songs individually. The songs I sang where about my personal experience and the songs Louise wrote were about her personal experience. But in this album, we share each song and so that in performing them and in listening to them, they’re gratifying for both of us in the same way. It's similar to the way that two parents might feel about their child. In the past, I loved Louise’s songs. I loved them, and I loved singing on them, but they were very singularly Louise in terms of what she was writing about with the exception of some songs that we wrote as team fight songs. Like when I wrote “Awesome,” that was about us. That was about our band. But this album really is something we can really share on every level. And I think that’s what makes it so gratifying.
I know that you broke up in the middle of writing a third album that never happened. Are any of the songs on Ghost Notes repurposed from the ashes of that?
Gordon: I think most of them ended up on our respective albums, like solo albums and Louise’s Veruca Salt albums. I don’t think any of them from that group of songs ended up in this group, but there are a few that were written during our separation that were, as you say, repurposed. Like "Triage" and "Prince of Wales" for example.
That's interesting to hear because songs like “Empty Bottle” feel very collaborative. You can hear traces of Nina's solo material in the verses and Lousie in the chorus. Did you guys split writing that one?
Post: That was a collaboration from moment one, from the ground up. We were literally sitting in Nina’s basement playing guitar and we strummed a chord that happened to work beautifully together and looked at each other like “Whoa, what was that?” So we continued like that, in in these equal intervals. Nina had this other song, what was it called, Nin? “When Love Is Over?” NG: I don’t know if it had a title, but that was definitely the refrain or the chorus, I guess.
Post: We just wrote that song one evening just sitting in Nina’s basement. Nina had played me this other beautiful song called “When Love Is Over” or that was the working title and I was about to leave. But I remember I had my guitar in the case and I was like, “Wait a minute. I’ve got to do this. It’s now or never” It struck me, those words and that song itself would fit over this new song we were writing, and so I was like “Hold on Nina, I think this is going to work together, I think we can make this song fit over this instrumentation.” And it did, so the verse that Nina had already written for “When Love Is Over” ended up the verse for “Empty Bottle” with different chords and a totally different feel. And then in the end when she sings the outro that’s actually how the song sounded in the first place.
Interesting. It’s such a powerful song and I know it goes back to your Chicago days playing some of your first Veruca Salt shows at the Empty Bottle.
Post: The chorus of “Empty Bottle” actually has nothing to do in spirit with the song that Nina had originally written, so as we rewrote it, it definitely came from the spirit of our reunion and from all of our lives in Chicago. It really is nostalgic and captures a time.
Gordon: I was just going to say as we were playing these chords together there was something so melancholy about them and so evocative of that time, and then when Louise had the idea to link this other song “When Love is Over” and the idea of looking back, you’re being haunted, you’re up at night and you’re looking back the song became the looking back and a little window peering back into our past, and those days in Chicago at the Empty Bottle, and these happy memories but also sort of bittersweet and painful memories, so it all just kind of came together as this one big picture.
Still frame from the 1994 video for "All Hail Me."
Speaking of painful memories, are there any songs that are too painful to play? Like is there any territory that you just won’t revisit?
Gordon: [Laughs] No, I don’t think so. One of the things I had said in previous interviews is that I realize that Louise and I from very early on in our late teens and twenties, even as children we bonded over the fact that we gravitate toward pain. The books and the movies we enjoyed as children were very sad and tragic and as songwriters we always tended to gravitate toward very raw and painful feelings. And looking for that raw nerve and turning it into a song. So for this album we kind of went to the most painful spot. And as soon as Louise embraced my song called “Triage” which was written in the aftermath of our breakup, as soon as she embraced that and was like, “Wait a minute, we have to record this,” it was like “Okay! We’re going to tell it like it is!” In a sense, those painful memories now all feel good and cathartic. I think it’s important. And the other thing I will say is that I read somewhere or somebody told me that in all cultures when women give birth, they have to tell their birth story because it’s so traumatic and so painful. Women need to share whether it’s with their friends or with their mothers, whoever it is. They have to say, “Here’s what happened. I went into the hospital. I was in labor for this long.” You need to tell all the details of that birth because it’s so painful, so traumatic and so profound that you can’t just keep it inside. You have to talk about it in order to move on and be a mother and not be completely broken down by it because it’s so intense. I feel that way about me and Louise. I feel like we’ve had this story in all it’s painful details, and we’ve gone over it and over. In the song “Eyes On You,” Louise wrote all of these beautiful lyrics about going back over it almost like a forensic study, like an autopsy of this relationship and what happened and it’s been really important for us and ultimately really healing. It has enabled us to move on as friends and as a band.
Having gone through all of this and come out the other end, do you have any advice for people who have fallen out with a best friend?
Gordon: It’s so sad. It’s really so sad. Louise, what do you think? LP: I’m still sort of stuck on the last question. I was thinking of songwriting as kind of the ultimate form of therapy and how it is the expression of those enormous feelings that takes the weight out of them. Putting them down on paper and releasing them in a song on an album it takes the power away from these and makes weightless what once was so heavy.
It takes the sting out of it.
Post: It takes the sting out of it and the power out of this sort of mighty mountain of pain that me and Nina were carrying on our backs for so long. Now we get to be free of that. In releasing it to the world, it’s saying, “Okay you can carry this with us now." We’re no longer keeping this. As Nina said about the birth story, it’s not our private act to bare anymore. It was so overwhelming and traumatising that it has to be told. I think that is a very lovely metaphor.
Gordon: And that is the whole principle, the entire concept behind the actual museum of broken relationships. That’s precisely what that museum in Croatia and the artist who came up meant. When you are completely broken and in agony over the breakup of a romantic relationship or any relationship you can go and you can do something creative with those feelings and let go of them and then be free.
Post: Do you have any relics of mine that you would have hung up there, Nina?
Thank you for the great question, Louise!
Gordon: That is a great question. Oh my god, so many photographs. So many photographs and polaroids that we took in hotel rooms together late at night just goofing around and taking photos. So a million beautiful photographs, but I don’t know if I would have wanted to get rid of them.
Post: But you wrote the song “Number One Camera” which in a way was it’s own placing something in a museum as it were.
Gordon: Definitely. But other than photographs I’m trying to remember what I have of yours.
Post: I had little angels that you have me. Little angels that I had hanging over my bed, and they were so—I had such sad feelings attached to them because they were so beautiful. I didn’t know what to do with them. I had them hanging on my wall, but it made me sad to look at them, you know? I might have hung them up in that museum.
Gordon: I always wondered about the 30 lipsticks I gave you for your 30th birthday. Remember that?
Post: [Laughs] Yeah, I do. I held on to those for probably way too long. Way past the expiration date. That was a fantastic present. Bryn, Nina is great at giving presents. She’s a very creative gift giver.
Gordon: Let me just say that nothing was more fun than going to all the shops I went to and picking out 30 lipsticks. It was so much fun. It was a present for me to be able to go pick out 30 lipsticks for Louise.
I want to turn 100 but only for 100 tubes of lipstick. You speak so lovingly to each other now. Do you regret not having made up sooner?
Gordon: Yeah, and yet I think at the same time, it can’t be forced. We had to go through all of that feeling, and changing and growing and I don’t know that anyone could have done anything any sooner. I don’t. Although I wish we could have, I don’t know really if it would have worked. We had to come to it totally naturally and organically and in our time.
Photo by Alison Dyer
I think that’s just what you of have to do in situations like that.
Post: You have to let it breathe and take as long as you need to but I guess what I would say is don’t give up hope and don’t do things you’re going to regret when you’re apart. Just be faithful about your breakup and understand that life is long and things can change and you can reserve hope on some level, and like I said before I would recommend not doing anything out of anger but to really be cautious with one’s actions and sensitive to the person. Act out of love even when you’re apart. Really be in the love as much as you can, because anything could change. Anything could happen.
Nina, you said in a previous interview that it was Mazzy Star’s reunion that prompted you to make music Lousie again. I’m wondering what it’s like for you guys to see your peers like Babes in Toyland and L7 start up their bands again. So many classic 90s bands are getting back together!
Gordon: [Laughs] It makes sense in a way! It makes sense that, all those bands—we were all in our 20s when we were together and just starting. In some cases late teens, but mostly in our early 20s. It kind of makes sense that if there was a break-up, it would take a decade or a little more to heal from it I guess. I don’t know. In a way you do get to a point in your life where you’re like “Okay, what’s important to me?” Well, this relationship, this music, this type of creative outlet whatever it is. It sort of makes sense where you’d get to a point like, “This is ridiculous. Why have I removed this from my life? I need this back.”
Like maybe you guys are all healing from the ‘90s at the same time. I mean, even Dave and Courtney hugged it out.
Post: There’s certainly something to be said for realizing at a certain point that we’re mortal. Life is limited and certain relationships don’t come around twice, especially a chemistry as potent as it is between me and Nina, and I’ll extend that to Jim and Steve. We created a family and we made music together but we didn’t know how special it was when we had it the first time around. None of us did. And we’ve been able to in modern day really see that and appreciate it. I’m not saying it’s perfect. We’re still human and being in a band is still complicated, but we get to really be in the present now and recognize how much we love each other. I’ve made friends since Nina and I split up. I’ve made good friends. She’s made good friends. We have very full rich lives. We’ve gotten married and we have children and we’ve moved on. We weren’t necessarily looking or expecting to be able to heal this relationship in this way, yet I’ve learned over the course of not just playing music with other women, which I’ve done, but also in friendships, is that there’s no Nina Gordon. Except for Nina Gordon. There is no one who could take her place. It may seem really obvious if I say that, but it’s very glaring and it’s very profound and to be able to have that friendship back is something I never imagined would happen and it’s really the greatest gift.
Bryn Lovitt was in a Veruca Salt cover band. Follow her on Twitter.