Greed is Good

Years ago, children's novelist Roald Dahl created a spoiled girl who wanted it all -- especially a tour of the psychedelic chocolate factory operated by Willy Wonka -- and wanted it yesterday. Her insatiable greed eventually landed her in Wonka's bad-egg chute, and she was never heard from again.

On the surface, Dahl's creation appears to mirror the fate of too many rock artists; it's not exactly a legacy a band should aspire to. Fortunately for Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Steve Lack and Jim Shapiro, the four original members of the musical group Veruca Salt, that literary reputation didn't hinder their career. The Chicago quartet found its golden ticket to alternative-rock popularity five years ago. Singer/guitarist Gordon was working in an art gallery, "dying to make music." A friend, meanwhile, met Post at a New Year's Eve party and learned that Post, too, wanted to turn her lyrical scrawlings into songs. The rest, as they say, is history.

"I called her the day after my friend met her. We got together and played songs for each other," says Gordon. "We immediately knew we wanted to make music together."

The girls recruited bassist Steve Lack via a classified ad, and Gordon's older brother Jim Shapiro filled in on drums. After just three live performances, the group was swallowed up in a signing frenzy by Chicago label Minty Fresh, which has also been responsible for bringing the Cardigans and Komeda to the American listening audience. The band's first CD, American Thighs, was born soon after in a cloud of what Gordon recalls as "awe and excitement."

"We were just so damn happy about getting to record that we pumped out songs really fast," she says. "There wasn't much clear thought to it, which we had to live with for the last couple of years. We just figured no one would hear it."

Boy, were they wrong.
Geffen/DGC picked up the band and reissued American Thighs in 1994. The group's wrathful first single, "Seether," catapulted up the Billboard charts, making Veruca Salt a Generation X household name. Then the group hit the road, performing both as a headliner and as an opening act for PJ Harvey, Hole, the Muffs, Live and Hazel. Gordon, who wishes she could be in the recording studio nonstop, says living her life in hotel rooms took some getting used to.

"It took me a while to get used to touring," she says. "You give up so much control when you're on-stage. You can't hear how your voice sounds. But I resolved that it's never going to sound perfect, so now they have to pull me off."

The band's latest U.S. tour is to build support for its second CD, Eight Arms to Hold You, its title another pop culture reference, this time to the working title of the Beatles film Help! The band's sophomore effort is comprised of 14 tracks produced by metal-lover Bob Rock, whose resume includes projects for Metallica and Motley CrYe. His influence can be heard in the less indie sound of the distortion-heavy Eight Arms.

"We were ready to prove ourselves with a second album shortly after the first was done, but the good thing about waiting is that you live through the songs to see which ones are more lasting," says Gordon. "The biggest difference is that this time we knew what we were doing."

Eight Arms features another song about repressed anger erupting, "Volcano Girls," which revisits old territory with a riff from and a verbal mention of "Seether." And the angry girl rage doesn't stop there. "Straight" and "Don't Make Me Prove It" continue down the road of fast-paced rock, with vocals constantly on the verge of a screech. This is not to say the girls from Veruca Salt don't know how to mellow out. They show a more melodic side on tracks such as "Benjamin" and "One Last Time." "Tribute to David Bowie," a hand-clap- enhanced song honoring the thin white duke, and the new wave retro number "Sound of the Bell" prove these girls just wanna have fun.

After the CD was finished, Shapiro left to pursue his own project and was replaced by drummer Stacy Jones, formerly of Letters to Cleo. The departure raises questions about the state of harmony between Veruca Salt's members, but Gordon insists that the only kind of competition that exists in the band is the healthy kind.

"Competition is not a predominant theme in our relationship," she says. For example, Gordon notes, if Post comes up with a great song, "her talent only inspires me to go home and produce a powerful rock song to bring back and show off to the band. We work hard to talk it all out and stay connected."

Gordon says it also helps her and Post to perform with other women. "It is so much fun to tour with women from bands you like," she says. "It's inspiring to connect and share similar experiences."

So with tourmate Bush being about as male as a band gets, who does Gordon expect empowerment to come from?

"It'd be very guyish with Bush, except for the fact that every show has 15,000 screaming young girls, many of which are at their first concert. I hope our music can be a good example for them," says Gordon. "We were expecting the occasional 'We want Bush' or flying objects, but they actually get really pumped and cheer like crazy."

Veruca Salt opens for Bush at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Tickets are $25 and $28. For info, call 629-3700.

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Carrie Bell