'I crawled back from a dark place


October 1, 2006


Among Chicago's three most prominent heroines during the now-distant alternative-rock era, Louise Post stands alone. Her estranged partner, Nina Gordon -- now eight years after leaving Veruca Salt, the band she co-founded with Post in 1993 -- is devoted to glitzy power ballads with little hint of the seething anger in her earlier songs. Her second solo album, "Bleeding Heart Graffiti," was once again over-produced by schlockmeister Bob Rock; released last August, it sank without a trace. (The nadir: the closing track, in which Gordon croons, "The crickets sound like sleighbells as they sing through the night / And so August feels like Christmas when I close my eyes.")

Meanwhile, Liz Phair, the woman who once proudly declared her desire to "F--- and Run," continues to remake herself as Sheryl Crow Lite. She hit a new low in sappy pop and pretty much disavowed everything she once stood for on the title track of last year's "Somebody's Miracle," which found her cooing, "Now I see how wrong and reckless I've been / Each frog has a prince just waiting inside of him."

Compare that to Post circa 2006. "You don't know me / You don't owe me / You're just sucking up my life," she howls on "So Weird," the first single from the new "Veruca Salt IV" (Sympathy for the Record Industry). Meanwhile, in "Centipede," she bluntly confesses that she's been "Broken, depressed, f---ed-up, insane / Smokin', obsessed, wanna see you again." And those are just the first two of 14 fiery, hard-rocking but consistently melodic anthems that alternately show flashes of fury, vulnerability and ultimately the pride of a bloodied but unbowed survivor.

"I feel like I've gone through some major growing pains, and I'm so relieved to have come out on the other side," Post says.

For all intents and purposes, we last heard from Veruca Salt in 2000, when a retooled band with three new members released "Resolver." On that disc, Post drew upon the painful experiences of a failed relationship with Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and a failed friendship and partnership with Gordon to produce an unjustly overlooked alt-rock gem at a time when alt-rock was decidedly on the wane. After that, the bandleader "really just receded and stepped away from the industry," she says.

"I moved to L.A., and I was in a band with Courtney Love for about five minutes. I continued to record demos for Veruca Salt, with the full intention of making a record, but I just couldn't keep up the momentum. I had high expectations for 'Resolver,' and it hurt me personally when it didn't do as well as I thought it could. I took it as a personal injury, and I wore my wounds, and I wasn't able to really bounce back easily."

Post split from her old label, Beyond, shortly before it went bankrupt, and the version of the band that made "Resolver" fell apart. (Guitarist Stephen Fitzpatrick is the only member remaining from Veruca Mach II; the third incarnation of the band is now completed by bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Kellii Scott.) She found herself gaining weight, fighting depression and becoming hooked on prescription drugs.

"I was definitely exhibiting self-destructive behavior: I saw a doctor who prescribed a lot of supposedly helpful medication, and it didn't do well with my chemistry. I thought that I needed to take a pill if I was nervous about something, and I think it was sort of putting a buffer between me and myself, if that makes sense.

"I feel like I crawled back from a dark place -- or I didn't crawl back, but I came back with strength returning to me tenfold," the now 39-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist continues. "There was a time when -- how do I put this? -- I just wasn't in love with myself, or even really in like with myself. I had to learn to love myself again, and I needed to do that in order to continue making art. But playing music always sort of kept me afloat. When I play even now, if I'm not in the best of moods, and I go to practice, as soon as we're playing, I have a smile on my face. It just makes me really happy."

This sense of catharsis is the thread that links the songs on "Veruca Salt IV" with "Resolver," and it makes the new album every bit the equal of the discs that Post and Gordon crafted together, "American Thighs" (1994) and "Eight Arms to Hold You" (1997). Fans of the band from those days can't help but make comparisons, and it's interesting to note that the liner notes from the new album include a conciliatory nod to Post's original bandmates: "Special thanks to the founding Veruca Salt members: Nina Gordon, Steve Lack, Jim Shapiro."

"We were clearly going in two different directions creatively and butting heads a little bit on 'Eight Arms to Hold You,' " Post now says of her break with Gordon. "Having known her and made music with her, I sensed that she really wanted to make pop records -- clearly that's where her heart and her sensibilities are, and she does it really well. I don't know how we could have reconciled the two different directions we were heading in, but it's funny, because we talked about how our favorite songs on each other's records were the ones that had the most caustic lyrics and sentiments towards one another. It was ironic, because even though we were apart, we were still inspired by one another to make good art."

So the founding forces of the original Veruca Salt are talking once again?

"We have talked, and we've e-mailed, and we've talked about getting together, though we haven't managed to do that yet. We've sort of run the gamut with apologies and forgiveness and been through all of that. I still think there's probably some healing to be done there, even this many years later, but we're certainly on decent terms.

"I'll tell you, even though I've toured without her, all through 'Resolver' and the EP [2005's "Lords of Sounds & Lesser Things"], I find myself missing Nina on this tour. Certain times, there are just such hard-core fans from 'American Thighs' and 'Eight Arms' all the way through to the present that there is stuff that I just can't share with anyone else, because it's so profoundly touching.

"Our fans took it really hard when we split up, because we presented this front of unity -- and female unity at that. That was one thing that we were very proud of. When it sort of combusted, it was very disillusioning to fans, because they were sort of counting on the longevity of that bond."

But Veruca Salt has grown up and moved on -- and so have its fans, Post says.

"It's kind of mind-blowing to find out how many fans there still are, and what kind of stuff they've gone through. A lot of them have gone through similar problems, and they've had to deal with life on life's terms, too. For me, I feel like that's the only reason to make music. When I picked up my acoustic guitar in college, the reason I kept doing it and the reason I wrote two- or three-chord songs was because it was cathartic and it helped me to make sense of whatever was going on at the time -- to give rhyme and reason to chaotic emotions. It was always so gratifying to have finished a song: It felt like giving birth every time, and it still does. It's such an amazing creative journey, and I can't imagine doing anything else."