Veruca Salt reunites to tell story of breakup, recovery in 'Ghost Notes'

More than two decades after rising out of the Chicago indie scene with the hit alt-rock single "Seether" on debut album "American Thighs," Veruca Salt's Louise Post and Nina Gordon are the first to admit that though their passion for music hasn't changed, their lifestyles have.

"It used to be about our Johnny Walker Black," Gordon says, as the two sit down at a bright and airy cafe in Studio City. "Now, it's our lattes."

Regardless, Veruca Salt's original lineup has returned for the first time since the late '90s with "Ghost Notes," a record that doesn't shy away from scrutinizing the band's tumultuous breakup. (Veruca Salt celebrates Friday's release of "Ghost Notes" with a performance Saturday at the El Rey Theatre.)

After the release of the sophomore album "Eight Arms to Hold You" in 1997, drummer Jim Shapiro quit the band. Gordon and bassist Steve Lack left in 1998, leaving Post alone under the Veruca Salt moniker for two subsequent albums.

"The expectation was for us to skyrocket," Post said. "We were so disappointed when we felt like anything short of that was happening."

"When blunt haircuts and grungy guitar work go the way of the Pet Rock, the band will likely survive," read a 1995 review for a Veruca Salt concert that ran in The Times. "Its sense of style and feel seem too strong to be rendered obsolete."

"Our favorite thing in the whole world was to sing together, sing harmonies and kick on our distortion pedals," Gordon said. "The industry, the expectations, all of that stuff is part of what ate away at the trust and bond."

After years of scarce correspondence and each writing scathing songs about the other, Post and Gordon, both having started families, began talking on the phone and reviving their friendship.

"Everything was friendly, but we didn't discuss music," Gordon said.

However, when Gordon noticed the buzz Mazzy Star was receiving after its 2012 reunion and appearance at Coachella, it triggered a desire to play music again with Post.

"We met for dinner, and we laughed and we cried," Gordon said. "We saw each other for the first time in 14 years."

But before recruiting Lack and Shapiro to restart Veruca Salt, Post and Gordon first had to reconnect musically.

Post shared an idea for a song that would become the new album's final track, "Alternica," which looks back on the alternative music scene that gave birth to their band. For Gordon, hearing Post's song signaled a need for the duo to write about the friendship that had spawned Veruca Salt.

"The most powerful and wounded place was our relationship," Gordon said. "That was the place we needed to write from."

With Post and Gordon both raising families, the songwriting demanded a joint effort. "We relied on each other to write these songs and to finish these songs," Post said. "We've never really done that before."

Post and Gordon used the tracks of "Ghost Notes" to deconstruct the breakup of the band and their relationship. "Black and Blonde," a song Gordon had previously released in 2000 as a searing critique of Post, was rerecorded for the group's new album.

"We reclaimed it and reframed it to be a song about us and what happened to us, not what was done to me," Gordon said.

Reuniting to retell the emotions of the breakup, Post and Gordon made a point not to hold back any feelings. The album "is the exclamation point of all the excavation we did in order to be able to heal and come back together as a unit," Post said.

Post and Gordon said naming the record "Ghost Notes" became an allegory for the tracks that were inspired by the band's breakup. "I think of each song as a page torn out of a notebook, our notebook," Post said. "It's our way of honoring a time and letting it have its day."

Even though "Ghost Notes" focuses on recovering and rebuilding after the band's breakup, the opening track, "The Gospel According to Saint Me," makes it clear that the reunited band still means business.

"It's gonna get loud," Gordon sings with backup vocals from Post. "It's gonna get heavy."

With the band's signature mix of sticky pop melodies over crunchy, distorted guitars, "Ghost Notes" has become the third Veruca Salt album that never was, a proper follow-up to "Eight Arms to Hold You." However, Post said Veruca Salt didn't aim to recapture an established formula.

"There was no conscious decision to stay true to our sound or even recognition that we had a sound," she said. "It was just the four same people making an album, with all these years in between."

brendan.hornbostel@latimes.com

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Veruca Salt

Where: El Rey Theatre

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $25

Info: http://www.theelrey.com

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