Alternative band Veruca Salt defends pop hit A Taste of Salt


Scheduling press time is always tough for a band on tour, but it's particularly difficult for Veruca Salt at the moment.

Midway through a tour in support of its acclaimed debut, "American Thighs," the band is in New Haven, Conn., getting ready for sound check before a performance at Toad's Place. Normally, squeezing in a phone interview or two wouldn't be a problem, but singer Nina Gordon, who usually does the talking for the band, has strep throat and has been advised not to speak if she hopes to make it through the show.

So it's her brother, drummer Jim Shapiro, who finds himself the designated interviewee -- a role he wouldn't mind so much if it weren't for the fact that the phone room backstage at Toad's Place seems to be directly beneath the stage. "Wow, it's loud down here," he says. "Somebody is checking drums, so it's pretty irritating."

Is he worried about his sister being sick? "Usually one or more of us is sick," he says, resignedly. "That's pretty standard. It's on a fairly low, sniffles level, but someone's always ailing with some sort of bug. I'm hoping Nina will be fine."

At this stage, the members of Veruca Salt haven't been touring long enough to have developed the kind of toughness seasoned road warriors have. In fact, the band stuck mostly to its Chicago-area home turf before its first single, the irrepressibly catchy "Seether," made the band an alterna-rock sensation virtually overnight.

It hasn't been an easy transition for the quartet, and not just because of road bugs. By going so far so fast -- and on the strength of such a listener-friendly single, to boot -- Veruca Salt quickly became the source of carping back home, where some alterna-rock purists castigated the band for "going corporate."

Shapiro shrugs off such complaints. "Because we got played on commercial radio as quickly as we did, to a certain kind of person, we got passe really quickly," he says. "But I think everyone not like that is still fairly supportive. Chicago is definitely a booster-y town, and always has been. I mean, if your teams are the Cubs and the White Sox, you have to be kind of booster-y."

But what about the story in Rolling Stone earlier this year, which said Gordon "apologized to the band" the first time she played "Seether." Was she really ashamed of writing something so catchy?

"Because we were this little alternative band in the burgeoning alternative scene, I think Nina was a little sheepish about it," Shapiro explains. "There was never a question of selling it to me. She played it to me a couple days earlier, and she knew I liked it. I think there was a question of, a feeling like Steve and Louise might disapprove. Or that maybe the world at large would disapprove.

"Nina liked it," he adds. "She wrote it that way on purpose. It wasn't like she was channeling somebody." Besides, "Seether" is hardly the only pop-friendly tune on "American Thighs," as "Number One Blind" (which Gordon wrote with Shapiro) and "Spiderman '79" (by guitarist Louise Post) are just as catchy and crunchy.

Shapiro also tends to question the motives of those who would argue that any band capable of material as infectious as "Seether" could hardly be considered alternative. "My base suspicion is that people who sniff at pop music are just too worried about being cool and have basically figured out that they can't really write pop," he says.

"But the less cynical argument would be that there are really people for whom a genuinely poppy, well-written, melodic song is like a Norman Rockwell painting and has no relevance today. I guess I'm just stuck in some earlier age of representation where you do need melody to tell the story."

"American Thighs"

To hear excerpts from Veruca Salt's album, "American Thighs," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6189 after you hear the greeting.

Live Salt

When: Saturday, March 25, 8 p.m.

Where: WUST Radio Music Hall, Washington, D.C.

Tickets: $15

Call: (410) 481-6328

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