Into our arms
Nina and Louise are fond of sweet things. Before the interview can start, the manager is sent away to buy some candy. When I enter the room, Nina and Louise lie in each others arms, cuddling. Should this be a hint towards their new CD "Eight Arms To Hold You"? This new record sounds a lot harder than the first one, "American Thighs". Did they work with a new producer?
NINA: Yes. His name is Bob Rock and he has produced many records: Metallica, Motley Crue, The Cult, Bon Jovi - a lot of Rock'n'Roll records. That's why we chose him.
(During the interview there was a constant level of crackling and scratching noises due to the fact of Nina eating M&M's and drawing "Otto vom Flughafen"). Drummer Jim, who is Nina's brother, left the band?
NINA: Jim's forming his own band, called "Ultrasuisse" (?!?). He'd be sadly missed but he has to pursue his own dream. But we'll still see a lot of each other. He's my brother, you know. We are now working with Stacy, the former drummer of Letters To Cleo. He was ready for a change. The band had stopped working for a while (although they are still making music) and he was a big fan of our band.
What did change apart from that? The attitude? The sound?
NINA: We didn't really change the sound. The only difference in approach was that we had a lot more time and we were working with a big producer who really liked to work a lot and hard to really develop the songs. But this is like we always saw ourselves. I think our first record would have sounded like that if we had more time and any experience of playing live.
LOUISE: We were on the road for a year and a half which is a long time. We got better playing our instruments. We were starting to write songs that were more fun to play live - versus the slower ones on our first record. We just naturally went towards a bigger sound. So it doesn't feel like a conscious choice, like a calculated change. It just feels like a natural progression.
The ballads on this records sound much more elaborate than the ones on the first record. Is this a step towards accessibility - mainstream perhaps?
NINA: The songs originally - the way we played them - sounded very similar to things we've done before. We really spent a lot of time on those songs and we really had a lot of ideas about arrangements. Some of the tracks have 90 tracks of instrumentation, they have strings and different guitars and stuff. We really worked on our songs to make them elaborate not to make them sound like mainstream, but because we wanted them to be lush and beautiful.
LOUISE: We just took everything as far as we could go without getting excessive in our minds. We wanted to really flesh out these songs and fill out the empty spaces and really fulfil our individual visions of the songs.
Speaking of arrangements - did you all do this by yourselves?
LOUISE: We brought in 18 songs to work on and we thought they were pretty much done. We had two weeks of preproduction. And Bob was never intrusive with his ideas. He asked us if we wanted to keep the song the way it is - which was fine or kind of crack it open and experiment with it to see where it goes. Usually if he had a suggestion we would go with it to see what it's like. He didn't as much impose his ideas on us as open up the song for exploration. There were times when he would try an idea or tell us to go to our rooms and come up with a part. He really helped us to create a fertile environment for our songs.
Many musicians fear to work too long on a song, overdo it. Did you find it hard to find the right time to stop?
NINA: We weren't so much concerned with that because we had done two records in an environment where we had to throw our arms up and say: "Well, we can't work on this any more because we will lose the edge". We had to embrace the flaws, find them charming. This time we really had to indulge ourselves in that, had to see what it would be like to make a record where the flaws were not as glaring to us. This time we wanted to make a record that sounded polished - not slick. And I think it doesn't sound slick. Some people might think it sounds slick but it just sounds...
Nina and Louise tend to finish each other's sentences and thoughts:
LOUISE: ...finished. But there were many times when we made this record where we spent so much time on a song that I thought that we'd lost perspective and I did worry. So I had to think: Well, someone knows what's going on here, someone has good taste. All those factors added up to the fact of someone being in control here, someone's being in charge. And ultimately Bob also had a really good sense of what was excessive and he'd often would stop us from adding too much stuff and he would actually keep us from adding more guitar sounds. He wanted to make a more stripped down records and we said: No, we want the gusto, we want to go for it.
Anything left that they would like to do - musically?
LOUISE: We definitely want to use live strings in our music some time. And I definitely want to make an acoustic record some time. As much as we love what we are doing, I think Nina and I always have written - and have a closet full of - acoustic songs. Which didn't quite fit in with this record, though.
Did you use a mellotron on this record?
NINA: Yes. Bob actually had two mellotrons, but they are pretty old, terribly out of tune and sounded kind of warped, creepy, sinister. So we ended up using samples from those. We really like the sound of it, but it depends on the song. There are so many great synthesizer programmes. Generally the crux of the song, the basic sentiment is always very personal. There are little references here and there...
LOUISE: ...and we are infused with ideas all the time, being it life experiences, music, literature, film etc. So these images and philosophies really influence our music.
Will you include the lyrics on this record and why didn't you do so on the last one?
NINA: We will. My instincts were always not to put lyrics. The reason being that we write songs, not poetry right now. I don't think that the lyrics can stand on their own. Plus a lot of writers really feel uncomfortable seeing their lyrics printed like that because lyrics are part of the song. It should be that way, that the lyrics go with the music. On this record we decided to put them though. Honestly a lot of it got to do with the fact that we got misquoted a lot, misunderstood a lot in the press, which bothers us a lot. But also when we were young and we bought records we loved to read the lyrics. It's really nice to have them. It's kind of like we are stretching ourselves for our fans, for our listeners in a way. I can't say it makes me comfortable.
LOUISE: We don't usually write the lyrics down and then the song is constructed around them. We draw from things that are written sometimes, stream of consciousness often. But then again: The lyrics are not written as poems. Sometimes a phrase might sound profound within a melody but it will sound stark & blank without the melody.
NINA: Music and lyric are linked and separating them is like looking at a painting and separate colors or something.
LOUISE: We printed the lyrics without punctuation. That's our compromise - because it is as stream of consciousness as the music is.
Are there any messages?
LOUISE: On the last record it was our intention to let the lyrics be cryptical and unhearable. But when people told us they couldn't understand what we are singing on "Forsythia" when we thought it was all so clear we were really surprised. So it's definitely that we have something to say - it's all there.
Who wrote the David Bowie song?
NINA: I did. I respect everything he does. I was just particularily taken with him when I decided to write the song - but on the other hand it could have been about Prince or John Lennon or George Harrison. It could have been about many people that I idolised when I was younger and people that inspired me to play music. Also when we were teenagers - and as silly as it may sound to teenagers right now - the Walkman had just been invented. In the 80's it was not given that you could walk down the streets listen to music - unless you carried a giant boombox with you. So now suddenly this great development for me - for all of us - was to suddenly have this great soundtrack when you walked down the street. And it was such an exciting time. I would tape my records and walk to school and listen to my favourite performers just looking around and breathing the air. There was an overall excitement - even about this piece of technology. And that's what this song's about also.
In that context: What is the function of Veruca Salt's music?
LOUISE: I think for me it's like a survival-kit. It's like having the tools at hand to get me through the day. Whether it's playing with the band, performing it, recording it, writing it. It's an ongoing catharthis. At times you get stagnant but there's always something brewing inside and the fact that I have this vehicle to write songs is - I think I can speak for Nina too - is like the greatest gift and it keeps us going, keeps us satisfied and excited about life and creating something that is ongoing and is evolving and developing. And also this band has provided us with this incredible support system like each other and immediate social structure and it's become the center of our lives. It really makes up the bulk of what we do.
Did you ever had the option of doing something else apart from music?
LOUISE: We both went to college, we both went to university and Nina was in the process of coordinating a Monet exhibit at the art institute of Chicago and translating Monet's letters from French into English when we began this band. So she left a really good job to be in this band. And I went to theater, was in a theater company and was on my into audition for films and I abandoned that. I think we probably feel that we could each have done a myriad of things had we decided not to play music. But we made this decision to do what we both dreamed of doing most.
Good for us.
Interview: -Ullrich Maurer-
Fotos: -Ullrich Maurer-
Eight Arms To Hold You
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