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Nina Gordon Interview

| August 29, 2006 | 0 Comments

Nina Gordon’s Bleeding Heart

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen artichokes grow, but I haven’t [before] and it’s pretty amazing. It’s like a huge beanstalk, and at the top is an enormous globe that is a big old artichoke, and I’m not quite sure when I’m supposed to chop it and eat it, but I’m afraid I’ll take it too soon!”

Nina Gordon looks out at her garden behind the 1925 Spanish-style house she calls home, nestled in the hills above Los Angeles — hills filled with stars, sweet flowers, and a spirit left behind by the light of those stars past and present, a spirit that is romantic and inspiring to this transplanted Chicagoan.

“It’s beautiful, there are flowers all year round, there is sunshine all year round, there are mountains to climb and oceans to swim in, and it’s awesome!”

To Gordon the Hollywood Hills look and feel like the ’70s still, and she feels the vibe of musical icons like The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Linda Ronstadt.

“People who grew up here are always surprised when I say that I find it really inspiring, because to them it’s the least inspiring place on the planet!'”

It is this spirit in which she has enveloped herself since moving there in 2001, after the release of her first solo record, Tonight And The Rest Of My Life. Her first recording project after the demise of Veruca Salt was a bright, beautiful, and bold display of what she was/is capable of: a more grand and complex pop song, often married to hard rock riffs, combined with a more revealing and direct lyrical perspective. She even laid her heart as far out on her sleeve as addressing the pain caused by the break-up of her former band and former best-friendship with Louise Post. Emotional honesty and a natural skill for writing effective melodies to carry them out (along with the fearless incorporation of tasty arena-rock parts she grew up on) is what made that debut stand out, and what Gordon is building her career on.

When a couple of years went by and the airplay of her debut’s title track died down, whispers were Gordon had been dropped from Warner Bros. But the rumors were far from true; instead, so strong are her label and management relationships she was given ample time to follow that record up — time that most artists are not allowed — letting her creative process unfold.

“I moved out here and it was the first time I was single since I was like 16 or something. I was the ultimate overlapper in terms of boyfriends and relationships, and I moved out here and I was actually alone, which was an amazing experience for me.”

Gordon moved west to make a fresh start after the break-up of Veruca Salt and the unfortunate and painful personal scenario that surrounded it. But she insists it’s years behind her now, and she still calls Chicago home, coming back to visit family and friends a couple of times each year. She has a new life and a new perspective. And for those who are curious, she and Louise Post have exchanged friendly emails, but have yet to cross paths though both are living in the L.A. area.

Maybe time really does heal all wounds; it also makes for some great songwriting. “I really have no excuse for why it’s taken me so long, it just has! Maybe it was moving and getting settled out here, and figuring out who I am again outside of Chicago and far away from my family and out of relationship. I would bring songs to my manager and record label, and we’d all be like, ‘Hmm, this one is really great, but not there yet,’ and I never really felt like I was done.”

In 2004 she recorded a whole album with producer Ethan Johns (who has worked with Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller, and others). But after spending time with the finished product, Gordon decided it wasn’t the sophomore record she wanted to release.

“I imagine I will release it in some shape or form at some point, because I do really like it; it wasn’t a failure or a disaster by any means,” she explains. “It was just really slow and really sad, and I guess that’s how I was feeling at the time, but when I had a little bit of perspective from it, I just felt like this is not what I want to say after four or five years.” So she called on her longtime producer and mentor Bob Rock, and they tracked a whole new set of songs in less than a week, then later spent a month doing vocals and overdubs in his Maui studio. It was the fastest she had ever worked.

That luxury of time, though, meant she had plenty of songs to choose from. And on the second try, the resulting album, Bleeding Heart Graffiti, is one similar to her debut — melodically delicious, lyrically thoughtful songs ranging from sentimental piano-heavy ballads to sassy rocking gems with meeting points between. Gordon lays bare her thoughts and feelings even more candidly this time, taking us on her journey of finding and losing love, and finding herself, and finding love again.

“I do think that most songwriters are exhibitionists in some way, wanting to put all of their thoughts and emotions and feelings out there for people to look at,” Gordon says of her very autobiographical lyrics. “But I think that in Veruca Salt I was much more cryptic in the way that I would express myself . . . it was more about using cool words and coming up with odd ways of saying things. But I think as I got a little bit older, it became more natural and more satisfying to just tell it like it is and not try to beat around the bush.”

The record unfolds almost like a love story, beginning with a short intro moving right into “Christmas Lights,” a ballad of hopes and dreams attached to the infatuation phase of a new relationship, even expressing the defiance of being warned, “My hero said, ‘You can’t hold the hand of a rock ‘n’ roll man,’ but what if I can?” She then shares her fears and doubts about diving into love again on “Don’t Let Me Down.” “Suffragette” on one hand could be her independence anthem, but it’s also just a fun song she is proud to have co-written with Wendy Melvoin (from Prince-collaborating duo Wendy & Lisa, of whom Gordon is a huge fan) and her sister, Susannah.

Anyone who knows anything about Gordon knows she has a history of dating musicians, and she is very candid about it on this record. The next song and first single, “Kiss Me ‘Til It Bleeds,” dives headfirst into the subject as she sings, “Destructive, exciting, and I can’t let go/Inciting a riot on my radio/I’m going, I’m gone, even though I know it’s wrong.”

“Oh man, so many times I’ve said to myself after a relationship is over, ‘No more dirty rock boys!’ and then I always end up with them. I can’t help it!” Her fetish has always been productive, or so it would seem, as her lovers have always ended up collaborators, whether in the studio, on the stage, or both. Her current beau of three years is Tonic guitarist Jeff Russo, who played on the new LP (co-writing “Kiss Me ‘Til It Bleeds”) and has written some songs for other artists with Gordon, and whom she hopes will play in her touring band when the time comes . . .

Penelope Biver

To continue the story, pick up the September issue of Illinois Entertainer, available throughout Chicagoland.

Category: Features, Monthly

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