Nita Strauss Is The Hard-Working Guitar Hero That Rock Needs
What most musicians do, Nita Strauss does twice as hard. Between playing for Alice Cooper’s band, working on her solo material, appearing at guitar clinics, and writing and promoting her e-book about rock star fitness, the 32-year-old guitarist is a fucking machine, focusing all her energy and talent into working nonstop in the name of rock and metal. Add to that the fact that she’s a role model for millions of women who want to play heavy music in what they’re constantly told is a “male-dominated genre,” and you’ve got a human being whose life should inspire all performers to do a little more, a little better. Simply put, if Nita Strauss is out there in the world, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Currently on tour supporting her crowdfunded solo album Controlled Chaos while simultaneously launching her own fitness challenge, Nita doesn’t have a minute to herself, and has every right to be exhausted and humorless. But when she stops by Kerrang!’s Brooklyn offices to chat and take some photos, she genuinely seems just happy to be here. When we ask her what it’s like to play with Alice Cooper, she breaks into the kind of grin that would make one think she was a fangirl who just met Alice backstage, rather than a vital part of his backing band.
“It’s amazing,” she says gleefully. “I’ve played with a bunch of bands that were kind of styled from 80s acts, and we used to cover [Alice Cooper’s track] Poison. Now I’m actually performing the song with the man!”
With your solo album, is there something you feel like you can accomplish musically that you can’t as part of Alice’s band?
Definitely. The common perception of instrumental guitar music is that it’s nothing but shredding. I think the thing we really hit on the head with Controlled Chaos is that for people who wouldn’t normally listen to instrumental guitar music, it’s a lot more than that. I’ve had people tell me that after they listened to my album, they went out to buy an album from Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, that they would have never listened to. Just to get to expose people to these records that meant so much to me has really been awesome.
Is there a way you’ve found to grab someone’s attention with guitar front and center, the way a singer does with a band’s lyrics?
It all comes down to emotion. If you’re writing songs about something, it makes a big difference to a listener. The beauty of instrumental music is that there’s no definitive meaning to the track. With lyrics, it’s much more apparent what the song is about. If it’s about a breakup, the lyrics are there to tell you that. With instrumental music, the songwriter can write one thing, and it can hit the listener in a completely different way. It’s all subjective.
When you’re playing with other people, whether as a guest guitarist or with Alice Cooper, are there moments where you wish you could blast out your full emotion, but you can’t because you might overwhelm the vocalist?
Absolutely. Especially with Alice Cooper. We’re a supporting act to Alice. There’s this invisible line on stage that we don’t cross. If Alice wants us to take the front stage, we will run with it, but it’s his show, and we’re conscious of that. We’re there to make the Alice Cooper show as great as it can be, but not to be, like, Alice Cooper featuring Nita Strauss. There are three lead guitar players in Alice Cooper’s band: myself, Ryan Roxie, and Tommy Henriksen. There isn’t any room for the three of us to do that, especially with Alice there. We have to give the crowd that guitar hero experience while also not taking anything away from Alice.
I’ve interviewed Alice twice for Kerrang!, and he always takes a moment to talk about you and your bandmates’ other projects. There’s this stereotype of the frontman who thinks, “I’m in charge, know your role,” but he was quick to say he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys.
That’s kind of him, because he would totally be here. Let’s not kid ourselves, he could have anybody in his band! For him to not only choose us, but give us that spotlight and mention our names, it’s so amazing. Any rockstar can learn a thing or two from Alice Cooper.
Is there something that you’ve learned from working with Alice that you’ve taken with you, whether it’s about being a musician or just something like how to get fake blood out of a shirt?
The real thing I’ve taken with me is appreciation. Alice could be a jerk. You always hear about the rockstars that aren’t even on Alice’s level who are just jerks. Then there’s Alice, who could be enjoying his dinner, and when a fan comes up to him to tell them their stories about having their records taken away from their parents, he’ll put the fork down, look at them, and then start a conversation, asking if they ever got the records back. He really knows that without those fans, none of us would be here.
Working with Alice, have you ever gotten your head chopped off, or swung for the gallows?
That’s strictly Alice territory! I don’t think they’d offer it, because I totally would! I’d do all the dangerous thing. I remember on the first date with Mötley Crüe, the pyro technician warned me that there would be a lot of pyro and not to use too much hairspray, and I was totally into it. She said, ‘I like your attitude!’
Today is the last day to sign up for your Body Shred challenge. Does fitness and staying healthy help with your performance?
It has made a huge difference. Just purely on the physical side, I’m less winded and not sore all the time. I do my cardio, take my supplements, eat clean. I have a meal prep company called Trifecta Nutrition that sends out my meals when I am on tour. Your body is a Ferrari — don’t give it the regular gas, give it the premium! All this was the inspiration for Body Shred. I made this change for myself. First I wrote a book about it, “Body Shred: Your Guide To Feeling And Looking Like A Rock Star,” and that’s basically motivation and making good choices. That’s not to say you need to be sober or you shouldn’t eat pizza, but you should be more conscious and make better decisions.
Then I thought of a way that I could get more people involved, which is where this challenge came about. You have to get people involved somehow, and what better way than to give a rad guitar and amp? So we’re giving away an Ibanez Jiva, my signature guitar, and a Marshall amp, and Trifecta is giving away some great food. We got all these companies to get involved in it, and it’s really exciting.
Let’s say I’m a metal musician. I’m going out on my first couple of tours, and looking for a way to be healthier. What are some basic ways to start?
The first thing you want to do is set yourself up for success. Already have the healthy food. Bring stuff you can use on the road, and getting yourself into it mentally. Tour isn’t a vacation, it’s work. Treat your tour like your day job, and set yourself up for success.
As an outsider, I definitely think of tour like a blank space, where you could do whatever you want.
Yeah, and you can’t. That only works when it’s a shorter tour. For me, I’ve been touring consistently for 17 years, and that just didn’t work for me. I gained a ton of weight, and even when I got sober that approach just didn’t work. You can’t say that calories don’t count when you’re on the road, because they do.
I saw is that you recently played a live guest spot with Evanescence at the 2019 Epicenter Festival. How was that? Have you known the band for a long time?
It’s always fun. My own music is kind of non-collaborative, being self-produced and self-engineered. My boyfriend Josh [Villalta, also Nita’s drummer] has known the other guys in the band for a very long time, and I’ve known [rhythm guitarist] Jen Majura very well, and they were kind enough to invite me up to play. Also, as a female growing up in the Evanescence era, there weren’t a lot of girls to look up to, but there was Amy Lee, proudly carrying the torch for girls in rock and metal. To be on stage with her and hear her voice through the monitors, I thought back to my childhood and how excited I would’ve been to even just see that.
It’s awesome that you still have those moments. I’m sure with this as your day job, it’s sometimes easy to overlook how cool this all is.
I’m still very much that person. Josh always reminds me that. I started playing guitar after hearing Steve Vai for the first time. I recently got an award called the Inspire Award, and the company She Rocks surprised me by having Steve Vai present the award to me. I was just standing on the side of the stage trying not to cry because I had to play, and I was hearing from my hero how I’ve inspired people. I tried not listening, because I knew I would take it to heart, so I decided to just relax and I’d watch it later. Then Josh put his hands on my shoulders, and said, ‘Think back when I first started playing guitar.’ Then I started crying on the side of the stage, and then I had to go out and cry and play! You can never lose that sense of enchantment. If you do, you need to go out and work at a bank, and see how enchanting that is.
That’s an amazing story. Have you ever played a set while crying?
Oh my God, so many times! The first time I played Poison with Alice Cooper, I cried so many times. When I was recording the album, there are these two ballad tracks that are just super personal to me, and I was just crying. Not even cute, movie tears, like actual bawling! [Nita does a hacking, open-mouthed sob] I’ve cried during guitar clinics. I’m a very emotional guitar player, so it’s not uncommon for me to cry. I just let it flow through me.
Nita Strauss’ Controlled Chaos is available now on Sumerian Records.
Nita is currently out on tour right now, so make sure to catch her live Wat one of the following dates:
24 - Detroit, MI Token Lounge*
29 - Milwaukee, WI Shank Hall*
30 - Grand Rapids, MI The Stache @ The Intersection*
02 - Buffalo, NY Ironworks*
04 - New Bedford, MA Vault @ Greasy Luck*
05 - Stafford, CT Palace Theater*
06 - Ardmore, PA The Ardmore Music Hall w/ Paul Gilbert
07 - Harrisburg, PA Harrisburgsart*
08 - Poughkeepsie, NY The Chance w/ Paul Gilbert
09 - Rochester, NY Montage Music Hall*
11 - Richmond, VA Canal Club*
13 - Nashville, TN The Basement*
14 - Memphis, TN Rockhouse Live*
15 - New Orleans, LA House of Blues*
17 - Baton Rouge, LA Varsity Theatre*
19 - Austin, TX Come And Take It Live*
20 - Dallas, TX Trees*
21 - San Antonio, TX The Rock Box*
22 - Warehouse Live Studio w/ Static-X & DevilDriver
* with Kore Rozzik
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