Hurricane Nita Strauss is a guitarist as talented as she is beautiful. With a reputation as one of the hardest working axe-slingers in modern rock, Strauss is set to release Controlled Chaos, her first collection of original instrumental guitar music in September, fueled by a Kickstarter campaign to help offset the costs around creating the record and touring it. This Kickstarter campaign generated over 600% of what Strauss was hoping to raise. Also, this year, Strauss announced her Ibanez signature series guitar (the JIVA10) making her the first female to have a signature series guitar with Ibanez. Nita is also the first female to have signature Dimarzio pickups. She was on the cover of Guitar Player magazine last month and was recently featured at WWE’s WrestleMania playing out wrestling superstar Shinsuke Nakamura.
Musically, Nita is attached to Alice Cooper as his lead guitarist, along with Femme Fatale, Critical Hit, and LA KISS. Currently, she intends to finish off Controlled Chaos, and tour it this year – posting updates, videos and photos of the process along the way, while committing to also keep some of the album’s development content exclusive to her Kickstarter backers. She is also doing some press on her upcoming debut and took twenty minutes to discuss her album and Kickstarter campaign with PureGrainAudio.
Let’s assume that there are people out there who are unaware of who you are and that you’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a solo album. What are the key things that they need to know about you?
Nita Strauss: Well’ I play guitar. I play guitar with Alice Cooper, and a lot of different people and this solo album was really my way of branching out and doing my own thing. You know? I’m mostly known for doing other people’s music, so this is a way to just do something that is purely from my heart and my creativity and be stuff that I want to play. So it’s really exciting. The response has been absolutely incredible. They are eight days left on the Kickstarter, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from there.
You’ve got just over a week left for this Kickstarter campaign and you’re already at almost 600 percent of your goal. Did you expect a response like that?
Strauss: I don’t think you can ever expect that. You know, it’s always really funny trying something completely different. You know, crowdfunding was a totally new avenue for me and you know there’s always that trepidation of “will people want to hear it?” Do people just want to hear me play Alice Cooper songs and Iron Maiden songs? And, you know, I had seen other Kickstarters with people about my band’s size go pretty high so I was hopeful. But definitely, I wouldn’t say that I expected it.
Did you look at other crowdfunding companies like Pledge? A lot of musicians to go to PledgeMusic.
Strauss: Yeah I looked at all of them. I looked into every single option and weighed them out, and Kickstarter was a good choice for me.
You’ve put a couple of updates up there already. Are you planning on permeating this thing with more content as you get closer to your record release in September?
Strauss: More content on the Kickstarter?
Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” solo with Nita Strauss.
Yeah, I mean more updates, snippets, behind-the-scenes stuff.
Strauss: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ll keep doing them. I’ve been doing live streams on the Kickstarter every week. There is actually going to be one later today. There is definitely going to be some cool backer-only inside stuff that will continue to come throughout the course of making the record.
What happens when you get to eight days from now? I mean you’ve met your goal so the campaign will end. What do fans do afterwards if they find out about this after the actual campaign has run? Can they still get in on some of the packages that you’re offering? Can they still preorder the album?
Strauss: Sadly, no. The Kickstarter; May 4th – Star Wars Day is the last day of the Kickstarter and from that point forward it’ll just be you’re going to have to get the album the day it comes out which will be in September of this year. You know, so there’s still a little time to get in on it.
So, what does that mean for you now? I guess the financial pressure is off – like you’ve met your goal. Time’s six. Do you now feel like you can put a tour together afterwards? Do you feel like your album is completely funded and you’ll be able to record it the way that you want?
Strauss: Oh definitely, yeah. The initial budget, which was twenty thousand dollars, already included touring for it. I’m not trying to make Chinese Democracy here. It’s an instrumental guitar record. You know, I can make it on a good budget. I have a home studio. You know the only thing I’ll really need to spend the money on as far as recording is some equipment. And of course, drums because I don’t want to do the drums at my house. And mixing and mastering. So the budget for the actual recording is fairly modest and the rest of it already plans to go towards the tour and towards publicity for the record and making it as cool as it could be. So, now that we made the goal on this, there will definitely be a tour. I actually just got the routing for the first tour a couple days ago, and there will definitely be quite a few tours to support it.
Excellent. That’s awesome news. Have you thought about what a tour might mean as far as bringing along someone to play live bass? Are you going to use the same drummer that you’re recording with?
Strauss: Well, I’ll definitely use the same drummer, yeah. That’s my boyfriend.
Oh well. There you go. He’s got an in.
Strauss: Yeah. He’s definitely got an in. He’s got the best in. He played drums on my single “Pandemonium” which came out last year. And, besides it being really great to work with somebody that you have such great chemistry with, he’s also the best drummer that I know. So it’s a match made in heaven right there. And then as far as bass and second guitar, it really just depends who else is on the tour, you know? I’m not really going to be putting a band together for this project. It’s really just going to be me and backing musicians. Aside from a consistent drummer of course – Josh [Villalta]. So, I’ll either be sharing backing bands with some of the musicians on the tour or hiring people on a need-to-hire basis.
Time for some “Pandemonium”! Watch this video, friend.
So, how much solo material did you have written before meeting Steve Vai and committing to creating that track that would become “Pandemonium” for him?
Strauss: None. None at all. Not even a little bit of an idea of anything. You know, I met Steve Vai and he asked if I would contribute a song to a compilation he was putting out his label Favored Nations. And I said yeah! No Definitely, I’ll send you over something right away. And then as we were leaving, Josh looked at me and said: “So, what are you going to send him?” In life, in music, and in your career you just have to take the opportunities as they come. If I had said to Steve Vai that day “Uh, I don’t really have anything for you,” I don’t think that we’d be on the phone now talking about this record.
See, that’s pretty cool. And you were inspired enough that you wanted to continue on to make a full instrumental album like himself and guys like Joe Satriani have done over the years. That’s pretty amazing.
Strauss: Yeah, definitely. Those guys are my heroes. I now get to do what it is that they do.
Are you going to do 100 percent of all guitar and bass solos on the album? Or, would you bring in someone like a Steve Vai or another guitarist who you are friends with and respect?
Strauss: It’s mostly going to be me. I do have I guest guitarist on one track on the album, but I really wanted this first time, my first album, to just be me. You know, I am known for playing with other musicians. So this is my first chance to get to go out and do something on my own, and I don’t really want it to end up like people saying, “Oh, the album only really sold well because she got a great special guest.” I really want this to happen on my own merits and my own terms.
Ok cool. And totally justified.
Strauss: That said, there is a really exciting special guest.
OK, we’ll probably see that in the Kickstarter campaign at some point down down the road?
Strauss: Most definitely.
I saw you do the Star-Spangled Banner at Rock On The Range last year. Was that something that was planned or did you get asked to do that last minute?
Strauss: That was something that was planned. Yeah, I was playing with Alice in Columbus a few days before that. So I work with Monster Energy and they are a big sponsor for Rock On The Range, so when they saw that I was already going to be in the area, they asked about me staying a couple of extra days and doing the “Star Spangled Banner”. So, I jumped at the chance.
Nice. That’s cool. Can you talk a bit about how you wound up being Alice Cooper’s guitarist? I’m sure the story is out there but I haven’t read it yet and I’m curious. Was that a management thing where your name was tendered out? Did he know you in advance?
Strauss: Yeah. So, I was playing with a band called Femme Fatale. You know, I’ve always been the guitar player that’ll play with anybody that’ll have me. You know, whether it’s a cover band, whether it’s rock; pop; heavy metal; death metal; whatever it is, you know, I’ll get on stage and play. So, I was doing double duty on the Monsters of Rock Cruise with Femme Fatale and The Iron Maidens. And, you know, there’s a 100 bands on that cruise, and one of the bands was Winger. And Kip Winger who played with Alice for years, and of course is still in touch with their camp, saw the show and when it came out that they were looking for a female guitar player to replace Orianthi Panagaris, he put my name forward.
Very cool. And would you describe yourself as someone who was nervous before you try out for something like that? Were you a barrel of nerves or did you just go in and ace it.
Strauss: Oh no. Playing guitar is all I do, you know? Asking me about being nervous before playing guitar would be like asking if you’re nervous before you drive your car and something. I don’t really do anything else. I’m a guitar player, so I prepare a lot and I practice a lot, and I rehearse everything meticulously. And you know I rehearse so much that there’s not really anything to be nervous about. I get excited. I get really excited you know before – I played at Wrestlemania last weekend I couldn’t sleep for days beforehand, but it wasn’t really nerves. I was just really really excited.
I guess that you having a home studio – it takes the pressure off trying to write all this stuff in advance and then booking studio time to go in and do it. You can just bust out a song whenever you want to sit down and master it, right?
Strauss: Yeah I’ve actually had a studio for about 11 years because I do a lot of session guitar playing. I send in a lot of solos for other bands or video game soundtracks, you know, commercials or what have you. So it is much easier for me to just be able to do it from wherever I am. You know I can send in a solo from anywhere in the world, as long as I have a place with a desk, You know I get to set my laptop down anytime, and I can work and play. It’s really easy.
What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in say your first few years starting as a touring guitarist and filling in for other bands.
Strauss: Always be on time. If you are early you are on time. If you are on time you are late. If you are late you’re fired. And that is very very true.
When you were starting out learning guitar is there a thing in particular that you remember struggling with or trying to figure out?
Strauss: I struggled with everything. You know it’s always funny hearing people say or talk about talent and talk about you know “wow I can’t play like you because you are talented.” Anybody can play like me if they practice as much as I play anybody can play like anybody if they practice enough. Conor McGregor the UFC fighter said, “Anybody can be anybody if they put in the time.” It’s not talent – it’s hard work. It’s an obsession with practicing to being the best. When I started playing guitar I wasn’t good at anything. I remember crying myself to sleep because I couldn’t play an open G chord. I was so frustrated and I saw all these guitar players playing all of this hard stuff and I thought how can I not play this one simple basic chord. Now it’s easy to play that and to play a lot of different stuff. It’s always those struggles of why can everybody else to this and it’s so hard for me? It’s about perseverance and dedication.
Watch this killer guitar solo at Ralston Arena in 2016.
We live in an interesting era now. Video footage is just so readily available, and it’s easier for people to look at footage of you playing. I mean people can stand right in front of you at Alice Cooper shows and film you as you’re soloing and watch what you’re doing over and over again. Right?
Strauss: And they do.
What did you do when you were learning? I mean we had VHS tapes of old concerts and stuff back in the day, but I don’t really know if you could learn much off of that medium.
Strauss: I watched a lot of DVDs. You know, I was lucky enough to start playing more of the digital age. So you know I read a lot of tabs. I used UltimateGuitar.com a lot because they have a lot of tabs. And I watched a lot of DVDs. John Petrucci – Rock Discipline and Marty Friedman – Melodic Control. Yngwie Malmsteen – Play Loud. Those are the things that got me the building blocks to be able to play the way I do today.
Cool. So in eight days, the Kickstarter campaign ends, and you’re still going to be working on content and putting stuff out there… Are you going to move sort of that forum of connectivity with your fans to somewhere else? Is it going to be on Facebook or are you going to start a blog where you can sort of put information up for the general public?
Strauss: Well I’m always really active on the social media pages. So there will definitely be a lot of content out on Facebook. A lot of live streams on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all that fun stuff. But I want to keep some of it Backers-only because that’s what people are contributing for and they want to be a part of making it a reality. So there will definitely be a good mix of different ways. You know, I’ll be putting content out on my YouTube channel. I’ll be putting stuff out on Facebook and Instagram. But there will definitely be some exclusivity for the people that backed the project.
Anybody that looks you up online can find out that you’re attached to a number of bands. Do you have to plan to take time off because you could just go from one band to another band to another tour to another bit of session work? I just can’t imagine you have a whole lot of downtime based on what I read about you online.
Strauss: No I think I’ll sleep sometime in 2019. I know. It’s all about “if you love what you do it doesn’t really feel like work.” But it is definitely very busy. So it’s a good thing. Anytime I want to complain about being busy I just think about how long and hard I’ve worked in my life to BE this busy and that kind of takes the edge off.
What is your most treasured musical thing. It can be anything but what is what’s the one thing that you treasure the most that is like a musical totem or item in your collection.
Strauss: I would have to say it’s definitely my signature guitar – the JIVA10. I’m the first female guitar player to have an Ibanez Signature Series. And that just came out in January this year. And to be the first female Ibanez Signature Artist and to be up on that roster alongside some of the absolute greatest guitar players of all time is really an honour.
Let’s say you’re in a really shitty mood. What’s the album that you’d put on that never fails to cheer you up.
Strauss: Van Halen 5150. That’s the one that always puts a smile on my face. I can’t not be in a great mood listening to Van Halen.
Now you met Vai and Generation Axe, right?
Strauss: That’s right.
Would you ever consider doing a tour like that. I mean like a Generation Axe or a G3 like Satriani’s touring thing?
Strauss: Oh yeah. It would be a dream come true. I would love to.
Nita Strauss did a dope Ibanez guitar clinic in Bogota, Colombia. Check it!
Well fingers crossed. I’d love to see that as well. And my last question that I wrote down was; If guitar didn’t pan out, what was your backup plan. Did you have one?
Strauss: I never had one. No. I’m a really big believer in if you want something badly enough you can will it to happen. I think that’s something that happened with my career, is through sheer force of will and never having a backup plan, that’s how the magic happens. You know it never even occurred to me that I wasn’t going to be a professional guitar player. That’s just what I did. You know it’s funny, I get asked a lot “Did you ever think that you’d be in this position?” And honestly, I did always think that I would be. This is what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t necessarily know that it was going to lead me to Wrestlemania or to Alice Cooper or to playing the national anthem for the LA KISS football team or any of the other cool stuff that I have gotten to do. I always imagined that it could turn out exactly as it did. And I’m really grateful that it did.
Being a part of a band like Alice Cooper who has been in the industry for close to 50 years. Do you find that you get pearls of wisdom from him? Things that you take to your own career and maybe put in place as milestones of what you’d like to do what you’d like to aspire to do?
Strauss: Yeah definitely. Playing with Alice? Alice is a consummate pro. There’s no one that’s better at what they do than Alice Cooper. And he’s been doing it for that long for a good reason. So one of the things that I definitely take away from playing with him is his gratitude for the industry and the people that have supported him for this long. You know, it’s really easy sometimes to get caught up in being frustrated and being tired or having a bad day or whatever it is. When someone comes up to you and asks you for a photo or an autograph, and I’m tired, and I don’t have any make-up on – a lot of times I go to the hotel gym every day, and I’m sweaty and gross and the last thing I want to be in a picture – Alice is the greatest example of someone who will always the time and take that picture. Who will always take the time to sign that autograph and always makes people feel welcome around him. And that’s something that inspires me every single day, you know? Every time I am around him, he does something really cool for fans that inspires me. And you know what? Since I’ve been playing with him, I will take that sweaty photo as I’m leaving the gym. I’ll apologize for being so sweaty. He’s a great example of someone who goes above and beyond to give back to the people who helped to get him where he is. And that’s something I hope I keep with me for the rest of my life.
That’s typically when a fan would get to meet you is after a set, right?
You’ll go to the merch table sweaty. That is what it is.
Strauss: Yeah, definitely. I have seen people turn down those pictures before when they are in a mood or just not up for doing it. Someone said “you’ll never remember it, but they’ll never forget it.” And that’s stuck with me for a long time. Because it’s true. If I’m having a bad day, if I’m on tour and I just got a bad phone call from home or whatever it is – they don’t know that. No one knows that. So if I snap at someone because they wanted a picture And I say “Not right now.” All they know they asked an innocent question, and they got snapped at. You really have to put your own personal stuff to the side and be grateful for what it is.
Man, I’d make a terrible celebrity. I’d really have to work at that. I’m not wired that way.
Strauss: It’s hard. A lot of times, you know, someone will come up and ask for a picture when you’re eating or when you are on your phone, and it comes across rude even if you just say “can you please wait while I finish my phone conversation.” You really have to, I wouldn’t say work at putting people first, but you have to be mindful of how you come across, really. That’s a good lesson I’ve learned from that.
Cool. This is great. I will pop something together and put a link up to your to your Kickstarter campaign. I pledged that too, so I’m on board. I’m looking forward to hearing the album whaen it’s done. Don’t forget Canada when you’re on that tour, eh? We love you up here.
Strauss: Oh, I could never forget Canada. Canadian audiences are so passionate. So awesome!