Nita Strauss discusses how she came to play with Alice Cooper, how to stay healthy on the road, and more

Nita Strauss onstage at Chastain Park Atlanta - Photo by Sasha Vallely
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Guitar Girl Magazine recently had the chance to catch up with guitarist Nita Strauss backstage at Chastain Park Atlanta, right after she got off stage with Alice Cooper on their tour with Deep Purple. In June 2014, Nita replaced Orianthi in Alice Cooper’s band. She previously played in The Iron Maidens, an all-female tribute to Iron Maiden, Femme Fatale, and the LA Kiss musical backing group. Nita is ranked at #1 on a list of 10 guitarists you should know by a popular guitar magazine.

GGM: We interviewed you a few years ago with your band Iron Maidens, who you no longer play with but, you still play with Courtney?

Nita: Yes, I play with a cover band called The Starbreakers with Courtney Cox from the Iron Maidens, Jill Janis from Huntress, and Emily Ruvidich and Lindsey Martin from my original band We Start Wars, which is my main focus and passion outside from Alice.

GGM: How did you come to play with Alice Cooper?

Nita: It’s all really about networking and timing. I always say that good luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and that was definitely what happened with Alice. I was playing with a band called Femme Fatale, another all-female band who had a big hit in the ‘80s when they were not an all-female band just a female singer, Lorraine Lewis. We played on the Monsters of Rock Cruise with Winger, and I got to talking with Kip Winger who played in Alice’s band in the ‘80s and early ‘90s I believe. He asked me what are you doing besides this band and I said I’m on the market for a gig; if you hear anything, please keep me in mind. I say that to everybody, I’ve been saying that to everybody since I was literally 16. No matter how busy I am I’m always putting it out there that I am ready for work.

“So, I guess the lesson is play every show like someone’s watching that can take you higher than you are.”

So, a few weeks later he contacted me and he said that he had just put my name in the hat for the Alice Cooper tour with Mötley Crüe, and I was just absolutely blown away – and over the moon excited about it. It really just goes to show you, on the shows we played on that Winger Cruise, we were playing shows to 150-200 people, hardly anybody, I think the one show that Kip watched us at, we went on at 1 in the morning in a tiny little lounge at the bottom of the cruise ship. If I hadn’t played the show of my life that day just like I do every other day he probably wouldn’t have been impressed enough to say ‘hey, I can recommend you for a bigger gig.’ So, I guess the lesson is play every show like someone’s watching that can take you higher than you are.

Nita Strauss and Alice Cooper onstage at Chastain Park Atlanta - Photo by Sasha Vallely
Nita Strauss and Alice Cooper onstage at Chastain Park Atlanta – Photo by Sasha Vallely

GGM: How long have you been playing?

Nita: I started at 13. I played drums first, and I was just no good at all. Then I switched to bass, and I wasn’t any good at that either! I’m still not. And, finally, I picked up the guitar and it just stuck. My first guitar was a $99 Squire Stratocaster and I think it came with a little amp and a songbook and some guitar picks and a capo and a slide and a cable and a whole bunch of accoutrements. It was the cheapest little guitar and I played it for years. I didn’t have anything nicer for a long time. I was just so passionate about learning and playing and getting better. And then, of course, as soon as I got nicer guitars, I was like, OK, this is a lot easier to play fast. I remember when I picked up my first Ibanez, I was like ‘why didn’t anybody tell me that I should be playing this the whole time?’ As soon as I got my first Ibanez, I just never played anything else- my blood bleeds Ibanez. I have no bargaining power with them- they know that. It’s like if you tell a guy you love him right away when you’ve been dating, which is actually what I did in my relationship too, it just takes away all the power. It’s like I love you, then you have no mystery, no build up, no nothing! There’s no suspense. Just like you’re stuck now. And I’m happily stuck with both my relationship and my guitar of choice.

GGM: Well you blew me away live, it was an amazing performance tonight.

Nita: Thank you! It was definitely a different atmosphere for us than usual today. For the readers that are not from Atlanta and have not been to Chastain and seen the picnic tables, it is very interesting. It’s definitely hard to concentrate on my show when there are people eating and drinking sitting at tables right in front of me. I actually kind of jokingly asked my guitar tech, ‘can you go and test the stability of those tables because maybe if I jump on one of those tables they’ll take notice,’ but we had a fun show anyway.

GGM: How many hours a day would you say you play?

Nita: Not as much as I should. I really don’t, and I wish that I had the time to play as much as I’d like to because I love playing guitar. I love it so much, but I do have a hand injury from practicing incorrectly when I was younger, from not stretching and warming up properly. I used to just sit down and blaze away for sometimes 8, 9, 10 hours and I would never really take breaks or stretch or warm up or move my hands around, and from that I’ve lost a lot of speed in my left hand and I’ve also lost the ability to play for really long periods of time without taking breaks and walking around and stretching- then you have to warm up all over again. My practice routine has really changed a lot from just being irresponsible as a younger guitar player, and also its funny when you become a personable guitar player.  You have to think about all the stuff that goes along with that, that is not playing guitar. I spend a lot of time going to the gym because I want to make sure my cardio is good, and I can run around on stage and not get tired.

I spend a lot of time on my social media. I admin every page of my social media myself without anybody else, so that’s two Facebooks, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram- which is a lot of work! It actually is; it doesn’t seem like work, but posting consistent content and actually engaging with fans, and actually, anytime you get a reply on Facebook or Twitter, it is always coming directly from me. I really try and take a lot of time and engage with people and answer questions and be present, and it takes a lot of time. It takes the time that I would like to be practicing, but it’s a full-time job. Answering emails and answering comments and coming up with questions, answers, and contests. My merch company is an army of three- it’s me, and Josh my manager/boyfriend, and our merch guy. And that’s it. We are not a big operation on team Hurricane.

GGM: Tell me about your shirt designs, you have your own clothing line?

Nita: Josh is actually the one who designs all my merch and he has an amazing clothing line called Beverly Kills. Aside from designing all of that, he also does all my merch designs. It’s made such a huge difference because before, the only t-shirt I had was this sort of brightly colored cartoon of me that a friend of mine did, which I still love that shirt, but it hardly sold because people don’t want rainbow colored cartoony shirts. I think about it and, well, all I really wear is black and white. All you’re wearing right now is black and white. You have to do stuff that people want. So, he’s really great at feeling the pulse of whoever he’s working with. He does merch for a lot of different people and he’s really great at feeling the pulse of the fan base of whoever he’s working with, and doing stuff that they’ll like which I think is really cool.

GGM: What kind of effects do you use? Do you use pedals at all?

Nita: I use rackmount effects. I’m not so much into the pedal dance. There must be a way to do a multi-pedal switching thing. If they really had a good reliable one, I might switch to that, but it’s so easy to have rack mountable effects now. I just got so tired of when I want to do a solo, it’s like ok, solos coming up in four bars, I have to turn the compressor off, turn the delay on, turn the whatever you want on at the last second, then turn your boost on so you don’t drown out the rest of the band which is just like, why bother? I press all that at the touch of one button, and sometimes I don’t even have to do it, my tech does it in the back because we have a slave midi controller in the back by my rig so it’s very easy. I will say it doesn’t replace pedals. If you have an amazing Dark Blast pedal or these really exotic effects or really cool boutique pedals, those can all do things that a rack-mountable multi-effects unit won’t do. They have their signature sounds. But mine does everything I need it to. It has great sounds, it’s got an Attack Wah which I never use anymore, but I love it anyway. It’s got delay, boost, reverb, gain- basically anything that I would need, and all the basics are all in there. I’ve had the same unit, it’s a Rocktron Prophecy Two, for nine years now- the exact same unit. So, it’s just so well programmed now for my playing and my sound that I don’t think I’ll ever use anything else, and now that it’s going through my Marshalls, it screams…it’s amazing!

GGM: What kind of amp do you use?

Nita: I’m using a Marshall JVM410H- the Satriani amp. I have followed Satriani from amp to amp, I really have. I used to use a Satriani Peavey head- the JSX. Then I was using Vogner and Blackstar for a while, and now that I am Marshall endorsed, the first thing that I asked for was the Satriani’s head- it’s just so great.

“When you watch Steve Vai play guitar, you go, oh my God, that looks like so much fun I have to go practice so I can do that.”

GGM: Would you say Satriani was your biggest influence?

Nita: Oh, definitely! Satriani, Vai, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker. I was always drawn to guitar players that play fast, but make it look like fun. There’s a lot of guitar players that play fast that it just seems like I could never do that, and then there are other people. When you watch Steve Vai play guitar, you go, oh my God, that looks like so much fun I have to go practice so I can do that. Steve Vai is the reason I started playing guitar. I saw Steve Vai in Crossroads and that was it for me.

GGM: So how long have you been on this tour?

Nita: We started touring in April and are on tour until mid-December. We have a few breaks here and there; ten days here, five days there, but I have scheduled myself out of all those breaks. So, technically I’m home, but it’s not really a break. We had two weeks off in Europe, but I was doing guitar clinics for Marshall, so I never really had a break.

GGM: Would you consider yourself a bit of a workaholic?

Nita: I guess I am, but I’m doing something I love, and the time is now. It would be wrong of me to complain about scheduling myself like this. I wouldn’t say I’m a workaholic because I don’t really like it. I’d rather go home. I’ve been touring since I was 15 and I just turned 30, so for 15 years I’ve been doing this and struggling to get to this exact moment. So, if I don’t take advantage of every single day that I can, it’s a missed opportunity.

“It’s hard to live the rock and roll lifestyle and
keep yourself going.”

GGM: How do you keep up your energy, you mentioned going to the gym?

Nita: I go to the gym every single day. I’m the type of person that consistency is the only thing that keeps me going. I have to be in a routine or I just won’t do it. It’s the same thing with eating healthy; it’s the same thing with working out; same thing with practicing the guitar. If I make a thing to myself and I say I am not going to eat any sugar at all for a month, then I can do it, but if I say I’ll just try to cut back and I just eat whatever, I would normally eat. It’s worthless. So, I have a little challenge to myself which is no days off in the gym, and I always post it on my Instagram to help motivate me, and it actually motivates other people it seems. I see a lot of people that tag me in their pictures and they say I decided to take no days off too. And even if it’s just ten minutes of walking, just doing something for yourself to get you moving. Not every workout for me is an A-list write home about it workout. Sometimes it is just 20 minutes of brisk walking on a high incline on a treadmill or something, but just doing something to move every day consistently helps.

It’s hard to live the rock and roll lifestyle and keep yourself going. It’s definitely very different touring at 30 than it was at 20. I’m just starting to notice little things like my knees hurt after shows and my ankles hurt, and my neck hurts sometimes from headbanging, and now I have to take a glucosamine supplement, so little things like that. It’s definitely starting to catch up with me a little bit when I perform, but I’m not changing anything! I’ll just have to take more supplements, more iron or whatnot. Stuff like that really makes a huge difference. I didn’t really start taking supplements till I started dating my boyfriend Josh, he’s the one that really got me into them. I was trying to work out and trying to eat healthy before, but he’s the one that really taught me a lot about nutrition and taking the right supplements for your body. Taking a good multi-vitamin, taking CLA and L-Carnitine, and different things that can help fuel you properly for whatever it is you want to do, and it’s helped a lot.

GGM: What’re your plans for the future?

Nita: My band We Start Wars is my top priority right now. I’ve been out here on this tour.  It’s been really hard to focus on writing and recording with the band, but that’s definitely number one on my list when I have some time is to finish the We Start Wars album and release that because I have an amazingly talented group of girls doing that. So, I’m really excited to do that and I’m also going to put out my solo record which I released the first song “Pandemonium” January of this year on the She Rocks compilation, so we are going to finish that up. It’s Josh playing drums on that so it’s nice I get to collaborate with him and maybe at some point I might get a full night’s sleep! I plan on that sometime in the near future! I’m very blessed that my day job is touring but what sucks about my day job is that it doesn’t free me up for time to tour with anything else, but I am absolutely hoping to get my schedule for next year’s tour as early as possible, so I can get We Start Wars out on the road because that is something I’m really looking forward to sharing with the world.


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