INTERVJU: Nita Strauss från Alice Cooper

Nita Strauss hittar vi vanligtvis i Alice Coopers band, men nu ska hon stå på egna ben en stund i och med släppet av soloplattan “Controlled chaos”. Gitarren talar på detta instrumentala alster och flera låtar bär spår av ett göteborgsgäng:

In Flames was probably my first none lead guitar influence, like my first rhythm influence. When I was listening to In Flames and ”Colony” (1999) and ”Clayman” (2000) and ”Reroute to remain” (2002), I thought ”I wanna write songs that sound like those songs.”, so I´m very glad to hear that that influence shines through a little bit in those songs.


”Trust” (1997) by Megadeth was kind of the first metal song you heard. Before that, what were you listening to?

Nita: I had a guitar which my dad had gotten me, but I didn´t really play much. Then I saw the movie ”Crossroads” (1986) with Steve Vai and when I saw him in that movie I was like ”Ok, that´s what I´m supposed to be doing! I get it now.” Then I started listening to Guns N´Roses and stuff, but when I heard ”Trust”, that´s when I really got into heavy metal, and actually, I immediately got into a lot of Scandinavian bands. I was listening to In Flames and Children Of Bodom, Amon Amarth and At The Gates. I got really into the Scandinavian metal style, so that was one of my biggest and earliest influences.

There are a couple of songs on the album ”Controlled Chaos”, like ”Our most desperate hour” and ”Mariana Trench”, that have a lot of In Flames in them. The same kind of riffs going on. Would you agree?

Nita: Definitely. In Flames was probably my first none lead guitar influence, like my first rhythm influence. When I was listening to In Flames and ”Colony” (1999) and ”Clayman” (2000) and ”Reroute to remain” (2002), I thought ”I wanna write songs that sound like those songs.”, so I´m very glad to hear that that influence shines through a little bit in those songs.

What was it about those Scandinavian bands that made you get into them?

Nita: I enjoy not just the technicality, because of course they´re amazing players, but the music is… it´s funny to say, because it´s so heavy, but it´s really fun to listen to. There´s kind of a bounce and an attitude to Scandinavian bands. Even bands like Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius that are not so much on the heavy side of things, but there´s sort of a special bounce to Scandinavian metal music that I have always really liked.

Have you ever met the guys in In Flames?

Nita: I have and I´ve seen them as many times as I possibly could. Really nice and personable guys and when I met them I was able to explain what an influence they had on my playing. Every time you get a chance to tell your heroes that they´re your heroes, that´s very cool.

Going back to the song ”Trust” Do you remember what it was about that song that made you get into it?

Nita: It was Marty Friedman. (laughs) I wanted to know about guitar playing and I didn´t have any friends that were into metal and I didn´t know where to begin. You go to the store and you look at the cds and you don´t know where to start. I just remember hearing… I had heard Mötley Crüe and Guns N´Roses and stuff like that which was great, but then when you hear the thunder of the drums at the beginning of ”Trust” and the chugging guitar and then the tone of the solo and the way that Marty Friedman chooses those notes that he plays like nothing else. Then of course I heard the more popular Megadeth songs, but ”Trust” you know, I don´t know if you can get a better introduction, just because it sounds so good and the song overall is just so powerful.

How long have you been thinking about this album of yours and how old are the songs?

Nita: I´ve been wanting to make this record really since I started playing, because all of my heroes were instrumental players. I started playing because of Vai and then I got into Satriani, Paul Gilbert and Marty Friedman and Jason Becker and all of those guys released instrumental albums. It´s hard to get a start as an instrumental guitar player. It´s a much quicker route to be in a band, so I was always in a band and writing songs with singers, but I always had the dream in the back of my mind to make an instrumental record. Then in 2016 I met Steve Vai for the first time and he invited me to do a song for a compilation that he was putting together. I said ”Yeah, I´d love to! I´d would be an honor and I´d love to put a song on it.” and then I realized I didn´t have a song. (laughs) With a fire underneath I created something quickly and I wrote what would become ”Pandemonium” the next day. I wrote that one in 2016 and they released the compilation record in January 2017 and once I created that song, I realized that this is something that is achievable. It´s not just a dream like ”Oh, maybe some day I can get good enough to write instrumental music.” I realized that it´s something I can actually do and actually be quite proud of. I thought it was so far out of reach to make a record like that and doing the one song made me realize that it was something that I could do. That was when the idea started to form and when Alice (Cooper) took the summer to tour with The Hollywood Vampires, that was the window that I needed to record the rest of the record.

Was there anyone of the songs that you found harder to nail down than the others?

Nita: I would say it was actually the slower songs that was harder for me to nail down. I am not an acoustic guitar player and never have been. I´ve never even owned an acoustic guitar, so I had to borrow one to record the acoustics on the record. For me, that was definitely a challenge and a departure. I think most shred players would tell you that it´s actually easier to play the licks faster than it is to play them slowly.

I remember all those names you mentioned, like Satriani, Becker, Vai and also Vinnie Moore and Tony MacAlpine. Those are records from the hey days of instrumental guitar records in the 80´s. You don´t really get those kind of records these days, do you?

Nita: Well, you do, but they´re not as known. Not as mainstream. The guitar player that I´m doing my solo tour with, Angel Vivaldi, he´s been releasing incredible guitar albums and people just don´t really know about them because instrumental guitar isn´t really at the forefront of music these days. I really hope that with my album, because I have a bit more of a mainstream crossover following, I really hope that I can introduce some new listeners to this world of instrumental music. Maybe the casual rock fan will pick up Vinnie Moore´s ”Mind´s eye” (1986) and be amazed. Maybe if they hear a record that they like and if they´re exposed to a record like mine and if they like it, maybe they´ll go and check out some of those legendary albums and understand it a little better.

Is there one instrumental guitar album that stands out for you? An album that was an influence or that you listened to a lot?

Nita: Steve Vai´s ”Passion and warfare” (1990) definitely. It´s crazy, because on the same day that ”Our most desperate hour” came out, I got to play with Steve for the first time. He had a charity event going on and a week before he invited me to play and it´s just a coincidence that it happened to be that same day and we played the song ”The Animal” from ”Passion and warfare” and it was a really wonderful and sweet coincidence to play a song from the album that influenced me so much on the day that the preorder for my album started.

Do you get nervous or starstruck doing a thing like that?

Nita: I got starstruck talking to Steve Vai, but I wasn´t too starstruck playing with him. Once I get a guitar in my hand I´m ok. It´s more the conversation that is intimidating.

Your boyfriend plays drums on the album and he´s also your manager, right?

Nita: He is. He´s more of Nita Strauss than I am. (laughs)

What´s it like living together and also working together?

Nita: It´s not always easy of course, but what it boils down to is that there is no one in the world that will have my best interest more than him. He´s not out for the money and he´s not out for the quick cash grab. He and I are both in for the longevity and for the long haul. I would say the biggest challenge is that we never stop working. It´s difficult to switch off from work. When you´re your own business and my business is called Nita Strauss Incorporated and I am my business, so it´s not like I get to stop working at 5 pm and go home and do other things. It´s a full time job. There´s social media and press and the writing of the album and guest appearances on other people´s albums, the master classes… it´s really like a full time job seven days a week, but when we do find the time to relax and take some time for each other, it makes it even more special.

About the master classes, is it mostly guys that show up or do you feel that more and more girls are coming?

Nita: There are definitely more than there were at the start. It´s still a majority of men, but there are a lot of girls coming and a lot of kids coming, which I love. Every single master class that I do there are at least four or five kids under the age of 10 and I love that. They´re good little guitar players and they come to my meet and greet. One thing about my master class is that in my contract there must be a free meet and greet included and it must include all the attendees and they are not allowed to cut off the line unless the store has to close or something. Sometimes the meet and greet can take longer than the clinic. I want to make sure that everybody gets their time and with those younger fans especially. I make sure I spend time with them and if they bought a guitar I want to sit down and watch them play. That´s the most important thing, to encourage the next generation of players.

You work in a very male dominated business and we definitely need more women in the metal world. Do you see yourself as a bit of an ambassador, since you´re this guitar hero and you´ve made it?

Nita: I take it very seriously, yes. I think there´s such a bad reputation in the music industry that it´s not a good place for women and I make it my mission to try and change that. It can be a wonderful place and a very empowering and safe place for women. Of course you have to be smart and you have to conduct yourself in the right way and of course, in any industry, there´s going to be people that will say the wrong thing and act in a way that they shouldn´t, but that´s just not limited to the music industry. If you take a guy in a band and you say ”Oh, he´s gonna cheat on his wife.”, he´s going to cheat on his wife whether he´s a banker or whether he´s a touring musician. It has nothing to do with the industry, so I hope that by being a positive role model and by showing women that you can come in and be a part of this amazing community… I don´t drink, I don´t party, I don´t do drugs and I don´t fall into this ”rock and roll lifestyle” and I have a great career and I love what I do. I have a great time every single night on stage and I think the more people that are educated about that, the better it will be.

You said in an interview that there´s definitely no metoo incidents when it come to playing with Alice Cooper and the band, which I totally get, but before you ended up playing with him were the tings you were exposed to stuff and did you feel you ha to work harder just because you´re a woman?

Nita: The thing about being a female in this industry, there is still a perception because it´s so new… if you take a band of just four guys and you put them on the stage, no one in the audience is going to look at the guitar player and say ”Hmm, I wonder if he´s any good?” but as a woman you have that every day. Every time I´m in front of a new audience I have to prove people that are saying ”I wonder if she´s good or not?” I´ve even had somebody ask me at Alice Cooper shows ”So, are you really playing?” and I´m like ”I did a five minute guitar solo! How could I have faked that?”, so even to this day I see it. I think as long as you´re confident in your playing and you practice hard and you do a great concert and you let your playing and ability and performance prove for it self, I think that the longer you can do it, the less people will be doubting.

The last song on the album is a Queen cover, ”The show must go on”, how did you go about that and were there other songs you were considering?

Nita: Yeah, there may have been a few, but I really wanted to do ”The show must go on”, because it´s been a really personally important song for me. Especially since we talked about being a female on tour, one thing that is hard and this is the same for females or males on the road, you miss things. You´re on tour and you miss birthdays and anniversaries and weddings and funerals. You´re out here and it´s very lonely and very isolating and there are times when it feels difficult, even though we´re so glad and so lucky to get out there and play music for a living. Something might´ve happened and you´re walking on stage with tears rolling down your face, but then you pick yourself up, you shake your head, wipe your eyes and the show must go on. It was such a personally important song and I thought it would be a great fitting end to the album. I had Tina Guo play cello on the track and she´s an amazing classical musician. The sound of a cello is so heartbreaking and the way that she played it was absolutely perfect.

You´ve mentioned that you would have a guest guitarist on the album. Is there one and if so, who is it?

Nita: There isn´t. There´s a song that is going to come out separately from the album that will have a guest guitarist on it and without saying too much, the reason why I did it like that, was that I want this to be a completely separate release, because it´s something very special and I didn´t want it to get lost in the rest of the album.

You tour a lot. There´s got to be days when you´re not really feeling up for it, what do you do to pick yourself up on a day like that?

Nita: It is tiring and on this Alice Cooper tour I do seven days a week. I have five Alice Cooper shows and two master classes a week, so I haven´t had a day off in over a month and during daytime my days are filled with interviews. It´s definitely a challenging schedule to keep up with, but anytime I feel sorry for myself, I just remind myself how it would feel if I had an album coming out and no one wanted to talk to me about it. That would be a much worse situation to be in. Anytime I feel tired or I need a day off, I just think about how lucky I am and that picks me right back up.

You mentioned Jason Becker before and I remember watching a video clip of you´re boyfriend tricking you into meeting Jason at his home. What are your memories of that?

Nita: Total terror. (laughs) That´s Josh in the clip, my boyfriend and manager and drummer, but he´d only been managing me for a couple of months actually. I had shown him the documentary ”Jason Becker: Not dead yet” (2012) and he asked me if I´d ever met him and I said ”No. Sometimes he has guitar players come over to his house, but no, I´ve never met him.” and then maybe a week later, he said ”I have a big audition for you. You have to learn a really complicated song for this audition.” I said ”Ok. I used to know how to play some Yngwie Malmsteen songs so I´ll just play something like that.” and he said ”No, no! It has to be something really impressive and really difficult, so you should learn a piece by Jason Becker.” I thought he was crazy and it was just one week because then I was supposed to leave for Australia with Alice. He said it was really important so I said ”Ok, if it´s important than that´s what I´ll do.” I learnt the first half of ”Perpetual burn” (1988) and then Josh, that traitor, put me in the car and drove my six hours to Jason´s house and surprised me. You can see in the video when I figured it out and it was total… I was terrified out of my mind, because I felt ”I didn´t practice enough.” (laughs) It was incredible and Jason, to still be creating music at this time is just an inspiration to anybody and everybody. I talk about me having a hard time trying to practice, but if Jason can still create music in this condition, nobody has an excuse.

It makes you go ”If he can do it, anything is possible.”

Nita: Exactly, and beyond creating music he has the best attitude. When you watch the documentary and he´s communicating with eyes and goes ”Hello! This is Jason Becker, the sexiest man alive.” (laughs) How many people in his position would have said that? He is so personable and being there and spending time with Jason doesn´t feel like talking to somebody that sick. It feels like talking to a friend which is very cool.

Alice Cooper recently said that ”Nita looks like a model and plays like Eddie Van Halen.” Have you ever gotten the chance to meet Eddie?

Nita: I have never met him. What´s funny is that my mum is a teacher and the Van Halen kid (Wolfgang) went to that school where my mum´s a teacher at.

A guy like Eddie, is he someone that in any way influenced you? Did you listen to a lot of Van Halen?

Nita: Oh yeah, definitely. My dad used to put on ”5150” (1986) all the time, so I was more raised on the Van Hagar era, than David Lee Roth. I prefer Van Halen with Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth´s solo music, to David Lee Roth in Van Halen.  I love David Lee Roth and his band with Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan and Greg Bissonette. It doesn´t get any better than that, really. That´s the best band you could ever hope to have and the songs that Van Halen wrote with Sammy Hagar, that stuff really resonates with me a lot.


Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk, Michaela Barkensjö