NITA STRAUSS Talks New Guitar Program, Her ALICE COOPER 'Bandiversary' and Her Defining Metal Albums
Nita Strauss is one of the greatest guitarists on the planet today. Not female guitarist. Guitarist. Period. And now you have the chance to learn from one of the masters.
Strauss is the first woman in history with a signature Ibanez model guitar – the Ibanez JIVA. She's toured with the legendary shock rock king Alice Cooper for six years, took the stage in front of thousands at Wrestlemania and is one of the most sought after guitar clinicians in the world today.
In the wake of the release of Rock Guitar Fundamentals – a three module online guitar teaching program designed by Strauss to take prospective players from ground zero to guitar hero that is currently being offered at 50% off!!! – 'Hurricane' Nita Strauss caught up with Metal Injection for a crash course on all things guitar, her definitive influences and albums, her six year 'bandiversary' with Alice Cooper, the followup to her grassroots solo record Controlled Chaos, and much more!
On Coping with COVID-19
So switching from being on the road 10 months of the year to being at home for the foreseeable future has definitely been a huge adjustment. I'm supposed to be on tour with Alice right now. We were supposed to start up this massive spring and summer tour with Lita Ford and then join up with Tesla for a massive tour this summer. And it's hard getting comments from fans on social media every day saying 'you're supposed to be in Detroit today and I have front row tickets'.
We want to be there so badly, we want to be out there so much. It's definitely been an adjustment. But I've been keeping really busy, releasing Rock Guitar Fundamentals course and writing my second album and getting some actual time at home with my dogs and boyfriend. So it's not all bad.
On Rock Guitar Fundamentals
I wrote this course and recorded all the video for it last year in 2019 and in between touring with Alice and with my solo band, everything was just so crazy. I never had the time to edit the course and put it all together. So we had planned to release this in the fall of this year. There was no rush. I was gonna finish my album and you know, do sort of all the other things that are a little higher on the priority list. And then once we sort of found out that (the pandemic) is gonna be longer than a couple weeks, that people were gonna be stuck in the house for weeks, months, possibly several months, we thought let's get this thing in people's hands so everybody can do something with their time if they want to.
Obviously there's no pressure to do it, but as everybody who reads this knows music is the best therapy in the world. And I find the only thing more therapeutic than listening to music is playing music and feeling that accomplishment of learning a new thing. So if we can sort of pass that on to people, I think that's a really cool thing to be able to do during this time.
On Catering to All Levels of Guitar Players
That's the goal. Experienced guitar players can jump in whenever they want. I mean it's sequential, but all the videos are individual. So it's not like you're going 'I've been playing guitar for 10 years, but I want to learn how to play solos'. You can hop right in at the solos and be fine, but the first lesson literally starts with this is a guitar and goes through the anatomy of the guitar. This is called the neck. This is called the body. This is called the bridge. These are called the pick-ups. This is what this does. And I think that's really needed for a lot of guitar players or aspiring guitar players that want to start, but they literally have no clue how. Because a lot of the YouTube videos or even the basics are sort of made for people that know the basics of the guitar.
I think it was really important for us to start at the very, very beginning. Sort of for the music fan that says, man, I love going to concert, I love listening to music but I never learned how to play an instrument. I'm going to buy my first guitar and learn during the quarantine. So it's great for someone like that. And then if someone is on that other spectrum and just wants to say, hey, I've been playing guitar for a long time, but I really want to learn how to do sweeps. I want to learn how to do different tapping or legato or maybe I never got to do music theory. The music theory portion of the course is really, really substantial and covers music theory from a really practical guitar players perspective. So I think there really is something for just about everybody.
On Her Early Guitar Days
So I started playing guitar after seeing the movie Crossroads and Steve Vai in Crossroads. And I was like, that's what I want to do, whatever that is, that's what I want to do. And I had a guitar at that point, but I wasn't inspired. I wasn't into practicing and getting better at it. I just sort of had this little Squier that I didn't do anything with. And as soon as I saw Vai on Crossroads, I was like, that's it. That's what I want to do. And I started out with instructional videos. So I watched that John Petrucci Rock Discipline, Yngwie Malmsteen Play Loud!, Frank Gambale No More Mysteries.
There are so many that just sort of shaped and inspired my playing and I wish some of those would have started at 'this is a guitar'. I probably would be more of a well rounded guitar player now, but that was sort of my introduction. I didn't take my first in-person lesson until I joined Alice Cooper's band.
On the Benefits of Teaching
Obviously nothing is going to take the place of in-person instruction, but I learned from videos and I ended up just fine. I took three or four guitar lessons from a teacher when I joined Alice's band because I had gotten a critique on my auditions that I was too much of a shred player and not enough of a rock player. I hung up the phone from that critique. I was like, what does that even mean? I feel like I was playing good notes. So that's when I took that lesson to sort of fill in the gaps in my own playing. And that was really, really helpful.
I think over the last several years of teaching, and I mean I've taught hundreds and hundreds of clinics and I've met hundreds and thousands of guitar players by now at those clinics, I got the sense of where the gaps in a lot of people's knowledge are and just sort of tried to make sure that we covered as much of that as humanly possible in the course.
Every single time someone asked me how I do something at a clinic, it makes me take a look at how I do it. And a lot of musicians in general, not just guitar players, we just do things. We don't really think about how we do them. You know, you don't think about, well, I'm moving from this chord to this chord. I'm playing this scale shape over this chord because it's this interval in music theory. But when someone asks you why did you play this here, then it makes you take a look at why you actually could play that there and how you would explain it to someone. It definitely makes you a better player.
On Learning Curve/Frustrations with Guitar
Oh, I was frustrated all the time. I'm frusrtated all the time now learning new things. I don't think there's any such thing as a natural guitar player. I certainly wasn't one. And I know in my clinics all the time I use the analogy of how as a young guitar player I shed actual sobbing tears over not being able to play an open G chord. I didn't start out listening to easy music. I started out listening to the hardest guitar music there is. And I'm going if I can't just play the simple basic chord, how am I ever going to master something as complex as as Vai, Satriani and Paul Gilbert?
I wasn't a natural musician. I grew up as an athlete. I was a gymnast. So there was zero crossover. I didn't do any sport or any discipline that helped me in my guitar playing. I started out terrible, just like everybody. And I worked at it till I got better.
On Six Years with Alice Cooper
It never gets old. It really, really doesn't. Every time is as awesome as the first time … I played in this 80s cover band here in L.A. that used to cover Alice Cooper Poison. And I remember playing that song in front of 30 people so many times and to get to stand onstage next to Alice himself and play it… I've played on stage with him in front of 150,000 people, just in February in Australia in front of 80,000 people. You go to these huge festivals in Brazil and Europe, and there's 100,000-200,000 there. And I'm playing the exact same notes I played in front of 30 people. It's such a unique experience and really something that just never, ever, ever gets old. I never take it for granted.
On Coping With Nerves
With Alice it's second nature. I don't think I was nervous for the first show because I was just so prepared and so excited and the guys made me feel so welcome. I don't think I've really had a moment of nerves with Alice. I've had a lot of moments of excitement, like oh my God. Standing on the side stage at Wacken getting ready to go on. Being in Australia at Fire Fight and knowing that we're going to go on and then Queen was gonna go on. Those are moments of like, oh my God. You have the heart flutter, but it's excitement. It's not nerves.
I wasn't afraid I was going to make mistakes because I just got the songs so well now, it's more just like that excitement. It's like the feeling of being at the top of a roller coaster or the feeling like if you're about to propose to your girlfriend or boyfriend or that moment in your life where you're like, I know this is going to be awesome, but I'm so, so, so excited for it. Now with something like WrestleMania there was definitely some nerves going on there because it's something so different, something where I'd never experienced anything like that before. But once I started playing everything kind of melted away and I was able to just fall into that familiar place of performing and having a good time.
On Fan Support for DIY Record Controlled Chaos
Blowing my mind is an understatement. There's all these doubters and naysayers in the music industry that say that fans don't support artists anymore and people want everything for free, and there's no point trying to make a living playing music anymore unless you're playing with already established acts. And I think that we really made a statement with Controlled Chaos. If you work hard and you give people something to care about they will want to support you. They'll want to be a part of it. Whether it's pledging a dollar to a Kickstarter campaign, whether it's coming to a show and buying a meet and greet, whether it's just buying the album on iTunes for ten bucks or giving it a Spotify stream or calling up a radio station and asking to hear the song. To hear instrumental shred music being played on terrestrial radio is not something I thought I would see with my name attached to it. So to see the response that it's gotten from people, it was such a great feeling.
I've worked a very, very long time. I have been playing guitar since 13. I started touring at 15. I dropped out of high school after sophomore year to tour full time and I'm 33 now. So I've been doing this literally nonstop without breaks since I was 15. And to be able to now finally say I'm on the radio? We have people excited to hear the next album and there's not even any singing on that one. Everybody told me, you know, if you want to sell any records you either learn how to sing or put a singer on it. And I really stuck to my guns. My boyfriend Josh and I kind of had this vision and we executed it the way that we wanted to. And it was a good feeling to see it work.
On Upcoming Sophomore Album
So the record has been a little delayed with the release of the course. My intention was to spend the first few months of this year finishing the writing and recording process. But the last three weeks we had to really do a hard pivot and focus on getting that instructional course out. So now that that's been out – it's been out officially for a week today – I can sort of take a deep breath and go, OK, now that's done, I can go back to writing. So I plan to get the the rest of the writing done this month in May. And then as soon as we can get access to a studio, you know, we're sort of going to have to wait on that for drums.
I am actually going to have a guest vocalist or two on a couple songs here. So we need to have access to a studio to do drums. We can always have singers do things remotely, but I'm so hands on I'd like to be there when they're recording. So I'm hoping we'll be able to do that in the next month or so and then do a release. And we will definitely be doing physical because I think there is still, even with everything moving to streaming, I think people like having something in their hands with a booklet, something I can sign.
On Her Defining Metal Bands & Albums
Everybody hears Megadeth, Metallica, Judas Priest, Anthrax, all that stuff first. But what really drew me in was more like melodic death metal of In Flames and that kind of band. I got really into that sort of Eastern European aggressive metal. And that's something I still find in my sound today, some very European sounding chord inversions of At The Gates and In Flames.
It's hard to for me personally to put anything over The Black Album just because I feel like it was such a pivotal moment in music history. You listen to the mix, you listen to the songs, you listen to everything about it. If someone said, what's a good metal album? That might be the one I would play them first if they didn't listen to metal. From my own personal standpoint, something that really stood out to me, probably the first thing that crossed my mind would be At The Gates Slaughter of the Soul. That would be my, Oh my God, I love this, I want to play something like this. And I ended up in Alice Cooper (laughs).
If you got a friend that doesn't listen to metal and that friend goes, I want to know what you like, put on something that you like and you put on "Blinded by Fear" from Slaughter of the Soul, they're going to go, I don't like this, turn it off. If you put on The Black Album, it's a perfect gateway. I mean, a very good sort of quintessential modern metal album.