NITA STRAUSS

From play­ing with Alice Cooper to slay­ing Wrestle­ma­nia, Nita Strauss has be­come one of the most talked-about gui­tar play­ers of re­cent years

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents -

She’s played in The Iron Maidens and Alice Cooper’s band, and now Nita’s strik­ing out on her own.

WORDS: ADAM REES • PIC­TURES: JEREMY SAFFER

or wrestling fans, Wrestle­ma­nia week­end is ba­si­cally Down­load fes­ti­val, Glas­ton­bury and the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame all rolled into one: an an­nual su­per­fes­ti­val capped off by a sta­dium-filled ex­trav­a­ganza in front of tens of thou­sands of deliri­ous fans, with a world­wide stream­ing au­di­ence in the mil­lions. This year at New Or­leans’ Su­per­dome, how­ever, it was a 31-year-old gui­tar player named Nita Strauss who stole the head­lines, mak­ing a sur­prise ap­pear­ance ac­com­pa­ny­ing the enig­matic Shin­suke Naka­mura to the ring for his mar­quee match with

WWE World Cham­pion AJ Styles. Nita’s histri­onic gui­tar play­ing gave his elec­tric en­trance mu­sic, The Ris­ing Sun, an ex­tra knee to the face.

It was a mas­sive boon for a wo­man who had al­ready made a name for her­self play­ing gui­tar for none other than Alice Cooper. “I remember when I first saw Shin­suke come out and the mu­sic hit; I thought the song was so cool and you could see that from the crowd re­ac­tion,” says Nita. She ex­plains how an old In­sta­gram video of her first play­ing pi­ano, and then gui­tar, over the charis­matic Ja­panese star’s vi­o­lin-led theme, helped land her the pres­ti­gious role just a few days be­fore the Show­case Of The Im­mor­tals. De­spite not be­ing af­forded much in the way of prac­tice or re­hearsal, the thrilling re­sults spoke for them­selves. “I’m play­ing gui­tar on a song that has no gui­tars on it, in front of 80,000 peo­ple at Wrestle­ma­nia,”

Nita re­calls in­cred­u­lously. “It’s been the most sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence of my life.”

As she will go onto say so elo­quently when recalling the events that led her to play­ing in Alice Cooper’s band, it was just an­other oc­ca­sion where “luck is what hap­pens when prepa­ra­tion meets op­por­tu­nity”. It’s this at­ti­tude that char­ac­terises many of Nita’s sto­ries. Though she of­ten uses the words ‘luck’ and ‘serendip­ity’, she’s also keen to point out that she’s come by her suc­cess through years of prac­tice and slog since pick­ing up the in­stru­ment as a 13-year-old in LA. Af­ter a few ten­ta­tive steps on the fin­ger­board, it was see­ing one of her he­roes, Steve Vai, in the film Cross­roads that “flicked the switch” in her head and set her on her cur­rent path. By the age of 15, she was tour­ing in bands across the globe, re­gard­less of genre or ma­te­rial, play­ing purely for the love of mu­sic and the thrill of the stage.

“It’s funny, [gui­tarist] Ryan Roxie from Alice’s band al­ways says, ‘I’ve been in 100 bands, 99 that you’ve never heard of’, and that’s re­ally what it is for me,” she laughs. “I’ve played in lo­cal bands, death metal bands, rock bands, punk bands, funk bands, play­ing back­ing gui­tar for a pop singer. For a lot of my life, I would play gui­tar for any­one that would let me, whether it was writ­ing the mu­sic or learn­ing other peo­ple’s songs. I just wanted to get on­stage and play.”

It was this de­sire to play live, mak­ing sure ev­ery per­for­mance was de­liv­ered with aplomb and guts, that helped Nita claim more prom­i­nent vic­to­ries. From form­ing her own bands, to join­ing renowned cover band The Iron Maidens and learn­ing the craft of a Dave Mur­ray solo, to hook­ing up with re­united 80s glam met­allers Femme Fatale. It was while per­form­ing with the lat­ter on the Mon­sters Of Rock Cruise in 2013 that Nita’s skills were spot­ted by Winger’s Kip Winger. He was so im­pressed, he passed on her name on to Alice Cooper’s camp, who were on the look­out for a new gui­tar player fol­low­ing Ori­anthi’s de­par­ture in 2014.

“The real les­son there is to play ev­ery show like it’s an au­di­tion for some­thing big­ger,” she en­thuses. “The show

Kip saw us, we were in a tiny lounge on a cruise ship, and if I hadn’t played the best show of my life that night, who

knows if he would have been im­pressed enough to se­lect my name for the Alice Cooper gig?”

aving em­braced the pres­sure of step­ping into not just Ori­anthi’s shoes, but those of so many ex­cep­tional gui­tarists who have flanked Alice dur­ing his 60-year ca­reer, rock’n’roll has cer­tainly taken Nita un­der its wing. There have been un­der­stand­ably huge shows with an ev­er­green Alice, the afore­men­tioned Wrestle­ma­nia, ap­pear­ances and jams with some of the big­gest names in rock gui­tar (such as Zakk Wylde, Steven Tyler and Ju­das Priest), and progress in her own bands, We Start Wars and cover band The Star­break­ers. She’s even got her own sig­na­ture Ibanez JIVA model, sim­i­lar in shape but light years ahead of her first gui­tar, the “cheap­est lit­tle black and white $99 Squire Strat” that she mod­ded with a black pick­guard be­fore she even played a note. De­spite giv­ing her the breadth of tones needed to play Alice Cooper’s cat­a­logue, and shred­based metal tunes, it’s un­for­tu­nately the colour that some have wanted to talk about.

NITA WAS IN­SPIRED BY SEE­ING JEN­NIFER BATTEN PLAY­ING WITH MICHAEL JACK­SON

“Some­one said, ‘I thought it was go­ing to be pink.’ When have you ever seen me play a pink gui­tar? Just be­cause I’m a girl, you ex­pect it’s go­ing to be pink? Of course it’s black!”, Nita ex­claims, with the rec­ol­lec­tion gal­vanis­ing her to talk pas­sion­ately about her role among a wave of mu­si­cians break­ing down bar­ri­ers and ban­ish­ing such mis­judged and out­dated con­cepts. “Maybe when I was younger, I would have a chip on my shoul­der, say­ing, ‘Don’t call me a girl, call me a gui­tar player’, but it’s not an in­sult. I am a wo­man, I am a gui­tar player. The other day, I heard a great fe­male bass player say, ‘You don’t wake up in the morn­ing and say, ‘I’m a wo­man!’ Just go about your day and do what you do, and if any­one doesn’t like it that’s their problem,” she ex­plains. “I know Ori­anthi, I know Lzzy [Hale] and I know a lot of these in­cred­i­ble women in mu­sic. And it’s why when I do put my own bands to­gether, I do make them all-fe­male; it’s an amaz­ing thing to be a part of this wave of fe­male mu­si­cians.”

Nita says she lacked fe­male gui­tar he­roes grow­ing up, but was in­spired to see US gui­tarist Jen­nifer Batten play­ing with Michael Jack­son at the 1993 Su­per Bowl. “I remember it re­ally clearly; she had her blonde hair fly­ing around as she played this in­cred­i­bly tech­ni­cal, com­plex solo,” she re­mem­bers. “I thought, ‘It can be done!’ Now in this amaz­ing age that we live in in 2018, there are women gui­tar play­ers, black gui­tar play­ers, Asian gui­tar play­ers. It’s not weird to be any kind of per­son and do what you do, and I love be­ing a part of that.”

Clearly rev­el­ling in her role as a gui­tar icon for the new era, Nita isn’t tak­ing any op­por­tu­nity for granted. Af­ter pay­ing her dues per­form­ing other peo­ple’s ma­te­rial, she’s al­ready writ­ten half a solo al­bum, in­clud­ing last year’s Vai-in­spired sin­gle Pan­de­mo­nium. She’s fund­ing it via Kick­starter, so she can record and re­lease it on her own terms.

“Rather than go­ing down the tra­di­tional label route of get­ting an ad­vance and pay­ing it back, get­ting everything ap­proved, hav­ing a tour­ing sched­ule, why not just go di­rectly to the fans?” she en­thuses. “While I ap­pre­ci­ate the in­put of peo­ple who know bet­ter than me on these things, I’d like to do this one on my own. It’s great for me as a gui­tar player to cut loose and play and not worry too much about step­ping on the vo­cals, or mak­ing it too busy. As an in­stru­men­tal gui­tar record, it can be as sim­ple or as busy as the gui­tar player wants. I’m hav­ing a blast do­ing it.” Given the year Nita Strauss is al­ready hav­ing, few would bet against the record be­ing an­other head­line event.

“IT’S NOT WEIRD TO BE A FE­MALE GUI­TARIST NOW”

READ ABOUT NITA’S KICK­STARTER CAM­PAIGN AT TINYURL.COM/NITAKICKSTARTER.

CHECK OUT WE START WARS AT WESTARTWARS.COM

Un­der­taker in June 2000, ready to roll…

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