Guitarist Nita Strauss recently set up a Kickstarter for her first solo project, with amazing results.

Nita Strauss is currently on a break from touring with Alice Cooper, and is taking the time to work on her solo project. Nita took time out to speak with National Rock Review to discuss her Kickstarter as well as what inspired her to take up guitar in the first place.    


 
NRR: First things first, I’d like to say congratulations! I was just looking on your Kickstarter page and you’re at $111,000 of a $20,000 goal! It’s just crazy.
Nita Strauss: It is! Thank you very much.
 
NRR: It shows there’s a huge amount of support, and I think people must be really interested to hear you do this album.
Nita Strauss: I think so, yes. It’s really flattering and gratifying to see. You never really know as a guitar player, especially as someone else’s guitar player, you never really know what the response is going to be. Do people it’s almost like do they like me for me or do they like me because I play with Alice so it’s really amazing for me to see that so many people actually were interested. And, you know, not just interested but to put their money where their mouth is and actually pre-order the record which was just such a huge, huge thing for me.
 
NRR: I was watching some of your interviews about your idea to make a solo album, and I guess you ran into Steve Vai back at Generation Axe in LA. So was it just totally out of the blue he asked you to contribute to the album he was making?
Nita Strauss: Literally, that’s exactly what it was, yeah. We were at Generation Axe and that’s the first time I met Steve Vai. And it was funny, because when I was introduced to him I kind of, you know, I had hoped that he would know who I was just because I’ve been an Ibanez artist for a long time, you know. Someone said “This is Nita,” he said “Hello, nice to meet you.” And I was like “Ah..” It’s ok, why should he know. And then he turned back, he said, “Wait, are you Nita Strauss?” And I about lost my mind! And I said yeah and he was like “Ok nice to meet you!” and then we started talking and that was a crazy thing all in itself and then he said “I’m putting this album together. Would you be interested in contributing a track to it?” and that’s how it all started.
 
NRR: I read that you just said “Yes” but had no idea and didn’t have a song written or anything. 
Nita Strauss: That’s exactly it. I do that all the time though. I really do do that all the time, you know. If an opportunity comes up in life, you just have to say yes to the opportunity, you know. If I had said to Vai that day, if he’d said “Do you have a song you can sing?” and I was like “Well, I don’t know…” maybe, I’m sure you and I wouldn’t be on the phone right now talking about this record. You just have to take opportunities that come because that door is going to close and it will open for somebody that wants it.

 
NRR: And at least saying yes, having the courage to stand there and say “Yes, definitely. I’ll do it” I guess is a big part of it.
Nita Strauss: Yes! Absolutely! And you know I said it with such confidence that my boyfriend said to me afterwards, he goes “What song are you going to send him?” I was like, “I don’t know! I don’t have one!” I’m not much of a musician if I can’t come up with one song! So yeah, that’s what we did and that was “Pandemonium.”
 
NRR: So how long did it take you to write? Did you literally just go back and start writing as soon as you could?
Nita Strauss: Yeah! I did it the next day. I have a studio here in LA that I’ve had for about 11 years. I’ve moved locations but I’ve had my own little recording spot so you know, that’s enabled me to have a lot of freedom with what I do. You know, I do a lot of guest solos and work on other people’s tracks and stuff so it’s important  for me to be able to record from anywhere that I am, so it was really cool that I could just sit down and record “Pandemonium” right there without having to book studio time, you know, find musicians and all that stuff.
 
NRR: Josh, your boyfriend, was drumming on that one, right?
Nita Strauss: Yeah!
 
NRR: So in terms of the album itself, what’s the plan? I know you’ve got We Start Wars Together. Is that the band that you’re going to do the album with? Are you writing with those guys?
Nita Strauss: Yeah, that’s a separate thing. We Start Wars is a totally separate thing. I’m actually going to be in the studio with them as well over the next couple of months working on new stuff. And then as far as the solo record, it will be Josh on drums again, you know, because really, honestly besides the fact that I love him very much, he really is the best drummer that I know, you know. He’s the best drummer for this project and his style compliments mine really well. We have similar music tastes and then we have dissimilar music tastes, and the things that we have differences in, he compliments my music really well. He’s technically great player, he’s a creative player and obviously we have great chemistry so it’ll definitely be him playing on the record.
 
NRR: His drumming on “Pandemonium” is phenomenal. I really enjoyed it, he’s really good.
Nita Strauss: I know, right! I had the idea, you know I program drums so I had the idea laid out for how I wanted it to sound, and I asked him “Can you go in and play this so I have a drummer on it?” And he just took it to a completely new stratosphere. All of that tribal stuff, that was all his idea. All of the cool parts and that, he’s got a really diverse background from playing Death Metal to playing tribal style, like Sepultura, to playing Hip-Hop. He’s got a really, really diverse background and definitely brought a whole new life to the music.
 
NRR: I liked the arc of that song as well because you build it to where you’re really flat out in the middle and then by the end of it, you play some really soulful stuff towards the end of it. I really enjoyed it.
Nita Strauss: It tells a story. Thank you. It tells, it’s about something. I’m always curious to hear people’s interpretation of it because it’s about something. And I think that’s the most important thing for an instrumental song. You know, if you listen to Vai you know what the song is about. It doesn’t need lyrics, you know. Same thing with Satriani and Marty Freidman. With the great instrumental guitar players you can tell the emotion of the song in what they’re playing and that’s what I wanted to do with my music.

 
NRR: It’s a very specific kind of art, I guess, writing instrumental music like that for guitar. It’s different than any other kind of songwriting. It’s a different area altogether, to be really good at it.
Nita Strauss: Very different, I think. Because you don’t have anybody to lean on. There’s no verse to lay out and play chords in, you have to play your guitar the whole time.
 
NRR: It’s you. You’re the entire focus for the whole thing.
Nita Strauss: Yeah.
 
NRR: So for the rest of the musicians on the album, have you got people lined up? Are you auditioning people?
Nita Strauss: I’m going to do most of it myself, I think. I may have a bass player come in because, you know, my limited bass playing, my bass playing is really limited to this is a guitar with four strings. I think a good bass player would be able to add that new dimension to it but I haven’t chose them yet. And then the keyboard player will be Katt Scarlett who I just drag with me from every band, every band that needs a keyboard player, I just take her with me because she is so talented. She plays in We Start Wars with me, she plays in Femme Fatale, you know she like, every band that I can play in with her I drag Katt with me so she’ll definitely be doing all the keyboard duties.

 
NRR: In terms of when you write – because you are always either doing clinics, you’re touring with Alice, you’re doing stuff with various other bands so is it just a case of fitting in writing wherever you can on the road?
Nita Strauss: Yeah, that’s what it’s been. If you look at my computer files, they’re all labelled with names of cities and that’s how I remember which one is which, so, you know, I’ve got literally different names – Rio, Dublin, Fort Wayne, you know, all these different cities all over the world because that’s where I was when I wrote that, and that’s how I remember which songs sound like which.
 
NRR: It will be interesting to see if the place you were in influenced how the songs sound at all.
Nita Strauss: I think so and I’ll tell you what, it’s very atmospheric being in a city like Prague or Dublin or a place with a lot of history, you know those are two of the places that I did sit and write, you know. The place has a lot of history and has an energy to it, you know. I don’t necessarily go for all that energy stuff but I can’t deny that. And when I write, when it’s a dark and gloomy day, I write gloomier music. And when I’m here in LA, I’m lounging in my backyard talking to you in the sun, hanging out, Its easier for me to write happy, upbeat songs, so I think definitely.
 
NRR: I was always interested in that from when Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters did that album when they did the documentary around it and they went and recorded in all the different cities. I thought it was interesting that they got the local musicians and every song had a particular sound from that city. I liked the idea of that.
Nita Strauss: Oh definitely, yeah.
 
NRR: It looks like from August you’re on tour with Alice, through October. A long tour there. So are you just taking the opportunity now to record? Do you have the time to write and record now?
Nita Strauss: And then do the tour after? Yeah. So I’m moving into the studio, normally I would record everything at my home but since I’m really going to be camping out and doing this I’m moving my equipment to a studio nearby so I can have a place to sit and focus. And I do have a lot of stuff booked for this time off, I have a lot of clinics, so I still am traveling like every week or every two weeks, but for the foreseeable time that I’ll be home I’ll just be like, sort of, in the bunker working on music. And then we go back out with Alice in August, and finish that in November and then I just got the routing for my first solo tour which will start in November.
 
NRR: That was going to be my next question. So you’ve already got that planned out?
Nita Strauss: Yeah, you know I was always planning on it. The initial $20,000 budget did allow for touring. I wanted to tour no matter what. I had a pretty good idea that we were going to at least hit that minimum goal in 30 days. Just giving how the interest has been in this record. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that we would go six times that but that’s really just a testament to the fans and how amazing people are and how willing to support people are. But yeah, definitely the touring will be extensive and a lot of fun and I’m planning on doing it with other guitar players that have similar styles so it’ll be a great, great experience.
 
NRR: It must be exciting thinking about going out the first time. I recently interviewed Ben Jaffe and Suzanne Santo from a band called honeyhoney and they’ve both just done solo records. I was talking to Ben, he’s the guitar player and he does some backups in that band but now that he’s doing his solo stuff I was like wow, it must be a big step going from being in a band and having at least the support of that other person by your side to being the focus of everyone’s attention for the whole set, which is exciting as well I guess.
Nita Strauss: Yeah, I think it’ll be a little easier for me because I’ve done so many clinics, you know, I’ve done clinic tours that are longer than most people’s band tours, so I am pretty used to being up there alone and I’ll have a band with me out on the road. I’ll have Josh playing drums and I’ll have other musicians so I think it’ll just be really fun. I don’t foresee it being really all that stressful.
 
NRR: It must be quite nice in a sense as well, with both you guys being in bands and touring and things like that, it gives you a chance to spend some time together, albeit on the road and recording.
Nita Strauss: That’s exactly it! Yeah! That’s exactly, exactly right! Josh will come visit me out on tour when he can, but by and large we’re apart a lot of the year. I usually tour nine or ten months of the year, so it’ll really be a treat for us to be on the road together.

 
NRR: Outside the album, going right back to when you started, what was the thing – I’ve seen you say Crossroads turned you onto guitar when you saw Vai in that film, but were you already playing an instrument before that? Where your immediate family musical? Your parents?
Nita Strauss: Yes, my dad. My dad was the one that got me my first guitar. I actually started out playing drums and I was not any good at it and then I played some on bass and I played a friend of mine’s bass and I couldn’t, I just couldn’t get excited about it. And then my dad got me my first guitar which was a $99 Squire, you know the cheapie little Squire, the black and white Squire Strat and it came with a start pack, I think they call it a Strat Pack. It came with amp, like a little 10 Watt amp, and a cable and a handful of guitar picks and the accessories and stuff. So I had that and I didn’t really play it all that much, because I didn’t quite get it yet and then as soon as I saw Crossroads, that was the thing that was oh, ok! That’s what you’re supposed to do with this instrument. And then it was just full speed ahead.
 
NRR: I remember myself, one of my friends showed me that film when I was a kid and it was just… that scene, I’ve watched it so many times, just because more than anything, the music that Eugene’s Trick bag that he plays, is just a fantastic piece of music, as well.
Nita Strauss: It is! It is! And you know the way people say they remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or the moon landing? That’s how I am with Crossroads. I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing and how cold it was in the room and what the carpet felt like when I was sitting on the floor watching it. That’s my moon landing!
 
NRR: I think for me I remember being on vacation, and my friend had a tape deck and he put a cassette of Appetite For Destruction in and that opening bit of “Welcome To The Jungle” where he’s got the delay, I was just like “Wow, what is that?!” I’d never heard anything like that in my life, and I can remember that so vividly
Nita Strauss: Yeah! So vividly. Those are the moments that change your life. It really is. And it’s so, it’s amazing that you can remember that because it just puts that pivotal moment in your head. Like watching Vai with that whammy bar I was like “Oh! That’s what that thing is for!” It was just so pivotal.
 
NRR: And he looked like the ultimate guitar player in the film, as well. He was so cool the way he looked then.
Nita Strauss: He was so cool! He was so cool! I always say in clinics I’m still aspiring to this day to be as cool as Steve Vai was in Crossroads.
 
NRR: In every interview I see of him, he always seems like the nicest guy in the world as well. That’s the other thing about him, he just seems so nice. He’s all about sharing what he knows and trying to make people better and he does a lot of those guitar camps, and he seems to just love that stuff.
Nita Strauss: He is! He is! And you know, we have each other’s information and I never email him. I never bother him. I only ever email him back when I hear from him. But he sent me an email congratulating me on the Kickstarter and talk about the record, and you know, to open up my email and see the subject line “Vai here” and have the reason why I started playing guitar send me a note of congratulations, he did not have to do that! It’s so, it’s amazing to see that someone at his level that’s inspired so many people. And we talk about Crossroads in the email and he was saying he was so glad that it’s inspired people and I hope that by me talking, I told him, I hope that by me talking about it, it would inspire a whole new generation to watch it and in turn get inspired.
 
NRR: Over the last four or five years, you must have so many pinch yourself moments, you know, standing on stage with Alice Cooper when you first did it, having Vai email you, it must be amazing to have that work pay off.
Nita Strauss: Oh my gosh! Yes! You know what the funniest one was, since we’re talking about Vai. A funny pinch yourself moment was we were playing with Alice at The Greek which is an outdoor venue here in LA, and Vai sat behind my parents! And I didn’t know, I didn’t see it, you know, you’re on stage and there’s 20,000 people out there watching, it’s hard to pick out one face, but Josh was in the crowd and he was pointing. I was playing a Jem, I have a floral Jem. And he was pointing at my guitar and then pointing at the crowd and I was like “What are you trying to communicate to me?!” He was like he was just standing in the crowd pointing at my guitar and then pointing to my right, point, point, point, point! I was like “What?! What are you trying to say?!” and then finally I look over and Steve Vai is sitting next to my mom and dad. I was like Oh! That’s why he was pointing at the Jem because Vai was there! My dad took a selfie with him and it was really great.

 
NRR: That is really cool. That’s a great one! So back when you really got into it when you saw that, I know you’ve talked about it quite a bit, so I don’t want to go into it too much but that kind of guitar was virtually an entirely male-dominated world, right? You have Steve Vai, Jason Becker, Joe Satriani. You went out and played with Jason Becker at some point, right?
Nita Strauss: Yes.
 
NRR: That was unbelievable.
Nita Strauss: Yes. Again that was all Josh. Josh is the one that made that happen and I had no idea it was going to happen. If I had known, that might have been one of the few times I would have gotten nervous. I did get very nervous as you can see in the video when we pulled up. But yeah, that was all his doing. And that, again, it’s funny how it all comes back around to Vai, because I had just showed him Crossroads. He’s a drummer and he’d never seen Crossroads. Crossroads is like required watching for guitar players, but drummers not so much. So he totally got it, and we had just started dating and I was showing him stuff that was meaningful for me. Then we watched Jason Becker’s Not Dead Yet and for anybody listening that hasn’t seen that, I cannot tell you enough, especially if you’re a guitar player listening to this, how much you have got to watch Jason Becker’s Not Dead Yet! It’s on iTunes, I think it’s on Amazon. Buy it, don’t rent it because you’re going to want to watch it multiple times!
 
NRR: It’s phenomenal. It’s an unbelievable movie. It’s such a shame that there wasn’t more time for him. Not more recording of him playing the way he did. I just thought it was so sad that he landed that dream gig and then even towards the end of the recording when he was having to use lighter string gauges and things like that.
Nita Strauss: Yeah, oh gosh. I know they were saying his hands were falling off the guitar. I’ve seen the movie a hundred times and I can’t get through it without crying. And it’s not really tears of pity or anything, it’s just like why?! But to see what he’s done with this, I’ve been to Jason’s house twice now, and to see what he’s done with this hand that he’s been dealt, it’s so inspiring. He is so funny, and witty, and charming. He asked me out when we were up there for the first time. To see that he’s just in such great spirits and still making amazing music, a lot of other people in his situation wouldn’t be the way that he is.

 
NRR: The strength of character is beyond what I can comprehend because I’ve got no frame of reference for that in my own life. It’s unbelievable. I guess, when you started, that was the scene. It was mainly those guys. I know you spoke about Jennifer Batten and Michelle Meldrum a bit, but you said you didn’t know those guys when you first started out. Did it ever even cross your mind or were you just like this is what I want to do, I’m just going to go full speed ahead and do it.
Nita Strauss: It never crossed my mind once. It never even occurred to me. And it only occurred to me when I started getting more of a name for myself and people started asking me why I had no female guitar heroes and I mean the honest answer is I grew up in a household with no TV. I didn’t watch TV as a kid, so I didn’t know about Phantom Blue, I didn’t know about Jennifer until I had already been playing guitar for a long time. And then I saw Jennifer play the Super Bowl and I was so mesmerized by how cool she was. Again, she’s got that “cool factor” like Vai, you know. And her technique! That was the thing that really got me because you see a lot of female guitar players, the ones that are more well-known from the earlier era, they’re not really known for doing technical guitar solos and really technical playing. That’s not to take anything away from the Joan Jetts, the Lita Fords, and Hearts of the world but they’re not really known for outstanding guitar solos. You know what I mean? Again, really not to take anything whatsoever away from their path, from the trails that they blazed for females in music but they weren’t doing crazy guitar solos. You know, they weren’t playing with really elevated technique, so seeing someone like Jennifer, who can play like nobody’s business and so cool – she looks like not like me but more like me than most people and to see that happen was really important for me as a young guitar player. And now, in the age where there are female guitar players, and male guitar players, and Indian guitar players, and Asian guitar players, and 11-year-old guitar players that are better than all of us! It’s just cool to be a part of.
 
NRR: It really is! And it’s great to see it moving in that direction. But I think the thing is about it, and it comes out through every person that I interview, is, and I’m guessing you would have been the same when you started out – I interviewed Paul Gilbert who is the nicest guy, and John 5 – and all of them say the same thing, they’ve all got this attitude that is this single-minded focus that this is what I want to do, there’s not anything else that even comes into the equation, and now I’m going to focus all of my attention on this one thing. Is that what it was like for you as a kid? Once you decided was it twelve hours a day practice?
Nita Strauss: 100%, yeah, definitely. That’s exactly how I was. I was 15, 16, 17, 18 and all the other girls my age in school had boyfriends and going to prom and doing normal stuff, I was going on tour. I was sitting in my room practicing guitar by myself. I would take my guitar to school and I would sit on the bleachers between classes or at lunch and I would play guitar alone. And that might have made me look weird at the time but I certainly am glad that I put all those hours of practice in then so I can be where I am now.
 
NRR: And it shows. Whenever I see you interviewed you’ve always got a smile on your face. You look like you’re enjoying the life now.
Nita Strauss: I am! I love it! Of course it’s hard work. Of course there’s a lot to be done. But this is all I ever wanted to do. Anytime that I start to think to myself I’m tired, I don’t want to do this today. For example, today is press day, I’m going to be doing interviews for the next six hours and this is hour three, and when you start playing guitar, you don’t think about stuff like that. You think, oh you just play guitar and that’s what you do, you know, but there are so many other things that are involved in it and it all goes along with the life that you choose, being a working musician, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
 
NRR: I think just doing that and doing what you love every day must be awesome. You see people like Phil X from Bon Jovi, who is 52 and looks younger than me and I think that is the secret – go after what you want to do and do it every day. And I think that keeps you young like that! He’s unbelievable.
Nita Strauss: 1000% right! You’re so right! And Phil X is another one that every time you see him, he’s got a smile on his face. He came down and jammed with us in Vegas. The guys from the Alice Cooper band and I, we did like a little show at a small club in Vegas and Phil came down and played some Alice songs with us and just had that infectious smile on his face the whole time and it was so awesome.

 
NRR: Yeah I used to watch him do all those FrettedAmericana videos that he did on YouTube and I loved him from then, because I love guitars so I loved just watching those videos and it was great to see someone land that dream job of touring the world with Bon Jovi just through sheer will, force of will and keeping going. It’s nice to see it happen.
Nita Strauss: Yeah, definitely.
 
NRR: I know you are doing loads of press so I won’t keep you.
Nita Strauss: Yeah, I’ve got to get on my next call.
 
NRR: Thanks so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
Nita Strauss: No, thank you so much for having me. This is great.
 
NRR: Have a great day and enjoy the rest of the press as much as you can!
Nita Strauss: You too! Take care.
 

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