Nita Strauss Says Pop Fans Don’t Gatekeep Like Rock + Metal Fans Do
Guitarist Nita Strauss was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. She touches on touring with Demi Lovato and how pop fans aren't gatekeepers like rock and metal fans, as well as how some other rockers are making waves by playing with major pop artists.
Always balancing a handful of projects, Strauss is eyeing a summer release for her second solo album and will be busy this year touring with Alice Cooper after making he return to the live lineup now that she's wrapped up her duties with Lovato.
Worlds even collided earlier this year when Cooper guested on Strauss' new solo track, "Winner Takes All," and she said he was a complete professional and treated her music with the same level of respect she treats his music.
With so much going on in Stauss' world, catch up by reading the complete interview below.
Let's talk about your new record, which is a mix of instrumentals and guest vocalists. What challenges you more as a composer in terms of dynamics and song structure — vocals or no vocals?
As far as what's challenging for me, the instrumental stuff comes really easily because instrumental music for a guitar player is almost like instrumental vomit — it comes out. You can write about anything that pops into your head.
There's no restrictions on song structure — it can be 15 minutes long, it can take 50 different turns. You're not going for radio, so you're not aiming for a certain time limit or thinking about a hook or a vocalist or what the key or cadence is or if their voice is going fit or what line is going to rhyme with the following line. There's so much you have to think about when you're writing a song with a vocalist.
So, for me, the instrumental stuff is infinitely easier, but I've gotten to the point where I enjoy them equally.
Let's talk about winner takes all your new single featuring Alice Cooper, the boss. How does that relationship change when your working roles are reversed?
Alice was by far the easiest person to work with. Everybody we worked with on the artist side was a joy and incredible, but Alice in particular is so easy and he's such a pro. He treated me with total respect — the same way that I do when I'm playing his songs is how he approached my songs. It was amazing to get to work with him in this totally different capacity.
I wrote some music for his upcoming record and now he's on my upcoming record. It's this whole new dynamic to a relationship that's been going on successfully for so long, so it was great.
Nita Strauss, "Winner Takes All" ft. Alice Cooper
You're going be back on the road this year with Alice after touring with Demi Lovato. You've been in Alice's band for eight years and counting. When and how did you fully appropriate those classic Alice Cooper songs as your own?
The key is to always maintain your own style as a guitar player, but to also always give reverence to the classic songs. There are plenty of songs in the Alice set that I can kind of go off, go nuts and Nita-fy it a little bit.
But when people are used to hearing "Billion Dollar Babies" the same way since it was released 50 years ago, you don't want to come in and reinvent the wheel. You don't want to disrespect the original songs and sort of disrespect the fans that are used to hearing it played a certain way. For those songs, I really do try to stick very close to the original and give the respect to the original recording. Nn the newer stuff or on the shred stuff, that's when I get to go a little more nuts.
So much has happened in the last year. Touring with Demi Lovato was an opportunity for heavy music and musicianship to cross-pollinate fan bases and genders. What have you noticed most in terms of changing outdated misperceptions?
It was an amazing experience working with Demi. Obviously I come from the rock/hard rock/metal world and I am so used to fans being up in arms anytime something changes.
The cool thing that I found is that Demi changed her entire style. She changed her clothing, her musical style and she reworked all her huge hits. She has a song "Cool for the Summer" that has billions of Spotify plays and she did a full-on rock version with a little Metallica thrown in there for good measure. And the fans loved it. The fans supported her and absolutely screamed their faces off until the end of the show. There was no pushback. There was no, "This is not what you're supposed to sound like. This isn't what we signed up for. We want the old Demi back..." type gatekeeping that we see in the style of music that we're more used to.
It was beautiful to be a part of this evolution. Demi was so happy on the road. You can really tell this is where she wants to be as an artist and to get to be a part of that along with such a great band — an all female band, so many women on the crew (lighting director, production assistant, wardrobe, Demi's day-to-day manager) — there are so many women in high positions on that tour as well, which was so unique.
It being a largely sober tour was huge for me too. I've been sober a long time and being in that more healthy atmosphere and environment was really nice. It was a win all around.
I love the idea that these hard rock guitar players are associated with pop acts. Extreme's Nuno Bettencourt played with Rihanna and joined her at the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
It's safe to say that hard rock has some of the best guitar players out there and I just love having that representation out there. We always feel like the underdogs in hard rock and metal. A rock guy playing at the Super Bowl is probably the closest thing we're going get to a real hard rock band playing there anyway.
In the fall Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie are touring together, joined by Ministry who have Monte Pittman (ex-Prong) and he's been playing with Madonna for years. There's so much representation now. Nuno is crushing it, even if I wish he would've gotten a solo at the Super Bowl. They could have cut a second of the pregnancy vibe and given Nuno a minute to shine.
Justin Derrico playing with Pink, Lari Basolio playing with Doja Cat... it's happening more and more. It's becoming more common and it's cool. Everybody complains all the time that there's not enough guitar in pop music and then they complain when guitar players get gigs in a more mainstream realm. I think it's a win for guitar playing all around with more people crossing over and doing these different gigs.
Not only do you perform, write and produce music, but you also teach people how to play it. What makes the fulfillment of teaching someone how to play an instrument different from anything else?
It's kind of our job to pass on what we know at a certain point. Maybe I feel like that because my mom is a teacher and my dad, while not a teacher by trade, is like an educator. He is super knowledgeable and he taught me how to play.
There's a lot of young women wanting to learn how to play guitar. There's not any different way that I would teach a girl how to play guitar than a dude, but it's just important to have somebody that is relatable and easy to understand.
In my guitar course, Rock Guitar Fundamentals, I think we really landed on that. It's very easy to understand and very simple. It literally starts from, "This is a guitar, these are called strings, these are called frets, this is called a pickup and this is where you plug your guitar in," and that kind of stuff.
It goes all the way from easy through intermediate and an advanced level. If you start at the beginning and go all the way through, you will go from picking up the guitar for the first time to actually playing some pretty technical stuff.
What can you tell us about your upcoming plans? You got a lot going on for the rest of 2023.
My solo record will come out in the summer, so I'm very excited about that. It's been a long time in the making with a lot of hurdles and a lot of things to learn about this process.
Before and after that, I'm very excited to get back out on the road with Alice Cooper. The new set looks incredible. I've been texting with the boys in the group chats all morning, just ironing out some parts and little things like that. It's something different than you've seen the last few years with Alice.
Thanks to Nita Strauss for the interview. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. See all of Alice Cooper's upcoming tour dates at this location (tickets here) and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.