By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Shock rock legend, Alice Cooper is notorious for always having some of the most talented musicians play in his band. Recently, when Cooper needed a bright new star to replace (ex-Michael Jackson) guitarist Orianthi, who was leaving to join Richie Sambora’s band, he picked the most talented – and quite frankly, hottest looking guitarist out there – Nita Strauss.
The 27 year old L.A. native was no stranger to fans of hard rock music. She was one of the guitarists in the all-female Iron Maiden tribute band, The Iron Maidens. Nita was also responsible for performing the national anthem at all of the home games this past season for the KISS owned arena football team – L.A. KISS. In addition, she was a session guitarist for many years.
Nita Strauss is a true rock star, with amazing guitar skills, a hard work ethic, and great stage presence. She instantly wins over new fans every time she steps on stage. It’s just a matter of time before she is regarded as one of the top guitarists in rock music.
What follows is an exclusive RMS interview with Nita Strauss. During this conversation, we discussed how she became the newest member of the Alice Cooper band, and much more. (All live photos by John Jeffrey)
Rock Music Star: Tonight is the last date of the Alice Cooper/ Mötley Crüe summer tour. In retrospect, how much fun has this summer and tour been for you?
Nita Strauss: It’s been amazing! It’s a total blast. The guys in Mötley are all stand out guys, and being out on tour with Alice Cooper is a total dream come true.
RMS: How have these last couple months changed you as a musician, and as a person?
NS: To be honest, I’m not really sure how much it’s changed me. It’s the first time that anyone has asked me that. I guess I have a better understanding of how big shows, like this one, are put together. And how everything depends on everyone doing their job, and, like we talked about earlier, being on time and doing production quickly. On a big tour like this, you have to be on time, or things just aren’t going to work.
RMS: How has the transition been for you going, from playing clubs to playing huge venues, on what could be considered the biggest tour of the summer?
NT: It’s been really amazing. I’ve done big tours before, but this has definitely been the most amazing one that I’ve been on. If you love what you do, and you give 100%, it doesn’t really matter if you are playing in a bar to 200 people, or a stadium to 20,000 people. I just give 100% no matter what.
RMS: How did Alice Cooper discover you?
NS: I was contacted by Alice Cooper’s management when they were looking for a female guitarist to replace Orianthi. They really liked having the three guitarists, including a female guitarist in the band. So, I ended up meeting Alice’s manager, Shep Gordon, and long time producer, Bob Ezrin. We had a great conversation, and we really clicked. And then, all of a sudden, I blinked, and here I am, on tour with Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe.
RMS: Was there a formal audition for you?
RMS: What was that like? You’re obviously a great guitarist, but did you get nervous at all, due to the magnitude of the gig?
NS: No, not really. It wasn’t like I was in a room with 20 other girls, all playing the same part. It was not an on-the-spot, nerve-wracking audition. They (Alice’s management) were pretty direct in what they were looking for. I just did my best.
RMS: Did they make you play Alice Cooper songs?
NS: They had me play one Alice Cooper song and one cover song.
RMS: What was the cover song?
NS: It’s something off of his covers album that is coming out soon. The track hasn’t been released yet, so I don’t think I can say what track it was.
RMS: Where you involved in the recording of the covers album at all?
NS: No, I think the album was finished before I got involved. I’m not sure who he used as musicians on it.
RMS: When you started rehearsing with the Alice Cooper band for the tour, how did you and the other two guitarists, Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen, divide up the guitar parts?
NS: Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen have been with Alice Cooper for a long time. So, the parts were already basically divided up. Those two really have a great insight and musical sense of what needs to be heard and where. It was all basically done before I got there.
RMS: There are some amazing musicians in the Alice Cooper band, but is there one person who is considered the musical leader or director of the band?
NS: No, there isn’t one particular person. I think everyone chimes in, but Tommy definitely has the mind of a musical director, as does Chuck, who has been in the band for 12 years. Ryan has an encyclopedic knowledge of these songs. Those three combined really come together to make one super director.
RMS: Are there a lot of additional Alice Cooper songs that the band can play if Alice decided to change around his set list?
NS: Well, I only had a few weeks to learn a two-hour set, so right now, we just have those particular songs. But, I’m sure by the next cycle of touring, we will change it up a little bit.
RMS: Is it distracting at all, to perform with all of the theatrics that are in the Alice Cooper stage show?
NS: No, not at all. I think, being on stage and in a band, you need to be mindful of where you are on stage, and what the other musicians in the band are doing. Having a guillotine and a big Frankenstein monster is just one more thing to keep in mind. Once you get used to it, it doesn’t really affect the performance. Also, I came from a band, The Iron Maidens (all female Iron Maiden tribute band), which had a lot of theatrics and monsters. So, that was a good jumping off point for me.
RMS: When you were auditioning for the guitar slot in the Alice Cooper band, did you tell your band that you were trying out for the position? Or, did you wait until after you were hired for the gig?
NS: I didn’t tell anybody at all until after I got the gig.
RMS: How did the members of the Iron Maidens react to you getting the job?
NS: They were very supportive.
RMS: Do you think that you may perform with them again, maybe during your downtime from the Alice Cooper tour?
NS: I’m not ruling anything out. But, they have their line-up now. They have Nikki Stringfield now, playing guitar. So, they are pretty happy with the line-up. But, I may jump up on stage and do a song with them, here and there. But, right now, I’m pretty focused on doing this. Also, I plan to start writing for my solo album during the break from the Alice/ Mötley tour. Things are going pretty smoothly the way they are; no need to rock the boat.
RMS: Wow, a solo record? You plan on releasing that soon?
NS: Yes, I plan on doing the majority of the writing on our break, this September.
RMS: What kind of record is it going to be? Will it be an all instrumental, or a traditional rock record?
NS: Well, we will see. I’ve spent the last several years as a session player, learning and playing other people’s material. So, it will be interesting to see what I come up with. Maybe it will be an instrumental record; I’m not really sure at this point. I’ll have a better idea when I start writing.
RMS: Will you be playing other instruments besides the guitar on it, perhaps singing vocals yourself?
NS: I’m not going to be singing, that’s for sure. I want people to like the record (laughs). Honestly, I can’t really tell you right now. I do have some people out in L.A. that I would like to collaborate with. So, we will see what happens.
RMS: Well, I can’t wait to hear the results. Back to Alice, what is it like working for him?
NS: Alice is a total legend in every sense of the word. He always leads by example. He is very professional. He is cool with fans. He is always the first one on the bus and the first one in the lobby when it’s time to go to the airport. He’s a great example of a true professional, and that’s why he’s been successful for so long. He never does a bad show. He’s always on point. It’s really inspiring to be able to work with him every day.
RMS: I’ll be honest, all of the reviews of this tour have been really positive for Alice Cooper and his band. People are noticing that Alice and his band are well-rehearsed and very professional.
NS: Well, thank you.
RMS: But, the same can’t be said for Mötley Crüe. They seem to be struggling a bit on this tour.
NS: I think they sound great! Maybe, I’m just talking like a fan, but every band has issues sometimes, especially with all of the production that they have. But, I think they sound fantastic, and I watch their show every night and I have a blast doing that.
RMS: Yeah, that must be a great additional benefit in playing in the Alice Cooper band on this tour – the fact that you get to see Mötley Crüe every single night.
NS: Oh yeah, it’s awesome. It’s awesome. I have the best job ever.
RMS: Had you seen them before? I mean, obviously, you’re a fan, right?
NS: I had seen them before, yes.
RMS: How does their production on this tour compare to the other shows that you’ve seen?
NS: This is a huge production tour. This is really, really huge. I mean, they’re all huge productions, but they definitely took it to the next level, you know, with the drum rollercoaster, and the pyro and cool stuff. It’s a wild show.
RMS: Wow, very cool. What are some of the things that you do during your down time when you’re on tour?
NS: Let’s see. Well, there’s not much down time on a tour like this, to be honest. I’ve got press most days. I go to the gym – I try to go every morning. I run a 5k every morning. Honestly, I play guitar a lot – even on days off. I just like to play guitar. I go to the gym and play guitar.
RMS: That’s great that you can do that – you can work out while being on tour. You’d think you’d be completely exhausted, going out on the road. Just travelling would be exhausting. But, the fact that you have the discipline to go out there and run 5k every day – that’s impressive.
NS: It is exhausting. It’s completely exhausting. But you have the discipline; you just have to set it and do it, otherwise you can really get out of shape on the road. You’re travelling on a bus; you’re sitting down for a long time. It’s way too easy to get out of shape on the road.
RMS: Do any other members of the Alice Cooper band run with you?
NS: They’re all really active. Ryan, Chuck, and Alice play golf every morning. Glen, of course, is always hitting the gym. Tommy gets his exercise on stage, jumping around like a crazy person. So, we’re all really active.
RMS: Going back to the Alice Cooper stage show, are all of your stage moves planned out, or is there some spontaneity in there as well, where you can kind of do what you want, to a certain degree?
NS: It’s total spontaneity. I just wrote about this in my tour blog on my website. When I came in, there was some choreography that was planned out, like, “Make sure you hit this at this time; that at that time.” And then, the second day of rehearsal, Alice’s manager said, “Throw it out the window. Don’t do it. Just do a rock show.” And, that’s what we do. Over the course of this tour – in the past two and a half months – we’ve kind of developed certain moments that we like to do on stage, but I’d say about 95% of the show is spontaneity, which is cool.
RMS: Wow, that’s awesome. Before you joined Alice Cooper, you were involved with the L.A. KISS Arena Football team. Did you play the national anthem at every show, or was it just one particular show?
NS: I played it at all of the home games. And then I played the little in-game breaks, as well.
RMS: Was that a cool gig for you?
NS: Oh, it was amazing. I’m a big NFL fan, and a big sports fan, as well. It’s kind of like, the best of all worlds for me; I get to salute America, watch football, and play guitar. It doesn’t get much better than that.
RMS: Do you think that gig, playing with the L.A. KISS, helped you get the Alice Cooper gig in any way?
NS: I don’t think they’re related at all. They came from completely different people. I know, when they asked for videos of me, I know one of the videos they had seen was the video of me playing the national anthem, but I don’t think that it was directly related.
RMS: I see. Has there been any talk about recording with Alice Cooper in the future? I know you said he has a cover record coming out, but has there been any talk about recording any new material with Alice?
NS: There hasn’t been. Right now, we’re just so single-mindedly focused on this tour and this gig that there hasn’t really been any talk about anything else. We’re just really focused on the Mötley Crüe run, our upcoming headline shows for the rest of this year. And like I said, we’d never say “never.” I would absolutely be honored to be a part of any future recording that he does but, right now, we’re just focusing on this.
RMS: The last question I have for you is: What were you like before you discovered the guitar? How did finding the guitar change your life?
NS: Before I started playing guitar, I was on my way to being an Olympic gymnast, actually. I was on the junior Olympic team in rhythmic gymnastics. As soon as I picked up the guitar and I started playing, I dropped everything and just completely focused on music. I started playing guitar, and I never went back to class.
RMS: Wow. What inspired you to pick up the guitar?
NS: My dad. My dad is a musician.
RMS: Were your parents supportive of that decision, to drop everything and just focus on guitar?
NS: There wasn’t really anything they could do about it, to be honest (laughs). They saw how I fell in love with the instrument, and they were really happy about it. They’re certainly happy now.
RMS: Well, yeah. Obviously. You’re one of the top guitarists in the world. That’s pretty amazing. You’re playing with one of the best, most legendary bands on one of the best tours. I mean, c’mon. How can you top it?
NS: I don’t see how. I’m looking forward to trying, but I don’t see how.
RMS: Let me ask you this one last question. Alice Cooper is what, 66 years old now? Could you see yourself doing this when you’re 66?
NS: I’ll say again – never say “never.” I can’t see myself ever not doing this, to be perfectly honest. My stage performance might change a little bit, but I can’t see myself ever stopping playing guitar.
For more on Nita Strauss, please visit, www.nitastrauss.com
Special thanks to Nita Strauss for her time and setting up this interview. Also, thank you to Dana Kaiser.