Nita Strauss: ‘There Are No Apologies for Being Female in Heavy Metal’
Nita Strauss was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The Alice Cooper guitarist just released Controlled Chaos, her debut record as a solo artist. The album, which is entirely instrumental, was backed by a remarkably successful Kickstarter campaign, which Strauss talks about below.
In the interview, the guitarist also explains how Alice Cooper members past and present are like a massive family and what she learned about touring as a solo artist compared to the big production of the legendary shock rocker.
Let's talk about Alice Cooper for a second. Over the years, Alice Cooper has had so many world-class guitarists in his band, yourself included. What's the camaraderie of that fraternity like whenever any of your paths cross?
Oh it's amazing, I just played on Kane Roberts' solo record. Ryan [Roxie], of course, has been in the band on and off since 1996 and still plays with Alice now. Tommy [Henriksen] has also played guitar with Alice for years. Damon Johnson comes to a lot of shows, Kerri Kelly comes to see us play.
We just did a tour in the U.K. — I guess it was almost two years ago now — with the original Alice Cooper band. It's just a family. The great thing about the Alice Cooper camp is that its a true family and there's definitely a reason why he's had such a long and successful career spanning over 50 years. You don't get that far by not keeping good people around you.
Controlled Chaos was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that generated over 600 percent more funding than your goal, which is so great. What did that level of support allow you to do differently than you had planned?
It was incredible, especially with the first ever solo release you never know what to expect. When we put the goal up, we put a very very modest of the goal of $20,000 which would really just have covered the recording of the album in the studio and mixing and mastering and some small promotion. I wasn't planning on hiring an expensive publicist or anything. Just some promotion and maybe being able to pay some musicians to do some shows with me.
When I put up the Kickstarter I was just praying. I just hoped people were interested and maybe people would want to hear me play Alice Cooper songs and maybe people would really want to hear me play Iron Maiden songs.
[I assessed] how much of my own money can I afford to put in if we don't get it and so I pressed "Go" on Kickstarter and I posted about it and within two hours we had gotten the goal and we doubled it by the end of that day and we tripled it by the end of the next day and that's when everybody started to sit up and take notice.
I was getting emails from Kickstarter saying, "Wow," and [from] people in the industry. That goes to show you all this talk about the scene being dead is a bunch of lies because if you are making a good product — if people know that you are there to make something great and make an awesome product for them to enjoy people will want to be a part of it and I think we proved that.
You're very respected as a guitarist. You're also often qualified as a "female guitarist." How has that benefited you in terms of being motivated to play beyond unfair expectations based on gender?
I love the way you phrased that because I get asked this question a lot but never quite this way and the way you phrased it was really nice. How has it motivated you to push past rather than how has it hurt you or harmed you and I love that you put it like that because that is how I feel about it.
There's no sense crying over the hand you're dealt in life but it may be a little bit harder to get taken seriously as a female in this business and I'm sure I don't need to tell you about that but as long as you look at it as, "How can this be a great thing," it is a great thing.
There are no apologies for being a female in heavy metal and especially not in 2019. I just played at the Whisky and landed a sold out headline show there. I remember playing there when I was 15-16 years old and there were no other girls in bands. There was nobody really to look up to and it was really odd to be the girl in the band.
Now it's not weird anymore - it's not odd anymore and the biggest motivator for me is continuing to show the world that it's just not weird to be a girl and play an instrument. You can be in the band, you can go buy your own guitar strings at Guitar Center, you can go and do everything the boys can do and you're not the oddity anymore.
You're out on tour supporting your new album. What's your biggest adaptation going from a very orchestrated stage production like Alice Cooper to a purely musical performance?
It's definitely been a huge learning experience putting together my own tour. We are a very small team over here at Team Nita and putting together a tour and personnel and hiring techs and crew managers and finding tour buses and sourcing merch — all this kind of stuff it is hard to really think about — how much goes into a tour — until you have to start to plan a tour.
It definitely gave me a huge amount more respect for the people who plan it on a level like Alice's because I see how much goes into it. I think 95 percent of fans have no idea how much goes into planning a tour they'll just say, "Hey, how come you never come play in Boise? How come you never come to play in the city?"
The reality is it's because it's difficult for us to get there. Every band wants to play in every city. We all do. Everybody listening out there, we all want to play for you guys we all want to come to see you but putting a tour together logistically is expensive and difficult. It definitely gave me a huge amount of more respect than I already had for the amazing people that put huge tours together like Alice Cooper and KISS and Motley Crue and the incredible arena tours.
Nita, Ibanez started manufacturing a Nita Strauss signature series guitar, which is cool. Congratulations. What design functionality elements makes it your guitar?
Two different things, design and functionality and I'll touch on both briefly.
The casual fan will notice the design first because if you look at my guitar, the Ibanez JIVA — the guitar looks like me. It's black and blonde, kind of sleek and not overly flashy but sort of quietly stylish, if that's even how you can describe yourself.
I wanted to make a guitar that fit my personality and a lot of people go, "Why didn't you do pink? Why didn't you do this? Or that?" Have you ever seen me play a pink guitar? [laughs] I do have one but it's playing a pink guitar isn't really my thing. I wanted to do something that was uniquely me and having a black to natural maple finish where you can see the wood grain through. I wanted to make it look just sleek and classy and neutral.
With the functionality of the guitar, everything from the woods to the pickups to the neck shape — everything was designed by me, meticulously and personally.
When a lot of people have asked me, "Did you just slap your name on a guitar they already made?" The answer is absolutely not. I chose every single detail of it - the African mahogany body, quilted maple top, the ebony fretboard, the purple heart and maple neck. Everything about it was what I chose to be what I felt was the best combination of woods for the best sounds.
I designed the pickups, the pickups are my signature pickups — DiMarzio Pandemonium — the whole thing just really worked cohesively to be the perfect guitar for the way I play and for the way I think a lot of others play as well.
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