Nita Strauss: ‘You Have To Be In The Zone From The First Note’
Hear the American guitarist’s debut solo album ‘Controlled Chaos,’ which leans on shred influences and modern metal
When we visited American rock and metal festival Rock On The Range in Columbus, Ohio in 2017, a storm-battered crowd waited many hours before day one’s proceedings resumed. Guitar ace Nita Strauss was in charge of picking up spirits and she had in her armory the best weapon – “Star Spangled Banner” – in honor of Armed Forces week. Perhaps for every American in attendance, this was a highlight.
Over the phone from Los Angeles, Strauss recalls the atmosphere was “crazy,” but it’s always been her forte. Whether it’s playing in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestlers as they enter the ring or other public events, Strauss says the energy of a short performance like that is incredible. She adds, “There’s no way to capture the energy of an event like that in televising, you have to be there.”
But Strauss became America’s go-to shredder largely due to her role in horror-rock legend Alice Cooper’s band (which she joined in 2014) and as guitarist in The Iron Maidens (from 2011 to 2015), an all-female tribute to British heavy metallers Iron Maiden. After a few years of having the spotlight shone on her, Strauss has released her debut solo album Controlled Chaos via Sumerian Records on November 16th. In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Strauss talks about the record, touring with a billing of only shred guitarists and India. Excerpts:
This is your debut album – you had crowdfunding and that’s in the public sphere – but behind the scenes, what was it like putting together songs knowing this is your first album?
It was a really emotional process, making this album. It was really important to me that the songs were not just technically great guitar songs – of course I wanted to show technique and shredding – but it was really important that the songs have emotion and a story. I really had to reach deep inside myself and find those emotions and stories and try to tell the story the best I could so that the listener would understand it. I think that we really achieved that on this record.
I think it’s never been a better time for instrumental guitar music, what do you think is its universal appeal?
I think sometimes people like to listen to music and don’t necessarily want to hear someone else’s words. They like to create their own emotion. If you have words in a song, the singer is essentially telling the listener what to think. If you have an instrumental piece of music, it’s up to the listener’s interpretation. I think that makes it much more personal for the listener.
How do you attach emotions to these songs?
Every song has an emotion and a story and the album is a snapshot of me not just as a musician but also as a person – it shows all the different sides of my personality, my emotions, so it was really a challenge but a good challenge to let all of those things show on the record.
There’s very different influences heard on this album compared to what you do with Alice Cooper. Whom would you count as formative for your songwriting on Controlled Chaos?
You’re right, my influences are much more modern – modern shred and modern rock. I love guitar players like Jeff Loomis and Gus G, so many great modern guitarists out there but I also love the classic shred albums by Satriani and Vai.
When you head out on tour right now with Angel Vivaldi and Jacky Vincent, what is the atmosphere like?
Angel and I first collaborated on his album, I performed on a song called “Serotonin” on his latest album Synapse. As soon as we collaborated for the first time, we knew it wasn’t the last time. Angel has been putting together this tour called the Guitar Collective, which is essentially similar to G3 or Generation Axe but showcases a newer generation of guitar players. G3 and Generation Axe is about the legends, but this is about the up-and-coming guitar players. When he offered for me to be a part of this year’s Guitar Collective, it was a perfect fit. We’re both so passionate about bringing shred guitar to the next generation and of course, Jacky is the newest guitar hero. An absolutely incredible guitar player, having him on this tour just brings it to a higher level.
Is it a low-pressure gig coming out to play one song or a solo on WWE or festivals and other public events compared to doing a full setlist on tour?
I think it’s the same level of pressure, but in a different way. If you’re at Rock On The Range or WWE, or any of these amazing events where I just get to come out and perform a song, you don’t really have time to get used to being out there. Normally, a whole show has the first song as a warmup and the second song is getting used to it and by three or four songs, you’re like, ‘Okay, now I’m in the zone.’ But if you’re only performing only one song, you have to be in the zone from the first note. That’s a bit challenging.
The Iron Maidens are coming down to India next month. Have you had offers come your way from here?
I haven’t but I would absolutely love that. My family has a long tradition with Indian culture – both my parents are very into Indian culture, so I would love to come there and play for the Indian fans. It’s a newer audience for me and I’m very excited to share my story with them.