Interview: Guitarist Nita Strauss Talks Alice Cooper, KISS, Stretching, and Female Proctologists
Revolver readers may remember axwoman Nita Strauss from the all-female metal tribute group The Iron Maidens or for her regular appearances as one of the magazine's Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock and Metal. Now she's the new guitarist for shock rocker Alice Cooper. We caught up with Strauss on the first day of rehearsals as the band prepared its set as the special guest for Motley Crue's final tour to talk about how she got the gig, playing for the L.A. KISS, and how she's come to shred so hard.
REVOLVER How did you get the gig as Alice Cooper’s new guitarist?
NITA STRAUSS You know who connected the dots? It was actually Kip Winger. He heard through the grapevine they were looking for a guitar player and he threw my name in the mix. A little while later I got a call to meet Shep Gordon [manager] and Bob Ezrin [producer]. From there it snowballed and happened really fast.
And you’re replacing Orianthi.
I'm taking the place or Orianthi who took the place of Steve Hunter, who took the place of Kane Roberts—Alice has had a history of incredible guitar players in his band. So I'm just feeling really lucky to be the latest one. I feel Incredibly honored. To this day I still can't believe I'm standing here. I was standing in the dressing room with [guitarists] Tommy Henriksen and Ryan Roxie, and I'm like, Woah, I'm here. [Laughs] It's really happening. It's me!
What’s your favorite Alice Cooper memory?
I think the real amazing memories are going to be happening on this tour. My mom was telling me when I got the gig, she said she saw Alice when she was in 8th grade. [Laughs] And she said, 'Are you going to play that song, "I'm Eighteen?'" I said, “I’ll try to get it in the set for you, mom.”
Are your parents supportive of what you do?
My parents are incredibly supportive. My dad is a musician and he got me my first guitar and taught me how to play my first few chords. My mom is really supportive, too. They don't come to shows as much because I think they know I don't want them to. If you really like going crazy in playing in heavy-metal bands, it's kind of funny if you're up there screaming about death and blood even if your parents are in the back.
Recently you’ve been playing with L.A. KISS—what was your favorite part?
Playing with the L.A. KISS was an awesome experience. I'm a big NFL fan, and they asked if I wanted to come down and do some stuff for the KISS. I ended up playing the national anthem at the home games and doing some game break stuff. I gotta say I think the anthem was my favorite part for sure because first of all, it's such an honor to do it. When they say, “Please rise and salute America,” and you're the one who gets to lead that salute—that’s a pretty incredible feeling.
A lot of guitar legends have national anthem renditions, too.
Satriani, Hendrix, Slash… I watched all of theirs and tried to put my own spin on it but be respectful. You have to be respectful of a song like that because you don't want to take it and shred over it too much. I actually got some criticism on social media saying I used the national anthem as a chance to show off. I thought it's because I can't overcome how much I love this song!
How much would you say you practice or play guitar a day?
It really depends on what I'm doing. There's not a day that goes by where I don't play for a while. For instance, this tour I treat like a normal job. I get up in the morning and have my coffee and then I sit down and play guitar for six to eight hours. Sometimes I actually have to stop myself from playing because my hands will get fatigued if I play for more than a certain amount of hours. I stop at 10 at night and say, “OK, I can't play again until tomorrow," so I will be able to play the next day. I think the most important thing is to just keep your hands in shape. A lot of guitar players will go for weeks without playing and I think that's like if you're a runner and you go a couple weeks without doing any cardio. You just want to keep your chops up.
What’s the most important advice you would give younger guitar players?
I think the most important advice is what I wish someone would have told me: It's so important to stretch before and after you play, especially if you know you're going to be playing for a long time. It's paramount, absolutely so important to stretch carefully. I actually didn't know that and gave myself a very bad permanent hand injury because I would just sit down for six hours and play these repetitive riffs over and over again so now I have a stress injury in my hand. So every young guitar player reading this—stretch, stretch, stretch. Take five whole minutes and it will make a world of difference.
There are a lot of differing opinions from women in the music industry and metal. What would you say is yours?
You are right when you say differing opinions because I read about a lot of female musicians and read interviews and they have all these horror stories. And really, when you look at someone like Lita Ford or Joan Jett, they did have it a lot harder than we do now. They were the ones that blazed the trail for us. I can't remember the last time someone said to me, “You're pretty good for a girl.” People just don't say that anymore. I've also spent a lot of time making sure that my chops are where they need to be so nobody can say that. Nobody tells me I'm not good because I'm a girl, because they don't see me going out there and not playing well.
I'm always interested in other girls’ responses, too. Sure, you'll still have people that still have the outdated stereotype that girls can't play guitar, but you look at Jennifer Batten and there's so many incredible female players out there like Courtney Cox and Orianthi. People who have this idea that girls can’t play guitar just need to do a little bit of homework.
It's not like you're going to ask your doctor, “What's it like being a female doctor?" or “What's it like being a female auto mechanic?” It might be mostly guys but there are girls that excel in every field, whether it's playing guitar, writing about metal or being a proctologist. Actually, I'm sure most guys would rather have a female proctologist. [Laughs]