Q&A: Nita Strauss on her new album, working with Alice Cooper and Demi Lovato

Nita Strauss

Nita Strauss, courtesy Ana Massard.

Nita Strauss had just kicked off a headlining tour in Nashville and then slept soundly on her bus all the way to Atlanta. When you’re as busy as she’s been lately, you’re allowed to get Zs whenever you can.

Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie
Ministry, Filter

6 p.m., Friday, Sept. 22
Concord Pavilion
Tickets: $30-$120 and up + fees.

The rock guitarist was also approaching the release of her second album, The Call of the Void, with a who’s-who lineup of guest vocalists including David Draiman of Disturbed, Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, Chris Motionless of Motionless in White, Alice Cooper, Dorothy Martin of Dorothy, Anders Fridén of In Flames and others.

She also has tour dates lined up with her two main collaborators, Alice Cooper and the newly rock-focused Demi Lovato, through the fall. The Cooper tour, which includes co-headliner Rob Zombie, hits the Concord Pavilion on Sept. 22.

Strauss also played on Cooper’s next album, Road, a first for her and his live band. And she’s the official team guitarist of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, who kick off their season soon. She has a recurring gig with WWE and has played at Wrestlemania. In the modern rock genre, she’s one of the hottest guitarists around, becoming the first woman to have a No. 1 hit on active rock radio with “Dead Inside,” the collab with Draiman.

Because of her numerous partnerships, Strauss has built a reputation as a hired gun, and she’s not hiding from the label.

“Saying that I didn’t like that term would be like saying that I don’t like the term female guitar player, I guess,” she said. “I don’t really get too wrapped up in the distinctions about it. I just like playing.”

RIFF: How’d you curate the list of guest collaborators on your album? Were they already friends or new connections?

Nita Strauss

Nita Strauss, courtesy Ana Massard.

Nita Strauss: A little bit of both, really. I knew some, of course, from before. Alissa White-Gluz [of melodic death metal band Arch Enemy] and I are great friends. Same with Dorothy [Martin]. Lilith [Czar] and I were labelmates at the time that we were making this record, so that was an easy choice. She’s incredible. Chris Motionless and Lzzy Hale and I toured together in 2019 … Motionless and White, Halestorm and Alice Cooper. I met them on that tour. David Draiman is a longtime friend of my boyfriend’s. That was really, really cool to get to work with him. I think the only one I didn’t really know personally was Anders Fridén of In Flames. He’s in one of my favorite bands. I’m wearing the T-shirt right now. To get to work with the vocalist of one of my all-time favorite bands was a really a treat as well.

Is that last one the most special of the bunch, or is it hard for you to categorize that?

Nita Strauss: Oh, it’s impossible! I didn’t even mention Alice Cooper, who I’ve been playing with almost a decade now. I think each one is special in their own right. I certainly couldn’t choose a favorite. All together, it just makes a very complete listening experience for the record.

When you’re giving collaborative partners as much freedom with the lyricism as you gave them, it can be hard to have a thematic through line in an album. Does your album have that?

Nita Strauss: For the most part, we actually wrote a lot of the lyrics in-house. The different singers contributed bits here and there. There were a few songs where the guest wrote all the lyrics. Anders was one of them. David Draiman was the other. But besides that, we already had the concept. We already had the hook of the song, and really kind of knew what we wanted it to be about. It worked out being very cohesive.

How would you describe that through line, the thematic connection? 

Nita Strauss: The album title was something that I kicked around for a long time because I was writing a song called that about doing different things. Ultimately, I decided to title the album that because making this record kind of gave me that feeling in my stomach of like, “What if? What if you take this huge risk?” It was a big departure for me, and at the end of the day, as they say about the call of the void, “the urge to jump affirms the urge to live.” I had the urge to succeed and thrive and survive and do something new and just be creative.

I’ve never heard of an NFL team having an official guitarist. How’d that happen and what does it entail? 

Nita Strauss: Essentially, I do what a DJ does at a lot of other sports games. I hype up the crowd between plays, when there’s a timeout or anything like that. Sometimes I’ll do the National Anthem. Sometimes I’ll do different performances on the field. It really just depends on what they need for that game, but it’s just to sort of add a different live element to the entertainment component for people that are there to watch the game.

My manager and boyfriend, Josh, was the one that made the connection first. He reached out to them and said, “Nita is from L.A. She’s a huge football fan. We’d love to work with you guys in some way.” … In the 2018 season, we did the Salute to Service game. I played “America the Beautiful.” The following year, 2019, I went back again and played the “Sunday Night Football” theme.

Then for the 2020 season, when the team moved to the SoFi stadium, they said, “It’s going over so well; you work so well with our DJ. We would like to make you a permanent part of the entertainment team and what we do here.” I’ve been the in-house guitar player ever since.

What would you say if the Chargers asked you to play for them as well?

Nita Strauss: See, I’m from L.A. The Chargers will always be San Diego’s team, even though they’re technically in L.A. now. So I would politely decline. The Rams are my team.

What was your involvement on Alice Cooper’s new album?

Nita Strauss: As the band, we got to write pretty much the whole album and performed the whole album. This is my first time actually playing on an Alice Cooper record. It was a great experience.

When was it recorded?

Nita Strauss: It was at the end of the 2021 Alice Cooper tour. … We went straight into the studio for a week and made what would become the Road album.

So it’s been in the bag for a while. Are there any surprises on it that you want to tell our readers about right now, or something you’re really proud of?

Nita Strauss: I think the biggest sort of proud moment for me is I’ve been Alice’s guitar player on stage for a long time, and he has always known that if there was a time that he wanted me to step up in the studio, I would love to do it. Finally getting that opportunity, getting that chance to shine in a different way, to add my style and some of my playing to an Alice Cooper record—my God, it’s so legendary. This is a big deal for any guitar player to get to do this. It’s just a huge honor to get to collaborate with him in that way.

Did you do any of the lyric writing, or did you stick to guitar?

Nita Strauss: I stuck to guitar. I stayed in my lane.

You’ve also joined Demi Lovato’s touring band. Did you want to accomplish anything specific when you joined?

Nita Strauss

Nita Strauss, courtesy Ana Massard.

Nita Strauss: The main thing that I wanted to accomplish was opening up this gateway to a whole new group of fans to this guitar playing and the style of music that I love so much. … A big part of what we do as musicians is inspire the next generation to pick up a guitar and play. If you are put in this position where you can reach a whole new audience … of younger fans, and say, “Hey, it’s cool to have a live instrument. It’s cool to be up there, playing real drums, playing bass, playing keys and doing guitar solos.” Demi plays a lot of guitar in the show, and she’s a very good rhythm guitar player. For us to get to be up there and be that example for this new generation of kids that might want to step into these shoes and start playing; how can you turn down an opportunity like that?

Let’s say Demi Lovato and Alice Cooper are on tour at the same time. Who do you choose?

Nita Strauss: I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I don’t think I’m gonna have to choose anybody anytime soon. She does have a couple of shows this year that conflict with Alice dates. So somebody’s going to sub for me on those. But there hasn’t been any discussion of like, “Hey, I’m stepping away. You’re gonna have to get somebody else.”

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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