The words “Stay Humble Or Be Humbled” have regularly adorned the front of Nita Strauss’ t-shirt. It isn’t just a mantra but a mindset to keep yourself grounded even when things are going well. And things certainly are going well for the Los Angeles native rocker…
“My boyfriend actually has a clothing brand called Beverly Kills and he’s the one that makes that shirt. I like that attitude, because I think if you’re not humble the world will find a way to make you humble.” said Strauss in an interview with Soundsphere’s Dom Smith.
It’s an impressive way of thinking for a 36-year-old that has not just rubbed shoulders with, but taken to the stage with some of the biggest names in rock and metal. Not content with a role as a touring guitarist, Strauss has struck out as a solo artist in her own right and we’re not just talking her stint in Iron Maiden all-female tribute band The Iron Maidens.
In 2018, Strauss launched her debut solo album ‘Controlled Chaos’, a title that seems at least in retrospect, to explain the nature of its production. Five years later and not only has the world changed, but so too has the professional outlook of one of the busiest guitarists in the game ahead of her sophomore release.
“If you listen to my first album which I self-produced, self-engineered, I recorded every instrument. My boyfriend played the drums and I even engineered the drums, which is terrible because I’m not an engineer and I don’t know how to engineer drums, I looked it up on YouTube and it shows!”
“I’m proud of it, I’m proud of the stomping of feet and smashing your head into the wall of making ‘Controlled Chaos’, but I think this upcoming record really shows a lot of evolution as an artist. I was really able to take a step back, take a deep breath and allow the collaborative process to happen with different outside writers, collaborators, guest vocalists, a guest guitar player and embrace that collaborative spirit. Rather than just saying this is my thing and I don’t want anybody to tell me how to do it.”
Arguably Strauss’ rise to the top came to pass when she became the legendary shock-rocker, Alice Cooper’s, touring guitarist. Far removed from the machismo and male-dominated metal scene of the eighties, Strauss became a breath of fresh air in the industry that was more than just capable of keeping up with some of the most notorious six-string slingers. It’s a narrative that Strauss has encountered since trying to break onto the scene.
“I started touring when I was 15 and it was so much less normal to be a female musician at that time. Especially touring on the road, I would get into all the cliche stuff, I go into Guitar Center and people would ask me if I’m shopping for a boyfriend or something like that,” said Strauss.
“I’d ask to take a guitar down off the wall and they would scoff at me like I wouldn’t know how to play it, so being a part of affecting that change and being a part of this. I didn’t do it alone, there were so many people that came before me and there are so many people riding this with me. But being a part of this incredible wave of female guitar players that are coming out now and changing the perception of how it is to be a woman in this industry, it’s just a great feeling.”
The aforementioned advice of staying humble is a thread throughout Soundsphere’s time with Strauss. When asked if she felt like she was leading the charge in terms of guitarists and musicians breaking into pop culture, Nita is quick to play down that particular mantle.
“I don’t think I’m leading the way necessarily. Eddie Van Halen was the first person I could think of that led the way. Famously playing with Michael Jackson doing the ‘Beat It’ solo. Again in the Michael Jackson world, you saw Jennifer Batten at the Super Bowl performing.”
“That Jennifer and Michael Jackson Super Bowl performance for me, was my moment of representation. When I saw Jennifer at the Super Bowl, and this wasn’t even live, but when I saw this charismatic beautiful blonde onstage with the biggest star in the world, just shredding and shredding so technically, so energetically, so fun?”
“That was my moment of, I can do that. I saw somebody that looks like me and I wanted to do what she’s doing. So I don’t think I was first by any means, I think I’m doing some pretty cool stuff now you know? I’m definitely doing some stuff that no one else is doing right now, but I don’t think I did the first and it’s great.”
One of those “pretty cool things” is the relationship between Strauss and her hometown NFL team the LA Rams. Besides being a lifelong fan, her professional affiliation with the Rams began at the historic L.A. Memorial Coliseum, playing “America the Beautiful” during a Salute to Service game. The next year, she performed the “Sunday Night Football” theme on her guitar.
During the pandemic, Strauss shredded to an empty SoFi stadium and continued through to the magic moment when fans packed into the gorgeous stadium in 2021/22. Her work with the team resulted in an honour afforded to very few outside the game, a Super Bowl ring. As a fan that honour or the opportunity to play for her beloved team isn’t one lost on the diehard fan.
“They’re there to watch the game, which I understand as a football fan, so I’m really only there to enhance their experience and not take their attention away from anything else. When you’ve got nothing to look at, when the team takes a time out we give you something fun to look at and then we get right out of the way. We let the action get on with the game. So just really slipping in and out of these different roles is a lot of fun.”
It’s a role that Strauss has also found herself for another of her fandoms. This time in the shape of international giants WWE. Way before Rick Boogz began playing Shinsuke Nakamura to the ring, Strauss was invited to shred along to one of the best entrance themes of all times. The stage? Only the small matter of WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans. It was one of the few times the rocker’s nerves threatened to get the better of her.
“It was fine, I was good during soundcheck, I didn’t feel any nerves. Then when it was time to walk down the ramp, I know I walked down the ramp and there was a great picture somewhere of me standing there. There’s this ring of camera people around me, still photographers and different camera operators for WWE and you know we’re in SuperDome another NFL arena for the Saints. 80,000 and change in there and millions and millions watching at home.” recalled Strauss.
“All of a sudden I was like “Oh my god!” What if I don’t know where to start? It wasn’t really even making a mistake with the song, I felt fine with the song, but what if I missed the cue? What if they don’t tell me when to go? The wheels start spinning and everything started getting weird and nobody knew I was going to be there. This is a complete surprise and I was like, what if they don’t want me here? Then out of the blackness, and I still to this day don’t know who this was, but somebody must have recognized me and on the ramp I heard this voice say, “Let’s go Nita!”
“In that moment I took a breath and this sense of calm washed over me. And I was like oh my people are here! There are rock fans here cheering for me and they’re gonna enjoy this performance. In that moment I was like, I’m gonna do this for that person. That one person that said let’s go Nita! This is them and me here now and that’s it. I don’t know who any of these other people are and so I gave it to them. And I was able to relax and lean into it.”
Her relationship with WWE wouldn’t end there, playing at NXT shows and the all-female Premium Live Event ‘Evolution’ later in the year. But does being involved in the production of such a monster production dampen someone’s passion for the show? Not according to Strauss.
“We went to Wrestlemania as fans this year, we didn’t get tickets from WWE. We literally went there as true fans, sat up in the very very high up seats and went there and truly enjoyed it as true fans. It was a spectacle and a half! Even if it didn’t end the way that I wanted it to…
It was just such an incredible experience and I love watching them. It’s almost made more special by the fact that I know some of these people now. Imagine seeing your favourite band and then you can text the guitar player afterward to say great job! How surreal is that? I go see Metallica and I could text Kirk Hammett and say great show! We don’t, I can’t do that, but I can text Becky Lynch. So just purely as a fan, it’s only enriched the experience for me working with them.”
With her own music to release, guest spots in the biggest stadiums for the biggest franchises on the biggest stages, and touring with huge artists like Alice Cooper and Demi Lovato, Strauss finds herself in a unique holding pattern.
“I had an interesting year in that Super Bowl year because I was touring a ton with Alice and then I was playing every two weeks at the Ram’s Stadium and then I finished off the year playing clubs with my solo band. So within a matter of a couple days, I was playing to 3,000 people, then 80,000 people, then 400 people, then 300,000 people, then 400 people, then 200 people, then 600 people, then 80,000 people. It’s like ping pong.
You just roll the guitar on your back, throw the pedalboard in the front pocket, and like off you go! It was a good exercise in humility. Some days there’s 80,000, some days there are 300 fans and it keeps you on your toes. It really was a good exercise for me in delivering the same show always. Delivering the same show, no matter if you’re playing to 300 people or 80,000 people. Or an Alice Cooper audience, or the Rams audience.”
Speaking of Cooper, the rocker features on the first single, ‘Winner Takes All’ from Strauss’ upcoming second album in a somewhat befitting collaboration.
“I mean, what an honour! What a supreme honour to get to present a song to Alice and have his voice on my music! It’ll be nine years this summer, nine years of the reverse. Executing Alice’s songs to fit his vision and to be able to flip the rules a little bit and present him the song and have him execute a song with my name on it? It’s just mind-blowing to me that it even happened.” said Strauss.
“Of course he’s Alice Cooper, we didn’t reinvent the wheel you know? We didn’t write him a song that was in a high key or anything he would have to be crazy on. His manager listened to it for the first time, and he was like “did he write this?”
“So just a lot of thought and care went into the process and we wanted to showcase him in the best possible light.”
Even when asking one of the biggest names in the history of her genre to feature on her solo work Strauss can’t help but adhere to the mantra of staying humble. With the rest of 2023 shaping up to be a huge year for Strauss and hopefully many more years in the business left to come, it will be a line that will become increasingly hard to stick to, but when she says it, it’s hard to believe otherwise.
“Like I was talking about bouncing between the big gigs and the small gigs, the arena tours and the club tours, stuff like that. I’m literally going to go this summer from a club tour with my band, straight onto the stadium tour with Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard.”
“So you can’t ever be too good for these opportunities, you can’t say well because I’m playing a stadium tour this year, I’m not going to go and play the club tour before that. My advice, take opportunities as they come and be grateful for them that they’re there and that will serve you better than being too good for anything.”
Nita’s new album ‘The Call of the Void’ is out July 7th via Sumerian Records.