Nita Strauss is shredding her way through 2018. The member of the Femme Fatales and The Iron Maidens, best known as Alice Cooper‘s touring guitarist, has recently struck out on her own. Strauss was introduced to a new audience this year when she performed live at WWE events including at WrestleMania 34 for Shinsuke Nakamura‘s entrance and with Lzzy Halle at Evolution. Her song “Mariana Trench” was chosen by Triple H as the theme song for this weekend’s NXT TakeOver: War Games. But her most personal and exciting accomplishment this year is her first solo album, Controlled Chaos, set to be released on November 16 via Sumerian Records.
With Spandex spoke to Strauss ahead of her album release and War Games about her inspirations for her new album, her experience working with WWE so far, and more. That conversation is below and has been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: Let’s start by talking about your upcoming first solo album. I wanted to ask, why did you choose to fund the album via Kickstarter?
Nita Strauss: So the whole idea behind the Kickstarter was taking the album to the fans. You know, rather go direct to label and have them have say over every aspect of the album, you know, having them be able to dictate, “We think you should sing” and “We think you should write songs that will be played on this radio station” or whatever it is. Since it’s my first album, I wanted to do something that was just pure me, you know, just my brain child, my ideas, and my personality. And what better way to do that than take it to the fans directly and crowdfund it through them?
And the coolest thing was after the record was finished and completed, one of the labels came back to the table, one of the labels we originally went to, came back to the table, and they said, “We love what you did. We love what you’re doing. We don’t want to change anything. We just want to help you push it and promote it and get it out there best as we can.” So we really ended up with this beautiful, happy medium of making it for the fans, distributed by Sumerian, which, you know, was my dream record label anyway.
That’s awesome. Why was Sumerian your dream record label?
Well, first of all, they have so many of my favorite bands, you know, so many bands I love. All my gym playlist was all Sumerian bands, so… as a fan that was one of my top choices. But also they’re a really forward-thinking label. You know, they’re not just, “Hey, we put out the album and you’re on your own.” They have all kinds of ideas about promotion and cross-tie ins with different things and different industries and, you know, whether it’s WWE, which I have a strong passion for… They have all kinds of ideas beyond just, “You make a CD; we put the CD in stores.”
And how it is different working on a solo album than with a band?
A solo album you can be super indulgent. I think that’s the main difference. You know, with a band, you have to think about what’s best for the band, and what’s going to be the best key for the singer’s voice to sing in, and what key would be most marketable and play on the most radio stations and that kind of stuff, and with solo work you can just kind of do whatever is in your heart. There’s not really that constraint of a traditional song.
And who or what were your biggest inspirations on the album?
Well, my first hero ever was Steve Vai, and, you know, watching Steve play, I always wanted to capture that beautiful blend of technique, but still fun… That was, I would say, my main influence, to create something that, yes, is technically complex, you know, still aggressive and heavy and hard to play, but is also, like, that fun. I like to listen to it. It’s not just so overwhelmingly complex that it’s like, ugh, it’s hard to listen to.
Is it all instrumental, or are there any vocals or any notable features on the album?
It’s completely instrumental. The only thing that isn’t a complete instrumental work from my own brain was – we did the last song on the album is a cover of “The Show Must Go On” by Queen, and that’s a song I’ve been wanting to cover for a really, really long time, and just to change it up, it’s myself and Tina Guo playing on it. Tina Guo is an awesome cello player who plays on, you know, everything from video game soundtracks to the top Hollywood movies, you know, and she’s a really, really emotional, expressive player. Her cello trading off with my guitar is really, really cool.
And this year you’ve performed at a few WWE events. How did you get involved with them?
Yeah, it’s been amazing working with WWE. First, you know, the rock and wrestling connection is real. There’s so much crossover between, you know, rock fans and pro wrestling fans, and the first thing I did with WWE was WrestleMania… It’s kind of like being an NFL fan and going straight to the Super Bowl. I was a big WWE fan and I went straight to the biggest event all year, and played a wrestler named Shinsuke Nakamura’s theme music, and ever since then I’ve stayed in touch with the music team at WWE.
I played Mick Foley’s music for his 20 years of hell tour, and then just recently a couple weeks ago, Lzzy Hale and I were the surprise openers for the WWE’s first all-female pay-per-view, which, you know, Lzzy and I will both be the first to say, as women in traditionally male-dominated industries, to get to be a part of a women’s event in a seriously male-dominated industry for so many years was really a special night for us.
To go back to that WrestleMania entrance performance… I know fans of that wrestler, and of just wrestling in general thought it was really cool he got such a fitting entrance for his character. Did you interact with Shinsuke much before the show?
Yeah, we did at rehearsal… We did it once, and it was amazing doing the entrance in an empty stadium. We were in the Superdome, completely empty, we’re doing this grand entrance, and then Shinsuke said, “Okay, I want to watch it back.” He wanted to see what I was doing. He wanted to see my movements, and then he said, “Okay, can we do it one more time,” and then the second time he came out like a rock star. Headbanging, you know, whipping his hair around, kind of the same thing that I do, and then it ended up being just the coolest moment. Because Shinsuke, I think they call him “WWE’s rock star”, and, you know, for him to have a kind of rock star entrance was a very, very cool thing…
It was a really an honor, you know, to be a moment in those shows. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. It really doesn’t, and to be, you know, not the wheel of it, but a small part of the wheel that turns and makes the show cool was an amazing experience for me.
My manager Josh is a super visionary. Like, he has these ideas, these grand ideas, like, you know, even though we have no idea how it could happen, he finds a way to manifest it into reality, so he was the one that really connected the dots. He, and Mick Foley, really, were the two people who were extremely instrumental in putting this thing together… Finally, we got to the right people. We got to the music people at WWE, and as soon as we got in contact with them it was like a match made in heaven, and, you know, all of their ideas were something I think I could execute really, really well, so I hope it’s a long partnership, because I love working with WWE. And actually, they’re using one of my songs for NXT TakeOver: War Games here in LA next week, which is really exciting.
Are you going to be at that show?
I’ll be at War Games, but I won’t be at Survivor Series. I have to fly out for tour the next day, but I’m glad I get to be here for War Games.
Can you say if people might see you perform at that show also, or…
I’ll probably be the last to know. I’ll probably be the last to know if anything’s going to happen, but I will definitely be there as a spectator no matter what.
Then you have your first U.S. solo tour coming up, and do you prepare differently to tour as a solo performer rather than in a band?
Well, the pressure’s definitely on. You know, the songs are not easy, you know. I’ve spent the last five years, almost, touring with Alice Cooper, and I wouldn’t call that easy, but it’s not, you know, you’re not on 110 the whole time, and my set is really – there’s not much of a break in it, so I’ve actually been doing more cardio, trying to get my stamina up, you know, to try to get my breath ready for a sort of, like, 45 minute onslaught of music rather than the sort of drifting of a rock n’ roll set…
And there isn’t a lot, as you were saying, fully instrumental rock music is not the most mainstream right now. Was there any temptation for you not to do something that might be more mainstream?
Oh my god, yeah, I know. It’s definitely not the path of least resistance. But, um, you know, all my heroes made instrumental albums, and that’s the music that, you know, back when I started playing guitar that’s what inspired me. And I’ve played in so many bands. I’ve toured with so many bands, and I just thought, you know, if I have this opportunity, I have this prized few months off from tour, why not make an album in the style that’s always inspired me so much? Even though it’s more difficult, even though it’s not as marketable. But I really, like, I have this strong hope that people will, you know – I have a more mainstream fanbase than most instrumental guitar players. Maybe hearing my album will inspire more people to check out this style of music that I love so much, that inspired me so much.
And how did you start touring with Alice Cooper?
I started touring with Alice in 2014. He was about to start the Mötley Crüe final tour, their farewell tour, and had just lost a guitar player out of the blue, and it was actually Kip Winger of the band Winger… that first connected the dots, and… still to this day I’m so grateful that someone who didn’t even know me that well would take some time out of their day to suggest me, and I’m very, very grateful for that.
It seems like, at least in your career that people know of, you’ve pretty much always played, like, hard rock music. Did you always see yourself playing this style of music? Was this always your goal?
Oh, always. I’ve been a metalhead kid – I’m from right here in LA, born and raised in Santa Monica, I live in Hollywood now, and I’ve just been, like, so immersed in the LA rock and metal scene since all my life. But that being said, I have done so many other things because as a musician you always have to go outside your comfort zone… I’ve played everything from rock to punk to hip hop to funk, you know, anything that anybody hired me for I would play.
As an instrumentalist for hire, is there a weirdest experience that you’ve had?
There was an aspiring hip hop producer in the Valley who used to hire me for like eight-hour blocks. And I didn’t get paid much back then. I was still in my teens, probably eighteen or nineteen. But he hired me for like eight-hour blocks to come in and play little rock riffs or solo pieces over hip hop beats. So he would play a beat that he was working on for a rapper, then I would add just like guitar flavor to it here and there, so who knows, maybe some of my riffs are on some famous hip hop songs. I probably wouldn’t know!
Okay, one last question. Do you have a favorite song or a few favorite songs on your album that you’re most excited for people to hear?
Yeah, I think we went the right direction for the first single, which was “Our Most Desperate Hour.” Because that one kind of takes a snapshot of the whole record. It’s aggressive, it’s dark, but it’s got a melody, and it’s got a story to it. All the songs on the record are about something. I think that’s a really common misconception about instrumental music is it doesn’t have a story behind anything. Really, that’s not true for most instrumental musicians. In my case it’s really not true. It’s a really emotional album, and I think it will really take the listener on a journey. That one song, “Our Most Desperate Hour”, is a really good snapshot of that.
And where can people keep up with Nita Strauss?
I am @hurricanenita on Instagram and Twitter and Snap, and Nita Strauss on Facebook, and my website is constantly being updated with all my tour dates and all that fun stuff, and that’s nitastrauss.com.