29.10.2018

NITA STRAUSS - interview about upcoming solo album

Av Andrea Chirulescu

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Maybe like many others out there, I discovered Nita Strauss, the Los Angeles based guitarist, during one of the shows with Alice Cooper after 2014. She acted like a hurricane on stage and was certainly an impressive sight to watch on stage, both for her guitar skills and her attitude. And while she is also involved in other projects, such as We Start Wars, or Femme Fatale or The Iron Maidens, plus having a multitude of guitar clinics and appearances in the media, she still found the time to put together a solo album ("Controlled Chaos" - out November 16th) that recently ended in my inbox. I got to give it a few spins and it's really pleasant audition, especially that it ends in such a fantastic styles with Queen's The Show Must Go On. So I was more than happy to be given the opportunity to ask Nita some questions about her album and a bit og not so album related stuff. The chat transcription can be read below and if you enjoy it, I highly recommend looking out for her album when it gets released and maybe even attending her shows if she plays in your area.

Me: Thanks for taking the time to do this. Congratulations with the solo album. How did it feel to finally have it finished?
N.S.: Thank you. Oh my gosh, it was an amazing experience learning on a solo record, I've learned so much and I'm so proud of how it has turned out, but I couldn't be happier that it is over.

Me: When did you actually start the whole concept around this album?
N.S.: I started the first song actually at the end of 2016, with 'Pandemonium' which was sort of my experiment to see how it would be with my own exclusive instrumental world, to see if it's something I could do as until then I've always been in a band. I didn't know if this world was something that I was ready for but at the end of 2016 is when I realized that it's not only that I am ready, but this instrumental music is something I am very passionate about. So that's when the real concept began. The recording took place this year though, in 2018.

Me: And the time in between meant composing?
N.S.: The majority of the composing was also done this year, but big parts were also done during the the Alice Cooper tours, whenever I had a day off, I'd setup my ProTools station at the desk in a hotel and I would work and write in between my other jobs - meaning playing concerts, doing guitar sessions or guest solos.

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Photo by Sue Hebert

Me: So it wasn't like a fixed process, like you're sitting down and say 'Now I'm writing for this album and nothing else'
N.S.: It was a very organic process, and it was done whenever time allowed.
Me: Were you ever on the edge of giving up?
N.S.: Never. One thing about me is that I'm very stubborn so once I decide to do something there's not much chance that I won't see it through. There were days when I was very tired, very frustrated, but it never crossed my mind to give up.
Me: That's awesome to hear. But did you face any big obstacles, that you didn't know you could expect when you started this process?
N.S.: I think the greatest obstacle every musician faces is the reality that you don't know everything.
Me: You don't??
N.S.: Apparently not. Every musician likes to think that we have all the answers and can handle every job. The reality is that sometimes you need to bring in an expert that knows what to do. So these were big obstacles, but in the end it came out for the best.

Me: That's awesome. Which musicians did you end up collaborating with or having them help with other instruments?
N.S.: My boyfriend Josh who played the drums. Katt Scarlett on keys, she also plays in my band We Start Wars and in Femme Fatale, actually any bands I can have her in I'd bring her along. Another guest musician is Tina Guo, a cello player on the last song 'The Show Must Go On'.
Me: How did you end up with this choice?
N.S.: The song?
Me: Actually both, the song and the cello player
N.S.: The Queen song has always been a special one for me, especially considering how many times I had being tired, without sleep, or sad, or emotional but I had to put these aside and do the show, no matter how I felt. And that's why the song and its message is very personal and important for me. So I thought it would sound really wonderful instrumentally. But I wanted to add some extra elements to the song, nut just a single guitar and that's when I decided to bring in a cello player. Tina is such an incredibly passionate player, amazingly articulate on the cello. She plays on big movie soundtracks and it's really an honor to have her on the record.

Me: Did the musicians you mentioned get to write any parts themselves or was it you composing everything and they just played what you asked them to?
N.S.: It was a bit of both. I always have a general idea of what I think would sound great, but the musicians that I collaborate with are so amazing that I trusted them to give them my ideas and tell them to make it better, and that's exactly what they did.
Me: Good to work with people who can do things better.
N.S.: I'm very lucky, indeed
Me: What's your favorite song at the moment? What's your main pick from the album?
N.S.: I love the single that we put out, 'Our Most Desperate Hour'. I chose that one for a single because it's a working representation of me, on the record. The whole album is sort of a cross section of my personality. You've got happy, you've got dark, you got aggressive, bright, joyful, sadness, and I think this song kinda encompasses all these emotions and these feelings. It's aggressive, but it's fun, it's heavy, but it has a nice musicality to it, so it's probably my favorite song at the moment.
 
 
Me: I guess these are emotions that you see yourself in the songs that you are making. But do you happen to encounter people telling you about completely different emotions that you triggered without expecting that you would go there?
N.S.: I'm not sure if I did. Usually each song is written with this specific feeling in mind. So I think emotions end up coming through more clearly rather than to surprise me. I was actually surprised myself that I was able to convey the emotions that I wanted to and as clear as I was able to. With no words, sometimes you don't what people would understand so I'm really glad that it seems like I was able to get the emotion of the song across.

Me: What inspired the song titles in this case?
N.S.: Each one has got such a specific message, that really if someone was to write words - I just don't do that myself - and would tell the story of the song and the emotions attached to it, the song would have the same title as if it had those lyrics.

Me: Fair enough. I'm personally not a guitar player, so when I listen to music I do it from the feeling point of view and not from the technical one. I am wondering if you, evolving in your technique along all these years, did you change the way you listen to music? Did you become more critical or you can still enjoy it the same way?
N.S.: I think I got a bit more critical. But actually the thing that I got more critical of was the emotion of the song. These days if I hear a song that sounds too perfect, too machine like, too perfectly engineered, perfectly fixed, perfectly tuned, to me this takes away from the emotion of the song. I prefer something more raw and more emotional. You can of course still have technique, but keep it real. You don't have to have so much technique that you sound like a machine.
 
Me: Interesting. You said in the beginning that you learned a lot while making this solo record, may I ask for some of the lessons learned?
N.S.: Like I said, the main thing that I learned was that I had more to learn. I learned about recording drums and cymbals, and how to properly put up a room for recording drums. I learned the difference between what's done in mixing and what's done in mastering. All these different frequencies, and sounds, there's so many subtle nuances of the recording process, that I thought I knew but it turned out there's so much more I still had to learn.
Me: So performing live cannot, by any mean, prepare you for recording an album
N.S.: Definitely not. Just as well as recording an album cannot prepare you for playing live.
 
Me: True, never thought about the other way around. Would you go through the process again? Like if someone would ask you to do it again tomorrow, would you be ready?
N.S.: I definitely need a break now. But I will for sure do it again if I make another record in 2020. 2019 is full of tours, so maybe 2020 is a good time for another record.
Me: So there's touring plans for this album promotion in particular?
N.S.: Sure. The first tour begins November 19th in the United States. Then for 2019 I have plans with Alice Cooper for 3 continents. So it will certainly be an extensive touring cycle. And as soon as that schedule is finalized there, I can plan my solo tour to perform the record.
Me: But will you try to tour with the same people that you recorded with?
N.S.: It will surely be Josh on drums, for two main reasons. One, because he's an absolutely amazing drummer and number two, it would actually be nice to go on tour with my boyfriend. It is a luxury that I don't usually have so it would be really amazing.
 
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Me: I see you stay very much in touch with the fans, you take your time to reply to messages or to initiate discussions yourself. But it is obvsious you are really busy with all the projects and the appearances you have to make, touring, practising - I guess you have to do it every now and then. Where do you find your energy and motivation to do all these?
N.S.: I am tired all the time. I really am...
Me: What kicks your ass to get over the tiredness? Or how many horus does your day have?
N.S.: Too many. Anytime that I feel really tired and I wanna give in, I think about the opposite and image that I'd make an album and no one cared. And no one would want to talk about my work, ask questions so when I look at it from that perspective I realize how lucky I am to have these amazing fans that care, that write comments and ask me questions. It happens that I am asked the same question like fifty times, but you know what, it's better than to be asked zero times.
 
Me: I guess when you started playing the guitar, this was not available and you had wished to ask questions to your favorite artists. So it's very nice of you to do so, it probably gives and means a lot to the young guitarists
N.S.: Of course! And I think so too. I think of myself as young musician and how it would have been to have the opportunity to communicate directly to my heroes back then. And now on social medias people have the opportunity to get in touch with whoever they want. And they get to say to your face if you're good, you suck, you're amazing, you're pretty, I like your hair better in a different style. People have the freedom to express their opinion to everyone you want and whenever you want.
 
Me: Does it happen that you receive any hatred messages as well?
N.S.: There surely are, but I don't use any messenger for that reason, nor do I allow private message for the same reason. Because people will take the opportunity to say nasty things since there's no repercussion. I also try not to read the comments on anything by my own accounts. I'd read what's on my facebook or Instagram, but I wouldn't go on youtube or blabbermouth or something, I just don't even read. It's better that way.
 
Me: I guess it's a healthy approach for you. You need to keep your sanity.
N.S.: Totally. I can't sit there and use all my time reading how some think you're too tall, some that you're too short, too fat, too thin, some that guitar playing is only for men, some only for women, guitar playing is only for certain people and so on. It's just too many opinions that don't make any difference in my life.
 
Me: You mentioned your young self earlier. If you were given a chance to go back to that young self, and give a piece of advice, what would it be?
N.S.: I think my words to my younger self would be 'It's gonna be ok. It's all gonna work out'. As a young guitar player, I've been touring from the age of 15 and I spent many years really hungry and tired and hot in the summer and cold in the winter and pursuing those crazy dreams and I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self 'Hey, it's gonna be fine. It's all gonna work out'.
Me: So I take it it's fine now
N.S.: It's fine now, I wish I could sleep a little bit more but it's fine.
 
Me: I see you're posting about your guitar acquisition or signature guitar and how proud you seem to be of them. Which ones of your guitars have actually made it on your album?
N.S.: Actually I recorded the whole album with my signature guitar, the JIVA. I designed my gutiar with the intention of if you'd have to have just one guitar to do many different sounds, I wanted it to be that guitar, rather than this one is my shredding guitar, this one is my rhythm guitar and so on. I wanted to make one guitar that could do all the different jobs. And when I made my album, I thought what a better way to test that than to record my album using the guitar that I've designed. And that's what I did. Besides the acoustic, all the other sounds are recorded with the JIVA.
 
Me: Does it happen that you hear people covering your solos or song parts, and then you go like 'Wow, this is really good' and it inspires you to change something in the way you play that part?
N.S.: I haven't heard many people covering my songs. I think I've only seen one guy covering the ending part of 'Pandemonium'. But I would love to see it. So if anyone does ever cover my songs, I hope they tag me cause I'd so love to see it, it would make me so happy to hear people playing the notes that I love.
Me: Hopefully it will come. Many thanks for your time and lots of luck with the coming work.
N.S.: Thank you so much!
 


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