Nita Strauss is one of modern rock music's foremost guitar heroes. After spending eight years touring with Alice Cooper, she created something of a stir earlier this year when it was revealed she'd be leaving The Coop to join Demi Lovato's band, as the edgy pop star looked to embrace their lifelong love of rock, punk and metal. In an exclusive new interview, we chat to Nita about her time with Alice Cooper, her early experiences touring with Lovato and why she feels it's important to bring rock music to as big an audience as possible.
Your schedule has been crazy over the past year. How has 2022 been for you?
“It’s been good! I’ve been touring a long time, I’m used to being on the road a lot, and between touring with Alice, touring with my solo band, and now being out with Demi, I’ve just been jumping from one tour to the next and the next. I think the longest I’ve been home in 2022 until this point was four days, and now I’m here for five days so this is a record. It’s wild but it’s good. After 2020 I will take all the days on the road that I can get!”
How does being out on the road so much affect your mental health? Do you struggle with things like exhaustion?
“Oh, I definitely get tired. It’s funny because, like I said, I’ve been touring since I was fifteen and I’m thirty-five now so it’s been twenty years and I think I’m more comfortable on the road than off at this point. I’m just in my routine: I wake up, I work out, I take my vitamins. My boyfriend came out to visit on the last week of the Alice tour and he saw me get into the hotel and lay out my vitamins and get out my stuff. He was like ‘You’re more comfortable on tour than off tour, huh?’ and I was like ‘I think I am!’”
Last month you announced your departure from Alice Cooper’s band. What was it like getting to tour with him?
“It’s an interesting thing that everyone’s picked up saying it’s a ‘departure’ but I don’t feel, necessarily, that I left. I took a step back and I’m stepping back from this upcoming tour but I don’t think anyone has ever used the word quitting or leaving outside of other people. When I had my last few shows with Alice, we had what Alice called a ‘Hiatus Dinner’ where he said ‘We wish you the best, we love you, you’re welcome back’. There’s no shutting of a door and changing of the guard, it’s just I’m taking a step back a little bit. Depending on what the schedule looks like next year, I may have the chance to come back, I may not. But it definitely doesn’t feel as final to me and to the people in Alice’s band and the inner circle as it has been portrayed out in the world.”
So even though it’s potentially not over yet, what was your time with him like?
“He’s the best. Alice and his wife Sheryl and his manager Shep, we’re a family. We’ve spent more of the last eight years together than we did with our flesh and blood families. So we just absolutely love, adore and respect each other, it’s a great place to be and if it is my last time there, anybody who steps into that role is super lucky.”
What have you learned from being out on the road, playing shows of that scale and recording with Alice?
“The biggest thing I took away from that time with Alice is his consummate professionalism. Alice Cooper is Alice Cooper all the time. He’s been a mega-star for more than half a century. Hardly anyone else can actually say that: that they have been famous for over fifty years. And he never has a bad show, he never has an off day, he’s always kind and generous with fans, he’s always a total pro on stage. Everyone has bad days but in eight years I never really saw him have one. I’d like to be able to say that I’ve never had a bad day like that.”
And playing the shows. Did you pick up on anything from performing with him day in and day out?
“I remember my first rehearsal with Alice, it was very ‘Should I stay forward or should I stay back? Should I take the spotlight or defer to him?’ and Alice’s words to me were ‘When it’s your turn to solo, you are Alice Cooper’. And I learned very well over those years when to step into the spotlight and when to step back. And all of the band members are masters of that. Everybody knows when it’s their time to show off and make their mark and when it’s time to let Alice be Alice. And I think that’s something really valuable that any musician can take with them in any gig.”
How did you end up on Demi Lovato’s radar?
"So I actually got a text from Demi’s musical director when I was on the road with my solo band on the Black Label Society tour, and essentially what it said was what we all know now: Demi is a huge rock and metal fan. And Demi wants to go back to her routes and wants to put together an all-female rock band. She’s really one of the biggest stars in the world and she wants to take a step into our genre and this style of music that we love so much. When you get that text, that somebody wants to bring that type of music to the forefront, how do you say no? How do you turn down this opportunity to bring this style of music to so many more people? So I was thrilled to hear about it and I jumped at the opportunity.
This was all way back in May. It’s been in the works for a really long time. I’ve seen a lot of stuff out there saying, ‘She jumped ship really fast’. There was nothing that happened fast, I think people just found out about it all at once. First and foremost, I went to Alice and Sheryl for their blessing which they were so happy to give. Then I went to Alice’s management and started rehearsal with Demi. I did my first TV appearance with Demi, I believe it was three days after the last Alice show, so it was really out of the frying pan and into the fire. But her team has been really fun to work with, the band is incredible, the musical director, Demi herself, it’s just been a really good experience overall."
You mentioned that Demi wants to put together an all-female band, but what do you bring to the table as Nita Strauss?
"I think that every great rock front person needs a sidekick. And I think I have been a good sidekick to Alice Cooper over the past several years. But it’s a fun role to step into. Axl Rose needs a Slash, and that is sort of where I feel I fit into this. There is so much time in the new tour for that moment to happen where the rock star and the rock guitar player can be there together. It’s fun filling that role in a different capacity and the band is so good. The all-female band that Demi has on the road is so freaking good so it’s a pleasure to play with them and bring these songs to life."
When you got the Demi Lovato offer, was it an easy decision to leave the Cooper party?
"I think any decision like that is difficult, of course. Not just in terms of ‘What are people gonna think?', because that’s always something in the forefront of your mind, but it’s just such a great…like I said, we're a family in the Alice camp, we love each other. So it was hard just thinking about it, y’know? This is the kind of band where if we’re off the road for a couple of weeks we text each other saying we miss each other. So it was definitely hard to step away but at the same time, it was a long time playing with the band. I’ve been in the band eight years and even his manager said when I called him to tell him about it, ‘We were wondering how long we were gonna be able to keep you’. So it was definitely a difficult decision but I think overall as an artist you’ve got to do different stuff once in a while, you’ve got to challenge yourself and grow and change. I’m so grateful for the time that I had playing with Alice and if that time comes back again, I’ll be so grateful to go back and play with them some more. And for right now I’m just excited to be where I’m at."
Do you have any favourite memories with Alice?
"Oh my gosh, so many. If I was gonna pick one, it might be my first Alice show, actually. I remember growing up and playing in cover bands and I was in a band that used to cover Poison by Alice Cooper. And I remember the first show I played with Alice. It was just a little warm up show in a small town in Michigan. Manistee, Michigan. I remember we started the intro to Poison and I played the same notes I’d been playing for so many years in a cover band and then I looked over and it was like that movie ‘Rockstar’ where I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m just a regular person who grew up with pictures of these guys on my walls and now I’m one of them’. And to play the song the same way that I’ve always been playing it but to stand up and see Alice Cooper standing there, definitely was one of the most powerful moments of that whole time.
It’s different in some regards touring with Demi but there’s no less star power. What’s it been like performing with Demi so far?
It’s definitely been different but good different. It’s good to do different things. Demi’s fans are absolutely rabid. And I mean rabid in the best possible way. It is wild, I put up a video of the first show that we did when I was doing a guitar solo, sort of back to back power stance with Demi, and the screaming and cheering from fans is something I’ve never heard before. I’ve never heard a reaction like that at a rock or metal show. People are like, ‘Yeah, guitar, cool’. That’s what it is. But to hear this audience, possibly a lot of them being exposed to that guitar solo, or seeing it in the context of [the live environment], for the first time, it’s just so exciting and cool. It’s been amazing to step into this world and have Demi’s fans be so wonderful and so supportive. Look, they’re dealing with a change as well, Demi was making pop music and is now playing pop-punk, hard rock, more edgy music. They could have easily turned their backs on her and said, ‘Nope, we only want pop and we’re not gonna follow you down this new path’. I haven’t seen anyone do that. The comments from fans have been wildly supportive."
Do you think you’ll do any writing with Demi?
"I hope so! The new album just came out. Demi’s new album just came out so obviously that ship has sailed but the next time she’s working on something, hopefully it would be great if the whole band got to do it. I would definitely love that chance. "
What’s the rest of your year looking like?
"So I leave for South America with Demi in four days. Then we come back and regroup for another four days before going on the US tour with Demi which will wrap up, I think, the second week of November, where we will probably look at booking some solo stuff just to finish off the year. Who needs to be home? Haha! I can sit and play guitar at home, or I can sit and play guitar in a hotel room or on a stage somewhere, or I’ll do it somewhere else."
Do you get much time to write solo material on the road?
"I do but not as much as I’d like. I keep my tour schedule pretty busy doing clinics, meet and greets, and all that kind of stuff. I wrote a good bit of [Nita's 2018 album] Controlled Chaos while on the road for sure.
It will be interesting to see if your fan base changes when this new group of Demi fans become exposed to you.
"I think it will. I’m already seeing it in the past couple of weeks on social media. I’ve seen a shift in demographic and the vibe and it will be really cool. I remember being a young guitar player and seeing videos of Jennifer Batten playing with Michael Jackson and going, ‘Oh my god, this is so cool’. There’s this badass, beautiful blonde strutting on the stage, whipping her hair, shredding her face off, and playing stuff that any guy would be lucky to go out and play with Jennifer’s incredible showmanship and impeccable technique. If I could give that experience with this next generation of fans, that will then go ‘Hey I want to go out and play guitar. I want to get a guitar for Christmas instead of a video game console’, then hopefully inspire that next generation of girls who hopefully will pick up the guitar and carry the torch. That’s what it’s all about in the end."
It’s bound to happen. Especially with Demi also rocking the guitar as well.
"Yeah! Demi’s crushing it. Sophie Lloyd is out with Machine Gun Kelly. There are so many girls coming up into this position, I don’t see how it can’t spark this next wave of great guitar players. Females, males, anyone that wants to pick up a guitar and play that might not have otherwise been inspired to, I’m excited to reach that audience."
You just need to see somebody you recognise yourself in.
"Oh, absolutely. I read an article that said Taylor Swift was the most influential guitar player of that year, or something like that because she had inspired so many of her young fans to pick up a guitar and play. And as a rock fan you go, ‘Ugh, Taylor Swift’, but how exciting that she’s doing that! How cool that Taylor Swift, who reaches an audience that metal bands will never really reach on their own, can find this younger crowd who go, ‘Hey I wanna do that!’. That becomes a gateway to something like Green Day which gives way to something heavier and heavier. Or it doesn’t and they stay playing pop punk and that’s great! The beauty of it is that music is for everyone and they can stay doing what they want."
Nita Strauss is currently on tour with Demi Lovato. Her new solo track, Summer Storm, arrives on August 30