A chat with America’s most in-demand guitar virtuoso
“I always write from a really emotional place, so the songs that I write all tell their own stories, whether it’s [about] a different time in my life or some emotion I was feeling,” says guitar virtuoso Nita Strauss.
So, as she wrote the songs for her latest solo album, The Call of the Void (set for release on July 7 via Sumerian Records), “Really it was just about making sure those that songs are true to life and tell the story and don’t ever get caught up in, ‘This is just a bunch of notes.’”
The album’s life-affirming theme, she says, emerged out of a concept that has captivated her for years. “’The call of the void’ is also called ‘high place phenomenon,’ and it’s that feeling that you get sometimes if you’re standing at the top of a tall building and you look down and you’re like, ‘I wonder what would happen if I just jumped?’
“It’s not like I want to end it all – it’s not a suicidal impulse,” she quickly adds. “It’s just this fleeting thought of, ‘I wonder what would happen if…?’ And every time that you have this fleeting thought but you don’t actually do it, you are subconsciously reaffirming your desire to live. I thought it was a really appropriate way to illustrate what this [solo career] process has felt like for me, because a lot of this new part of my journey has felt like standing at the top of a very tall building looking down with that knot in your stomach. So it just felt like the right title.”
It’s understandable that Strauss would feel a mix of exhilaration and apprehension as she releases The Call of the Void – after all, this is only the second time she has released a solo album (her debut, Controlled Chaos, came out in 2018). For most of the past 20 years, she has worked as a highly adaptable guitarist, playing in bands for shock rocker Alice Cooper, pop star Demi Lovato and many more.
“The art of the hired gun gig is to be able to take that personality of yourself as an artist and morph it, so you’re still playing like yourself but it’s in the context of whatever the gig is,” Strauss says. “And whatever the gig is, you have to make sure you’re playing for that show and that crowd.”
All that diverse experience has helped her improve her own songwriting: “Playing these much more straightforward rock songs with Alice Cooper, or more poppier rock songs with Demi Lovato, it gives me a really good sense of song structure and what makes a song work,” she says. “So I think in that way, once you’ve been playing these songs onstage for so long, you absorb the characteristics and learn to use them in your own work.
“I think the songwriting on this [album] is a lot more mature,” she continues. “My first record as a solo artist, I didn’t really know what I was doing at all. I had music that I wanted to get out, and it came from a very, very emotional place. If you listen to the record, it’s a temper tantrum of an album! This time was definitely a lot more well thought out.”
She’s still open to others’ contributions, though, as she proves with the impressive list of guest musicians she assembled for The Call of the Void: Alice Cooper, Lzzy Hale, David Draiman, Anders Fridén, Marty Friedman and Chris Motionless, among others, contributed their talents to various tracks.
“I have had such a great opportunity to meet and work with so many incredible musicians and artists over the course of my career, so it really boiled down to just wanting to get a really broad mix of people,” she says of the collaborators she chose this time. “I think we got a really, really good mix of people. We got to showcase some incredible new talent, and also got to have some incredible legacy artists.”
Despite enjoying playing with others, though, she also chose to include several instrumentals on the album, “because that’s sort of the core of who I am as an artist. An instrumental song has no rules. You can write whatever you want, in whatever key you want. You’re not really worried about a vocalist’s range or if it will be appropriate for radio. If you just want to write a fifteen minute opus of emotional playing, you can.”
Strauss started learning the diverse skills she would need as a professional musician at a very early age because her father was a touring musician, and her mother was very supportive of his career. When she began showing an interest in following that career path, both of her parents strongly encouraged her.
“I was a shy kid; I didn’t have an easy time making friends,” she says, “and when I started playing guitar, I realized that that was a way that I could communicate and interact with people without having to overcome this crippling shyness that I had as a kid. It let me step into a character and be someone else and perform on stage. So that was the first thing that made me fall in love with it.”
By her mid-teens, she was playing professionally around Los Angeles, her hometown – though she admits it took her a little while to find her own distinctive style: “Every guitar player starts out sounding like the guitar players they like, and gradually the musician you become is an amalgam of your creativity and your influences.”
VIDEO: Nita Strauss feat. Chris Motionless “Digital Bullets”
In her case, that meant mainly emulating hard rock guitarists. “I have been drawn to heavy music ever since I first heard it,” she says. “I remember very distinctly the first time I ever heard a metal song. It was a Megadeth song, and I was absolutely floored by the sound of the drums and the guitars. I was hooked. I went to music stores and discovered Metallica and Slayer and just fell in love with the [metal] genre.”
With The Call of the Void, Strauss is making her own impressive contribution to that genre – and she’ll celebrate its release with several headlining solo shows with her own band throughout this summer. After that, she’ll hit the road with Alice Cooper once again.
Regardless of whether she’s showcasing her work as a solo artist or performing alongside legendary musicians, Strauss says she remains infatuated with her career. “I hope that my love for playing guitar and performing comes through in what I do, and I think that’s the most important thing,” she says. “You can always tell when a band doesn’t want to be there. And I always want to be there.”