When Demi Lovato debuted her fresh, hard, alt-rocking material on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” earlier this summer, the blonde guitarist headbanging alongside the vocalist tore into her six strings as if they owed her money. That was Nita Strauss, the Los Angeles-based guitarist whose crunching chords and pummeling rhythmic interplay lift the rocking arrangements and curt, hurt lyrics of Lovato’s “Holy Fvck” tracks to another level in a live setting.
“Once the sonic journey that my latest album, ‘Holy Fvck,’ takes listeners on became clear,” Lovato tells Variety via email, “I knew I wanted to bring in a band for the ‘Holy Fvck Tour’ that is not just very skilled at live instruments, but also know how to have a good time on stage, and are performers in their own right.
”Nita fit that description and more – we have so much fun rocking out in rehearsals and on stage. My band also happens to be all-female, which is empowering to me. Working alongside Nita has helped me rebuild my skills on the guitar and she’s definitely someone who I learn from each day. I admire Nita for being such a bad-ass rock guitarist in a male-dominated field.”
Strauss had become that “bad-ass” as part of shock-rock avatar Alice Cooper’s live band from 2014 until July 2022 before her current tour of duty with Demi. Strauss also has a solo career of cranked-up releases, including a new instrumental track, “Summer Storm,” a shredder with nearly 600,000 YouTube views since its late August release. Her previous solo single, “Dead Inside” from January 2022, made her the first female rock solo artist in 32 years to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.
Though she’s pleased to tour with both classic rockers (Alice) and pop giants such as Lovato (at least until November this year), Strauss has her eyes on the prize of solo stardom with an upcoming album featuring name-above-the-title metal vocalists.
“I’m really excited about my next chapter,” says Strauss from Brazil while on tour with Lovato, just one day before the ensemble’s “Rock in Rio” showcase. “That’s everything from working with Demi to my new solo album.”
Plus, Strauss plays guitar at SoFi Stadium for the Los Angeles Rams during football season to push the local crowds to full froth, and has a 2022 Super Bowl team ring for the privilege. “That’s the coolest – I was born five miles from SoFi, so to be at the stadium for every single home game, be a part of the live energy, be there for the championship season and get the ring… that’s surreal.”
On the subject of Lovato’s new sound, of which Strauss is a major part, the guitarist calls the acceptance from fans known as Lovatics “unbelievable.”
“Obviously, it’s a huge departure from what Demi did before,” Strauss continues. “To see her fans embrace it with open arms, in a country where few speak English, is phenomenal to see. They’re even screaming the words to the new songs along with Demi, and the record is just out.”
Nita played drums and bass as an Angeleno kid before coming to the guitar. “Once I got there, to the guitar, it clicked,” she says. “It was as if, ‘how come it took me this long to find you.’”
Once Strauss got to the guitar, it was rough-edged heavy metal that immediately became her mien, playing as she did with deathcore bands, an all-female Iron Maiden tribute act, the Iron Maidens, and her own tangy metal outfit, Femme Fatale.
“Once I became known as a hard guitar player, I won entrée into the mainstream side of rock with artists such as Alice Cooper,” she says.
“He’s the best,” says Strauss of hooking up with Alice while Cooper was on the bill of Motley Crue’s last tour. Recommended by Cooper’s one-time band member Kip Winger, and in replacement of nimble-fingered guitarist Orianthi, Strauss auditioned for Cooper, his legendary manager Shep Gordon and producer Bob Ezrin in a lengthy tryout process. “It’s been an amazing eight years together, and probably, hopefully not the end of my relationship with Alice,” she says.
“There’s no closing of the door with Alice from all of our conversations. The main thing that I’ve taken away from Alice is the art of letting their songs breathe. My own music can be chaotic. That’s part of my personality. Over the years of working with Alice, and writers who know more about crafting a song’s dynamics than I do, I learned the art of knowing when to step forward and when to step back.”
When asked what she contributed to Alice Cooper’s usually wild and theatrical stage show of guillotines and nooses, Strauss says that she added a shot of adrenaline. “It didn’t need it, though. Alice’s show is pretty high-energy. I just gave it that ‘Nita flair.’”
That “Nita flair” was exactly what Lovato was looking for when putting together a band to suit the edges of her “Holy Fvck” material, and Strauss jumped at the opportunity to help make that happen. “Who wouldn’t want to play with one of the biggest pop stars in the world who wants to bring this style of music — this hard music that we love — to a massive mainstream audience,” says Strauss. “What a no-brainer of an idea.”
Soon after she finished Alice Cooper’s European tour in July, Strauss flew to Los Angeles for the first studio appearance of “Holy Fvck” material for Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night showcase in July. “The energy and personality between Demi and the band that you witnessed on that Kimmel appearance has multiplied. Tripled.”
Was this sort of move, from classic metal into the pop mainstream, something that Strauss was looking to do and expand into?
“I wasn’t actively looking, but it’s definitely something that’s been on my radar,” she says. “In earlier interviews, I told people I wanted to tour with Metallica, first, then Pink. I wanted to play with someone who could carry hard rock guitar into the mainstream. It’s been a different ballgame with Demi, but an artist has to take risks or you stagnate. Plus, ‘Summer Storm’ has definitely gotten a wealth of fans and YouTube views since I’ve been on the tour from all these Demi fan accounts.”
Was Strauss prepared for metalhead fans who flooded her social media and web page comment sections with hater attitude?
“I think no matter what you do, wherever there is change, there’s bound to be some backlash,” she says. “It definitely hasn’t all been easy – I even recognize some people, longtime fans that I’ve met tons of times and always had lovely interactions with, taken tons of photos with over the years, etc., now in the comments section calling me names. So that part is hurtful. But at the same time, as an artist you have to always grow and change and when things change, you can’t please everyone.”
Besides, there will be plenty of headbanging, and maybe some pop, on her next solo album.
Regarding her own solo work, which includes albums such as “Controlled Chaos,” Strauss calls herself an “emotional” songwriter.
“Especially when you’re crafting instrumental music, you have to let your story come through effusively,” says the guitarist-composer. “I want people with no connection to the six-string to feel that song, to know what it’s about, emotionally.”
Her guitar’s prowess, passion and temperament is reminiscent of axe-slinging legend Jeff Beck at his most incendiary and feeling-filled. They don’t make hard guitar instrumentals like “Eruption” by Van Halen anymore. With singles such as “Summer Storm,” Strauss is looking to change that dynamic. “All of my heroes — Steve Vai, Joe Satriani — were guitar instrumentalists. I’m not a singer and don’t work with singers. When it came to writing my own work, I wanted to do it in my voice, my own language. The guitar is my voice.”
With the release of “Summer Storm” and after the Lovato tour, the next thing for Strauss to be excited about is her newest solo album. Presently untitled, the upcoming album’s new songs were written by Strauss to portray growth on all sides of the ledger, as a guitarist and as a songwriter. “My last album, ‘Controlled Chaos,’ was exactly that, chaotic. Crowded. A kicking-and-screaming tantrum of guitars. On that first album, I produced, engineered and did everything and wouldn’t let anyone else in on making the songs. On this new album, I’ve let go of the reins, let others who know better into the process, and it will be the first time that I’ve made room for guest vocalists. ‘Dead Inside’ was my first time making music with a vocalist, Disturbed’s David Draiman, and it was a real accomplishment for me, personally, to see it take off as it did.”
Strauss counts off at least six additional guest vocalists on her upcoming solo album without naming names to be part of that album’s mix. “There will be people on the album that you know and love, a real blend of legacy vocalists, new blood and a good mix of women and men singers. It means a lot, and we’re really taking great pains to perfect it.”