One of modern metal’s most respected and beloved female shredders, she is a force to be reckoned with. Nita Strauss has grown her career from the ground up, from playing with all-female Iron Maiden tribute The Iron Maidens, to classic rock legend Alice Cooper, to releasing her debut solo album, to touring the world with one of pop music’s most iconic singers Demi Lovato, and now she’s back for the attack with a new album, Call Of The Wild.
How are you?
Really good! I’m excited to finally be able to talk about this record, it’s been under wraps for a long time, so I’m very happy.
That’s awesome! I’ve been following your career since about 2015/2016 and you’ve accomplished so many amazing things since then. What do you feel has been the biggest point of growth for you in the past say 5-10 years?
I think I’ve figured out who I am as an artist a little more. I spent a lot of years conforming to one gig or another and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable integrating my own style into the gig as well as respecting the gig and doing what’s right for that.
Comparing your first album vs. this one, there are a lot more mainstream rock songs on Call Of The Wild since a little less than half the album is instrumental. I know with Controlled Chaos you wanted to create your dream instrumental album like some of your heroes have done, was the vision for this album to go more mainstream rock?
It is definitely more mainstream rock, you’re totally right. It wasn’t necessarily by design, it was more just how can I evolve, what is the next natural step in the progression. I never want to stay in the same place forever, I always like to keep taking risks and keep pushing myself as an artist and performer; to work with different vocalists, to reach a new audience… behind me I have a plaque for a number one song at rock radio which never would’ve happened with an instrumental song. It’s just been about growth more than anything.
Absolutely, that’s awesome. Call of the Wild features a ton of guest vocalists, many of whom are quite legendary, so how did you determine who you wanted to be included on this release?
I really wanted to have a good mix of legacy artists and newer artists; different generations. I wanted to cover a lot of ground stylistically. I listen to metal, I listen to active rock, so I wanted to cover the range of my influences as well. You have your Alice Cooper song, your David Draiman [Disturbed] song, then you have your Lzzy Hale [Halestorm] song and your Dorothy song and Chris Motionless [Motionless in White] and Lilith Czar. It was really cool to bridge different generations and different styles and not confine myself to one thing which is sort of what I’ve done my whole career.
I think what’s really cool too about the album is, for example, the song with Alice Cooper is very much out of the realm of the type of song Alice would normally do. It was cool to see all these vocalists do something different from what they do with their own music.
I feel like we all pushed each other a little bit, which is cool. I definitely didn’t want anybody to reinvent the wheel. I certainly wasn’t going to have Alice Cooper come in and tell him to rap or sing anything totally out of his wheelhouse, but I wanted to showcase a different side of these vocalists just as I’m showcasing a different side of what I do as well.
It seems like the metal community is very good with that; pushing each other and lifting each other up. For the songs that aren’t instrumental, did you write the lyrics yourself or did the guest vocalists co-write?
It really went song by song. Some songs I was part of the lyric writing process and some songs the vocalist really took it and ran with it. Dead Inside, for example, David Draiman took that completely instrumental track and wrote the lyrics and melodies. I got to be there in the studio while he was recording and put in my input for some note choices here and there but I take no credit for what he did. There are other songs on the record, whether I was in the studio working with co-writers or singers writing the verses or bridge, I wanted to make sure it was a collaborative effort.
Something that stood out to me about the album is the amazing production. Who was the producer on the album?
I worked with a producer named Kile Odell and also worked with some different songwriters throughout; I worked with Tommy Henriksen who is one of my Alice Cooper bandmates, and I also worked with Johnny Andrews out in Atlanta who has written some incredible songs. All of them pushed me in different ways to try different things and go out of my comfort zone stylistically.
I love that even though this is technically a ‘solo’ album, it’s still very much a team effort.
Absolutely. I couldn’t have done it alone. We saw what me producing it sounded like and I’m very proud of Controlled Chaos, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.
Fair enough, that was a one and done I guess.
One and done, yeah. After that album came out I realized I actually don’t know how to engineer drums and next time I should just let someone who knows how to do it, do it.
You live and learn.
It’s part of pushing yourself as an artist. Everything is part of the journey, not everything will be perfect the first time. I’m immensely proud of that album. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it exactly the same way, but I wouldn’t do it a second time.
If engineering drums was the biggest challenge for you with Controlled Chaos, what was the biggest challenge in making Call of the Wild?
I would say the biggest challenge was not being too emotionally attached to all the music. When you’re working with different people, the songs evolve more than they do if you’re doing everything yourself. I do get very emotionally attached to every note I choose, so when someone says ‘hey why don’t you try this instead’, depending on the day I can get deeply offended by that, which is not healthy. So I think the biggest learning experience was taking a step back from the emotional attachment and thinking about the greater good of the song.
I definitely think having an outside producer helps with that. I’ve noticed when bands produce their own album, it tends to keep that emotional attachment.
Very much so. And also it’s hard to take a step back and separate a good performance to what could be your best performance. Sometimes you play a riff 40 or 50 times before you get the take you want, and after that many takes they all start to sound the same and you don’t know what is the right take. That’s when you need a good producer or a good engineer in the room. You can’t be objective when it’s only you in there.
I totally agree. You’ve spent the past year or so touring with Demi Lovato. How did that all come about?
Demi’s musical director called me on the last day of my last solo tour, right around this time last year. Her musical director said that she was doing a hard rock album and that she wanted to put together an all-female band to take the album on the road. I immediately thought, what an amazing opportunity. How cool is it that somebody on her level wanted to take this music that I love so much, that she loves so much, to this massive audience? So for me it was a no-brainer. This was about a week before the Alice Cooper Europe tour started, so I waited to talk to him in person. I told him the offer and said ‘this is the deal; I could finish this tour but I’d miss the fall tour, what do you think?’ He was thrilled, he and his wife hugged me and said ‘we’re so excited for you, go for it. Take what we’ve taught you here and bring it to this new audience.’ The experience working with Demi and her band and crew was so great, they’re total pros. It was really really fun on a personal level, being a part of an artist growing in such an authentic way. Someone like Demi, who has been molded into one thing or another her entire career, having this fully authentic expression of self as an artist. It was just cool to be a part of in some small way. I’m looking forward to doing more shows with her and the band when they get on tour again.
That’s amazing. What was the jump from Alice Cooper’s live show to Demi’s live show like?
Not as different as you might think honestly, Demi’s show was a bit more structured in terms of the actual performance, where the Alice show is more of a free-for-all.
Probably less fear of injury with Demi…
Haha, maybe a little less, yes. Band members have their spot to be in onstage and other songs we were able to roam around and do our own thing. Stylistically, the Demi show might’ve been a bit more true to what I sound like as a guitar player because I wasn’t trying to respect the classic rock sound of these incredible Alice Cooper songs. The Demi set had more of that modern heavy flare so I was doing sweeps and tapping that I wouldn’t have thrown into the Alice set because it just wouldn’t have worked there. In terms of the actual transition, just a lot of songs to learn, that’s it.
Oh wow that’s so interesting to hear. There were quite a lot of naysayers online when you took that hiatus from Alice’s band to do the Demi tour, was that something you expected going into the announcement?
Yeah. I will say I didn’t expect it to be as dramatic as it was haha, I don’t think anybody could’ve been prepared for that. At the end of the day, I respect everybody’s opinion and I think the people that got really upset about it, who were calling names and making a big to-do, just didn’t understand the scope of what was happening. I saw people saying that I was unprofessional for leaving Alice and the band before tour with no replacement, when in reality, I gave them the news in May and I didn’t play my first show with Demi until August. Almost 4 months. I think Kane Roberts’ name first came up when we were still in the U.K., so either May or early June. The people that were actually a part of it weren’t upset about it, so I think it got blown a bit out of proportion.
At that level, those things are figured out way in advance.
Yeah exactly. I was a part of the conversation every step of the way, I talked to Kane about it, I talked to Demi about it, I talked to both camps management constantly, we all stayed in communication. There was never any drama, there was never any bad blood. I wish I could give you some great clickbait headline but it really wasn’t like that.
Oh I’m sure there were plenty of headlines when it all went public haha.
Yeah and the only real bummer to me was how much being said wasn’t true. That’s the only thing that really bothers me these days in the media is often that’s not even what I said. There was one recently where I talked about my sobriety and how healthy it was to be on tour with Demi because it was a sober tour. People were free to do whatever they wanted on their own time but there was no alcohol on the bus and there was no alcohol in the green room area, which was a really healthy environment for me because I’m around alcohol all the time. Then I read a headline about it and it said ‘Nita Strauss said it was nice being sober’ and I was like what? It still is nice haha. It makes people think that I relapsed. It’s just an eyeroll, you know?
Absolutely. A lot of people who have worked with Alice describe him as completely shifting into a character when he takes the stage. Can you talk about either your first time seeing that or a memorable time seeing that switch?
It happens right when we walk onstage and the intro track starts. We all get together before the show and put our hands in and say a few words and do our little cheer. We’ll be laughing and joking and you can look over at Coop and see the change. He goes into this character and he’s not our fun dad anymore. He becomes this larger than life personality but we still have a good time with him onstage even though he’s in character, I can still get him to laugh a little bit. That’s part of what comes with being in the band for a long time is knowing how we can bring the best out of him as his supporting band. He’s still in there even though he looks scary up there.
What is your next goal you’d like to tackle musically?
I don’t know what’s left haha. I still feel like there are mountains to climb with the solo music, I’ve done a lot of touring with my solo band. I love going on support tours and getting to bring my music to new audiences so I think that’s my next goal, to get on some more support tours.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Believe in yourself. I have a hard time believing in myself even now. I have to talk myself into believing in myself and ignoring the imposter syndrome all the time, everyday. I just saw Lzzy [Hale] talking about that recently and I’m like Lzzy motherfuckin’ Hale, the best of the best, beloved by all, the queen of rock, struggles with what we all struggle with.
Is there anything else you’d like to include?
I have a tour kicking off in June, we’ve got 3o or so solo shows across the U.S. and Canada so we’d love to see you all out there on the road.
Shannon Wilk is a Connecticut-based music industry creative; bassist and photographer. She has brought her bass guitar skills to stages all over the country in various bands, most recently The Heartless and Alice Loves Alien. Dubbed the “female Rudy Sarzo”, Shannon has a unique and captivating stage presence in addition to her distinctive playing style. Since beginning her professional career in 2019, she has made waves in both the live music scene and the digital world, playing legendary stages such as the Whisky A Go-Go and the Monsters of Rock Cruise, as well as accumulating nearly 1 million views across online platforms.At 17 years old, Shannon Wilk has become a force to be reckoned with in the rock n’ roll scene. In addition to her blossoming music career, she has continued to showcase her passion for live music through concert photography. From KISS to Foo Fighters to Evanescence to Yungblud and more, Shannon has captured rock royalty through her lens. In 2018, she launched her own publication, Rockin’ Interviews, where she has connected with beloved ‘80s heavy metal artists through her independently produced podcast.