For years, Strauss has cited Vai as the reason she decided to pick up the guitar in the first place, so getting the chance to contribute an instrumental track to the project was a dream come true.
Strauss’ “Pandemonium”—which you can hear below—is a perpetual burn that showcases Strauss’ infectious style of playing while taking the listener on an extended, hook-laden journey of speed and dynamics.
In addition to the new track, Strauss is gearing up for an Alice Cooper/Deep Purple tour that'll kick off in August. I recently spoke with her about “Pandemonium," the upcoming tour, her gear and more.
How did you become involved in the She Rocks project, and what was it like meeting Steve Vai?
It was the most surreal thing. As most people know, I started playing guitar after seeing Steve's scene in Crossroads. He’s always been my biggest inspiration. But I had never met him until last year, and one of the first things he asked me was if anyone had talked to me about the compilation album he was putting together with [former Guitar World editor-in-chief] Brad Tolinski and Laura Whitmore. I told him I hadn’t, and the next thing I knew, I had gotten an email from Brad.
I wrote and recorded “Pandemonium” in a single evening. My boyfriend, Josh Villalta, played drums and Katt Scarlett played keys. It really came together organically in a very cool way.
How would you describe “Pandemonium”?
I think by the title. It’s a self-explaining name. I’ve never actually said what the song is about but I really wanted to take people on a journey. An instrumental song doesn’t have any lyrics, but it tells a story, and it could be about anything. I love to hear what journey it takes people on.
What’s your writing process like?
It’s always different. Usually I’ll come up with a riff or a lick or solo and then build on it. I really like programming drums and have found that a big part of my creative process is building core drum parts for me to get inspired by and play over.
Is writing an instrumental track something you'd always wanted to do?
It’s something that’s been on my bucket list. All of my heroes are instrumental guys, guys like Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. I never thought I was the caliber of player to put out a song that was just guitar and music, but when Steve asked me if I wanted to do a song there was no question in my mind. I was going to jump at the chance.
Are you working on any other projects?
I’m starting to focus on a record that’s going to be with a singer and full band. I’ve also gotten a lot of interest about doing an instrumental solo album, so that’s something I could see being on the horizon as well.
What can you tell me about the upcoming Alice Cooper tour with Deep Purple?
We’ll be doing a lot of the same great venues we did on the Mötley Crüe tour. Since we’ve got Deep Purple and Edgar Winter, I’d have to make an educated guess and say we’ll be taking it pretty old school in the set list, which is very exciting!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from working with Alice?
From Alice specifically, it’s about being grateful for what you have. I’ve seen him interact with a lot of people over the years I’ve been with the band, and he’s always so gracious with everyone he meets. He always takes the time and is very welcoming and will listen to everyone’s story about the fist time they heard Welcome to My Nightmare. He’s genuinely happy and grateful and takes all of his fans and the people he meets very dearly. For someone who’s been in that position for as long as he has to stay so humble is very inspiring.
What’s your current live setup like?
I’ve been using the Marshall JVM 410H since June 2016. That thing just screams and it sounds so great. After nine years with Ibanez, they made me my custom model. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a guitar and more. It’s a neck-through S series with a flat, super-weathered neck and loaded up with DiMarzio Gravity Storm pickups with a True Velvet in the middle. It’s a shredding machine and is very easy to play fast. I also have my other arsenal of S series guitars that I take out as well.
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming year and beyond?
Well, there’s football in LA now [laughs]. But I’m extremely excited to get back out with Alice. This new tour is going to be a blast. We’ve got some festivals in Europe over the summer that are always really fun. Beyond that, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to write and record my own music. Working on my own stuff in a band with these super-talented musicians is a totally different feeling, and I’m really excited for that too.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.