When you think ancient philosophy, you might not also think heavy metal and guitar solos but the two are more connected than it may seem. At least, the two are connected when it comes to Nita Strauss: She tours the world as the lead guitarist for Alice Cooper (!) and is regularly ranked as one of the best female guitar players in the world. She also happens to be a practicing student of Stoic philosophy. As for the ancient part, if her last name doesn’t give it away, she comes from a long line of classical musicians as one of her ancestors is the renowned composer Johann Strauss II.
We got to chat with Nita about the music industry’s ego problem, why she performs with t-shirts that say “Ego Kills Talent” and “Stay Humble or Be Humbled,” how she was initially introduced to Stoicism, as well as her broader message to the Daily Stoic community. Enjoy!
At first glance the world of heavy metal and philosophy couldn’t be more apart. After all, you are the lead guitarist for rock legend Alice Cooper! How does philosophy fit in your life?
It definitely seems like a stretch, but honestly the more you look at it, you see how similar the disciplines are. Being a professional musician requires practice, dedication, and routine. It requires being able to look past the ego rush of performing on stage, the courage of stepping out there to perform in the first place, and the strength and grace to handle harsh criticism from total strangers.
You’ve said that you discovered The Obstacle Is the Way a few years ago and that it changed your life. Was that your first exposure to Stoicism and practical philosophy? Why was the book so impactful?
When I read The Obstacle is the Way, I was in a crossroads in my personal and professional life. I’ve been a touring musician since the age of fifteen, and I definitely fell into a lot of the typical pitfalls of the music industry—excess drinking, unhealthy lifestyle, and getting bogged down mentally by everyone’s opinion of me. Reading the philosophy laid out in the book… it all made so much sense to me. I must have read it cover to cover 3 times in a row. Seeing challenges in a new way and focusing on the things in my life that I COULD control was the first step toward building a happier, healthier and more productive life for myself.
One would imagine that breaking into the world of heavy metal was already difficult—so many people want to play music professionally—but breaking through a mostly male industry known for outsized egos as a woman would be even harder. Can you talk to us about how you’ve dealt with the adversity you’ve faced? How do you deal with critics and doubters?
One thing you realize quickly as a female in the music industry is that everyone has a strong opinion about you. It’s been my challenge to isolate my view of myself from anything people say about me, the good or the bad. At the end of the day, none of the criticism or the accolades changes anything real in my life. About two years ago, I stopped reading comments on news articles about me altogether. It was becoming too hard not to speak up and defend myself, and I realized if I responded in kind to every rude comment someone made about me, I’d be drowning in anger and frustration all day long. To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, every day we all meet ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. Once you see what sort of person they are, you will realize there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.
I used to love the feeling of proving people wrong, of walking out in front of an audience who expected very little of me and changing their minds. Now I find myself focused less on proving people wrong, and more on improving myself and my performance.
Which one of the Stoics is your favorite? And do you have a favorite Stoic quote you think of most often?
I don’t know if I can choose a favorite! I always find Epictetus to be very relatable.
A few quotations stand out to me: Seneca: “Non est ad astra mollis e terris via.” – “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.”
And of course, the most famous, “Memento Mori”, stands out to me in particular because of my field of work. 5 nights a week I get to go on stage and live my dream in front of thousands of people. All the band members get stopped to sign autographs and take pictures with fans on our way in and out of the venue each night. But at the end of those nights, unless our significant other happens to be visiting out on the tour, the musicians end up alone in the dark of the tour bus waiting to arrive in the next city. It’s a dark, flat reminder that the adoration and high of being on stage doesn’t last forever.
One thing philosophers and musicians do have in common is rituals and routines. Tell us about yours. When do you do you reading? How do you practice your instrument? How do you stay healthy on the road?
Routine is something I’ve found to be key in staying on track (and staying sane) when traveling 250 + days a year. I follow a pretty detailed diet and workout regimen. If I think to myself, I’ll just try to generally eat mostly healthy food and go for a run when I have time, that’s when I start to get lazy, snack on whatever junk food is around and let my workouts slide. If I get settled in a solid routine- let’s say: this week I will work out every day, I will not eat refined sugar and I will only drink one coffee or energy drink per day. I find it very easy to stay on course.
What would you say is the one philosophical principle or lesson that is least observed in your industry?
Probably the obvious answer, but it’s the well known truth that the music industry has an ego problem! Some of the musicians that preach humility are the ones most known for being prima donnas behind the scenes. It’s one reason why my favorite shirts to wear on stage say “Ego Kills Talent” and “Stay Humble or Be Humbled”, respectively… a reminder to myself, music fans and other artists that it doesn’t have to be like that.
As this interview will be read by thousands of people in the Daily Stoic community, do you have a message for them that you’d like to share? It could be a question to journal on, a philosophical practice to try, or just something to think about as they go on with their day. It is completely up to you.
Here’s something I’ve adopted in my daily life—using the principle of doing something every day, no matter how small, to work toward a higher goal. Fitness is a perfect example: every workout doesn’t have to be a 2 hour extravaganza that leaves you hurting for days, just do something to get yourself moving every single day. If you want to be a writer journal for 10 minutes every night before sleep. It can apply to any field. We use the hashtag #nodaysoff on my social media pages and I now have tons of people tagging me in their own #nodaysoff posts… and by utilizing that community and accountability it pushes us all to stay consistent.
You can check out here the t-shirts that Nita wears on stage and can use the discount code EGO for 15% off.