Nita Strauss on Playing Shinsuke Nakamura’s Theme Song at Wrestlemania
Nita Strauss is one of this era's bona fide guitar heroes: for the past few years, she's been playing guitar in Alice Cooper's band, she's become the first female artist to get a signature Ibanez guitar, she recently graced the cover of Guitar Player, and she now has a regular column in Guitar World. She recently announced her upcoming solo album on Kickstarter, where she has more than tripled her fundraising goal of $20,000 in just a couple of days. (Read our interview with Nita about the album here.) Clearly her fans are seriously looking forward to hearing what she can do on her own. This past weekend, she put down her guitar for Wrestlemania weekend - for a little while, anyway: she picked it up to play the entrance theme for Shinsuke Nakamura. She covered the weekend events for Loudwire. Here's how it went:
When Loudwire asked me to cover Wrestlemania weekend for them, they didn't know the big secret: that I was actually booked to perform the theme song for WWE's rockstar import, Shinsuke Nakamura, as he entered the ring. But we'll get to that later! Let's go back to the beginning.
We started our weekend off at Axxess, which is WWE's fan convention. I'm not much of a convention person, but Axxess is on a different level. They have a ton of memorabilia and fan experiences: everything from meet-and-greets with wrestlers to a huge stage setup where you can walk out to your favorite wrestler's entrance. We saw Paul Bearer's original urn and the casket from Wrestlemania 22, we put our hands in Andre the Giant's handprints, and we even jumped into a foam pit wrestling ring.
From Axxess, we went to the Hall of Fame. This year they inducted Goldberg, Mark Henry, Hillbilly Jim, Jeff Jarrett, Ivory, and the Dudley Boyz. While it was really cool to be there, anyone who has ever watched the HOF will agree: a lot of people getting one big chance to make a long speech about whatever they want is a recipe for a long night. We didn't make it to the end.
The next day was NXT Takeover. For those not familiar with NXT, it's the developmental league where WWE sends their wrestlers to train, work, and learn their style to prepare to be added to the main roster. It's almost like college football; while it's not as polished as the NFL, it's a lot of fun to watch the younger wrestlers working their asses off to be noticed. We sat front row at Takeover and watched match after insane match. It's not often that I'm close to tears watching a wrestling storyline, but that night I was close a couple times! The first match of the night was tough to follow, a six-man ladder match heavily featuring NXT newcomer Ricochet and fan favorite Adam Cole (baybay!) A lot of people left wondering how WWE would top NXT... myself included!
Another awesome fact about NXT: they feature a ton of upcoming rock and metal bands live and on their show. Saturday's event featured a performance by Cane Hill, who were joined on their second song of the night by the always awe-inspiring Lzzy Hale to play out Ember Moon.
I escaped for half an hour in the middle of NXT's rehearsal day to tape an episode of Busted Open Radio on SiriusXM. I was actually supposed to co-host their coverage of Wrestlemania the following day, but as soon as we got the call to play with Nakamura, everything else had to go on hold for Sunday. That was a tough call to make: "Hey, I know I said I'd do this, but now I can't, and I can't tell you why. Just trust me it's important." Luckily the reason was cool enough that they were understanding in the end!
The episode we taped that Saturday was so cool: it was new Hall of Famers Mark Henry and Bubba Ray Dudley along with Tommy Dreamer and host Dave LaGreca. The Busted Open listeners are super passionate, awesome wrestling fans and getting to chat with them for a while was a blast for me.
Sunday was the big day: Wrestlemania!
We had a 12 pm call time at the Superdome. The Superdome! My die-hard Saints fan boyfriend was more excited than me when we walked through the backstage doors. After a stressful few minutes of dealing with equipment (pro-tip: don't try to bring your own wireless to a show that uses every single frequency in existence), we were ready for soundcheck.
Getting a guitarist, ten drummers, and a whole bunch of violinists to play to a track seamlessly to an 80,000 person crowd is no easy feat, especially as we only had a 15-minute run-through of the whole process. But pretty quickly, it felt natural and fun. Shinsuke is such a charismatic performer, it made it easy to feed off his energy.
Watching Mania backstage with the performers was a trip. We spent about half the time watching the monitors in the catering area, and the other half sneaking out front to feel the vibe of the crowd.
Besides performing, I thought the HUGE standout of the night was the Ronda Rousey/Kurt Angle vs HHH and Stephanie McMahon match. No one was really sure what to expect from Ronda, since she had to sell the moves and doing the actual acting part, and she KILLED IT. The crowd was fired up and behind her, from the moment she walked on stage, and her impeccable technique (she's an Olympic medalist in Judo) made for an incredibly exciting match. Stephanie, as the perfect heel, was the icing on the cake.
I was putting my makeup on in my dressing room when Cena's music hit, and Josh and I both looked at each other and sprinted to the door to see what was going to happen. The lights went down and I actually started yelling, along with 80,000 other people. After a brief interlude by Elias and his trusty guitar, the lights went down for real and the Undertaker came out. Being in that arena for that surprise entrance was a feeling I'll remember for the rest of my life. The actual match was short and sweet, but it got the job done: he's still got it.
Finally, I got the text I'd been waiting for all night: "They're going to come and bring you to the stage now."
Walking out there before the match, the tension in the room was palpable. This "dream match" between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura was something fans were so excited for. WWE fans are a lot like rock fans, high energy and super passionate. As soon as the song started, the crowd started singing so loud I could feel it even though I was wearing soundproof in-ear monitors. Shin came up and rocked out with me for a few seconds on the ramp, and then he was off to the races. I still have to go back and watch the match, but from the crowd reaction I heard, it was everything they wanted and more.
Overall, our Mania weekend experience was an insane one. I've heard so many stories about what it's like to work with the WWE camp: how cool, respectful and humble they are, and from the audio crew to the riggers all the way to Vince McMahon and HHH, the stories were all true. I have never been in a more positive, smooth and helpful environment at a show. Everyone was excited to be there and put on a great event, and that's exactly what they did. I was honored to be a small part of it... and if anyone else needs their music played, I'm glad WWE has my number now!!
I'll be back tomorrow with a recap of the Raw after Wrestlemania! Thanks for reading!