At 24 years old, Orianthi has already experienced what most aspiring musicians may spend a lifetime trying to obtain. She has opened for Steve Vai, played with Carlos Santana, jammed with Prince and blew away the audience with her performance alongside Carrie Underwood at the Grammys. Most recently, this astounding guitar virtuoso was hand-picked to by the late King of Pop (Michael Jackson) to serve as the guitarist on his tour farewell tour and is featured prominently in the This Is It documentary which has thrilled countless fans worldwide. Armed with her guitar, some kick-ass guitar riffs and an adventurous spirit, this rising star has her sights set on becoming a full blown pop sensation! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Orianthi to talk about her blossoming career, working alongside rock royalty, her debut album, “Believe,” and what the future holds for her.
How did music first come into your life?
When I was six, I picked up the guitar for the first time. My Dad had guitars all around the house. He is a guitarist and I would see him in great bands. He had records by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carlos Santana, Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton. I would listen to those. When I was ten, I studied classical and then when I was eleven, I saw Carlos Santana perform in Adelaide, Australia. That is when I went to my Dad and said “I don’t want to play classical anymore, I want to play electric guitar!” I begged him for an electric and I got a second hand Paul Reed Smith and I never put it down! I wanted to learn as many Carlos Santana songs and solos as I could. I just love it!
What has kept you inspired throughout the years as an artist?
Just listening to different records and guitarists. I think that you can never stop learning from guitarists like Carlos Santana and Steve Vai. They are just amazing. They are my two idols and it is awesome to have their support and encouragement. I got to jam with Carlos when I was eighteen and that was a dream come true! When I was fifteen I got to open for Steve Vai in Adelaide, Australia and he kept in contact with me and we wrote a song for the record, Believe, which is called “Highly Strung”. It was a real honor to work with him.
You mentioned your debut album ‘Believe’. What can you tell us about the album for those who might not be familiar with it yet?
I set out to create a really commercial record, a pop-rock record that has lots of guitar solos that has sort of an “eighties now” vibe to it. I think that it is an empowering record. It’s not negative lyrically and I hope to inspire a lot more people to pick up the guitar, especially girls. I want them to keep at it and never give up because there aren’t too many female guitar players out there, so if I could inspire more, that would be awesome!
What can you tell us about the writing process for that record?
Well, when I first moved over from Adele to LA, I started writing. I went over and wrote in Nashville and in LA. I worked with some great songwriters . I love the whole process, ya know, of going into a room and sitting around to come up with something that you never thought you would have at the end of the day. I always come up with guitar riffs or sometimes I am humming melodies of chords and stuff, writing lyrics with different people, it just turns out differently each time. It’s not like when you go into a room and write a song by yourself. It may turn out completely the way you want it but when you have other people come in, they have other ideas that they bring to the table that you would never think of. I like that process! I think that it is really cool!
What was the biggest challenge in making the record?
Trying to make sure that all of the songs where really strong, chorus wise. I wanted to make a record that people could put into their car and not want to change. I worked with producer Howard Benson, who is an incredible producer, we very much focused on the choruses and not putting too much guitar playing into it. We wanted just enough so that it was still really guitar based, but not too much so that someone who is not a guitarist who is listening to it gets put off by it. So, I guess the challenge was balancing those elements. I am really proud of the record and hopefully it connects with a lot of people.
You are plugged into the different social networks like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. How have your fans been responding to the album?
They are really liking it! I am getting some very nice emails and support. It has been really good. They are waiting for us to get out and tour. I can’t wait to do that with the new stuff! We have been rehearsing as a band and playing the new stuff, so there will be more guitar solos live and we are looking at where to extend them. We have been having a lot of fun with it and the support has been great!
Are there are any concrete tour plans in the future or are you still working on that?
We are still waiting to hear who we are going to be touring with. At the moment, we are on this crazy radio/press tour, traveling around, meeting different people throughout the country and seeing more of America. It’s very cool!
Hopefully you like what you have seen so far!
Oh yeah, definitely!
Many people got their initial exposure to you and your guitar skills through Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It’. How did you get that gig?
I actually got the gig through Myspace. I got an email from Mike Beardon. He saw me jamming at the Grammy Awards with Carrie Underwood. He reached out to me through Myspace and I didn’t think that it was for real. He told me to learn “Beat It”, “Dirty Diana” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”. I learned the tracks and I was super nervous but I went in and played for Mike Beardon and Michael Jackson came in one night and I played “Beat It” with a cranked up guitar solo. MJ was looking right at me and I was very nervous. I have never been that nervous in my life! He hired us all that night. It seemed like a dream! It was awesome playing for him.
I am sure that you have seen the film by now, right?
Yeah, I have seen it twice.
Did it capture that moment in time accurately, as far as your experience goes?
Oh yeah, totally! There were cameras around all the time and for me I almost became unaware of them being there because you are so focused on your part, what you are doing and trying to make Michael happy with what you were doing. I don’t think that you are going to see a “more real” movie. It is a documentary that invites you into our world for three months. I think that Kenny (Ortega) did an awesome job of putting it together, it really makes you feel like you were there. The first time I saw it was very emotional and I didn’t know how I was going to sit through it. The second time, it was a look back at incredible memories of working with a musical icon that I looked up to immensely.
What is your fondest memory from working alongside The King of Pop?
Ya know, he just wanted the best out of all of us. He was a perfectionist but he was very kind with it. I remember one time, just after I had auditioned for him, I was walking down the corridor of where were were rehearsing. Michael was coming down with his bodyguard and there was nobody else around. I was wearing a hat and I didn’t have my hair down like when he had seen me before in the audition, so I didn’t know if he would recognize me. I thought I might just run away into a room or something but then I decided to just be normal and say hello to him! He was really nice and grabbed my hand and said hello and “God bless you. I will see you soon!” He was just really a kind person and didn’t seem to have an ego. That made me smile for the rest of the day!
You have worked with such musical icons as Carlos Santana, Steve Vai and Michael Jackson, of course. I was curious to know who else you might like to collaborate with in the future?
I would love to do a some with B.B. King or Eric Clapton. That would be awesome! Prince! That would be really cool! I got to jam with Prince but we never recorded anything but that would be terrific. Also, Keith Urban. I am a big country fan.
What do you hope that people come away with after listening to your music or seeing your live performance?
As a band, we just love playing. We want to keep that child-like spirit up and inspire to pick up the guitar and have fun. Hopefully, when people see us live they think we are a very powerful band. We work really hard to make sure all of the parts compliment each other, so hopefully people will get inspired and pick up the guitar when they get home, that would be awesome!
How did you first get involved with Paul Reed Smith and what has that experience been like for you?
It’s been great! I love his guitars! Like I said, after seeing Santana I begged for a guitar and it had to be a Paul Reed Smith. So I got a second hand Custom 24. When I was fourteen, I actually made a demo and sent it out to Paul and he wrote back to me. He really liked it. Then when I was eighteen, I got to jam with Carlos in Australia and he took that DVD of us jamming to Paul. Paul invited me over to the NAMM show and I came over to play in the booth. I think it was in 2005, I was with Carlos there and his son was in the audience. He knew my A&R guy and he asked for my MP3s and forwarded it on to Ron Fair, who I auditioned for and that is how I got my record deal. That is kinda how it happened. Paul has been super-supportive and there is some exciting news coming up in January! I’m not going to say what, but I am really excited! It is really exciting to be working with him. He is a great guy, really supportive and I just really love his guitars. I think that he is the best guitar maker in the world!
You have worked with so many icons from the industry in your career. What is the best piece of advice someone has given you along the way?
I got a lot of advice from Steve Vai and Carlos Santana. Just play from your heart, play what you feel. that is what I learned from them. Also, never stop learning. I think it is very important to keep on evolving as a player and to learn from other people. Every one I play with, be it a drummer, bass player or a guitar player, everyone approaches it differently. We all come from a different musical world and I think it is really important to learn as much as a you can from each other. When I sit back and I am eighty-five, I want to still be able to move forward as a player and not just be stuck in one place, if you know what I mean. So yeah, it is very important to never stop learning.
Have you had a ‘Spinal Tap Moment’ on stage where something totally unexpected has happened to you?
Yeah! I used to play in a cover band from when I was about fifteen until I was about twenty in Adelaide. We used to play two or three nights a week, Top 40 stuff. We played a wedding one time out in the country. This one guy was really drunk and poured his beer into the fold-back and the wedges, the power went out and he fell. During his fall he hit the mic which bruised my lip and he fell into the bass drum! [laughs] That was very… dramatic! [laughs] It is kinda funny looking back on it but it wasn’t funny at the time. But yeah, I try not to trip over chords, especially when I am wearing high heels. It was a challenge running up in wedges for the ‘This Is It’ show. I was thinking the whole time that I was going to land on my butt! [laughs] As a guitar player, I don’t know if we have the best sense of direction but trying to find the stage with the band is sometimes a challenge! Definitely Spinal Tap! [laughs]
Is there anything else you want to add or let your fans know?
Yeah! Thank you so much for your support! I really appreciate it. I read all of the emails, I can’t reply to all of them but I love reading them and I try to reply to as many as I can! Thank you, everyone!
2009 has been quite a big year for you and I am sure 2010 will be even bigger. All the best to you!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.