From writing her first song at the age of 6, to being discovered and playing alongside her idols Carlos Santana and Steve Vai early in her career, Orianthi has made an enduring mark on the music industry. While many were introduced to this timid guitar goddess when she played the Grammy Awards in 2009 as part of Carrie Underwood’s band, it was being selected for Michael Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It Tour” that exposed her to mainstream audiences. Since that time, she has continued to gain momentum! In 2009, Orianthi released her impressive debut album, ‘Believe’. It was an album that proved she was more than just a gifted guitarist and a pretty face. “According To You,” her first solo single, which went platinum in the U.S. and abroad, putting her serious vocal chops on to display for all to hear.
In late 2011, between legs of Alice Cooper’s world tour (where she played lead guitar), she began work on her sophomore album. Teaming with legendary musician Dave Stewart (of The Eurythmics), Orianthi recorded a majority of ‘Heaven In This Hell’ at Blackbird Studio in Nashville. Inspired by her blues heroes, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Robert Johnson, Orianthi new album takes listeners on a non-stop thrill ride of riff heavy rock and energetic blues. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with this artist on the rise to discuss the creation of her new album, teaming with producer Dave Stewart, the challenges she encountered along the way and much more!
What was the catalyst that made you know now was the time to hit the studio for a new album?
I have been writing songs for this album for a couple of years now. Dave Stewart called me when he was in Nashville doing his album. He invited me to the studio to check it out and I loved it. I knew that making a record there would be so great and it was more about capturing the live performance than it was recording a whole album. The energy there felt really organic and the way I was hoping to make this record.
What can fans expect from you and this album sonically?
It is definitely going towards groove heavy rock that I started playing a long time ago. It has more of that flavor to it. At the same time, there are some tracks similar to “Believe” like “Come Together” or “What’s It Going To Be” and is in that sort of vein.
When you first started to create this record, what were your expectations?
It was really about capturing the live sound. I wanted it to sound live where everyone was in the room together and it was full bore rock ‘n’ roll. I wanted to capture that energy. When I originally talked to Dave about it he said the same thing. The guitar solos sound inspired. Actually, most of the songs were written on acoustic guitar.
It is so cool to see you pairing up with Dave Stewart as a producer for this record. How did you two first meet?
We actually met at Stand Up To Cancer, a benefit show. It was a great show that featured Stevie Wonder and Heart, among others. We met and started talking about blues and things we should write together, so we did! We wrote lots of songs together and have played a lot of shows as well. He is a great guitar player as well.
What can you tell us about the process of working with him and what he brought to the table for this album?
The process was really different. Sometimes I would play a guitar riff, like we did with “Fire,” and would build the song from there. We would get out the acoustic guitars and start with some melodies over chords. Dave is a great lyricist as well and would say some things along the way that would make the songs better. He brought a lot of ideas in like “Heaven In This Hell.” He has great ideas and is always thinking about performing the songs live for the audience.
How did the atmosphere of Nashville, where the studio is located, influence this record?
Every time I go to Nashville, I find it is very much all about the music. Here in L.A., it is intense but in Nashville it is all about writing songs and musicianship. It is just incredible! You go into the studio and the musicians hear only a little bit of the song and they are playing it within minutes! We had the opportunity to work with some really great players. I think this album was very much about surrounding myself with that great energy. I found it very inspiring.
What were the biggest challenges in creating this album?
There weren’t that many challenges really. We did an EP at the beginning of 2012, 11 months ago now, then I went on tour with Alice Cooper. It was very much broken up. The release of the EP was awhile ago and it has been awhile since I have released new music, three years or something. Once I got off the tour with Alice, we finished up the record via Skype from a studio here in L.A. with the guys in Nashville. I think time was definite a challenge because of all the touring I was doing. I wanted to get the album finished but, at the same time, you also don’t want to rush it. Doing the EP and then finishing off the album, I know, was a good thing.
“Heaven In This Hell” is a great album with a lot going on. Can you tell us about some of the artists who helped influence this record?
Yeah, definitely! I am a big of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, a Carlos Santana fan. I feel this record is a little more colorful than the last record. It has a few more flavors — a bit of country, a bit of blues and rock. I call it my Voodoo Rock Blues record! I was also listening to alot of Robert Johnson, who I love. I learned a lot from him acoustically and what he does with melodies and whatnot. “Heaven In This Hell” actually started with that sort of delta blues riff at the beginning. Then there is “Frozen,” which is electric. I really think this album goes back to who I was listening to when I was younger and who I listen to now, of course. I definitely think this record is a reflection of who I am now.
Obviously, you can learn a lot from a guy like Alice Cooper. What were the highlights of the tour and what did you learn from him?
Alice is amazing! He is one of the nicest people and an incredible entertainer! I have been on tour with him for about a year now. We will be touring again at the end of this year. He is just so great. There are so many great songs and the way the songs are structured have so many different guitar parts. There are three guitar players in the band, Ryan Roxie, Tommy Henriksen and myself. They are great players and the whole band is really top notch. They are all like brothers to me at this point! We have a great time every night and it is like a big party. Like a crazy, non-stop Rocky Horror party! Two hours non-stop, every night! Alice doesn’t talk between any of the songs, so we are literally getting guitars thrown on us for the changes. You get out there and you start songs in the dark! It is pretty crazy and the shows generally run two hours non-stop where you are dodging knives, you have to play “Feed My Frankenstein” and see Alice with the whip! [laughs] He is intense! When he gets into character, you have to watch out! One of the first nights I played with him he came over and stabbed a balloon with a giant sword that was right above my head! It was pretty intense! It has been an amazing experience working with Alice.
Last time we spoke we discussed your work with Michael Jackson and now Alice Cooper. What is the biggest thing you have taken from working with these amazing performers you plan on bringing to your live show? I am assuming you will be touring in support of this awesome album?
Oh yeah, definitely! We are looking at touring really soon. We are looking at Japan, Australia and definitely here in the States, starting with some club shows here in Los Angeles. Working with all of these amazing performers, the way they present their energy and give it to the audience does make it constantly interesting. They just seem like they are loving it every night. It is not a job, they love it! I say this a lot but it is so true, Alice is quite similar to MJ in the way he is such a great entertainer. He loves his fans and he wants to make sure his show is at its best for them. We are all people who give 110% every night!
We can see a lot of growth over the course of your two albums. What has been the best part of the success you achieved so far?
The exposure on the radio and through “This Is It” has been really inspiring. I get messages on Twitter and Facebook from young girls and guys who say, “I heard one of your songs and I want to play guitar now. You’ve really inspired me.” That is really cool, it really is. I tell them to keep at it! Whether you play guitar, drums or whatever it is — express yourself artistically! Music is powerful and it has helped me through a lot. I can’t imagine doing anything else. My music is my life and I hope I can inspire others to achieve their dreams as well.
You worked with Paul Reed Smith for years. We are based just down the road from his factory. You have just done your second custom model with him. What can you tell us about that process and working with him?
Paul is a great artist. First and foremost, he loves playing guitars. He is so passionate about making sure the guitars he makes are all top notch from the wood to the pick-ups to the way they look with the paint. Everything! I have been to the factory a few times and it is amazing. The people who work in the factory are all guitar players and they take a lot of care in creating the instruments. Everyone is different and they all have their different personalities. One of my favorite PRS guitars is the one I used to audition for the MJ thing. It is called Pepper and it is a PRS Custom 24. It is my favorite guitar and I wanted to model the SE after that. They took that guitar and modeled the new one off of that with the contoured body and 3-way blade switch. The other model I play and love. The same is true of this model as well. They are both quality guitars and are affordable for kids. Some guitars are really expensive and this one is half the price. I am really honored to play their guitars and it is an honor because I have been playing a PRS since I was 11. Carlos Santana inspired me to play the electric guitar. I got a PRS second hand when I was 11 and I couldn’t put it down. Teaming up with Paul and having his support has been an amazing experience. I have been going to NAMM for nine years, so walking into the booth and seeing my own guitar on the stand was pretty crazy!
I know your fans always love to hear from you, Orianthi. Is there anything you would like to say to them before I let you go?
Yeah, definitely! Thank you all for your support through Facebook and Twitter. I can’t wait to tour this spring! I really want to thank them all for their patience because they have moved the date for the album release a few times. We just wanted to make sure that it was put out in Japan the same time it was in the United States. I just want to thank them all for their support and I can’t wait to see them all soon out on the road!
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.