Guitar Girl'd: Interview with Orianthi on the Release of 'Heaven In This Hell'
Orianthi is excited. With the release of the first single off her new album set to go this month, she’s ready to share her thirst for rock with the world.
Her single, “Heaven in This Hell,” sets the stage for her album of the same name, which is due for release this spring.
Recorded in Nashville with producer Dave Stewart, Heaven in This Hell promises to deliver “a mega-dose of rock that weaves elements of modern country and swampy blues.” The album expands upon her 2011 EP, Fire, which also features "Heaven in This Hell" (It's available on iTunes now).
Orianthi is a triple threat. She looks good, she plays even better. And did I mention she can really belt it out?
Orianthi toured throughout 2012 with Alice Cooper. She joins in on the onstage antics for his shock-rock theatrics, sporting bloody guitars and more. But Orianthi isn’t new to larger-than-life stage shows. Hailing from Adelaide on the southern tip of Australia, Orianthi Panagaris wrote her first song at age 6. She saw Carlos Santana play live when she was 11, and that was it. She begged her dad for an electric guitar and hasn’t put it down since.
Now at 27, she’s checked multiple life goals off of her bucket list and has shared the stage with some of the world's most iconic artists, including Carlos Santana, Steve Vai, Prince and others. While performing at the 2009 Grammy Awards with country superstar Carrie Underwood, Orianthi caught the eye of Michael Jackson and was asked to be a part of his ill-fated This Is It tour. In the fall of 2009, Orianthi released “According To You,” her first solo single, which went platinum in the US and abroad.
We caught up with her just as she came of tour with Cooper and was taking a short break before heading out again.
GUITAR WORLD: Tell me about your new album, Heaven in This Hell. I know you’ve been working on it for a while.
Yeah, I’ve been working on it off and on. I’ve been touring with Alice Cooper, so I actually started this record probably about a year ago with Dave Stewart in Nashville. We had written a bunch of songs and Dave did his record over there. Dave said, “Hey, you should go to Nashville, to Blackbird, to record.” So I went there and just loved the studio, loved the musicians. We went in and got eight songs done in a day, and then mixed it.
I left Nashville, went in to rehearse with Alice and went on tour. After that tour, I came back and started recording some more tracks, then went on tour again. So now the album’s done and we’re looking at releasing it in 2013 — so the single should be coming out in January.
I’m really excited about it. It’s more rock/blues than the last album. I think it’s important to evolve and make a different record every time as an artist. I’m already looking into making the next record.
When you went back and listened to all those recordings you did in that one day, did you still like everything?
Yeah, I did because it wasn’t over-thought. I think when you can hear yourself thinking, it’s too put together. I like the freedom that it has. Musically, you hear it and it sounds very free. It’s a bunch of musicians in a big room, and we’re all just playing off one another. It’s the way records were made quite a long time ago. I kind of wanted to go back to that. Those were the records I grew up listening to — Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton or Santana, you know. They all played off one another. It was just a great environment.
I was just reading a biography of Jimmy Page, and he talked about how they would go in and just have a couple of hours to do their tracks. They’d do three takes, and that’d be it! There was definitely a different energy with that style of recording.
It captures a performance. Sometimes when you’re going in, just doing solo after solo, it’s too structured. Sometimes you want things to be structured. Sometimes you want the verse and chorus to be structured. But maybe work it out beforehand, then go in. The energy’s there. Capture that.
It definitely spotlights your ability because you’re not overdubbing every other measure. You can either do it or you can’t, right?
That’s the thing. These musicians were incredible, top-of-their-game session players, really great guys. The energy was right. I’m all about energy. I think if you can get the right bunch of people together, and you’re in the room and it just feels right, then the music will come.
Did recording in Nashville influence the sound of the record?
Yeah, definitely. It’s not a country record, but it definitely has sort of a Southern flavor to it. It’s dirty, voodoo rock/blues. It’s commercial. It’s not too, sort of, weird or anything. It’s definitely got a Southern flavor to it, which I dig. I’m a big country fan. Having a lap steel player in there, Dan Dugmore — he’s great. We filled spaces with great hooks from the lap steel.
You’ve said this is the kind of album you’ve always wanted to make. Did you feel like you maybe were pushed stylistically in a direction that wasn’t your favorite place to go with the last album? Or was this just the next step?
This is the next step. I think you grow as an artist. The first record I was really proud of. I think that, you know, it kind of went more in a pop direction that I wanted. I’m a rock/blues guitar player, I’m not wanting to be a pop star or anything. I want to be definitely in the rock vein. And with this record I did that. I played it for my friends and they say this is the record you should make. It just feels comfortable for me to write these kind of songs. I think whatever comes naturally, so that you’re not over-thinking things. I’m always writing. I’m thinking about the next record now, and performing, and putting this record out and touring on it. Always creating.
Do you have a plan already in place for recording the next record?
No. I’m just writing. Always writing songs and putting ideas down on my iPhone, you know. It’s a never-ending thing. I just got off tour yesterday and I’m already writing songs. When you’re on tour you’re just thinking about the show, you know, making sure you’ve got that down. It’s really inspiring to be on the road with Alice. I get inspired working with him because he’s such a great performer.
When you perform with Alice, does he let you do your thing? Or do you have to kind or conform to what he’s done in the past?
He gives me a lot of freedom to do what I want to do. We play Hendrix in the set, “Foxy Lady.” That’s a lot of fun. We all have our moments in the show, you know. There are three guitar players, so there are all different parts that we’re playing. I just have a blast. It’s one big family and I love them all. We have a lot of fun.
Are you continuing to tour with him in 2013 as well?
I will be, yes.
Will you be doing any touring in support of your own project at the same time?
Definitely. In between. I think we’re [Alice Cooper] heading out in May, so definitely before then. And then in between, on the days off, I’ll be promoting the record. Yeah, I’m going to stay with Alice until he gets really sick of me.
I know you had to really think about the mix of guitar soloing and melodic pop on your last album, but I’m guessing you were really able to relax for this upcoming project and do a little more guitar work.
Yeah! These songs definitely started with guitar riffs. It wasn’t that the songs on the last record didn’t start with guitar, they were just more about the lyrics and electronics and what not. This is more about starting with a guitar riff and building from that. I wasn’t thinking about the radio too much. I just had a blast working with Dave Stewart, he’s amazing — an incredible songwriter, guitar player and person. We had a blast making this album.
Let’s talk about your gear. I’m guessing you’re using your signature PRS. What else are you using?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve been playing PRS guitars since I was 11. I just love them. To have my own model is pretty crazy. Going into the NAMM Show for quite a few years and walking in one day and seeing your own model up on the wall was definitely a moment. I’m really happy with my signature. I don’t use it on stage with Alice, because I don’t want it covered in blood and what not.
You don’t want your guitar covered in blood? C’mon!
Yeah, I use other models on stage with him, but I use my model in the studio and when I’m doing my own thing. I love it. The new one is scarlet red. The one a couple years ago is actually sparkle finish. This one’s been upgraded. It’s basically modeled after my Custom 24, which is one of my favorite PRS’s. I just love it. Paul did an awesome job on it. It’s a very cool guitar.
What are you plugging into?
I’m plugging into an EVH 150 Mark III. I love the amp. I think it just ties in really well with the PRS. They just go well together. I use a Crybaby Wah pedal and TC Electronics; their Reverb and Flashback Delay. I don’t use that many effects. Occasionally I use an octave pedal and the whammy pedal onstage. But usually just the wah and reverb straight into the amp. You don’t want to interfere with the connection between the guitar and the amp. I think if you put too many pedals in it just crowds it.
And I use Dean Markley Helix strings. You know, I only broke one string on tour, which is amazing for me because I’m always breaking strings. They’re just great, I really dig them. I abuse my guitars nightly, and when I want to reach for that note, I’m not scared that I’m going to break a string. They’re really great.
Is your setup in the studio similar? I saw on your video you played some acoustic.
Yeah, at Blackbird, they have so many different guitars and amps. For some of the rhythm parts, I used a bunch of different guitars and amps. I use my PRS for all the leads, but I think for the rhythm parts, you want to layer it and give it some personality. I used some Fenders and some old Gibson acoustics. They just add a personality to the track.
And man, you can really sing. Have you intentionally downplayed that aspect of your talent so that you’d be more known as a guitar player? Or did that just happen that way?
You know, I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was 6. But I think playing guitar is definitely more in my comfort zone. I don’t think of myself as a singer, I think of myself as a guitar player. But I like to sing.
When I’m writing songs, I’m always writing lyrics as well. I like fronting my own band. Guesting and playing guitar, weather it be with Alice or another collaboration, definitely gives me more freedom in a way, to sort of support other guitar players. I dig that. So I hope to be able to do both for the rest of my career. Do my own thing, but also collaborate with other artists. It’s definitely a lot of fun. You learn a lot, and it’s a really cool thing to be able to do.
What has your experience been as a female player? Has it been tough? Have you been accepted?
You still get the, “Oh, she’s a girl, that’s why she’s getting attention.” I feel like I get judged more as a female player, because it’s that initial, “Are you just wearing the guitar as an accessory?” sort of thing. You have to prove yourself a little more, which is annoying.
You have to stop thinking about it. That’s what I had to do. A while ago, I used to think that constantly. You think the guys are wondering, "Can she really play?" I just love playing. You know, at the end of the day, we’re all just artists trying to express ourselves, and it’s not a competition. It’s not about who can play the fastest. Everyone plays differently. If you love it, you can play an A chord like you mean it.
I just think that it’s all about the music, and just having a love for something, whatever you do. If that comes across, that’s great. You know, the guitar players I love play with a lot of heart. Santana, Eric Clapton, or Jeff Beck. All these players, you can just tell they love it. When they’re off the road, they’re going to still be in their room playing guitar.
I love performing, because you see the crowd and they get into it. They’re having fun. There’s nothing more addictive than that. I think, just not even thinking about it, I’m just one of the guys. That’s how I sort of look at it.
You’re just a guitar player, whatever else you are.
Well you know, at school I had a really hard time being a guitar player. It’s like being a male ballerina in a way. It’s not the norm. You know, it’s definitely a guys’ thing. There are so many more guy guitar players than there are girls. But being on tour and being the only girl, I just think of myself as one of the guys. Until someone addresses me like, oh you’re that chick guitar player, and I’m like, “Um, I guess I am aren’t I?”
You’re a role model now for young women. Do you get a lot of girls and women reaching out to you?
Yeah! I get a lot of messages through Facebook or Twitter saying you inspired me, I went to your show or I saw your film clip. Especially when the recordings came out on the radio, a lot of kids that listen to top forty were like, “Oh I want to play guitar too!” So that was really cool. Even though it was pop, it still inspired more players. That’s what I’m hoping to do. The joy of having a kid come up and say, “You inspired me to play guitar. I love it so much. Thanks for doing that.” That’s really cool.
When someone sees you play live, what do you want them to walk away thinking?
Just being inspired. You know, I don’t really think too much. Before I used to. Now, I’m just playing and being free onstage. I hope that they think I did a good job, that they dug the songs and were entertained. I think it’s one thing to just be playing, but another thing to be entertaining. Projecting your energy out to the crowd is really important.
Good luck with the new album!
I just would like to thank the fans out there and everyone for their support on Twitter and Facebook. I can’t wait to start touring on this record, and I want everyone to hear it really soon!
Keep up with what’s next at Orianthi.com.
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents Dean Markley, Agile Partners, Peavey, Jammit, Notion Music, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the founder of the Women in Music Network at thewimn.com, producer of the Women's Music Summit and the lead singer for the rock band Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.
Playing with Carlos Santana fulfilled Orianthi’s childhood dream.
Orianthi with Michael Jackson. She was slated to handle guitar duties on the ill-fated This Is It tour.
Orianthi on stage with Alice Cooper. Bloody guitar and all!