Sunday, February 3, 2013

Orianthi - "I Can't Be Anything Else, Y'know?"

Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography
Orianthi is on fire - as a guitarist, a singer, a songwriter, and a band member, her career is accelerating at a tremendous rate. In addition to playing sizzling leads for Alice Cooper's band, she's an in-demand session player, and she's getting ready to release her new solo album, Heaven In This Hell, on March 12 on Robo Records. The album's first single, Frozen, has just been released.

I caught up with the Adelaide, Australia native just before she electrified the audience at a NAMM show party sponsored by Duesenberg Guitars, and 65amps at the Imperial Ballroom in historic Fullerton, California. In addition to her solo set, in which she was joined by Alice Cooper bandmates Glen Sobel and Chuck Garric, she also took to the boards for a couple of jams with longtime Tom Petty right-hand man Mike Campbell, his side band The Dirty Knobs, and legendary rocker Earl Slick.

Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography
You'd think was excitement enough, but she also picked up the prestigious "Inspire" award, given by the Women in Music Network at the She Rocks Awards in partnership with NewBay Media. 2013 is the first year for the awards, but it surely will not be the last - this has been too lacking for too long. I asked  the Australian six-stringer how she felt about the award, and her week at NAMM:

"Oh, it's very cool, yeah - really cool! It's the Women in Music Network, and I really hope to inspire more girls to plays guitar - guys too, but it's always really cool to get messages on Facebook and Twitter from fans, 'We saw your video clip,' or 'We heard your song and it inspired me to play guitar,' maybe someone went to one of the Alice Cooper shows, or something, and that's just awesome!"

Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography
I was curious about how she got on the show at the Duesenberg party, and what we could expect:

"Yeah, that's on Saturday! That's going to be a lot of fun, jamming out - I'll be joined by Glen Sobel from the Alice Cooper band, Chuck Garric of Cooper's band, we're going to rock out some of the songs from the new record, Heaven In This Hell (out March 12 on Robo Records). It's going to be fun to do these songs live! 
"Actually, Nathan (Fawley - CEO at Duesenberg USA) put that together, we had met at some of their functions, and we chatted - he's a big music fan and he just asked me to play, so I said, 'Yeah, definitely!' I'll still be playing my PRS at the Duesenberg party, but I think their guitars are great! It's just really cool to be asked to play."

It's a long way to the top, but Orianthi, now a seasoned music business veteran, started out not much differently than anyone - one gig, one song at a time. I asked her to tell me about the early days:

"Y'know, I think playing the guitar, I first picked it up when I was six - it was something I just 'got.' It was never as easy instrument to play, by any means, but I could sort of express myself. So, I wouldn't do homework, after school I'd just be sitting with my guitar for hours and hours and hours. Even at lunch, or recess time, I'd go to the music room. It's just something that....I'll look at the guitar, and most of the time, I pick it up and play it. 
"I love cooking, too - I love to cook, but I love playing the guitar more! People ask, 'What would you do if you weren't a musician?,' and I couldn't much see it - I'd be an unhappy chef, because I'd want to be playing music! So I can't be anything else, y'know? 
"I played in quite a few cover bands - I had left school when I was fifteen. I actually signed my first management deal when I was fourteen, and started going to ports around Australia. I would come in late for school because I had been at a radio station playing guitar for different shows! Music was just something that....well, it was my life. 
"Back then I just thought that school was something that....I remember one time I came in late and the teacher was like, he could see that some of the guys weren't really liking the fact that I was playing my guitar, because I'm going to the same auditions they were, for the school funk band, or whatever, and I'm getting the gigs. The teacher was like, 'I think you should pick up the harp, or a more feminine instrument.' After that point, I just thought, 'This is awful,' it's like being told, 'Hey, you shouldn't play the guitar, it's too masculine, you should go for the harp,' and I'm like, 'No!' I couldn't stay in that environment."
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

It's a big jump from cover bands to superstardom, and some help from virtuosos like Steve Vai, and Carlos Santana never hurts. It all began with Orianthi having the cheek to send tapes and letters to Vai - she explains:

"At that point, I just started writing a lot of songs. I'd actually send them off to Steve Vai, and he would write back - he'd listened to the songs, my really crappy demos, and he'd write back with ideas on how I could improve certain parts. He actually listened to them, which, God, is amazing! We stayed in contract for some time, from when I was fourteen, I got to record a track with him, High Strung, which was a huge honor - I mean, he is the greatest, just amazing. He's one of the best players - he can shred like there's no tomorrow, and then turn around and play a beautiful melody." 
"So, I'm in Australia playing in cover bands as much as I could until I was about 21, when Carlos Santana actually showed Paul Reed Smith a DVD of a show where I had gotten up to jam with him (Santana), when I was about 18. Paul then invited me over to the NAMM show, and from there I just kept coming over for the next three years until 2005. Then Tal Herzberg, who worked at Interscope played my CD to Ron Fair - they signed me to a record deal, and then released my first album."
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

Of course, it also helps to be surrounded by supportive loved ones - I wondered if Orianthi had gotten a lot of love and support from her parents:

"Y'know, they were really supportive! My dad is a guitar player, and he saw that it was my life, it wasn't like he had to force me to practice. I was at it every day, and my mom, she was behind me all the way, she was like, 'Go for it!' Both of them just gave so much support, just like, 'Do what you love to do, and do your best.' Obviously, I'm all the way over here, and they're in Australia. Initially, they were like, 'Oh wow, that's a big move,' but I come over to visit and I go home as much as I can. 
"I get really excited when there's a tour that goes to Australia - I got really excited when I was with Michael Bolton over there touring. They get really excited when I get to go back home!"

The guitar world was taken by surprise a while back when Orianthi was chosen to replace Damon Johnson in Alice Cooper's band. It's a cherished gig, and a highly desirable notch in any player's belt to be 'elected.' I was curious as to how the Cooper connection came to be:

"I had played on America Idol with AC about three years ago to play on School's Out - he invited me to play there, and said he was a fan. It was really, really cool and afterwards chatting with AC and Bob Ezrin - really nice people. After that I did some work for Bob on a track for Fefe Dodson. I did a guitar solo for her song, Hot Breeze. We all stayed in contact via e-mail, and I guess Alice was looking for another guitar player, because he said, 'Will you join my band?'" 
"I was making my album in Nashville at the time with my friend Dave Stewart, and I was like, "Yeah, that would be really cool! I didn't know I had to learn twenty-five songs in a week! That was like, 'Oh my God!' My brain hurt for a week after - you have to sort of get into AC's world - his songs aren't just jam songs."
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

I had to laugh at this point - sure enough, there are no I-IV-V tunes in the Cooper catalog. These are some of the most sophisticated rock to ever light up the charts - I asked about learning the set, and the division of duties amongst the AC band:

"There are three guitar players, and we have to divide all the parts, and figure out the harmonies, so we're not all playing the same thing - it's like a wall of sound. We want it to sound great and sort of interesting - between all that, the harmonies and where I'm going to be on stage, and still not concentrating too much! The first shows were a little daunting, but after that I could really get into the treat of it - and it's so much fun! We celebrate Halloween every night! 
"I love it, the guys are like brothers to me, and AC - he's awesome, like an uncle. Just this crazy rock family, yeah! I can't wait for the next tour, which is coming up soon. I think we're playing in Europe for
quite a few months - it's so great to be a part of it. Alice gives 110% every night. It's inspiring to be up there with him. 
"He has a lot of ideas, and when he's up on stage he changes things up every night, so you have to watch him all the time - you know, swords and all! And not only visually, but musically he definitely knows what he wants and what parts he wants to hear. 
"Tommy Henrickson, he produces a lot of Alice's stuff, and he knows all the parts - he splits up things, 'You should take this, you should play that one....' Solo wise, Ryan (Roxie) and I split up - there's like three solos in every song, so it's very cool!"
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

Not just a metal maven by any measure, Orianthi is comfortable in many styles of playing, but there is always a heaping dose of the blues. I asked about her blues influences, and leanings:

"Yeah, I grew up listening to Hendrix, B.B. King, Freddie King, Eric Clapton, and my dad had a great vinyl collection. I spent a lot of time listening to them, and Santana was why I wanted to play electric - I had listened to him a lot when I was like eleven, and he's very blues based." 
"Those players who can move you with a couple of notes. I really dig the melodies and the choice of notes, like B.B. and Freddie, I love Robert Johnson as well. I was just listening to Eric playing with Howlin' Wolf this morning. I love the blues, they are just great!"
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

Being one of the most in-demand guitarists in the world is a full time job - I asked her how she went about choosing what offers to take, and when to demur:

"If an artist approaches me, and they have this song that I think is cool, or that I think is especially good, if I feel like my guitar playing would fit, then I'll definitely do it. But, if I feel like it's not going to fit, and I rarely pass on something, but if I feel like it's not the right musical match, I'll turn it down. I've been really fortunate to work on so many amazing things and to jam with so many of these icons - I get to learn so much. 
"Sometimes, like when I was auditioning with Michael Jackson - that - I was so nervous doing that! Y'know, I hadn't listened to a lot of Van Halen - I could learn it, but I didn't want to try to fill his shoes, either. I wanted to try and do my own thing. I made the solo (on Beat It) my own kind of blues interpretation of it, and he hired me, but I think when you go into a situation, you want to go into their world. It makes you a better player, a better performer."
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

I then had to ask her a question she's probably grown long tired of, but I really wanted to hear her talk about what it was like working with Michael Jackson:

"When we started rehearsing, it was a secret, so I couldn't tell anybody! I was like sickly nervous for the first few days - I didn't know what to expect, but he was so sweet and just an incredible dancer and musician. He knew every part to every one of his songs - it was kind of amazing, he had every part programmed in his head, he was like, 'I want this part to sound like this....' Just really hands on - yeah, I really loved working with him, and I wish he was still around. He was one of a kind, for sure!"
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

At the Duesenberg NAMM party, Orianthi, Glen Sobel, and Chuck Garric played many selections from her new solo album, Heaven In This Hell, and I will say that they rocked. Melodic, bluesy hard rock of the highest caliber, and she had this to say about the new record:

"Heaven In This Hell - this record, I am just so excited about it! We began about a year ago down in Nashville - we recorded at Blackbird Studio with good friend Dave Stewart. We'd been writing songs together for a couple of years now, and he had gone down to Nashville to make his record (The Ringmaster General), and he called me up and said, 'Hey, I'm making this record in Nashville, you should come down and check out this studio - it's amazing, and the musicians are incredible!' So I said, OK, and got on a plane the next day, and went over there - I hung out for a few days, watched him record, and it was so good, the musicians were incredible and they just really vibed off one another. The energy was great, and they were all sweet people - it's just all about the music. 
"I really dug that - after spending about three days and listening to them recording and playing - I played some on Girl In The Cat Suit, and drank martinis! 
"So, for the next couple of weeks I went over there, and made my record. We actually did eight tracks and then finished it with the guys in LA. We've got Glen Sobel from the Alice Cooper band playing drums on the single, Frozen. We just cut that the other day and I'm super excited about it! 
"It's a new sound from the last album, but I think it's important to change things up a bit. It's more sort of rockin' blues, but still commercial."
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

Even though she was playing at a party for Duesenberg Guitars, she still proudly played her PRS guitars - I asked about her feeling for Paul Reed Smiths:

"I love the guitars - I've been playing them since I was eleven! I picked them up because of Santana, after watching Sacred Fire, and going to his shows. They are pieces of art, every one of them is different. The sound is always great - they have their own personality. I use a Custom 24 a lot, it is really, really versatile, and the Custom 22, as well. It has a bit heavier sound. I love them all, and on tour with Alice Cooper, I'm using one with a Floyd Rose locking term. I just love it - it cuts through. 
"Paul has been a huge supporter, and everyone that works at that company, they really listen and they are so passionate about the guitars. When I go to the factory, there is just such great energy there - everyone loves music. I love the instruments, and I love playing them!"

Orianthi also names her every instrument:

"I name them all, yeah! It's a bit like pets - it's like buying a puppy. 'This looks like a Pumba, or this looks like a Harriet.' You look at a guitar, and they all have their own personalities."
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

Our time was running short, so I wrapped things up by asking what advice she had to offer fledging musicians who may be scratching their heads wondering, 'How's Orianthi done it?':

"Y''s never stop playing, never stop jamming, creating - just play as much as you can. The more you do, the more you grow, and you find your own voice. 
"It's not an easy industry by any means. You really have to believe in yourself, as well. Finding your voice, finding out where you fit and who you are is very important. Collaborating, I love, because you learn so much, and the songs often end up sounding more colorful - I think that sometimes when I write something myself, I tend to be a certain way, but collaborating with someone else, whether it's the energy in the room, or whatever it is, you get inspired and you may go down a different path!"
Photo by Jason Barr/Revival Photography

Sage advice from one of the coolest musicians on the planet - given all the fame and adulation, Orianthi could be a mess of ego and bad habits at this point, but she remains firmly tethered to the earth, and as humble and approachable as could be. She has talent, chops, loads of cool, and she has it all under control - I'm guessing she's only just begun.

All photographs by Jason Barr/Revival Photography - Shot at the Duesenberg Guitars/65amps party for NAMM 2013 at the Imperial Ballroom in historic Fullerton, California.

Thanks to Orianthi, Jason and Heather Barr at Revival Photography, and Karen Webb at pr2 public relations!



Richard Reese-Laird said...
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