Orianthi: Fostering unity and self-expression through six strings and the truth

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 6

Life lessons: Adolescence can be brutal, and following your passion often comes at a price. Orianthi knows these things all too well, but she never let them stop her. Nor, she says, should you. She fell in love with the guitar as a preschooler, began playing at age six, and by the time she reached her mid-teens, left school to pursue music full-time, in part because she could no longer tolerate the physical and verbal harassment from classmates who resented and mocked her talent. Half a lifetime later, she is a respected guitarist, singer, and songwriter, in demand by A-list artists who want to work with her and top manufacturers who want to partner with her to design and represent their gear. Millions of fans adore her, and young women consider her a role model. It would be easy for her to coast on her success, but instead, she is always working toward her next goal and has not forgotten the climb that got her to the top.

Orianthi is currently at work on her next album while enjoying a fruitful fourth quarter of 2018, with new pedals and strings on the way and a recently launched ambassadorship with Orange Amps. The upcoming year promises to be even more eventful, as she launches a tour in support of her new music.

You have a busy remainder of the year and upcoming next. Can you tell us a bit about what’s going on musically, and of course we want to talk about the new gear?

I’m making my new album, so all is good. I’m excited about people hearing it. It’s called Love Bomb, and I’ve already written quite a few songs for it. I worked with various people, and I’m going to be pretty much producing it myself and then co-producing with a few of my friends that I love working with, like Dave Stewart, in Nashville. It’s going to be exciting. It’s a new sound.

I’m going to be touring with it at the start of next year. I’m doing a few private shows around L.A., and in February, I’m doing a Prince tribute with an orchestra at Festival Theatre for two nights in Australia, which is going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be wonderful playing with the orchestra and that incredible production. We’ll be honoring him and his music. Then I’m playing more shows in Australia, touring Japan, putting out new music, and all that good stuff. So, lots of exciting things.

Obviously, recording in Nashville was quite rewarding for you, as you’ve decided to go back for your next album.

I love Nashville. I had the best time recording with Dave Stewart and John McBride at Blackbird the last time I was there, and we had the best musicians, the top session guys came in. We pretty much cut the whole album live. We cut, like, eight tracks in one day, and then we went back and did a few additional things, harmonies and that kind of stuff. It was a really fun experience. That’s why I want to make the next record keeping that vibe, that live vibe.

I’m going to be doing a recording of the whole album, start to finish, with the band visually, too. It will be like a mini-concert, which will be interesting. I love the blues, I love rock, I love pop, all of that combination, and bringing that ’60s and ’70s feel to it. I’m listening to a lot of Hendrix Band of Gypsys, Santana Abraxas, Lenny Kravitz, Prince. I’m going to just make the record I feel like making right now, and I hope people dig it.

You say this upcoming album is a new sound for you, but those influences have always been part of your work. When you say new sound, how so?

There’s maybe a couple of electronic elements to it and a little more funk. That’s why I say it’s a little different-sounding. This one is going to sound a bit raw, more of a raw edge to it, and more of a live sound, and I’m making a live record with it as well.

Can you tell us more about this live record?                                          

I want to film a performance of the entire album from start to finish in the studio, so people will actually be able to watch the whole performance.

Is this going to be documentary style, like a “making of” video?
Yes, documentary style, and also performance style, too, because what I want to do in pre-production is go through all the songs and parts with the band, and then bring in the cameras and put on a full performance and be recording at the same time, so what you see is what you hear.

There are a lot of things going on for you gear-wise. Let’s start with the NEXI pedals. In the press release, there’s a quote from you that says, “Tone is ultimately your vioce.” What is your definition of tone, and how has that definition changed over the years?

Everyone has their own fingerprint when they pick up the guitar. It’s a combination of the way you paly and that sound in your head that you want to come through when you pick up that guitar and plug into an amplifier. I don’t like using to many pedals; I’ve never been that kind of person. But NEXI sent me quite a few pedals to try out and I loved the way they sounded. They’re very analog-sounding, very old-school, and they didn’t sound like you just plugged into a bunch of different effects. It didn’t interfere with that connection between the guitar and the amplifier.

I wanted fuzz and octave, so we are working on something special along those lines. I think people are going to dig it when they plug in and play. It’s got that grit to it. It’s got that honest tone. It’s raw-sounding, which I really dig. Some digital pedals and effects boards can make things sound thin and you lose that authentic sort of tone, the gusty sort of tone. This really brings it forth. They have an edge to them, and they look cool, tool I love what NEXI is doing. They’re great company.

You also have a set of signature strings coming from Dean Markley.

Yes. I change up strings a lot. I never really used one set. I always grabbed the heaviest set and the lightest set and mixed them, so when you detune, you have that really fat sound, but can still bend like crazy on the top end. So, this string set is interesting. We had a couple of different combination gauges that they sent through. It took a lot of trial and error, but the Dean Markley team and I finally dialed in a set that could consistently deliver what I needed. It’s got my favorite combinations of what I’ve been using [9/11/17/30/42/52]. I think people are going to dig it.

You’re now an “ambassador” for Orange Amps. Are you new to the brand?

Yes. I had never tried them before. The Rockerverb Mark 3 is everything I was looking for in an amp. It has an amazing response. The combination of the Orange and the PRS is a perfect marriage, and I’ll be using them for a long time to come.

You’ve been with PRS for a long time. What makes them right for you? What do you need in a guitar?

I always say that it’s whatever is comfortable. Sometimes you pick up a guitar and it looks cool, but you play it, and something is wrong; the neck doesn’t fit right in your hands, you have to adjust the action a certain way, all that stuff. A lot of different factors come in for any player. The guitar is an extension of myself, so as long as I can get what I’m feeling across, that’s what it’s all about.

Paul Reed Smith has made a guitar that I feel is comfortable, and the way they play and look — he got it right. It’s like a new classic. The Custom 22 and 24 encompass everything I was looking for tone-wise and for playability. The acoustics he makes, the Angelus cutaways that I’m using as well, he’s got it down. The new purple PRS I helped design with him has incredible pickups, the fatter neck that I like, and it’s a piece of art, really.

It’s a beautiful thing when you stumble across the right guitar. I’m into vintage guitars, too. My dad’s a guitar collector, and I feel blessed that he was into music. He collected vinyl records and guitars and had them around the house. I just love them.

What was the process for finding your sound?

It’s been different with every tour. When I was working with Alice Cooper, it was more of that high gain and I had a lot of different effects. I was playing rhythm and lead and harmony parts, and soloing, so there were different sounds with that. When I worked with Michael Jackson, it was different sounds again. And listening to the records and trying to re-create the tones, obviously, and making them my own as well. But everything was different gear-wise.

On this next record, it’s going to be different again because I’m using the Orange. I think it’s important to change, especially when playing with legends like Alice or Michael. I was blessed to be part of incredible situations like that. You want to make them happy and make their music come across. It’s not about you. It’s about, “How can I make it sound good to them and still keep my signature and sound in there somewhat.” But you definitely cater to their artistry.

How did you develop your technique?

I started playing guitar when I was six years old and I studied classical guitar when I was 10. I studied theory until about 11. It was interesting to me to learn the technique of classical guitar, the fingerpicking and all that stuff. I got into country music, so I was watching a lot of those players and trying to do the chicken-picking. I listened to a lot of Spanish guitar too, like José Feliciano. Obviously, one of my biggest influences is Carlos Santana. I love Al Di Meola. Tommy Emmanuel is an incredible acoustic guitar player who I went to see with my dad a few times, and he inspired me a lot with the way that he would use his acoustic guitar as almost like a whole band. He had the delays, the reverb, and his technique was all over the place. The way he played was so entertaining and amazing.

The different players each inspire you in a certain way, and you take that inspiration and try to put it into your own stuff. As I said, it’s always different, and it’s whatever serves the song as well. I love guitar playing, but I’m all about songs. That’s where I’m at. I started writing songs when I was 6, listening to the Beatles, Elvis, Eric Clapton, B.B. King. It’s all about what serves the song best.

You don’t want to be shredding over something when it’s uncalled for. You want to make it a song within a song with the guitar parts, or whatever thing you’re doing texture-wise, and marry it well with the vocal. It’s what sits in that bed of music below the vocal.

I went to work in a studio when I was young, and learned how to engineer and produce, how to set the compressors, what mics to use, how to mix. My dad wanted me to learn how to do it, so that’s why I recorded my first album by myself in Australia and did everything myself there. It was an experiment, really, and I put it out and people dug it. I’m kind of doing that with my new album, taking on that role of being producer, engineer, and all that, but bringing in people to engineer, because some of it drives me absolutely crazy! I just want play guitar, and if I have to edit, or try to move drum sounds, or quantize, it takes me out of the song, so I want to hire someone to do that stuff.

But, for me, it’s whatever makes you feel something. That’s what I have learned over all the years of playing with different people and doing my own thing. You realize that instead of trying to write songs for other people, or play for other people, it’s just doing it for yourself and how it moves you. When you’re writing stories from your experiences, what you been through, other people relate to that more than if you’re trying to cater to everybody else. It connects people and brings them together. That’s what music is all about. It’s a beautiful thing.

What does your practice consist of?

These days, if I’m practicing, it’s usually I have to learn a song for a jam or a show, or I’ve got to learn a bunch of songs to go on tour. Or, for instance, I’m coming up on doing the Prince tribute, so I’ll be going through all the Prince songs. That, for me, is practice. Also, when you listen to the great players and artists and try to learn those songs, you learn new things by doing that, and that is practice. I don’t make it boring. I don’t sit there and do scales. That would drive me batty!

Is there a release date for Love Bomb?

There isn’t. I’m just going to see when it gets done, and when I and the management team and the label all feel it’s ready. So, I’m not sure when, but I’ll be definitely sharing things on social media and documenting the whole thing too. I want to bring people into this process. I think it’s important, because it’s been a real journey, the ups and downs and all of that stuff. I’ve been in America now for 12 or 13 years, and I want to talk about a lot of different things with this record.

You’ve been in the music industry since you were a teenager, and you are an inspiration for many young women who aspire to follow in your footsteps. Do you have some advice or words of wisdom for them?

Support each other. Women should support women. And stick together as well. It’s a thing where we can all work together, guys and girls.

When I first started playing guitar at school, and this was when I was really young, it was insane because the guys hated it. I was bullied. I got beaten up. It was an awful experience, and I left school at 15 because of that. I got into the music industry and I started playing different supports around Australia, with guys watching in the audience with their arms folded. I came over here when I was 20, and when I played at the NAMM show, which was predominantly male guitar players, drummers, and bass players, I would always feel a bit judged The more I attended NAMM — and I’m using NAMM because that’s where all the musicians come — every year, more and more female guitar players, drummers, and bass players were coming to the show and playing, and it’s awesome.

So, believe in yourself, and if you love it, go for it. It doesn’t matter what you do in life — if you’re wholehearted if you’re all in, it doesn’t matter. And support each other. That’s really important. This is not a competition. Music is not in any way a competition. We’re all trying to create things to bring people together. That’s what it’s all about. We’re here to serve people, as musicians and songwriters and performers. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you’re choosing music and that’s your purpose — to create songs and bring people together. It’s all about love. It’s all about spreading that.

Orianthi Guitar Gear 

  • Orange Amps Rockerverb Mark 3 
  • Dean Markley strings 
  • Taylor acoustic guitars 
  • Paul Reed Smith Signature electric guitar 
  • NEXI Industries signature pedals 
  • Shure microphone 
  • Monster cables 

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