She is not yet 30, but her skills on the guitar has already garnered her some impressive high fives from fret masters such as Carlos Santana and Steve Vai. Hailing from Australia, Orianthi knew early on that her future followed the yellow brick road not through academic poppy fields but along the gleaming stretched out strings of an electric guitar; it’s incredible hum and vivre capturing her soul in such a way that she dropped out of school early and ended up in the promised land of masqueraded broken dreams, where the young lady has actually beaten the jesters and is succeeding where many young musicians have cemented in dead-end non-musical gigs.
In a few short years, she has built a reputation for clean vivacious tones while emitting a cool and deadly shock treatment of chords all rolled into one. With an EP produced by Dave Stewart, some advice from Vai and some learned lessons from the late Michael Jackson, Orianthi is on a new ride with Alice Cooper as part of his legendary band.
A few months ago, while hunkered down on the Gulf Coast rehearsing for the tour, which was recently roaming across Europe, Orianthi sat down with me in her serene dressing room to share some insights on her past, her present and her future.You’ve been playing guitar with Alice Cooper since last year. What has it been like being a part of his band?
Awesome. Very, very cool. I got an email from Bob Ezrin and Alice asking if I would join. I played with Alice probably about two years ago on “Idol” and we played “School’s Out”. Damon [Johnson] left so they reached out to me and asked if I would join this crazy group; and of course I love Alice. I was actually making my album at the time and I was just like, Ok. I get in there and within a week I had to learn twenty-five songs. It was madness. But it’s a real honor to perform with him every night. He’s such an amazing showman and he gets so into character it’s scary (laughs). It’s crazy on stage and so different from when he’s off stage but I love it, it’s so much fun.How different is he from Steve Vai?
You know, they’re actually really similar. I think Alice and Steve, apart from Alice having the blood and guillotines going on, they are both amazing showmen and it’s great to learn off of them.Do you find Los Angeles very different from Australia?
Compared to LA coming from Adelaide, which is such a small town, it’s so different. It took a while to get used to LA, just everything about it, but now it’s definitely my second home. I love going back home to Australia and I go maybe twice a year but I had to make the move because I wanted to play guitar for the rest of my life and make a record in America and being a huge Elvis fan, that was my dream to come over and make it in America.You started playing guitar when you were very, very young. When did you discover it and what made you want to play a guitar?
Well, my dad is a guitar player so he had them around the house, but left-handed ones. I’d pick them up and strum but it would be upside down. Actually, I first picked it up left-handed and then I swapped it. But I actually write left-handed too, it’s kind of weird. So now I’m more used to playing than writing right-handed. The guitar was just something I just took to initially. Something that I just got more than I got math or anything else like that in school. I actually left when I was fifteen and I joined cover bands and played in cover bands till I was twenty-one.Have you had any regrets leaving school that young or did you just know instinctively at that time that this is what you were going to do with your life?
Oh, I had my mind made up. I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, I just knew. I’m pretty focused and I had my mind set that nothing else was kind of right for me so I just felt this was my path to do music and I’ve been playing guitar since I was six. I just had this sort of clear vision. And I think if you have that clear vision, do it, but if you’re not sure, don’t quit school. School is there to guide you and for me, I didn’t feel like they could guide me cause I already knew what I wanted to do. I learn from life, you learn till you die really. I think as an artist you learn more from life and experiences than you do from text books and stuff. I feel it wasn’t right for me but I’ve said it before. Kids say to me, “I’m leaving school too” and I’m like, “No.” I don’t want to be responsible for everyone dropping out (laughs).Was Steve Vai the first guitar player that you met?
Yeah, when I was fourteen.How did that happen?
He is amazing. You know, I’ve known him for half my life now. He’s like an uncle to me. He is so incredible playing guitar but also such a great person too and encouraging. And I found his support to be so awesome cause I was sending him emails with crappy demos from my bedroom (laughs). And he’d be like, “I really like this part but maybe if you change the chords in this part here, it’d be better. Maybe try your melody somewhere else.” It wasn’t like, “Yeah, great demo.” He actually listened to it and wrote an email to me and I was like, wow.You were preparing to go on tour with Michael Jackson when he died. Was Michael what you thought he would be like?
Actually, I thought he would be different. I thought that he would be, not like one of those unapproachable people, but I didn’t know how to react around him. I didn’t know if I should look him in the eye (laughs). I didn’t know but he was the most personable, friendliest, sweetest person. And just an incredible entertainer. He was the real deal – a pop singer, a dancer, he did it all and he did it so well and there is never going to be another one ever. It’s like, when you see dancers and singers come out these days and they try to copy him but being there and watching him dance in front of me and sing, he knew every part of all of his songs. He was very particular and almost obsessed with every part and getting it right. I loved that about him cause he was really passionate about the music too and the dancing and the show.How hard was it for you to play the memorial?
That was really difficult because I think we did it a few days after – I can’t really remember the time frame – but for everyone there, we were like one big family and it was like we really bonded. We’d been rehearsing for three months and we’re all friends now but it was like being there together and it being very surreal, looking around and just in disbelief and that was really difficult.Does writing songs come natural to you?
Not always, no. I think if you try to force write a song it’s not going to be right. Sometimes inspiration can hit you when you’re walking down the street or it can hit you on the airplane. Actually for me, I like to write lyrics on the plane. I know it’s weird but I write a lot of things on my iPad. I just sit there and it’s kind of like alone time in a way cause everyone else is sleeping, they’re passed out, and I sort of find inspiration there. Yeah, sometimes you go into a room and the energy is just right so it inspires you. And that’s why I love co-writing so much because it’s not only you have a person’s input but it’s their energy that you feed off of. And I think it’s the same with audiences as well too.Dave Stewart produced your EP, which is called Fire. What was it like working with him?
I love Dave, he is amazing. He’s a good friend of mine. I’ve known him for about two years now. He is a real like visionary and an amazing guitar player and songwriter. All the songs were co-written with Dave [but] then he went down and made his album and then he called me, “Hey Ori, I’m in Nashville, come down to Nashville cause I’m making my album down there.” So I’m like, ok. So we packed up and went down to Nashville and hung out and, yeah, it was great watching this amazing band, top session guys in Nashville, and listening to like thirty seconds of his demo and going in this big room and jamming out. The energy they captured was awesome. That’s the thing with recording, it’s real old school down there and it really captures a vibe and that’s what I wanted to do for my next album. It was very freeing for me because I didn’t have record company people telling me what to do. I went and did it myself so it was very freeing musically. I needed to do that.Can you believe that you have done so much so far and that you’re still so young?
The thing is, I don’t look back, I’m always looking forward to what I’m going to do next and what I might create. I’m thinking about my next record and new songs and projects, this tour and rehearsing for the past three days and the new songs we’re playing. We’ve got parts now, we’ve got a choreography guy now, it’s craziness (laughs) but I think the thing is to never stop, to keep just looking forward or being present. That is one thing I’m learning more, to be present because sometimes you’re like, Oh, I’ve got to do this tomorrow, but to be in the moment is so important, especially when you get to work with people like Alice and Dave and Steve and all these other amazing people. To really be there and learn as much as you can possibly off them, because Alice is such an amazing showman. He is just crazy and really engages the audience so it’s really cool. I have the best seat in the house.Is that what you hope to do with your career?
Yeah, just to keep going and getting better and keep learning and evolving musically. I think evolving is the most important thing. When I started with “According To You”, which is my first single, it was kind of pop and I feel my music has really evolved as a performer too. We just played a show over in Malaysia, which was very cool, for the F1 Race. There was a lot of people there. You know in Japan, my album did really well there so when we tour over there it’s crazy now and we can headline tours over there. Everywhere else it’s kind of different so we’re usually supporting or playing like smaller shows. In Australia it’s cool. I’ll be heading back there soon to do a show so that should be cool.What have learned the most from working with Alice? What has he taught you that nobody else has?
He is pretty similar to MJ in the way that he knows all his songs and the way he comes up and explains to us what he really wants, and the cool thing is he’ll have ideas that are really cool. He’s always thinking big. Like he loves putting himself in the audience and separating from himself, you know. Like, I’m going to be in the audience now so what do I want to see in an Alice show. And that’s a cool thing. He’s not just thinking, what do I want to do. As a performer, he’s like what do my fans want to see? What would Alice do here? And he separates himself from his character he plays, cause he is completely different from what he is on stage. So what I have learned from him is to like really put yourself in the audience in a way, from the fan’s point of view and what they want to see, not only musically but visually and show respect. Cause I’ve been putting blood all over myself now (laughs)I bet your dad loves that
He doesn’t mind but I’m really scary. Last year I got really crazy and I think my hair was scaring Alice (laughs). I think I was teasing it too much.Next week Glide sits down with former Eagle Don Felder