Orianthi on new album ‘O’: “I just went with my gut feeling of what would be right.”

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Orianthi promo shot with PRS Gold Custom 24
Photo by Jim Louvou
       

When Orianthi last spoke with Guitar Girl, for the cover feature of the 2018 Holiday issue, she was at work on a new album and accompanying documentary. With time, her creative direction changed, and she instead returned to Nashville to write and record what is now O, her fourth studio album and first solo project since 2013’s Heaven In This Hell. O also marks her debut for the Frontiers Music label and is due out November 6.

Born and raised in Australia, Orianthi began playing guitar as a child. Her prodigious talents were soon evident, and she began cultivating her skills in the studio and onstage. She was only fourteen when she secured a coveted support slot for guitarist Steve Vai; the two remain close friends and colleagues.

She independently recorded and released her first album, Violet Journey, in 2005. Two years later, the album became available worldwide through a distribution deal. Upon moving to Los Angeles, she was signed to Interscope Records and released Believe in 2009. Her first single, “According To You,” was a hit, cementing her as a triple threat: singer, songwriter, and guitarist. She was sought out for sessions and live gigs. She was hired by heavyweights, including Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana, Carrie Underwood, and Alice Cooper, accompanying the latter on two world tours.

As further proof of her ability to override musical trends and flavors of the month, “According To You,” now over a decade past its original release date, recently made an unexpected comeback via TikTok and Spotify. The song has gained traction with millions of plays, introducing Orianthi to a new generation of fans and guitarists.

Guitar Girl connected with Orianthi via email prior to the release of O. 

Preorder the album on Amazon here.

Orianthi album cover for O
Photo by Jim Louvou

When you look at the timeline of your career, how is each album a chapter or milestone?
When I reflect on each album, there’s definitely a journey before and afterwards. This industry is definitely not an easy one by any means. Before you make a record, you have to be fully prepared to make a record. Otherwise, you’re just putting out a record, and it loses substance after a while. Ultimately I think that it’s about living life and taking those experiences that feed your soul. That’s what it’s all about for me.

“According To You” has made a massive comeback—83 million views on TikTok and 17 million streams on Spotify at the time of this interview. What brought the song back, and when you listen to it, who was the woman who recorded it, and who is she now?

That was kind of a whirlwind back when I recorded that song. I signed with Interscope Records, and I worked with Michael Jackson. There were so many things going on. I worked really hard to get that song played by every radio DJ and just didn’t sleep for months. It came back in a major way. My friend notified me about it, and before I knew it, there were millions of views, and I knew I had to get an account on TikTok as well. I’m really grateful that people reconnected with that track and its message, and I’m looking forward to the next track I create that connects with people.

In addition to working on your own material, you collaborate with other artists. How do those experiences help shape you as a musician and songwriter?

They say to “take something from everyone that you work [with].” They all come from different places, and I think it’s important to never stop learning and to have an open heart, open spirit, open mind. Be ready to learn when you’re stepping into these situations with other artists.

. . . I just went with my gut feeling
of what would be right.

You returned to Nashville to record, this time with Marti Frederiksen, who produced, mixed, and co-wrote with you. What made him the right “partner” for this album, and what can you tell us about that working relationship?

I’ve known Marti since I was twenty, so it’s been quite a few years. He’s a good friend, and I felt comfortable working with him. I was working on a hip-hop/pop record prior to that, but working with Marti on this just felt like the right direction. When I got home, I had a demo that I sent him. He said he was down, and I was over the moon and really happy. In the end, I just went with my gut feeling of what would be right. He’s a great person to work with because he’s not only a great producer; he’s a great songwriter and musician.

You completed the album in twenty-eight days, including the songwriting. Were you on a deadline, or was it an unexpectedly seamless experience that moved at that steady and rapid pace?

Yes, to be honest, it was just an unexpectedly fast experience. We didn’t expect to get it all done in that time, but we did, and I’m really excited about it!

In the bio that accompanies your new album, you mention that you “experimented a lot with synths and different guitar tones.” Can you tell us a bit more about that? What were you looking for in terms of new sounds and styles?

I used a lot of different vintage guitars in the studio. Only using Orange amplifiers and PRS guitars and Gibson acoustic, but the whole record was done in a way that was very open-minded. I was just looking for something new and something to change things up a bit. Sometimes it was for the entertainment value, as it was something they didn’t expect from me. As an artist, I want to do things different and not the same thing over and over. Music just provides a kind of escapism for people that I think is so important.

I have a pretty diverse audience . . .

You also state that you want to “reach a whole new audience with this record.” Who is your audience, and who do you hope to bring into the fold?

I have a pretty diverse audience, actually, from really young girls to tomboys that are into playing the guitar, [and] then there are the teenage boys that are really into shred guitar. Then I have people my age, in their thirties, and then there are much older guys, the hippies, that love that I was influenced by the blues. It’s very diverse for sure, but I love it.

Which guitars and amps did you use on this album?

I predominantly used the Orange Rockerverb Mark 3. I also used PRS Custom 22 and 24. I used some vintage Teles, vintage Gibsons, different acoustic and electric guitars. It was pretty all over the place.

Can you give us a walkthrough of tracking [first single] “Sinners Hymn” from start to finish?

The track was very Hendrix-inspired and a little ’90s, which I guess kind of came through the sound of that song. From start to finish, it was a very easy, fun, riff-based, gnarly track to record. We had a blast recording that one.

You have a signature Gibson acoustic coming out next year. What can you tell us about the guitar?

I don’t think I can say all the specs, as it’s kind of a secret until it’s released, but I can say it’s never been done before. They followed me down a rabbit hole. It’s a hybrid electric-acoustic, and it’s probably the best acoustic guitar that I’ve ever played, so that’s pretty amazing.

They approached me last year. I went to Montana. I picked out a guitar and the pickups. I worked really closely with Robi Johns, and he’s a big part of the acoustic division at Gibson. And I met everybody in the factory pretty much. I watched how the guitar is made, how the wood is pressed, and I picked out everything about the guitar, the design down the neck with the Lotus flowers, the color, and everything about it.

Is it fair to say that most people associate you with the electric guitar? How big a part has acoustic guitar played in your repertoire over the years, as well as in your practice?

I began on acoustic. I studied classical guitar when I was nine and went to university and studied classical theory. And I write on acoustic and play a lot of both. But, of course, a lot of the success I’ve had has been with electric guitar.

Orianthi with PRS Gold Custom 24
Photo by Jim Louvou

How does your technique change from one to the other?

It’s always different. I think it’s how you pick up different personalities, and it makes you play differently. Ultimately, I practice a lot on the acoustic, but on the electric, it’s really easy to over-bend.

You are teaching guitar via Cameo. When did you begin doing this, and what do you find most rewarding about teaching?

Teaching on Cameo is usually about techniques that I break down as best I can. I’ve had mixed reviews as a guitar teacher—that’s why I’m not one! But it’s really great to have messages from young players asking about techniques like vibrato, which is pretty easy to break down. Everyone has different ways, and we can give people tools, but ultimately everyone will learn a different way.

A portion of proceeds from Cameo benefits MusicCares, one of several organizations that you support, including St. Jude’s Hospital, PETA, and the Dream Foundation. Why those particular organizations?

They’re very dear to me. MusicCares really helped a lot of people, and it continues to. I think we need to do things that obviously can help techs out, crew, and different musicians that don’t have the means to pay for medical bills or things like that. Right now with COVID, it is really messed up. And it can help that industry immensely. You just have to do what you can. I think it’s a wonderful thing that I can not only teach people on Cameo, which makes money for the artist and the app, but I can also give back, and the combination of it all really makes it worthwhile.

I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with the right people.

You mention in the bio that you have gotten better at self-care and managing depression. Is there a message you wish to share with readers who are dealing with those challenges?

It’s all about reprogramming your mind because you can fall victim to your thoughts. Whenever I have issues with that, I’m not going to say I haven’t dealt with depression because I have. But I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with the right people. Because sometimes it’s not that you’re depressed; it’s that you have assholes around you.

And two, it’s about also reprogramming your mind of every single negative thought in your mind and replacing it with a more positive one. You can clear your mind by taking a walk, doing something positive and healthy for your body. Self-care is really important too. So I find running or walking a long distance is very important. Eating well is also very important. I’m pretty much a health freak. I believe herbal medicine is helpful, and I’m also a vegan. I think when you know when you take care of your body and your mind, things start falling into place a little better. And clarity is such an important thing.

As I said, the most important thing that you can do is take care of yourself and to see who’s around you in your support group and make sure you’re not surrounded by assholes. And once again, reprogramming your mind—using self-help books and finding the positive in what you do each day.

Tracklist

1        Contagious
2        Sinners Hymn
3        Rescue Me
4        Blow
5        Sorry
6        Crawling Out of the Dark
7        Impulsive
8        Streams of Consciousness
9        Company
10      Moonwalker