Orianthi “Heaven In This Hell” Interview

By Nicole Hanratty
Posted June 30, 2013

The beautiful blonde 28 year old in the midst of some of rocks greatest music icons including Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson is none other than Orianthi Panagaris, the lead guitarist hand chosen by Michael Jackson to play with him on the “This Is It” Tour that never came to be.

Her new album “Heaven In This Hell” is a window both into the artist’s soul and her playlist which she says is filled with an eclectic blend of music. “If You Were Here With Me” is a beautiful ballad filled with raw emotion and was inspired Orianthi says by “walking by this couple, they were probably in their 70’s, and they were holding hands and there were all these teenagers running around with their cell phones and everything, and how love can last and wanting that. You look at these old couples who’ve been together for years and years, and just wanting that. …It has a real country flavor to it as well, and it’s definitely a real story. When you find that person you just feel comfortable with, it’s about that, and finding that.”

“Rock,” and the blues ballad “Another You” also have a trace of country to them and are an illustration of Orianthi’s desire to create music that blurs boundaries. Title track “Heaven In This Hell” (produced by GRAMMY® and Golden Globe winning artist/producer Dave Stewart) is straight up Santana loving Orianthi who can seriously rock a Zeppelin sound and saddle acoustic with bullet proof electric riffs. “If You Think You Know Me,” a highlight song on the album has more of a pop-rock feel making her album quite diverse. “My ipod’s pretty eclectic with the collection of music I have on it,” says Orianthi, “so I kind of wanted my record to represent what I listen to and I don’t want to be sort of put in a box, because I like all different genres of music and I don’t care if it’s country, or rock, or blues, or some molded together, but if it’s a good song or it’s the way that you express yourself, it doesn’t really matter what sort of colors you paint with, or whatever, so this record wasn’t over thought at all.”

The beautiful blonde 28 year old in the midst of some of rocks greatest music icons including Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson is none other than Orianthi Panagaris, the lead guitarist hand chosen by Michael Jackson to play with him on the “This Is It” Tour that never came to be.

Ori–as she calls herself–was in Kansas City for a day off from “this crazy tour which has been a lot of fun,” she says as our call begins. The Alice Cooper tour of which she speaks has put her on stage playing with legendary performers only adding to the impressive list of musicians she’s played with including Steve Vai, Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana, Michael Bolton, Prince, ZZ Top, Adam Lambert, Carrie Underwood, John Mayer, Dave Stewart and more.

Most of us know Orianthi’s 2009 pop hit single “According To You” off of the “Believe” Orianthi album. “According To You” went platinum and the artist performed the song live on American Idol. The introduction of Orianthi by Ryan Seacrest was spot on, “in the spirit of rock n’ roll let’s welcome to the stage, one of its’ newest pioneers.”

After exchanging pleasantries I tell Ori that I’m pretty sure, the line “I’m a mess in a dress” from “According To You” was written about me and while I would never guess that it’s about her–she always seems to have it all together on stage–I ask, “Do you ever have ‘I’m a mess in a dress’ moments?” She laughs. “You know, I’ve haven’t really thought about that line. It’s funny, that song, ‘According To You,’ I actually didn’t write that song. I wrote the guitar parts in it, but I think the whole idea of it is basically saying that you have your moments that this guy just thinks you’re wonderful and the other guy doesn’t care. Of course, everyone has their moments for sure, definitely.” I can tell by the ease in her voice she can relate and while her life is the epitome of a rock star’s dream, deep down she’s just a girl with dreams and a vulnerable heart.

It can’t go unsaid that the album “Heaven in This Hell” which is soaked in rock and blues is a switch in gears from the “Believe” Orianthi album with pop friendly songs like “According To You,” so I spend a minute talking to her about this difference. “The new album ‘Heaven in This Hell’ really heads into the rock and blues realm pretty heavily. That seems to be your true passion, so I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the pressure you may or may not feel as this beautiful blonde woman to go the pop route instead of the rock route, which has historically been a difficult road for women.”

This is not her first rodeo and by the tone of her response I can tell this is a question she’s quite practiced in answering. “Yeah, for sure,” Orianthi begins. “I always felt like I wanted to inspire more girls to play the guitar and so getting on the radio was really important for me… My new record is taking my fans on a journey more into my roots which is blues and rock. It’s a really natural thing, a natural record for me to make. I made it over in Nashville at Blackbird Studios and it was basically in a room with all these amazing musicians and they all just vibed off on one another and recorded it one song in a day. It was the way the records were made back in the 70’s, and really organic sounding. I’m real excited about this new record, it’s a very different sound from the last record, and my next record is going to be different sounding from these two. I’m on a musical journey and wanting to create different sounds and different songs.” Then she says something that illustrates her point as clear as the notes she plays, “If you like a painting, it doesn’t matter if who painted is a guy or a girl.”

“It’s true,” I agree, “but it certainly is a more difficult road for women to go in music.” “Oh yeah… It really is,” she says in a voice that asserts a lifetime of experience butting up against the male stereotyping of lead rock guitarists. She adds, “I think it’s just keeping at it. You go through patterns where there’s highs and lows, and you just have to not give up and work your butt off, and have a passion for it. Every day, I just love music, I love performing, I love creating and I feel really blessed to be able to work with the people I work with.”

She takes the rock n’ roll world head on with “Heaven In This Hell” a killer track which hammers the girls can be bad ass rock stars point home in the recent VEVO premier of the song’s music video. I ask her about the vision behind that song and how it played out through the music video.

Orianthi replies, “Well this song is kind of, I call it a voodoo rock blues track. It’s got the Robert Johnson influence to it at the beginning where it starts off with an acoustic sounding delta blues riff, and it comes in with the main riff it just sort of knocks down a door. That’s why I want it to sound, kind of eerie and with the voice at the beginning that’s actually Dave Stewart reciting this poem, and it’s all about how music for me is my heaven in this crazy world, in this hell, the music industry being the hell (laughs). The guitar and just being able to create from that and stick with that, it sort of takes you to another world. Every night when I’m on stage, that’s just heaven for me. I think this song is definitely a journey because it starts off pretty dark and at the end it goes really bright, and musically sort of falls apart and lifts you up when it goes to that acoustic part.

As she speaks with her Australian accent I hear the love of performing in her voice and the source of genius in her talent. “The music industry is definitely a challenge,” I say and the hell of navigating it hangs in the air for a moment. “Yeah, for sure…” Ori says and while I know she could add to her statement she doesn’t and I see no need to push. She’s come to terms with her battles and chosen to press on and pursue her passions, her commitment is nothing short of inspirational.

Watch Orianthi playing for 2013 Idol winner Candice Glover

I move on to ask about “Another You” the opening lyrics of which catch my attention. “As I wake up, dreams of you, they brought back that feeling and made my heart stop beating.” Waking up to a new wave of grief from a powerful dream is an all too relatable feeling so I ask her if she is guided by her dreams and if she has any reoccurring dreams. “Yeah, sometimes I do, and it’s weird. Whenever I do have dreams, they’re very realistic. I don’t dream very often, but when I do they’re definitely like, it’s real life. It’s kind of crazy but sometimes you wake up and you write down the dreams or certain things. Ever since I was really young I’ve had really realistic dreams. I’m not a person that dreams every night. I’ve always saw dreams as meaningful so I always look up on the internet like ‘what does this mean…’ I’m pretty superstitious as well, about that. It’s definitely something I find very interesting.”

Tracing the footsteps of this accomplished musician is like reading through any artist’s wish list of collaborations. How did she get where she is today? She explains, “When I was about 14 I signed with a management company and I started playing different shows around Adelaide [Australia] and they got me a support opening for Steve Vai in a small club called Heaven in Adelaide, and I read about Steve Vai, but I was a huge Santana fan and started reading about Steve and Joe Satriani and different players and he was really cool. I really got in to Steve Vai after supporting him and discovering more of his music and after seeing him perform, I was like, “Oh my gosh, he’s incredible.” He’s a really good friend and just having his support meant the world. Then I got ZZ Top’s support when I was 16 in Adelaide. I actually quit school when I was 15 and started playing in cover bands. I had like three cover bands and we would write music and then I traveled over to the U.S. and I got invited by Paul Reed Smith–those are actually the guitars I use–and I use to play at the NAMM booth. I use to demonstrate there. I did that for a few years, about three or four years, and then I got an audition to come in and meet with Ron Fair. I got signed to Geffen records after that. It’s been kind of crazy jetty, it actually still is.”

“You’re obviously the envy of so many musicians,” I say, “having the opportunity to be chosen as the lead guitarist on the ‘This Is It’ Tour. I’m wondering, with the fourth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death passing this week, what you would say you learned as an artist from him and his work ethic?” Without hesitation Ori answers, “Well, there will never ever be another M.J.–his personality and being the most incredible entertainer ever, singer, dancer, everything. You know, I was just really inspired by him when we were working those three months. He’s so dedicated to making the show the best it could be, and just saying how … You know, it’s all about projecting your energy and reaching out to the fans. It’s all about the fans and making the show the best it can be and just everything. He definitely taught us to just reach higher and never think anything is just impossible, and just go for it. I’m a better rhythm guitar player, better entertainer, from working with him. I just feel really blessed that I got that time that I did with him.” And I feel blessed to have had the time with Orianthi that I did, her passion is contagious.


Nicole: I know Orianthi that you have played the “Stand Up to Cancer” TV event and recently you played a benefit concert for “Rock School Fund.” I know you’re extremely charitable, is there one significant charity that’s close to your heart and why do you think, as an artist, it’s important to give back?

Orianthi: Because we have a voice and obviously the fans that follow us on Twitter, to make them aware of these different charities and come out to shows. I think, for me, really close to my heart, is definitely Cancer. My Mom recently got through breast cancer, so I’m there for that. Anything to do with animals, as well. If someone calls up and is like, “Hey, would you donate your time or something for cancer,” yes, to show my Grandpa or my Mom.

What song title best describes your personality?

Orianthi: Oh God. Describe my personality. It could be “Little Wing.” [Jimi Hendrix] “She’s walking through the clouds with a circus mind running around.” That’s me. (laughs)

What are you favorites?

Nicole: Favorite ice cream flavor?

Orianthi: Chocolate.

Nicole: Brand of jeans?

Orianthi: Brand of jeans, OK. I really like Guess jeans. I’ve been wearing Guess and I also like the Lucky brand, too.

Nicole: Isn’t it funny how, as girls, we always have our “go to” brand?

Orianthi: Yes. Definitely. Definitely Guess and Lucky brand jeans. They’re the ones I go for. And I love the brand Seven [7 for all mankind].

Nicole: The seven jeans stretch. I love those.

Orianthi: Yeah, they’re great.

Nicole: All time favorite movie?

Orianthi: All time favorite movie. Gosh. Probably … There’s a couple because it just reminds me of being a kid, so either Hooked or Jurassic Park.

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