At the tender age of 6, Orianthi had a moment of clarity. Picking up a guitar, she remembers knowing “from that moment on that it would take me on a journey, and I wanted to keep on learning. And I’ve never stopped.” That journey took the ambitious young guitarist/singer/ songwriter from her native Australia to Los Angeles, her current home. It also found Orianthi, then only in her early 20s, hand-picked by Michael Jackson for his band; mentored by Carlos Santana (who invited the teenager to play on stage with him right after meeting her at his soundcheck!); playing the 2009 Grammy’s with Carrie Underwood; as the first female guitarist in Alice Cooper’s band, and collaborating with Richie Sambora for the pair’s 2018 album Radio Free America for starters.
2020 saw the culmination of all that experience in a new chapter, with Orianthi’s stunning 11-song album O, produced by Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Faith Hill, Ozzy Osbourne.). Written and recorded at Frederiksen’s Nashville studio in a mere 28 days, O songs build on Orianthi’s bluesy guitar influences and roots (from B.B. King to Cream… to Nine Inch Nails!) and find her incorporating pop and rock elements that make for a fully realized, timeless rock album. Songs like the dynamic, bluesy and ballsy “Rescue Me,” the social commentary of the rift-tastic “Contagious” and the sexy, hard-edged pop of “Company,” showcase Orianthi’s knack for choruses that are as melodic and memorable as her deft, creative guitar solos and infectious riffs. “I want this record to be something people put on in their cars, and they can relate the songs; makes them feel good. It gets you going I’d like to reach a whole new audience with this record.”
“O” is what her friends call her, and she thought, “Why not do a self-titled record now, because at this point in my life, I’m coming out with a brand-new Gibson guitar that with an “O” in it, and this record, it’s my experience, it’s personal, it’s where I’m at right now.” Where she’s at can be gleaned in powerful tracks, many lyrics based on personal experience. The first song written for O was the powerful and empowering “Rescue Me.” “It’s about freedom, really,” explains Orianthi. “It’s not ‘rescue me’ as in I’m desperate to be rescued.’ It’s actually like you’re breaking out. That’s why that heavy riff comes in. And it’s kind of got that earthy, rootsy vibe — almost country rock. Then it goes into a freaking Audioslave sort of riff. Heavy! I wanted to do something like that to surprise people. And then that psychotic harmonica comes in. It’s just out there! I love the way Marti produced that track; he has the voices going backwards, which is super-cool.” Then there’s the acoustic song “Crawling Out of the Dark,” written with Nashville songwriter Candi Carpenter about the “dark side of relationships; Candi and I were talking about it, and it’s a bunch of stories put together,” explains Ori. Musical friends also dropped by the studio; and pal Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue fame is even a co-writer on the punchy toe-tapper “Streams Of Consciousness.”
A multi-instrumentalist, Orianthi of course played all the guitars on the record. (She calls herself a “frustrated drummer” and plays piano and some bass as well.) Producer Frederiksen played bass on O; his son Evan, 22, was on drums. The comfortable Music Row studio and family vibe contributed to the rapid and seamless writing and recording; Orianthi also stores many of her guitars in Nashville, so she had everything she needed.
She’s been that “guitar geek” since she was a kid: in fact, Orianthi was a teenager the first time she blew people away at the NAMM show in Anaheim, invited by no less a guitar luminary Paul Reed Smith. Shortly thereafter she met legendary producer/label head Jimmy Iovine, who signed Orianthi to Geffen after she nervously auditioned for him in a basement during his son’s birthday party! Believe (Geffen, 2009) followed her 2007 indie album, Violent Journey (where ala Prince, she played all the instruments.). By the time Believe hit the charts, she was already an alum of Michael Jackson’s band, yet another surreal but well-deserved gig. (The song “Moonwalker” on the O isn’t about her time with Jackson; rather it was written about people struggling to deal with reality.”
Orianthi has been honored and often awestruck to work with big names who make the records she loves. She was in songwriting session with Diane Warren (Beyonce, Celine Dion Barbra Streisand), and when she checked her email, she saw, “Michael Jackson wants me to go and play for him!” And Diane was like, “What?!” I was like, “Yeah!” I call my manager, and then Michael got on the phone with me, and said, “We’re watching your YouTube videos, and you’re just what I’m looking for. You need to learn ‘Beat It,’ and ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something’ and come in tomorrow.” I was, like, fainting!” While she was super-familiar with Eddie Van Halen, Orianthi hadn’t done much of the intricate tapping and shredding that she’d have to replicate on “Beat It,” which Eddie played on. Orianthi practiced all night and nailed the audition in front of Jackson and went into rehearsals for the This Is It tour. Sadly, Jackson passed away on June 25, 2008. But then the This is It documentary came out and Orianthi was all over it. Her life instantly changed; she was followed by TMZ and appeared on Larry King and Anderson Cooper. She’s still tight with his band: “We’re forever family; we shared that very intense experience with Michael that bonded us together.”
Her 2009 Believe album came in the same time period, produced by Grammy-winner Howard Benson (Daughtry, Halestorm). Orianthi recalls trying to process all the good and sad that was going on in her young life. “I was very overwhelmed” she recalls. However, since she had been bullied as the “weird kid” in school, then looked at as an anomaly as guitar prodigy, Orianthi was getting good at self-care, dealing with depression, and standing strong. She’s proud of the strides she’s made since entering the music industry but acknowledges that she’s had to prove herself to be the disciplined and talented artist she is. “People would think women in bands have a guitar like it’s an accessory; you know, like it’s just a cool look.” From the first note, Ori proved them wrong. “I’ve always play like I mean it. Sure, I still get that air of ‘What the hell?’ when people first encounter me. it’s not easy being a woman in this industry.”
While her career highlights are already beyond her wildest dreams—she was the first non-American Idol signed to 19 Entertainment management; she got to meet her own idol; B.B. King, touring the entire world with numerous bands—Orianthi retains her sense of wonder and excitement. “I try to keep that childlike enthusiasm and use it as much as I can. You want to preserve that as a musician, as an artist, always. Because once you lose that, you can become very jaded. And that stops your creativity,” she says. “Even my home, it’s all trees and colorful things and paintings. A lot of hippie stuff around, so that when I wake up, I’m just inspired, you know?”
She can even invoke that state when playing and writing songs. “I write a lot on piano, even on bass. The cool thing is about picking up another instrument is that when you’re searching, you don’t know what you’re doing. Because sometimes when you know what you’re doing, there’s a box around it, but there’s this freedom in not knowing what the hell you’re doing! It takes you somewhere else.”
Orianthi is thrilled to pass along and share that enthusiasm and positivity, especially when it comes to the guitar. She’s endorsed by numerous companies, including She’s had her own PRS SE Orianthi signature SE model, and about to launch the Gibson O model, an acoustic whish she calls her “dream guitar.” She was blown away by the opportunity to go to the Gibson factory in Montana to create her beautiful guitar, I put an incredible pick-up system in it. I’m over the moon, and I’m really excited for other people to play it.”
Orianthi’s innate love and positivity extends to charities as well, including work with breast cancer organizations, St. Jude’s Hospital, PETA, and The Dream Foundation, which provides end-of-life inspiration, comfort and closure for terminally-ill adults and their families.
Thrilled with the opportunities music gives her to connect with others, Orianthi is eager for people to hear O. The versatile artist hopes to reach new fans with O’s 11 songs. “I’ve experimented; it’s a brand-new sound for me, and it’s really inspired. It’s a rock sound, definitely; I was actually listening bands from INXS to Nine Inch Nails while making it. and I can’t wait to go out and promote it when it’s safe to. I’m really proud of O,” she concludes. “It’s very dramatic, entertaining, and I’m already envisioning the backdrops when I play live, I’m going to make it a full-on experience for the audience, visually and song-wise. I’m really looking forward to that.”