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July 7, 2010.
six, stuffed animals and jump
ropes didn’t interest this talented guitar
prodigy. Instead this little girl from Adelaide, Australia was inspired
to become one of the best guitar players ever… and she is succeeding.
her teens, Orianthi Panagaris had already played alongside her idols
some of the biggest names in guitar history, like Steve Vai and Carols
at only twenty-five, Orianthi has also shared the stage with some of
music’s greats – including Michael Jackson, who
shortly before his death personally picked her to
play lead guitar on his comeback tour This Is It. Additional big names in the music biz seeking out her
talents range from Mary J. Blige to Prince and Adam Lambert to Carrie
However, it’s not just the killer guitar solos that are making a name
for Orianthi. Did we mention she can sing?
Signed by Geffen Records in 2007, Orianthi is a driven singer-songwriter
who has now topped the charts with “According to You,” her first hit
single from her debut album Believe. The second single “Shut Up
and Kiss Me” is following it up the charts.
with all the exciting things going on in her career, Orianthi continues
to be driven to touch more people with her songs and to continue to
learn how to get even better at her everyday passion – her music.
Recently, we spoke with Orianthi about her career, her passions and
jammin’ into musical history.
When most six year old girls are still playing with dolls, what was it
about an acoustic guitar that was so attractive to you?
dad was a guitar player, so he was always strumming the guitar around
the home. It just looked so cool and it made me want to pick it up. I
picked one up one day when I was six and I just haven’t put it down. I
just love it. It’s a challenge – always so much to learn about it.
It’s just really cool.
eleven, you had moved on to electric guitar after seeing Carlos Santana
live. With such a passion for the guitar, what was like to see a
musical great like him?
was crazy, just the way he played really affected me. He put everything
into his playing and his choice of notes. You can tell that he loved it
and that’s what really inspired me. He had this real child-like
enthusiasm when he played. I never want to lose that. Every time I
pick up a guitar or play a show I’m really excited about it. I think
that is what inspires people. When you see a show, if the artist is
really into it, then the audience knows they love what they are doing.
At only twenty-five, you have already played with so many icons in
music. You had played guitar with Steve Vai at fifteen and
Santana at eighteen. How did those come about and what was it like
jamming with two of the greatest guitarist ever when you’re only a
It was pretty crazy. When I was fifteen, my first
support ever was for Steve Vai at a club called Heaven in Adelaide,
Australia. I was so nervous because it was my first support. I wasn’t
with a band. I was with a backing tape. I got up and there were all
these guys staring at me with their arms folded, like “What is she going
to do?” It was pretty daunting for me but I played about four or five
songs and then Steve was watching me from behind stage. He invited me
to meet him afterwards. Since I was only fifteen, I had to leave around
midnight, so I only got to catch about ten minutes of his show, which
was incredible. If I would’ve seen that before I had gotten up [on
stage], I probably wouldn’t have gotten up. (laughs) He’s just
incredible. We did meet up some time after the show and we kept in
touch by emails and all. I have known Steve since I was fifteen and he
has always been such a key support, like an uncle. I have learned so
much from him. He’s a great person and artist.
How did you end up playing with Santana?
Well, I actually bombarded Carlos with a bunch of my CDs
and press kits when he arrived in Adelaide. He probably thought, “Wow,
just to put her out of her misery, I’ll meet her.” (laughs) I
met up with him at sound check. I had brought my guitar to get it
signed. He invited me up on stage and we started jamming. Then after
that he invited me up on stage that night to jam at the show. There
were like 15,000 people in the crowd and it was really surreal
playing with the late, great, King of Pop - Michael Jackson - had to have
been a highlight in your career so far. How did that come about and how
did you learn about the passing on this musical icon?
I actually got an email through MySpace from [his]
musical director. He wanted me to come in and audition for Michael’s
lead guitar player. He saw me at the Grammy Awards when I got
up and played with Carrie Underwood. He was in the audience. Then he
showed my YouTube videos and that Grammy performance to Michael Jackson.
It was just really crazy. I was getting emails saying, “Can you come
in and play for Michael Jackson? He wants to see you play.” I was
like, oh my God! Of course! It was funny, my record was done but I was
going to put all that stuff aside to play with someone like Michael. I
went and auditioned and played “Beat It” for Michael. He came up to me
and grabbed my arm and started walking up and down the stage. At the
moment while he’s walking around with me, I’m thinking this is crazy!
It was just a dream come true and an amazing time in my life. For those
three months it was really intense. Seeing everyone everyday, getting
to work with them. It was like a family. It was really hard when he
passed. Everyone was really devastated. Like I said, it was like a
family and we all really looked up to him immensely. This tour, this
whole show was his baby and he was putting everything into it. Yeah, it
was just a really, really difficult time for everybody after that. So
sad. He was brilliant.
Believe is doing really well. Being your second album, but debut on
major label, how involved were you in writing and selecting the songs
that would make it on?
Very involved. I mean all the songs were co-written with
other people or written by myself. Apart from a couple of covers we did
everything new. All the songs were a good blend of pop soloed with
commercial tracks – pop rock, all my influences kind of combined. It
was the kind of record I wanted to make.
do you feel your songwriting has progressed in the last years?
The first song I ever wrote was when I was seven… six or
seven. I have been writing ever since then. For awhile I put
singing aside and was writing a lot of instrumental stuff – guitar
instrumental. Then I picked up singing again was I was like fifteen and
playing with cover bands until I was about twenty-one in Australia.
Coming over from Australia and working with people in LA, you definitely
learn a lot. Sometimes it’s a great situation when you come to the
table with your ideas and they bring theirs and the song works. Other
times it doesn’t work straight off the bat and you really have to work
at it. It’s always very interesting and the process is very different
all the time.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
get my inspiration from life. Also with the songs I write, it can
depend on the mood I’m in. I’m usually in an upbeat mood – but if I am
ever down, I might write a slower song or in a great mood, it might be a
more up beat song.
you ever hit a writer’s block? If so, what do you do to get past it?
Everyone gets to the point when they are writing so many
songs that they just need a break. I need a moment away so I’m not
writing the same song over and over again. A good way to break out of
that is to listen to a lot of different music. Listen to some country,
jazz, punk music and just step away from the writing for a day or two.
It’s hard to do but when you come back to it, you might have a
love “According to You,”
which made its way up the charts and is still getting a lot
airplay. What was it like when you first heard your first single
playing on the radio?
That was incredible! It was in Las Vegas.
We were on a radio run and I turned it on and was like WOW! It was a
real moment. I was with Brian, my guitar player, and some guys from the
record company. It was just a crazy moment. When I was six, I picked
up an Elvis record and thought, “I want to make a record in American one
day.” Hearing it just took me back to that moment.
second single “Shut Up and Kiss
Me” was just released a few months ago, and is starting to
get airplay also. The story seems to be about a pretty tough
relationship. Have you ever had an experience like that and do you find
that difficult relationships are more interesting to sing about
than easy ones?
Yeah, there are some songs on the record about good relationships and
good moments in a relationship, but I think that sometimes it’s good to
whine about the bad stuff (laughs) and kind of rock out to it.
Everyone has gone through those moments, so to put it in a song
someone is listening to it and their relationship isn’t rosy at that
they might be able to relate. That’s a really cool thing
about music, I like when people can relate to it.
of the songs you did on the CD was a cover of John Waite’s “Missing
You.” Why did you choose that song? Was it a favorite of yours?
Yeah. I love that song. It’s great and I thought it
would be cool to cover it. I’m a big 80’s fan.
you have a favorite song on the CD, one that really touched you or you
are very passionate about?
Yeah. I would have to say it is “Courage.” I think the
lyrics in that are really strong and uplifting. Every time we play it
live, people really seem to get into it. It’s a song that sort of lifts
your spirits up. Life is full of ups and downs and if you have courage
through it and… like in the song, just kind of let go of your self doubt
and fears… [you can] break through and go for whatever you want.
are a really amazing guitar player. Are there any other instruments you
currently play or are there any you would like to take up?
I play drums. I’m a frustrated drummer. I’m not great
at playing the drums, but I do enjoy playing them. I also play
keyboards. I was playing piano when I was three. I’m not great at
piano since I put it to the side when I picked up the guitar but I do
play it as much as I can. I also like bongos.
this year, you participated in "We
Are the World 25" for Haiti, the
remake of the legendary 1985 USA for Africa song written by
Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. How did you get involved in this
remake for charity and what was it like working with so many
was really great. I was invited to be part of it. Going in to that
situation with all of those amazing artists in that room and getting to
say hi to everybody [was incredible]. I met Heart, which was really cool,
walking into the door and Heart was right there – it was crazy! And
Lionel Richie was there, the Beach Boys and just so many incredible
artists I can’t think of them all.
you actually starstruck by any of them?
Yeah, totally. It was a crazy day. It was like a
dream. India.Arie, I am a big fan of hers. And so many other
incredible people I met that day. Quincy Jones, of course. It was
great to say hello to him. He was so sweet. It was great getting to
play guitar on the track too.
played with several
American Idol finalists and winners like Carrie Underwood. What was
she like working with?
Awesome. I’m a huge fan of hers and country music. When
she invited me to get up and jam with her and her band at the Grammy
Awards it was just really cool. I had a blast up there and getting to
play the Grammys was just crazy. She has an incredible voice!
you'll be spending your summer on the road opening for Adam Lambert.
How did you get involved in his tour and do you like being out on the
Yeah. I love it. It’s really great. We’re actually two
weeks into it right now and getting to play music every night is so much
fun. His show is incredible. He’s an amazing entertainer and singer.
So is Allison Iraheta [another former Idol finalist who is also
on the tour], who I get up and jam out on “Don’t Waste the
Pretty,” her new single. I actually play on [the
single] too. That’s
always a lot of fun. It’s just fun getting out there and trying to
better yourself every night. That’s our goal. Just have fun and do
your best. I love getting up in a different city every day, that’s
always fun. Playing to a different audience every night and people
seeing to your songs is really cool.
there any misconceptions about you that you would like to clear up?
I don’t think so.
know you've been living in the US for a few years now. Do you consider
the US home now and do you still get homesick for Australia?
I miss Australia. That’s my first home but this is my
second home. I feel very much at home here in the US. Both places are
all of your family still back in Australia?
They are. All of my family is still back in Adelaide. I
miss them but I get to Skype them every morning, which is always good.
But, my second family really is my band and crew here on the bus. We
are all living in this big tour bus and it’s great. It’s like a big
family and we all get along really well.
you pick everybody in your band?
did. Yeah. They are all super talented and really cool people. I
would hang out with them if they were not in my band. That’s what I was
looking for – people who not only play their butts off, but were friends
too. It’s really great to have them all with me.
What's next for your career?
We’re actually doing this tour for a while and then we are heading to
Japan to play a couple of shows. Then one in Malaysia and one in
Singapore then we are heading to Germany for a bit. Then coming back to
do some more touring in the US and also working on a new album so
working with other artists and playing more shows.
Did you ever think
your music would take you around the world?
I had hoped it would, but you never know. What is happening right now is
amazing and I am so grateful to be doing it.
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