Orianthi: Self Mastered

Photo courtesy of Gibson

Violet Journey was a pivotal time for Orianthi. Recorded in 2005 and released in 2007, the debut album was a solo effort in every respect for the then 21-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who self-produced every aspect of the record, right down to playing every instrument and engineering the record herself.  

In retrospect, and nearly 15 years following the platinum-selling artist’s release, one that kicked off the Australian-born artist’s greater rock and roll trajectory, Violet Journey also marked a time of innocence, creativity, and extensive freedom for Orianthi. 

“I was by myself, away for six months in the studio and just wrote, learned how to play drums, learned how to play bass, and keyboards, engineering, and worked on a 2480 Roland recording desk, which my dad taught me,” shares Orianthi of making the album, which was recorded and mixed at her home studio in Adelaide. “There weren’t too many thoughts going on in my head.” 

Having resided in Los Angeles for the past 17 years, Orianthi views Violet Journey as a precious time in her life, before all the “madness,” and one she wants to revisit with her new material. 

“That record, I will always look back on as a very innocent time of just creating,” says Orianthi. “It was honest, and there weren’t all these cooks in the kitchen saying, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this‘ or ‘You should be wearing this.’” 

Playing guitar by the age of 6—thanks to her father, who played in a Greek band and collected a house-full of instruments—along with an extensive record collection turned a young Orianthi (born Orianthi Penny Panagaris) onto Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and B.B. King. Instantly connected to the guitar, Orianthi religiously began studying every album, solo, and note played by Carlos Santana before playing with her guitar on her own stage in Adelaide when she was 18. 

For Orianthi, who also played with Steve Vai when she was 15, Violet Journey eventually led to a signing with Geffen (coincidently prompted by Santana), a 2009 Grammy Awards performance with Carrie Underwood, subsequent gigs with Michael Jackson—including a spot on his This Is It tour planned prior to his passing in 2010—a regular touring stint with Alice Cooper and Dave Stewart, who ended up producing her 2011 EP Fire and her third album Heaven In This Hell in 2013, and other collaborations with John Mayer, Michael Bolton, and ZZ Top. 

Playing on the #BeMyBand project with Stewart and a lengthy musical partnership with Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, which culminated in their 2018 Radio Free America (RSO) collaboration, Orianthi, now 36, eventually released in 2020.  

Produced by Marti Frederiksen, O is a collective of varying emotional states and experiences over the course of seven years, tempered around ’90s rock riffs and Orianthi’s soaring solo.  

Working on her fifth album with producer Howard Benson—who also helmed Orianthi’s platinum-selling debut and 2009 follow-up Believeand worked with dozens of artists, including My Chemical Romance, Papa Roach, and Apocalyptica—was a welcome familiarity for Orianthi.  

“Howard messaged me out of the blue and was like, ‘How about getting to the studio and doing it again?’ And I was like, ‘Hell yeah,’” says Orianthi. “We had a good session, and we’re just working on the songs to make them the best they can be, and collaborating with some amazing artists. And honestly, I’m really stoked about it.” 

Referencing TikTok, Twitter, and other social media platforms, which can sometimes affect the art being made, Orianthi wants to return to her roots, creating music without too many voices around her.  

“It’s a good thing because you can put out music any way you want but on the other side, there’s a loss of mystique,” says Orianthi, of the new social environment. Returning to something more humble and planning to re-release a remastered Violet Journey, Orianthi is exploring songwriting and experimenting with sounds. “I think I’m slowly getting back to that more innocent time. You go through different phases where there are different opinions in your head.” 

Orianthi recently performed a virtual concert from the Sanre Geosphere in Los Angeles. “Arnel [Pineda] of Journey just did one in Manila, and it’s coming here to Hollywood, and I’ll basically play a bunch of songs from my new record, and a couple of songs that people haven’t heard before,” says Orianthi. “It’s putting together a whole experience, so every song has visuals that go with the CGI effects. Everything is pretty insane.”  

Predominantly piecing songs together on acoustic guitar, including “Wiped Out,” a track featured on the new album, Orianthi also dabbled with writing on the piano for the new music. “I can’t play piano by any means, but the cool thing about not knowing is the searching for the part or the different chords that give you different melodies and different places to go, as opposed to playing the guitar, which I know my way around,” she says. “Experimenting with different instruments, even singing a cappella and not even having melodies is an interesting way of writing.” 

Fused through more ’80s-pop beats and chords, the new songs are reassuring and spirit-lifting, says Orianthi, who has been testing various happy sounds from the era. “In the ’80s, the feelings you got from the songs were a very happy feeling,” says Orianthi, “so I want to incorporate those kinds of chord changes, guitar part samples, and beats. 

Also working with a team of other collaborators, including producer Bighead, the new material is Orianthi’s musical medicine for better days ahead. 

“Last year was crazy for everybody in the industry, but this year is slowly getting better,” says Orianthi. “We’re starting to feel a bit more human, getting in a room with people and being able to create. I really just want to make the songs on this record people can put on to lift their spirit to celebrate life.” 

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