Girl on Fire: Orianthi Turns Up the Heat on Her New Album, 'Heaven In This Hell'

by Richard Bienstock, Photo by Jeremy Danger
Posted Feb 27, 2013 at 8:01am

This is an excerpt from the April 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine. For the rest of this story, plus a feature on Orianthi's "MJ" PRS Custom 24 guitar, check out the issue at the Guitar World Online Store.

It’s hard to keep up with Orianthi these days. The guitarist, who hails from the South Australia city of Adelaide, has been touring the world as a member of Alice Cooper’s band for the past year and a half.

When Guitar World finally catches up with her in Los Angeles, she’s just returning to the mainland from a show in Hawaii. Beyond the pleasures of globe trotting, she is clearly enjoying her long-running stint with the celebrated shock-rocker. “We get to celebrate Halloween all year long,” she says. “And I have the best seat in the house every night.”

It’s a pretty good arrangement for Cooper as well, as Orianthi is one of popular music’s most in-demand players. She is the rare modern guitarist who is equally adept at playing rock, pop, country and blues, not to mention capable of standing toe-to-toe with some of today’s best shredders.

Though only 27 years old, she has played alongside everyone from Cooper, Carlos Santana (her first idol) and Steve Vai to Carrie Underwood, Prince and Michael Jackson, whose band she was a member of for his ill-fated This Is It comeback shows in 2009.

In addition to her always-busy schedule with other musicians, Orianthi records and performs her own music. Her self-released solo debut, Violet Journey, came out in 2007, though it was the 2009 follow-up, Believe, which featured the slick pop-rock hit “According to You,” that proved to be her breakthrough.

Now’s she’s back with Heaven in This Hell, perhaps the most accurate representation to date of her varied style as an artist and a player. The record incorporates everything from heavy modern rock (“You Don’t Wanna Know”) to country-inflected balladry (“Another You” and “Rock”) to widescreen, soaring pop (“If You Think You Know Me”). But mostly there is gritty, bluesy hard rock laced with plenty of incendiary six-string work, as evidenced on the slide-guitar-powered “Fire,” the SRV-influenced “Frozen” and the swampy, wah-drenched title track.

“I’d been listening to a lot of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf,” Orianthi says about the inspiration behind the album, which she recorded in Nashville with former Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart at the helm. “I think you can hear the Delta blues thing in something like the intro to ‘Heaven in This Hell,’ which has that down-home acoustic riff.” Still, these aren’t songs meant for front-porch picking. Rather, Orianthi says, “With every track it was like, How is this gonna go down live? That was the main thing I had in mind when writing and recording these songs. We wanted it to be a blast to play onstage.”

The stage is clearly where Orianthi shines, and she has plans to take this material out on the road as a solo act—if she ever finds the time. She has dates booked with Cooper for much of 2013, and there’s no telling who might come knocking on her door after that. When asked which artists she would most welcome an opportunity to play alongside, Orianthi doesn’t hesitate with her answer: “B.B. King or Eric Clapton. I played at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007, but I’d love to actually do something with Eric. And B.B…he hits one note, and that’s all you need. He’s amazing.”

Given Orianthi’s track record, smart money would bet that these collaborations might happen sooner than she thinks. “I don’t know about that,” she says with a laugh. “But it’d be very cool…”

Photo: Jeremy Danger

For the remainder of this story, check out the April 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine, which is available now at the Guitar World Online Store.

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