ORIANTHI & Her Relentless Pursuit of Passion

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The entertainment industry is a stratified society. The higher up the “A-List” an artist ascends, the more layers surround them. A manager, publicist, booking agent, attorney…all are gatekeepers in various ways. When a high-level musician is doing a phone interview, sometimes their “people” will place the call on their behalf. Usually, that call will come in to the writer as “unknown caller” with a blocked phone number. Therefore, when the call comes in labeled as “PANAGARIS ORIAN” with a legitimate Los Angeles phone number, it’s more than a bit surprising.

Guitarist/vocalist Orianthi Panagaris (known professionally as simply “Orianthi”) is most definitely on the A-list, having played with Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper, Carrie Underwood, Ritchie Sambora and many notable others. She haș a new album out with the rather generic name Rock Candy, but her work is anything but generic in content. The songs are melodic hard rock that is extremely well written, recorded and produced, and Orianthi soars with both her singing and guitar playing. The challenge for a guitarist at the top of their game is to make an album that showcases skills without becoming technical exercises that can come across as dry and passionless. With Rock Candy, Orianthi succeeds brilliantly. 

“I love technical music, but I’m also a big fan of a good rock song, and that’s what it’s all about for me. When it’s simple, when you want to sing along to it, have a good time, songs that are exciting to play live, that’s the goal,” she says. “I love writing songs.”

Orianthi started on her musical journey at a very young age. When she was six years old she started singing, and at age 11 she heard Carlos Santana play. Quickly smitten by the sound of the electric guitar, songwriting and singing became her passion. “Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, I listened to all of those great records. I was obsessed with writing songs, then going to school and showing off the song I had just written. I was always performing.”

Like most successful musicians, Orianthi isn’t content to set her playing on cruise control. It’s practice, practice and more practice, sometimes to the chagrin of others around her. “I’m playing guitar all the time. Sitting and watching TV, I’m playing guitar, and it’s annoying to my friends sometimes because they can hear me playing in the background while I’m talking. It brings me comfort, it’s like an emotional support animal kind of thing,” she laughs. 

Rock Candy

When fans or amateur musicians see a world class player onstage, the talent level is so high that it almost seems as if the guitar is directly wired to the brain, that the instrument is practically an extension of the fingers. That’s why it’s so surprising to hear Orianthi actually use the words “guitar” and “intimidating” in the same sentence. But yes, Orianthi is mortal. “Guitar is kind of an intimidating instrument for me. I love it, but it’s a challenge. I play differently every day. I always want to get better, and I think I’ve gotten better over the years just jamming with people and having the honor of having these legends present, working with incredible producers. It’s made me up my game a lot. You shouldn’t compare yourself to other musicians, you just compare yourself to yourself, and that’s the way I look at it. I just want to get better and better with every record I make.” 

Jacob Bunton

The 11 stellar tracks that comprise Rock Candy were written and recorded in just 13 days. Any musician who has spent time in a recording studio will understand what an amazing feat that is. Collaborating with Orianthi was her friend Jacob Bunton, a musical genius in his own right who not only produced the album, but also contributed guitar, bass, keyboards, piano, violin and backing vocals. Orianthi has recorded, engineered and produced her own work before, but she explains why it is important to have an independent producer. “I can get obsessive. That’s why I need a producer. I love producing and engineering stuff myself, but I need someone to work with because I become super critical, so I need someone to say ‘we’ve got the take.’ We usually use the first take of a solo, but I will keep playing and playing until he says ‘I’m over it, that’s enough,’” she laughs.

Orianthi explains that the advantage of making a record with a friend is the comfort-ability factor. “There’s no fear of sharing anything. Everything’s on the table. He (Bunton) said that I should write and record everything based on current times. I was going through a breakup, so it was going to be a lot of personal stuff, but he said ‘let’s just put it all into this record.’ When you draw from the past, you’re writing from years ago, and I wanted to reflect what’s happening now. Jacob is amazing, and he did an incredible amount of work on this record. Very easy to work with. I’m really happy with the album…it’s a snapshot in time, and I hope people enjoy it.” Oh, and the breakneck pace that she and Bunton completed the album in? “Yeah, we’re worker bees! No drugs involved, either, just a lot of coffee.”

After two years of pandemic-induced darkness, 2022 saw the return of live music, something that both musicians and fans were hungry for. Everyone is hoping that 2023 will be even better. 

“It was crazy, not playing shows for so long,” says Orianthi. “We’re already planning for next year. Korea, Australia, Europe…I’m really excited. The thing for me is, I want to get out there with this new material and bring people into it. It’s been a while since I was able to play live shows back to back, and so I’m really looking forward to that. People were continually asking when I was going on tour and I’d tell them ‘You gotta be patient, it’s being put together soon.’ You know how it is, there’s so many logistical things to sort out, and you don’t want to have to cancel because of how unpredictable the virus is, but I’m a big music fan and an optimist. I love to see a band live.”

Even the most dedicated musician needs time away from their instrument or voice. Downtime is actually quite crucial, as it can be a time to recharge the creative batteries, so to speak. Musicians take time off in different ways. Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney are painters, Nikki Sixx and Lenny Kravitz do photography. Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson is an outstanding fencer, and his bandmate Steve Harris is passionate about playing soccer. As for Orianthi, when she’s not making music, she enjoys spending time in the kitchen. “I love cooking. It’s another thing, another creative outlet. Music and cooking have a lot in common, as they both bring people together. I love to eat, I love entertaining people, and I actually want to do a cooking show, but finding the time is the hardest thing. I don’t want to drive people around me insane, so I’m focusing on one thing at a time. Right now it’s putting out this record, and then I’ve got another record in the can. I have collaborations with other musicians and after that, touring, and then maybe, someday I’ll get to that cooking show.” 

So much to do, so little time to do it. Life as a working musician isn’t just about creating music. The “working” part includes the business aspect: Arranging musical collaborations, planning tour dates, doing press for the new record, working with management, publicists and label executives, and countless other non-music, non-glamourous aspects of the industry. Orianthi knows the drill, and she understands that in the 16 or so waking hours hour of each day, sacrifices have to be made. There are so many demands for her attention and only so much time to go around.

“I don’t get to see my friends as much as I’d want, especially when I’m collaborating. I like to engineer and produce so that takes a lot of time. That alone can be five, six hours of my day. I like to work out, I need to make phone calls and do business stuff, prepare for the next show. For example, I’m doing a show with Billy Gibbons in Oklahoma next month. I’ve known Billy since I was 16, and the gig will be a lot of fun, but I don’t really have that much time for myself. I’ve put a lot of things off, and it is tough sometimes, I’m not gonna lie. I’m trying to find a balance, I really am. I don’t think I’m going to have a good personal life for a while because I’m married to my work.”

“I’m a workaholic, I just love to work and work, and I’ll always be that way. I love to create, I never stop creating, I’ve got too many ideas so it’s nonstop. I absolutely love music so much.” 


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