At a mere 25 years old, Orianthi Panagaris possesses credentials that can put many experienced artistes to shame. Performing alongside Steve Vai at just 15 and jamming beside the legendary Carlos Santana at a tender age of 18, she shatters the stereotype of female guitarists by proving that girl power still reigns.
O: It’s my first time here in Singapore, so we hope to come back really soon. It’s really awesome out there with the ferris wheel [Singapore Flyer] and everything, so we wanna venture out.
O: My greatest belief in life is the power of music and how it can inspire people, help people, and take you back. Sometimes you hear a song and it takes you back to like when you were 7, and you were hanging out with your best friend… the power of music.
Which song in the album means the most to you?
O: I love “Highly Strung”. I got to write that with my greatest idol, Steve Vai.
Last night, Slash played in Singapore. Do you think you’ll ever do a collaboration with him?
O: That would be awesome, getting to jam alongside with him. I mean, I look up to him immensely and he’s a great player.
You’ve had the opportunity to share the stage with Santana. How was your musical style influenced by him?
O: He’s the reason why I play electric guitar. I was studying classical at the time. I went to the show with my dad, I turned to my dad, “I don’t wanna play classical guitar anymore, I wanna play electric guitar just like Carlos. I was obsessed with it, I wanted to learn all his solos, and I’d keep pausing his videos so that I could learn a certain song. I think it was at a party or something, and getting to work with him, getting to get on stage with him was a very surreal moment for me because he’s the reason why I play guitar. He’s such a sweet person. Having his support means so much to me.
You’ve worked with idols such as Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta. Do you enjoy Australian Idol?
O: That’s really based on singing…
But you’re a really good singer as well!
O: Oh thank you. I try, but I’m more of a guitar player. Sometimes you have to choose between playing the guitar and singing, and guitar would definitely be my first choice because singing for me is fun, I love it, and it’s a way to connect with people musically. But I just love being out there and playing guitar. I don’t know how well I’ll do on Idol as guitar’s my first passion, and I feel awkward going out there without a guitar. I’ve done it before and I was like “What should I do with my hands?” I’ll just play air guitar, and when I’m in the studios and I’m cutting my records, I’ll play air guitar. So when the camera’s rolling, you can see me rocking out on my “guitar”. I don’t know why, but it feels natural to me. So I’ll probably be like one of those weird contestants.
If you didn’t do music as a profession, what would you be doing?
O: I could be a vet. I love animals, and I love cooking as well, so either a chef or a vet. Or maybe working out in a farm somewhere. The thing is, I’m saying I wanna be a vet but I couldn’t put an animal down, so maybe just working with them on a farm.
So what advice do you have for young girls who wanna be guitar gods?
O: If you wanna play guitar you just got to have a passion for it. You can’t give up. You wanna do something, don’t let someone bother you. You gotta just silence their voices. They can really get to you.
There are a lot of Aussie actors making it in Hollywood these days. Do you think you’ll ever cross over to acting?
O: That’ll be a challenge. But I guess the sort of way we do the music videos, we gotta act to a certain extent. Once the cameras are rolling, even if you’re feeling tired, you’ve just got to go with it. I was so sick that day when I filmed my music video, because I had the flu and it was so hot, those lights. I had a cat suit on, it was like being in a toaster. But when it starts, you’ve just got to be, like… So that’s acting. It’ll definitely be a challenge for me to try going in that line, sure. I wanna make sure that I get into character, I never wanna make one of those videos that people forget.
Where do u see yourself 10 years from now? Any plans to settle down? Maybe have a family?
O: I’d love to have a family. Just at this point, so crazy, having these projects going on…
Do you have time to date?
O: I don’t! As I said, I rarely get to see my dog or my family and my friends.
So what do you expect from tonight’s performance?
O: It’s a rock show, it’s a dramatic rock show with lots of guitar solos. It’s a party on the stage.
Being Australian, do you think it’s harder for artistes such as yourself to break through on to the scene? You know, in UK it’s easier…
O: I don’t know, I mean, coming from Australia, a lot of people are actually out in Hollywood from Australia. It’s quite different, and where I’m from… I’m from Adelaide, so it’s a quiet city. Going from there to LA, it’s crazy, but it’s my second home now, LA. I’ve managed to fit into the craziness somehow.
Are people always surprised to find out that you’re Australian? I mean, there’s always this stereotype that Aussie girls are on the beach or like on the farm. But you come along with your guitar and you’re rocking it out…
O: Yeah, sometimes, cos I don’t sing with an Australian accent, so people are like, “Oh you have that accent!” And some people wonder “Is the accent real or fake?” It’s just a really bizarre question to ask.
Who are you listening to now? Who’s on your ipod?
O: I bought the new Ozzy Osbourne record, and erm, Jason Derulo’s also one of my favourites. Stone Temple Pilots as well. The Ivory Trade are also good.
Who are some of the female players that have inspired you?
O: Definitely Jennifer Batten. She actually came up to me on one of my shows. I invited her and she came along and that was great.
Has anyone at Guitar Hero ever approached you and asked you for permission to do a song with them?
O: That’d be awesome! I suck at the game, but I’d have to get better at it. That’d be really cool. I actually have a song in rock band, According to You, and I have a little app as well on the iPhone where you can play A2Y on that too.
So are you good at playing your own song on Rock Band?
O: No! Not really, but I try to. I was ok at it, but I really suck at this type of game. It’s kinda embarassing. Not too long ago, I had to play with one of the competition winners and I was convinced that there was something wrong with my guitar, cos the opponent was annihilating me, and this student grabs my guitar and wins the game, on the guitar I was using, and I was like, “Ok, I’m leaving.” But I could get better at it.
Any words for any aspiring guitar heroes like yourself?
O: Just to keep at it you know. I would practise for about 5 to 6 hours a day. I’m obsessed with it, and I still am, but you can have a passion for it. As a female guitar player you’ve gotta work twice as hard at it just to get it right. You just gotta do your best, keep at it, shut out the negative input. If you’re gonna do this for the rest of your life, just go for it. Never stop writing songs, never stop playing as much as you can in front of other people, collaborating, jamming as much as you can. Everyone has their own fingerprints on their own guitar playing, so as much as you try to copy someone, you’ve got to find yourself.
Photo by Jeremy Lo