Orianthi shares Jackson’s spotlight, steps into own

Published by Reuters


Orianthi Panagaris thought she had the perfect plan. The 24-year-old guitar virtuoso, who hails from Adelaide, Australia, was all set to shred as part of Michael Jackson’s band during his comeback shows in London. She was also working on a solo debut, but thought it would be released after the run of shows that would establish her as the female Carlos Santana.

Then tragedy intruded. Her plans came crashing down when Jackson died June 25 after suffering from cardiac arrest, just three weeks before his planned return to the stage.

But rather than retreating, Orianthi, who uses only her first name professionally, changed course. Her debut album, “Believe” — for which she wrote songs and sings and plays guitar — originally was due later in the fall, but Geffen Records moved up the release date to October 26 to take advantage of the hype surrounding the theatrical release of “This Is It,” the posthumous Jackson music film.

“When people see the movie, they’re going to think I’m either the fastest ambulance chaser in the business or that I know what I’m doing,” quipped Ron Fair, chairman of Geffen Records. “She’s absolutely the world’s greatest female guitar shredder of all time. No disrespect to Lita Ford, but there’s no comparison.”

The global release October 28 of “This Is It” to an estimated 25,000 theaters worldwide presented a promotional opportunity too irresistible for Geffen to ignore. “Believe” was released October 26, the same day as the soundtrack to “This Is It.”


For the last three months of Jackson’s life, Orianthi worked closely and intensely with the superstar, whose death is still a raw nerve for her.

“It was so devastating for all of us involved, working with him for three months preparing for the biggest show on Earth,” she says. “But I got to play music with him — I’m so grateful I got that time. The experience made me believe in myself more.”

Orianthi’s stint with Jackson wasn’t her first time working with a superstar collaborator. Her father, a performer in a Greek band, kept various guitars around the home, and it didn’t take long before Orianthi picked her instrument. Throughout her teens, she traded riffs with the best in the business. By the age of 15 she had worked with her “hero,” Steve Vai, and at 18 she had joined Santana onstage in her hometown. Tours and guest appearances followed with the likes of ZZ Top and Prince.

“It’s not easy being a female guitar player,” she says. “You have to believe in yourself. I had a teacher at school who told me to take up the harp. Hopefully we’ll be able to inspire a whole bunch of kids to pick up a guitar and take it seriously. That’s my goal: to inspire more female guitarists out there.”

Word of the prodigious — and eye-catching — guitarist found its way to Fair, who went on to sign her to a worldwide deal. In 2006, at the age of 21, Orianthi relocated to Los Angeles, where she worked on her album with producer Howard Benson (the All-American Rejects, Daughtry, My Chemical Romance, Three Days Grace).

Orianthi soon grabbed the attention of manager Stirling McIlwaine, who had guided the careers of Daughtry and Jordin Sparks in the United States for Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment. McIlwaine says he was “blown away” by his first glimpse of Orianthi. In early 2008, he and Fuller made her the first signing to 19 outside the “American Idol” franchise.

“Our plan was always to position her as a guitar player. A female Slash, if you will,” McIlwaine says. “In America, there are so many female pop singers who drop a guitar around their neck and strum a few chords to look cooler or better than they actually are. Ori is a totally different thing. She’s the real deal, and she happens to sing. We decided early on to look at tasty moments where we could position her as a guitar player and use our clout as a management company to create opportunities for her.”


The breakthrough presented itself in February, through a fortuitous onstage collaboration with Carrie Underwood at the Grammy Awards. In the days after the performance, Orianthi received a message through her MySpace page from Jackson’s musical director, Michael Bearden, inviting her to audition for the lead guitarist spot for the “This Is It” concerts.

“I’ve never been so nervous in my life, auditioning for Michael,” she recalls. After Orianthi tore her way through a rendition of “Beat It” — whose guitar solo originally was performed by Eddie Van Halen — Jackson gave the go-ahead, and she spent the next three months rehearsing with the icon, six hours each day.

“Believe” is essentially a conventional pop album with an utterly unconventional guitar solo on each track. Jackson fans no doubt will tune in to the album closer, “God Only Knows,” a late entry to the album that deals with loss. The first single, “According to You,” has been promoted to U.S. top 40 radio.

Orianthi will appear as a guest on Adam Lambert’s solo album. In 2010, she plans to mount a worldwide tour.

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Nanny State

Published in The Music Network


Weak beer, lockouts, amnesty bins and sniffer dogs are all becoming regular sights and experiences for concert goers. Are the Australian authorities trying to take the fun out of live music?

“First smoking, now drinking… what’s next… a limit on sex?” Heaven forbid a ban on fornication. But in reality, it too wouldn’t get the nod from the authorities who patrol the live entertainment sector. The sarcastic “no sex” comment was lifted from a submission from the Big Day Out earlier this year in response to strict new licensing measures in Queensland. But its message sums up the frustrations of many in the live sector. Tightening rules instated by legislators and patrolled by law enforcers across the nation are annoying the punters, and squeezing the event organizer’s bottom line.

Citing “excessive alcohol consumption” and “unacceptable alcohol-fuelled” behaviour, Queensland’s alcohol licensing authority OLGR tackled the issue head-on when it enforced controversial changes mid-year to the current Liquor Act 1992. Among the policies was a rule, which took full strength beer off the menu at open-air events. Should a promoter fail to meet its guidelines, the event would not be able to obtain a permit.

“It’s an overregulated industry at the moment, and it’s only getting worse,” says Bevan Bickle, managing director of venues operator Katarzyna, whose portfolio of interests includes the Family nightclub in Brisbane. “Now we’ve got binge drinking taxes, increased operating costs due to new legislation. You’ve got to pay for more security staff, and your managers have to do special courses. The government will swear black and blue that the lockout is effective, but it’s a crock. In short, because you’ve got to fight the government on regulation and everything else, it distracts you from what you’ve got to do, which is keeping your business interests running.”

The “Nanny State” culture isn’t confined to Queensland. Go west, and the promoters there are confronted with a new level of regulation. Police in Western Australia have trialled ‘amnesty bins’ outside festivals, in reaction to the death in January of teenager Gemma Thoms, who had swallowed her stash of ecstasy tablets outside the gates of Perth’s Big Day Out in a panic to avoid the police presence. The bins first appeared at the March 8th Rock-It festival at Arena Joondalup, headlined by Kings of Leon and attended by 27,000 music lovers.

“It was a fantastic gig, but (the police) ruined my show,” says Paul Sloan, managing director of Rock-It promoter and organizer Supersonic Enterprises. “You’ve got to ask the question, does having a dog sniff your balls when you come in and be made to line up for two hours, is that respectful of people? None of the enforcement policies around live music are relating to science in any way.”

Sloan organizes 400 shows a year, including 20 outdoor events. And he says his safety and best practice event management record is spotless. “I’ve done Rock-It 10 times, but why is it every time I’m getting more and more regulated. I’ve introduced lots of controls and measures to ensure people don’t fuck themselves up at shows. But I’m still getting 10-20% increase in regulation each time. If I’ve never had a major incident, it doesn’t follow that I have to pay for 100 police to be there.”

One blogger on The West Australian Web site summed up the debate, writing, “The drug bins are a waste of money and resources. Who is going to pay out cash for the drugs, take them to an event and then put them into a bin, please…”

The implications of tightening restrictions are many and varied. Training and policing costs could run into the tens of thousands of dollars, sums which would be absorbed into the ticket and bar price. On the other hand, tough rules on alcohol content and the number of purchases at the bar could sink takings, which for some events can account for well over 10% of revenue.

“Surely patrons attending a concert can decide for themselves what they want to drink and how much”, noted Brian Chladil, the local promoter for the BDO Gold Coast leg. “What happened to personal responsibility? Young people don’t need more controlling – they need leadership, example and guidance.”

Jam Music, organizers of the Good Vibrations festival on the Gold Coast, surveyed its 20,000-plus Queensland member database to draw feedback from its drinking age festival goers. More than 90% of respondents said they would be more likely to consume alcohol before attending a music festival if these conditions were put in place, and 95% felt they were responsible enough to self-regulate their drinking
 at a music festival.

“We question if the statutory objective of these proposed new liquor licensing conditions, that is, to minimise harm caused by alcohol, would in fact exacerbate it,” says festival director Jane English.

Sloan agrees that the real problem is much closer to home. “People go out later and drink more at home before going out,” he notes. “So venues have to deal with drunker people for less return, and then get pinned by the media for any trouble on the street. We’re seeing the degradation of live spaces in favour of bulk alcohol sales,” he says, “and that is a disaster.”

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Flaming June

Published in Billboard Magazine


Damien Leith took a novel approach when writing his third studio album, “Remember June”—the Australian chart-topping Australian Recording Industry Assn. (ARIA) Award winner penned a parallel book of the same name.

“There are themes around the book which I couldn’t disconnect,” Leith says. “I’d finish writing a chapter in the book, then write a song.”

Three years ago, the Irish-born singer/songwriter became the oldest winner (at the age of 30) of “Australian Idol.” Four ARIA platinum (70,000 shipments) albums followed, but he says “Remember June,” with themes tracing the highs and lows of life, is the “only one that really feels like a ‘me’ record.”

“Remember June” arrived Oct. 9 at retail, supported by shows at Sydney’s State Theatre (Oct. 16) and Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre (Oct. 17). The lead single, “To Get to You,” issued Sept. 25, has already been used in a national promo campaign for home-grown TV series “Mercy.”

Next on the agenda is breaking Leith overseas. “The intent with this record is certainly to get a release in the Irish market and bleed it into the English market,” Leith’s manager David Champion says. Leith is published by Universal Music Publishing Australia and booked by the Harbour Agency. Harper Collins is expected to publish “Remember June” early 2010.

Stacked Up

Published in Billboard Magazine

Short Stack’s mastery of social networking has paid off Down Under.

Hailing from Budgewoi in New South Wales, the teenagers bowed at No. 1 on the Aug. 23 Australian Recording Industry Assn. albums chart with their debut, “Stack Is the New Black,” a feat achieved largely without conventional marketing.

The trio galvanized an enormous teenage fan base on YouTube, where its homemade “Short Stack TV” episodes have been viewed more than 2.5 million times. The act’s MySpace streams have generated more than 4 million plays, and fans cast 400,000-plus votes to anoint the band music TV specialist Channel [V]’s artist of the year in 2008.

“They were the first band in Australia to grab hold of social networking and make it work,” says Trevor Steel, CEO of Short Stack’s label, Sunday Morning Records, which licensed the album to Universal Music Australia. “Radio and TV haven’t been hot on us, but they’re catching up. We’ve done it all ourselves.”

The band’s focus is currently domestic, but Steel says work is under way on a follow-up album, which he aims to introduce to the U.S. market. Short Stack’s self-published works are administered by Mushroom Music in Australia. The Harbour Agency has booked the band’s third national tour, beginning Dec. 11.