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Photo by Robert M. Knight
Is your setup different for your own band and your Alice Cooper rig?
I don’t use many effects when I play with my band, it’s just straight into the amp, maybe a delay or a reverb or wah or something. But with Alice I use a Whammy pedal, it changed from first tour to this tour, it’s pretty bare bones now but we use an [ISP] Decimator and some other things. I like the connection of the amp and the guitar so I try not to interfere with that much. On my first tour I had a whole rackmount with TC Electronic stuff. I had this song called “Dracula’s Theme,” and I had a ton of effects for that song—I had a flange going on and I did customized Tone Prints with TC. It always changes, it depends on the song but I like to use technique, really.
Do you have a favorite pedal?
Right now I like the Boss Octave and the Dunlop Fuzz Face.
What are you using to get your crunchy tones like at the end of the title track?
My EVH 5150 III amp and also the TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive. I also used an old Fender amp that was at Blackbird, I can’t remember the model but it was just super old and battered. For the “How Do You Sleep?” solo, we actually had the amp so loud it was near the breaking point.
Can you recall one of your performances where you had an out-of-body experience where you played the best you ever played?
I got to jam with Carlos Santana not too long ago up in Seattle, he was getting honored at the EMP Museum, and they asked me to come and play with Jonny Lang. [Santana] is the reason why I play guitar and he’s a friend—I’ve known him since I was about 18—but I’m always in awe of him and when playing in front of him I’m never comfortable … He sat down on the couch and I was playing one of his solos at [Microsoft co-founder and EMP creator] Paul Allen’s studio and it was this great setup. So he was sitting there staring at me and I’m like “Carlos you’re making me very nervous. I don’t get nervous very often, but you staring at me right now while I’m playing so you have to get up and play.” And he got up and jammed.
And then writing a song with Steve Vai for my last album, “Highly Strung”—there’s definitely been a lot of moments where I’m like, “This is crazy.”
Do you think you’ll collaborate with Steve Vai again?
I would love to, and we’ve spoken about it. He’s been so encouraging to me since I was 14 and it was my first support, I think, for him in Adelaide. I would send him demos and he would actually listen and write back and take the time to say, “This part I like, but this part could be better if you change this chord, or change the key here.” He was just very attentive, and it was like wow, getting an email from Steve Vai who’s actually listened to your demo. That’s just incredible!
He’s definitely been a mentor and just an awesome person. I don’t want to play when I’m around him because he’s like the Hendrix of our time, he’s such an innovator. He’s one of the very few who can actually shred like there’s no tomorrow and play the most beautiful melody that makes you just stop what you’re doing and listen. Some guitar players can play full out, and it’s a bunch of noise and it’s craziness. But Vai is a composer, too. He seems really free with his playing but at the same time being very technical. I haven’t heard anyone play like Steve. I don’t think there will be.
What kind of player are you?
I studied classical at age 10 and went through that theory thing, but then you have to try and step away from that and just play. A lot of players I love, like SRV, B.B. King, or Santana, it’s not really in scales it’s more about the melody. When I hear Santana I get inspired and want to play guitar. That’s what I hope to do for others. Playing guitar is like a meditation and it makes me feel like it’s what I’m meant to be doing. Now more female players are coming up to me and it’s so cool because when I first started there were hardly any female players, it was all guys. You don’t want to be shy about it … you gotta step out there and own it. And I think that’s the thing I’m seeing more and more of, which is awesome. One of my favorite bass players is Tal Wilkenfeld, she just owns it—she just plays like a dude and I love it. Whether you’re a drummer or whatever, you don’t want people to think you’re playing politely.
So when are Orianthi and Tal going to start a band?
We’ve spoken about it. Right now she’s doing her stuff, and I’m doing my stuff, but when the time is right, we’ll do something. We’ve played together at the Troubadour with Joss Stone and Dave Stewart, and I saw her at Crossroads in ’07 when she was onstage with Jeff Beck. Hopefully we’ll do something together in the future.