You’ve heard it here first. Orianna is destined to be the next big thing on the Canadian music scene. If I am wrong, we live in a nation without taste, but I know that Canadians take their music very seriously. So does Orianna.
Based in London, Ontario, Nikki Whitehead, who uses her middle name “Orianna” as both a stage identity and band name, is one of those rare talents that don’t come along every day. With a big voice that harkens back to the women with guitars that have come before her, such as Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks or Patti Smith, Orianna is continuing the tradition of the singer/songwriter with thoughtful lyrics and clever wordplay. But what is astonishing about Orianna is the fact that her soulful and powerful voice comes out of such a young girl. At age fifteen, Orianna has a voice that sounds decades more mature then what one would expect from such a small girl, and she writes songs full of poetic wisdom which goes far beyond the teenage angst of her contemporaries and taps into something universal. Orianna’s music is written by someone with a very old soul. The juxtaposition of Orianna’s age and the music that she is creating is astonishing, which assures that she’ll be around for a long while. Her music journey is just beginning, and what she has in talent is already far beyond that of some of today’s biggest stars.
This summer Orianna released her first eleven song album, Wonderland, gaining rave reviews and helping to increase both her public profile and fan following. An eleven song mish mash of genres and styles, each individual track on Wonderland showcases both the talent and musical strengths of one of Canada’s best unknown songwriter. But, as Orianna reveals, it is just the beginning of things to come. Finally finding her true voice through the Wonderland sessions, Orianna has gravitated towards an edgier sound and is currently working on a brand new album with famed Toronto record producer Gavin Brown. Wonderland is only a small taste of the music sensation that Orianna is destined to become.
Practically stumbling over Orianna by chance, I couldn’t believe that such a sound was coming out of such a young performer. With my usual sense of cynicism about modern youth culture and the current music scene, Orianna kicked me back to reality and reassured me that the next generation of musicians are going to be just fine. I had to interview her while I still had a chance, because one day she’ll be winning Junos and won’t be returning my phone calls.
Sam: How long did it take you to produce Wonderland?
Orianna: Well I wrote most of the songs last year, and all of last summer we recorded the album last summer.
Sam: And let me get this straight. You just turned sixteen, right?
Orianna: No. I’m fifteen.
Sam: You’re fifteen?
Sam: Oh my god. I know you get it all the time. Anybody who listens to your music is just blown away by how old you really are.
Orianna: Yeah. I get that a lot.
Sam: Are you and old soul, or are people just not giving people your age enough credit?
Orianna: I think I’m an old soul. I’ve always been mature for my age. My parents have always treated me like an adult, and all my siblings are older, and so are all my friends.
Sam: So Wonderland is your first album.
Orianna: It is my first, but I’ve been in the studio recording songs since I was twelve. I have a bunch of songs I’ve recorded before, but this is the first album.
Sam: Let’s talk about your background in music. Your father is a musician, right?
Orianna: Yeah. I remember him telling me to write a song one day. I thought I’d never write a song. But I’d make up melodies all the time, and lyrics up in the car and they’d go on for hours. So I ended up writing this little song, and my Dad put it to guitar, and it’s been my passion ever since then.
Sam: How old would you have been at that time?
Orianna: Probably eight.
Sam: I’m going to stop harping on how old you are. I promise.
Sam: So where did the name “Orianna” come from? That’s not your real name.
Orianna: Well, [my full name is] Nicole Orianna Whitehead. All my friends just call me Nikki. I had to go by Orianna on stage because when you Google Nikki Whitehead you get a lot of results for this famous porn star. So my search result would have been fifteen pages back, so we just decided it’d be easier.
Sam: That was probably a good idea! When did you start performing live and taking music seriously? Who influenced you?
Orianna: I was eleven when I joined my first band. It was this little kid rock band. I was really into Joan Jett and AC/DC and Metallica. Then I kind of got more into punk, like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. So that’s what my music used to sound like, but then it sort of morphed into something softer and poppier.
Sam: Well, on Wonderland I find that you play with a lot of different musical styles from track to track.
Orianna: Yeah. This album is more of a learning experience. I’m actually recording a new album with Gavin Brown at Noble Street Studios in Toronto. The new one is a lot more representative of who I am now. There is a more defined sound on this album.
Sam: If you took a track from Wonderland, which song would you say defines the sound that currently defines you?
Orianna: Crazy probably. We actually redid it for the new album and it’s even cooler now.
Sam: That’s a pretty dark song.
Orianna: Yeah. It’s kinda vibey. I like it.
Sam: It reminds me of Mazzy Star or The DiVinyls. So you are more dark, less pop.
Orianna: Yeah, but we are doing some pop songs because we are trying to get media attention. Gavin is really into every song being a hit. I’ve been writing a lot more songs in the same genre, while on Wonderland there is a pop song, a country song, an indie uke song.
Sam: It’s all over the map, but it gives you a variety and showcases what you, as an artist, are capable of doing.
Orianna: That was kinda the point of it.
Sam: I like the pop song, Vanity Whore. I think it’s hilarious, but I don’t think it’s the best song on the album. However, that the one I’d have picked for a single because I think it has a potential mass appeal.
Orianna: Even though we have this album, and we all love it, we’re waiting for the next thing. The quality [on the new album] sounds a million times better, and my voice has matured so much since [we recorded Wonderland].
Sam: Wow. That’s something, because the voice on Wonderland is not that of a fifteen year old girl as it is.
Orianna: I actually think I was thirteen when we recorded the album.
Sam: Wow. Your voices sounds at least ten years older than you are. Where does it come from?
Orianna: I work really hard at developing my voice, and I’ve been taking singing lessons since I was six years old. But I don’t really know where I get it from.
Sam: In your bio on your web-site it states “Orianna writes music for fellow outsiders. The gypsy. The bookish. Wallflowers and wanderers. Kindred spirits. Yet, all strangers in a strange land.” Do you feel like an outsider?
Orianna: Well, I’m the type of person who, at school, has a lot of friends, but I’m kind of friends with everyone. I get what it’s like to be the wallflower and to not have friends. I know what all that stuff feels like, so in this album I’m trying to show people that it’s okay to be different. That’s what makes you special from the other people.
Sam: When will the album you are currently working on be released?
Orianna: Probably at the end of the summer or in the fall. Gavin works insanely fast. We just [recorded] four songs – Darkness, That Generation, Crazy and Don’t Speak For Me Now.
Sam: I’ll be honest with you, but coming as someone who works in media, I am very cynical about what is categorized as “youth culture” and by the way it’s marketed. But when I listen to your album, you basically kick me back to reality and make me realize that there is still a youth movement of musicians out there that are going to keep up the tradition of singer/songwriters. I listen to Wonderland and I gotta say that I think it’s better than pretty much everything I hear on the radio these days.
Orianna: Well, I kinda do the same thing. I listen to the radio and I hear some of these people who don’t write their own songs, don’t play their own instruments and half of them can’t even sing. But then you listen to some SiriusXM U and hear these little indie bands and their incredible, but they’ll never have a chance to be anything because the music industry is so clogged up with these fake stars that have been manufactured.
Sam: Are you playing many gigs this summer?
Orianna: We’re opening for the Sheepdogs in London on August 17th. But Gavin just did The Tragically Hip album and The Barenaked Ladies album, and he’s worked with Lady Gaga, so he’s trying to get us away from live gigs until there is kind of a concrete sound and the bands practiced and it sounds like it should be.
I’m going to tell you why I like Orianna so much. In today’s world of YouTube and American Idol and Auto-Tune every kid with ideas of grandeur thinks that they can be a musician without a shred of talent or musical ability. We’ve seen it again and again. The entire music market is flooded with these kids, and, to someone who admires talent and music as much as I do, it becomes redundant and discouraging. But Orianna isn’t one of those talented kids that shows up on X-Factor and then gets YouTubed until the next thing comes along. Orianna is the exact opposite of this current musical/media trend, and is a talent with an actual body of work that is still evolving and growing. She is filled with raw talent, a marketable style and, at her age, she is only at the beginning of her career. We haven’t even heard her at her full potential yet. As Orianna expresses, the new album is being made with optimism as her style gets more defined. Wonderland is a tease of what’s to come, and well worth the attention. This is only the beginning for her, and not only do I expect big things, but I will delight in watching her eventual rise to the top.
Remember Orianna. She is going to be the next big thing. You heard it here first.
For more information on Orianna, visit her web-site at http://orianna.ca/.