My interview with Diamond Rings (aka John O'Regan) is in this week's WE.
MUSIC: The substance and sparkle of Diamond RingsDiamond Rings, also known as John O’Regan, takes WE’s call at a pit stop in Fredericksburg, Texas. He and his tour mates, Canadian indie-rockers PS I Love You, are stretching their legs outside a custom winery, en route, eventually, to their co-headlining Vancouver gig Friday, Mar. 11, at the Biltmore. “It’s hot,” he says. “Oh, with daily tastings! Maybe when we’re done, we’ll taste some wine.”
This life on the road is a far cry from O’Regan’s recent stint opening for pop star Robyn, and it’s an even bigger leap from where Diamond Rings got its start: as a collection of acoustic songs O’Regan, a founding member and the lead singer of post-punk outfit the D’ubervilles, wrote while hospitalized over the summer in 2008 for Crohn’s disease. Since then, O’Regan has transitioned into his Diamond Rings persona with the same glam-adrogynous fury that made David Bowie famous, and released his debut, Special Affections, to critical acclaim, fan fervour, and plenty of speculation about his personal life.
WE: I’m fairly sure this is the best art to have ever been made from a hospital bed.
John O’Regan: [Laughs] Thanks!
How did that experience help shape the sound?
It didn’t really. I mean, I wrote some of the songs, not the whole record, when I was in the hospital and they were all acoustic. Other than ‘All Yr Songs,” which, you know, I had a shitty keyboard and a shitty guitar and the drum sound on that album is from the keyboard, it’s Casio rapman, but like I didn’t even conceptualize the songs as being electronic pop songs until later when I was out and about, living in the city, and messing with Garage Band for fun.
Was there a part of you that had always wanted to make music that sounded like that?
It was more recent. I was really into post-punk and more straight-up indie-sounding rock music when I was younger, and this is the result of listening to more music and refining my palette a little, finding a certain sensibility that I’m drawn to and trying to achieve that sonically.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yeah. It wasn’t very good, but I remember every song I’ve ever written. Well, at least the ones I write down and record.
So the ones when you’re just singing about getting out of the shower...
Yeah, I don’t really... I’m always busy, I’m always working on stuff, but I’m not the kind of artist who’s churning out a track a day. I think maybe even from the background I come from, studying art formally in school, having a degree in fine art, and the program I was in in Guelph was really based in conceptual work, steeped in theory, and what we had to do as artists was learning how to critique and defend our own stuff. I have a very sensitive filter to my own ideas, and if I’m not feeling something, I generally try to cut my losses and work on something else. It’s really hard for me to finish a song and have it be a throw-away. If I get to the point where it’s all done, I’m usually really happy with it.
Your music videos support that as well. They’re DIY, but very adorable.
We’re going for what we can do, we’re having fun. I work with my friends and family, literally, and it’s just about being active and learning. Every video’s been a learning process and we’re constantly trying to critique it and refining that whole process. With Diamond Rings, we, and by we I mean myself and Colin Medley, who I live with and who’s directed a lot of my videos, we didn’t want to wait. Typically so many bands in Canada, it’s all about recording an EP and recording an album and maybe you’ll do a video if it does really well. We wanted to do the complete opposite and I think a lot of people responded to that. When the first video came out, no one even knew I’d been recording songs on my own, so it was a big surprise. [Laughs] I think that’s always awesome, especially now. You have to do a lot more in 2011 to stand out away from the pack.
You have a strong aesthetic. Would you call Diamond Rings part performance art?
I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I’m necessarily a performance artist. I am an artist, that’s what I know. I know how to mix my paints better than I know the fret board of a guitar, but I really believe in the power of music to connect people... Performance artist, that’s someone like Chris Burton nailing himself to the roof of a Volkswaggen with the engine running. [Laughs] I don’t think I’m necessarily in that realm... But, maybe now we’re seeing a delineation between a typical gallery space and the concert stage. Maybe they’re not separate entities as they were at one time. I’d like to keep putting more art into what I do, but for now I’m a pop artist.
The media seem obsessed with your identity, specifically who you do or don’t sleep with, which also lends itself to the label of performance art.
People are going to bring whatever they do or don’t want to the table. Because what I’m doing is so striking visually, it ends up being one of the talking points, like, this guy’s wearing makeup, what’s the deal? When we started, it was never really a big deal, it was just the aesthetic I wanted to cultivate. It’s important to what I do, it’s fun, it’s liberating, but that’s all.
Diamond Rings and PS I Love You perform Mar. 11 at the Biltmore, 8pm. Tickets $13 from Zulu, Red Cat Records and TicketWeb.ca.