Discovery: Diamond Rings

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Published October 25, 2010

 

DIAMOND RINGS. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST/ROBIN SHARP PHOTO.

He’s already been adored by riot-grrl legend Kathleen Hanna and booked for an overwhelming six CMJ shows in four days. Today he releases a debut album that is sending him on a national and European tour. So it might be an understatement to say the star of John O’Regan (alias Diamond Rings) is rising. But the Canadian performer seems, at first, unfazed by his newfound recognition. “My music is for me and the people who care about me,” he says, almost defiantly. “Something about growing up in Toronto, and staying in this area, feels real.”

Authenticity is important to the 25-year-old artist—he says it over and over. Already blog fodder, Diamond Rings made waves at South by Southwest based only on a few songs, two singles, and his looks. Dressed to party, O’Regan performs in neon tights, gobs of eye makeup, and gender-bending shirts and jackets. With a voice that has been characterized as a purring Ian Curtis, Diamond Rings is part dance album, part diary. Songs like “Something Else” are essentially sing-alongs, as long as you don’t mind singing about heartache. The album shines with “Wait and See,” which is a self-proclamation of his adulthood: “Don’t you wait around for me to decide what I want to grow up to be,” he sings, covering a warm bass line with dreamy guitar riffs.

“This album is a personal reflection, maybe to a fault. These songs are about me, and I wanted it to be reflective of what I was capable of, and what I was thinking about,” he reveals. Citing disparate influences such as Kraftwerk, Gordon Lightfoot, and several distinctly Canadian acts, like Peaches and Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett, O’Regan is giddy over the newest Kylie album. “If my 18-year-old self would have known my favorite record was the new Kylie Minogue album… I don’t know. I would have tried to fight myself,” he says, alluding to the DIY shows he produced in college, early in the decade in the Ontario town Guelph.

Like a rapper in the early ’90s (an era he cites freely), O’Regan is particularly concerned with place and representation. Videos feature him moonwalking across the Toronto skyline, or wearing a Blue Jays hat or jersey (he warmed considerably when I mentioned my affection for the defunct Montreal Expos). “Indie music never talks about place, or any kind of geographic or local identity. Bands are from a ‘place’ but it never enters into the work in a visual way,” he says. When asked if he is going to gravitate to either coast for his career, the musician gets almost defensive. Toronto appeals to him. Home is Canada, and in songs like “On Our Own,” O’Regan celebrates the “otherness” of being Canadian in a primarily American music scene.

Sure, Diamond Rings could move down south, and could easily be scooped up by, say, Haus of Gaga as a part of her beautiful, talented entourage, but being a flash-in-the-pan gimmick (or a heartthrob, or the cross-dressing answer to LCD Soundsystem) is distinctly against O’Regan’s M.O. Not only does this show a sensitivity beyond his years, but it also speaks to his possible staying power. “It’s about being creative, first and foremost. Whether that costs a lot of money or you can do it with your friends and order a pizza (like early TLC), I am fortunate to be making music in a time where that is acceptable.” He raises an eyebrow, his first giddy expression all evening. “But I think it’s kind of better that way, isn’t it?”

DIAMOND RINGS’ DEBUT ALBUM, SPECIAL AFFECTIONS, IS OUT TODAY ON SECRET CITY RECORDS. YOU CAN STREAM THE ALBUM IN ITS ENTIRETY BELOW. FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE ARTIST HERE.