In a little over a year, Canadian electronic musician Diamond Rings (John O’Regan) has skyrocketed into mainstream indie appeal with his first studio release, Special Affections (Secret City). The release is special in its own way, because the musician wrote the album in the summer of 2008 while being hospitalized for Crohn’s disease; the collection of songs is a personal narrative of the artist’s highs and lows in dealing with the disease as well as his ongoing quest to find himself.
One major part of the musician’s quest is his sexuality—something the artist rarely discusses in interviews, although he commonly plays with the topic in songs and music videos, such as the song “You Oughta Know”:
Ever since whenever I remember, ever since whenever I knew/ I’ve been looking out for unknown pleasure, I’ve been looking out for the truth/ Learning how to reinvent my body, standing up to any attack/ And if anything your love has taught me that I never wanna go back.
“I think ultimately good music is good music and good art is good art, and it has to be about more than just any one thing,” O’Regan explains. “Someone’s sexual orientation shouldn’t really be any more important than whether their socks match their pants.”
The musician’s strong sense of self is prevalent throughout his work, including his “stay fierce” merchandise, his elaborate makeup and costumes, and his music videos. The videos for the singles “Show Me Your Stuff,” and “It’s Not My Party” generated hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, presumably due to their unique aesthetics and “in-your-face” nature.
“The visuals, the costuming…it’s all important. When seeing artists I respected and looked up to [when I was younger], like when I got my first Devo album or my first Kraftwerk album…I saw it was possible to do more aesthetically than a lot of bands that I grew up listening to,” says O’Regan.
The “It’s Not My Party” video serves as perhaps the best example of Diamond Rings’ complex persona. In the video, the camera follows the musician as he struggles to find an identity as a male cross-dresser among a highly volatile nightlife. According to O’Regan, the idea was inspired by Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash music videos. The artist’s intention was to invert the archetypal Bruce Springsteen all-American “lone wolf” look and add a female character as well.
“It’s showing people there’s a duality to a lot of people in their own lives. It can be one thing or another, and it can embody anything between those two extremes. It was the first video where I ever showed up with a stubble and the first where I ever wore a dress.”
O’Regan’s cousin, Lisa Howard, works as his professional creative director, contributing her artistic prowess to music videos, stage makeup, and designer outfits—all things Diamond Rings finds to be essential to the entire finished product of an artist. When considering whether some people might be drawn to his look before his music, the artist understands:
Yeah, I think that’s most often what happens with artists of any kind, whether it’s the Beatles and their haircuts, Devo and their positive energy domes, Britney Spears…Sex Pistols…I honestly can’t think of a band that has kind of come out from not having an image, other than maybe Nirvana, but then a non-image becomes an image. So I think it’s really kind of inescapable. If it means that they’re going to come to shows and have a good time, I don’t really care what they’re into—whether it’s the music, or the look, or both.
Although O’Regan’s chosen style seems to have a purpose of shock value, this is not necessarily the artist’s intention:
“My desire to start performing the way and making music the way I do has a lot more to do with wanting to be something that I just want to be, and make music that I want to make—a lot more than, say, ‘if I do this and this, then I’m gonna piss a lot of people off, or freak them out,’” he explains. “I mean, sometimes what I do sometimes is motivated by that [laughs], but when that becomes the sole motivation, I think the work becomes rapidly compromised.”
Diamond Rings has stayed incredibly busy in 2010. He’s re-released Special Affections on Astralwerks (something he’s particularly excited about because he’s such a fan of the label’s roster), toured with Twin Shadow across the US and Junior Boys across Europe, and he’s released a set of remix tracks titled Remix Rainbow. All of this aside, Diamond Rings is still hoping to release a new record in 2012.
“We’re very fortunate that there’s an opportunity and an audience for what we do. I don’t want to blow it. I don’t want to sit around and wait around and lose whatever momentum it is that we’ve been able to generate so far.”