John O’Regan — who performs under the moniker Diamond Rings — is one of Canada’s hardest working artists as well as one of her most intriguing ones. Capable of pulling off solo shows that pulse with an unparalleled energy, Diamond Rings deserves attention. On Monday afternoon, I grokked with Diamond Rings — touching on his artistic persona, being misunderstood and the difficulties an artist faces — in advance of his Mar. 23 show at Republik.
Gauntlet: So you, John, are Diamond Rings. What is this persona?
Diamond Rings: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly. I have a background in fine arts and listen to lots of diverse music. Diamond Rings is where everything meets. This is what it looks like when they all get spat out at once.
G: In other interviews it’s often said, or assumed, that the Diamond Rings persona just mentioned is a sort of mask, probably on account of all the makeup and glam; a sort-of character that you put on before going on stage.
DR: That’s completely unrealistic. Anyone performing anything is, ultimately, going to show you a part of themselves you usually don’t see. But, no, it’s not fake or anything. That goes for anyone getting up on a stage. It’s not a put-on; it’s still part of me.
G: So Diamond Rings is perhaps an alternative part of you?
G: Whenever I read about you, apart from the mask thing we just discussed, it’s often suggested that a lot of what you’re doing has a sexual side to it. How do you feel about that?
DR: I don’t really think there’s anything explicitly sexual about what I do. I’m not flashing my dick up on stage or anything. I’m not doing anything that is that provocative. It’s been interesting for me to watch the way that other people reinterpret what I’m doing. I’m consistently shocked and amazed that often what I’m doing is thrust into a world of people looking at [it] as being this explicitly sexual thing. It’s not about that to me. It’s about personal freedom and liberation. For myself, if other people want to take what I’m doing and run with it, great, but it’s not about them. There are people contributing far more to whatever problems like what you’re talking about than what I’m doing. We’re not puritans anymore. I’m getting up on stage in tights and dancing around. It’s no different from what any female popstar would be doing. In that sense it’s a lot more covered up than a lot of those people too.
G: So that sexual reaction to your work is an inane interpretation?
DR: I don’t know. I mean, people can interpret what I do whatever way they want. That’s the beauty of music and art. Regardless of what your intentions are as an artist there is bound to be someone who interprets you in a way that you could never have anticipated. Ultimately it’s not my place to care what those people think, either. Whatever. Just because some dude doesn’t get what I’m doing, it’s not like I’m gonna stop doing it.
G: Pitchfork gave your album, Special Affections, an 8.2. How has this affected you?
DR: I don’t know. On some level it goes to validate the hard work I’ve put in to recording an album. It didn’t buy me a house or a Mercedes-Benz. There’s the misperception that as soon as Pitchfork talks about you, all of a sudden as an artist you’ve made it. This isn’t true. It definitely helps, but it’s not like I can just start playing shitty shows and mailing it in performance-wise. I still have to work hard. If anything, it’s given me the incentive to work even harder to complete another album that is just as good or better.
G: What are your intentions as Diamond Rings?
DR: To write great music. To perform. Put on entertaining shows. Be an award-class artist.
G: Are you achieving that?
DR: No. Not at all. If I was I’d be taking a vacation. It will take years to achieve that. I’m doing as well as I can given my circumstances, but I’m no where near where I want to be as a performer, a musician.
G: Lots of hard work for the future then.
DR: I just know that to do this at a high level requires a lot of work and I’m aware of that. Part of that awareness stems from the fact that I haven’t had a lot handed to me in that way. I value that. If I had grown up in a major centre I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. I don’t take it for granted that I live in Toronto and there’s interesting shit to do every night. I started playing music in Guelph, Ontario, which is smaller than Calgary, but it has its own rich musical tradition. I know and understand those pressures, like, “Oh you’re moving to the big city, isn’t that nice.” Who are other people to know what’s best for anyone but themselves?
G: I can respect that. I myself am from rural Alberta: Calgary is the “big city” that I’ve moved to… .
DR: Totally. Toronto is small potatoes when you start playing shows in New York or London. There’s always that “better” place. It’s just about finding that place you’re comfortable and making the best of it.