John O’Reagan is Diamond Rings

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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?

DR: Totally.

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.

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FRAZEY FORD

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West coast singer-songwriter’s unique style isn’t an accident

T he staunch Realist will tell you the notion that music has something inexpressible about it, a beauty that is not contained within its various parts, is terribly absurd. The Realist would continue, positing that music’s appeal is comprehensible through dissecting its various components. Music’s appeal, then, comes from sound’s interaction with certain parts of the brain, from its mathematical intrigues and from its cultural relevance.

The Realist has pointed out something important; the material existence of music. But such an understanding of music is limited and superficial.

If it were so easily summed up, then, as Frazey Ford puts it, “there’d be nothing to like about music.”

Ford is a shining example of music’s magnificent inner-spirit— she has a remarkable ability to pull out a glimmer of that ineffable nature and revel in its splendidness, which is infinitely lovelier than the dismal squeaks and squawks of many mainstream melodies we’re so often victim to.

On July 20, 2010, Frazey Ford released her debut solo album, Obadiah, to much acclaim. The project— which features the efforts of numerous people in Ford’s life including her mother, neighbor, landlord and former band-mate Trish Klein— infuses soul music with the folk-roots approach Miss Ford is well known for. Obadiah stems from Frazey Ford’s middle name, given to her by her older brothers in honour of a lost family cat of the same name.

As a child of unique and arts-minded parents, a musical mom and a poet dad, Frazey Ford started out with strong roots.

“My parents were hippies from the States,” says Ford. “My mom’s family were kind of like Cajuns. They had come down from Canada but lived along the Missouri for generations. She had this unique musical background. Everyone was French-Irish. They played a lot of country. They just mixed music. She sang all the time and played accordion or piano. My dad was from the South ­— a draft-dodger. He wrote lots of poetry. That environment, having a ton of music around all the time, that influence was my musical development.”

Ford grew up in the shadow of the Kootenay Mountains, whose spaciousness and beauty was a frequent joy. Running through the fruit orchards of Doukhobors, Ford says she has “gained a lot of sense and awareness of beauty through those times.”

Ford’s first musical performance occurred in Antigua, Guatemala, which Ford describes as a “troubled but incredibly soulful place.” From there, she ended up tree planting in the Kootenays, playing living-room music that she didn’t think would ever be recorded and living a gypsy lifestyle. With Samantha Parton, Trish Klein, and Jolie Holland, Ford founded the Be Good Tanyas who have been on hiatus since 2008.

Ford’s musically-minded family and her time with the Be Good Tanyas has intimately shaped the unique and ineffable soulful sound that can be heard on Obadiah.

“Everything that you do is a predecessor of the next thing you do,” says Ford. “[The Be Good Tanyas] spent a lot of time exploring harmony, soulfulness and honesty. We had a tight emotional connection to each other, the music and ourselves. The Be Good Tanyas was like a warm blanket of music.”

In defiance of The Realist, the holistic soul-seeking and soul-soothing Frazey Ford hopes to deliver us from the methodical, stale bleakness that comprises much contemporary sound.

“Music is something inexpressible. In your career, your lifetime, your engagement with your art, it’s a journey,” she says. “A spiritual journey, a trying to celebrate the beauty that you see or the sadness that you felt, the life that you’ve lived. To have the urge to express is something a lot of people are born with.”

Sometimes distance is all you need

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Albertan Nils Edenloff, now in Toronto, sings about his rural childhood

Credit: Andy Williams / The Gauntlet 

It’s a bit ironic — an Albertan who moved to Toronto, only to then sing intimately about the Wildrose province. But for Nils Edenloff, it’s a reality. The singer, born and raised in northern Alberta, moved to Toronto for music. While there Edenloff met Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole, who became drummer and keyboardist, respectively, for the Rural Alberta Advantage.

Remi: So Nils, your group’s name is, of course, the Rural Alberta Advantage. Now as a person from rural Alberta what is this advantage of which you speak?

Nils Edenloff: Well, I was born in Alberta myself, I moved out here a couple years ago, which is how I met my bandmates Paul and Amy. It wasn’t until I moved out here that I found a lot of the songs I was writing were referencing the memories I had of growing up in Alberta. All of a sudden I just realized, “Oh wow, another song about Alberta…”

The name Rural Alberta Advantage itself came about in an e-mail my brother sent me. He was hanging out with some friends that weekend, going down to our old farm and exploring that ‘rural Alberta advantage.’ Having grown up with ‘alberta advantage’ as a slogan which I always identified with oil and gas, industry and job opportunities, it was one of those things where adding that one word in front of that phrase completely changed it and instantly brought home all of these memories. It is not specifically meant as some sort of grand statement, it’s just this sort of reminiscing, a wistful looking back.

R: And what about your band’s sound?

E: The sound is us. We come from different places musically. It’s this sort of Venn diagram of different musical opinions coming together. I like to believe that on my own I couldn’t come up with the songs we have. It’s a huge collaboration by the three of us, each bringing in different ideas. RAA is an intersection.

R: Calgary’s musical scene often gets downplayed, especially when in contrast to Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto. This attitude seems to cause any Albertan musician who has an opportunity to leave to do so at first light. Since you are certainly apart of that trend, being an Albertan boy who packed up for the East, what are your feelings on the whole situation?

E: In Edmonton, where I attended university, I was too busy to be actively involved in the music scene. It was the combination of friends of mine who I had played music with were living in Toronto, bands I wanted to see were going through Toronto and not Edmonton, and I had a general desire for change. Things weren’t going awesome, in a way.

If I hadn’t made the move to Toronto and then met Paul and Amy I don’t imagine we’d be talking right now. There’s this sense of fate — coming out to Toronto and meeting these people.

R: So then what do you recommend Calgary do to change and make itself more musically viable?

E: Perseverance. I played so many unattended open-mike nights, but it allowed me to figure out what I do best musically. You have to figure out your sound and that takes time. Even after recording our first recording, playing shows for a bunch of people, and now just finishing our second record, it feels like we’ve grown all that much more since the beginning. It’s about putting the time in.

We’ve come together slowly but we made important steps forward in figuring out what we do well in our sound and direction.
..Remi Watts

Holy Fuck: more than just an abrasive name

You musn’t fear their acoustic cerebral penetration. In fact, it may be in your best interests to consent.

You musn't fear their acoustic cerebral penetration. In fact, it may be in your best interests to consent. 

At first glance it may seem like Holy Fuck are using their name as a vehicle to make an explicit political or religious statement, but they aren’t. The band didn’t mean for their name to be harmful or offensive.

“It was meant to be funny and sarcastic,” says band co-founder and name mastermind Brian Borcherdt. “It certainly wasn’t intended to offend. It’s just a name, a popular expression. If anything, I thought it was self-deprecating in a way. When we started our band we were playing around with some of the worst known beats we could find on the lousiest little Casios, so I thought maybe we could have the most inflammatory name to contrast the plinkity keyboard sounds.”
But despite humble beginnings playing ‘plinkity’ instruments to “delight our friends, have fun, play some shows and maybe make a record,” Holy Fuck have managed to take a personal philosophy of perspectival-plurality and provocation, and transform themselves into a musical dynamo.

The expressive force that is Holy Fuck ­— currently composed of members Brian Borcherdt (keyboards, effects), Graham Walsh (keyboards, effects), Matt “Punchy” McQuaid (bass) and Matt Schulz (drums)— released their self-titled first album, Holy Fuck in 2005, followed by LP in 2007. Their most recent production Latin was released earlier this year.

When questioned about their values and motivations, Holy Fuck were quick to respond.

“We are not the only band in the world to be coming at things with a sense of humour or a unique viewpoint, we all come at music from our own perspectives. I think that we happen to be one of the few bands that puts the notion of different perspectives at the forefront of its mission. Right from the beginning we came at things with some sort of philosophical charge. We wanted to challenge ourselves as musicians.”

Borcherdt admits that it’s not always easy to adapt to new ideas, but the process is necessary.

“At some point in your life you listen to one specific thing, but you get to a point where you discover there is more,” says Borcherdt. “You buy a Miles Davis record or something and it’s an exciting stage in your life. It makes you realize that there is so much exciting music out there, so many exciting things too. There’s no sense pegging yourself into one finite thing. It’s not about being one particular person or thing, it’s about just realizing the diversity that is out there and that contributing to the diversity— wanting to make another weird sounding thing or be that weird thing— is in a strange way very profound.”

In an age when we can create a perfect beat with digital ease, where it often feels like everything has already been done and where mechanical and mundane music has become the mainstream, a divine mind fuck or two are certainly in order, not just to expand your point of view, but to remind you that there is always room for something new.
..Remi Watts

Tokyo Police Club

Ontario based band revisit the home of their first sold our show  

Tokyo Police Club is one of three good things to ever come from Ontario — the other two being Marine Land and Shenae Grimes. The group, comprised of singer and bassist Dave Monks, keyboardist Graham Wright, guitarist Josh Hook and drummer Greg Alsop, took the indie music scene b
y storm in 2006 with the release of their acclaimed A Lesson in Crime EP and have since cemented themselves as one of the hardest working and increasingly relevant bands in the Canadian music scene. But big time success was originally not on the minds of Tokyo Police Club, whose members’ average age is 23.

“Our first performance? I think it was fun. There were three people there,” says Wright. “We didn’t know one of them. Two of them were friends of my girlfriend at the time. They sorta politely sat at the table and were very nice. We had a blast! We just went up from there. That was back in the day when it just didn’t matter that there was no one there. I’d like to say that it still doesn’t matter, but it’s kind of a bummer when you play a show for nobody. In those days just playing a show was enough.”

But small shows held in suburban Ontario definitely aren’t the whole story when it comes to Tokyo Police Club — traveling across the nation has broadened their apprecation of it all. Now, the band admits they enjoy all of Canada.

“There are lots of great things about Canada. Toronto is where we’re from, so we all love it in lots of ways but I have tons of friends out in Vancouver. I always have a blast out there.”

They do have a soft spot for wild rose country.

“You know, I love being in Alberta. In a lot of ways it feels the most authentically Canadian to me to be out here. There’s lots of good feel going on in these parts.”

But their obvious adoration of ‘these parts’ doesn’t end there, as Wright went on to state.

“There are certain things about Alberta, like Lake Louise, which are very striking and they sorta stick with you.”

I told Tokyo Police Club that our secret here in Alberta is the boots — muddy, weathered, leather boots — and now they’re all convinced they need a pair. Perhaps it’s the lack of wildlife back in Newmarket, Ontario, but I’d say someone has a crush on the “Fortis et liber.”

Furthermore Tokyo Police Club have a strong tie to Calgary.

“We never have anything but amazing shows in Calgary. Our first ever sold out show was at Broken City. The people are always enthusiastic and kind and they’re always really attractive looking crowds!”

But whether or not Tokyo Police Club are willing to publicly profess their preference for Alberta, their diligent dedication to musicianship is paying off, as they are swiftly becoming some of Lady Canadiana’s most respectable sons.

..Remi Watts