John O’Regan, the one-man band behind the colorful synth-pop project Diamond Rings, is an artist who uses flux as a muse. He credits his current music and image to a barrage of the past, while vehemently maintaining that he is still a work in progress. O’Regan’s recordings and public persona are decorated with souvenirs of his many influences, and little riffs and flares burst from an arsenal of impressively quirky breadth.
CMJ had a chance to ask the up-and-comer debut Special Affections was recently released on Secret Cities, a few questions about the genesis of Diamond Rings, songwriting-gone-solo, and the many artistic hats he wears, both past and present.
I’ve read that Diamond Rings was borne out of some prolonged hospital stays for you. Lots of alone time and uncertainties. Can you talk about how that affected this new alter ego?
First off, Diamond Rings is less an alter ego and much more an amplified and accentuated facet of my own personality. That said, certainly having some forced downtime as a result of my stay in the hospital for a summer was fairly important in that it gave me some quiet time to reflect and write a bunch of songs that I really believed in.
Some of your music was written in the vein of folk and then later transformed into synth-infused electro pop. What’s inherently drawing you to a more electronic sound?
Diamond Rings started as a predominantly acoustic performance project but I slowly started to gravitate towards the world of electronic music, because I just find it more exciting and dynamic. It was a new challenge for me to re-imagine my work existing in a completely different place sonically. I wrote most of the chords for the songs on acoustic guitar or piano, and then went about working on lyrical themes and vocal melodies. After that I spent some time alone trying to figure out how to use GarageBand and turn each one into something a little more poppy and modern.
You come across as a visually minded artist, putting emphasis on your fashion and physical persona. What other forms of art have you worked in outside the confines of music?
I’m formally trained as a visual artist. Before jumping into music full time I finished a degree in visual art at the University Of Guelph, just outside Toronto. It’s a pretty bucolic college town and was a really great place to spend a few years making mistakes and learning about myself. When I was in school I spent most of my time doing performance and video art, as well as a bit of sculpture and design. I was always trying to find ways to incorporate my music into my schooling and vice versa.
I saw you play in Brooklyn early December, and you have an incredible command of the stage. Have you always felt comfortable in front of an audience or is that a skill you honed over time, for example playing frontman to the D’Urbervilles?
Ever since I was really little I’d always be organizing plays and performances that I’d get my family to pay me like a quarter or something to watch. So I think somewhere I’ve got a real thirst for entertaining and engaging with an audience. At the same time, I’ve been playing in bands for six or seven years now and have learned tons of different tricks. It’s taken awhile, and Diamond Rings right now is just a reflection of all that I’ve learned as a performer up until this point.
Through your music and visual media, it sounds as though you’ve shed more than a few identities to get to this point. How does Diamond Rings hold up to the sort of ‘spectrum’ of your past selves?
I think what people have trouble understanding is that even from an early age I’ve always been fearless when it comes to trying on different styles. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad haircuts growing up, you know? I’ve always just followed my heart and gone after whatever feels inspiring and exciting at the time. Diamond Rings is just where I’m at right now.