Artist to Watch: Diamond Rings, a One-Man Dance-Pop Spectacle

Listen to Toronto musician and visual artist John O'Regan's solo debut 'Special Affections'

February 22, 2011 9:35 AM ET

Click to listen to Diamond Rings' Special Affections

Click to listen to PS I Love You's "Leftovers" featuring Diamond Rings

Who: John O'Regan began recording as Diamond Rings while on a break from his post-punk band the D'Urbervilles, but the project gradually evolved into a one-man dance-pop multimedia spectacle featuring video art, choreography and flamboyant costumes. O'Regan says he came up with his new image and performance-art style in part to present his songs live in an entertaining way, but also to differentiate the music he makes with his band. "Diamond Rings and the D'Urbervilles don't relate to each other at all and that was sort of the point," he says. "I wanted to do something new. The last thing you want is some guy up there strumming his guitar singing about his girlfriend or whatever."

Sounds Like: O'Regan contrasts his deep, sad, handsome voice with uptempo synthpop arrangements, resulting in tracks that could pass for dance remixes of the National or Leonard Cohen. "The way I sing is the way I sing, and fortunately or unfortunately for me, the kind of music that I enjoy making and that I listen to usually isn't sung in that way," O'Regan says. "Chicago house, Grace Jones, Janet Jackson's Control, anything that I'm into is usually sung by women. I enjoy that stuff sonically, but I can only sing it in my own style." 

Art School Beginnings: O'Regan's multimedia approach to music and art comes out of his education as an art student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. "I was taking apart stereo systems and putting them back together in weird ways," he says. "I was always trying to get my music into my art, and vice versa, as much as possible. I was doing everything I'm doing now, but more in a gallery setting." He discovered one the earliest inspirations for Diamond Rings while at school. "I was really influenced by a collective from Toronto that was operating in the late Seventies, early Eighties called General Idea," he recalls. "It was like a queer artist group. They were into utilizing media and technology as a means of disseminating an artistic message, and it was really theatrical, a bit campy. So that was an inspiration for sure, just using YouTube and using every available tool to get the music out there."

All By Himself: According to O'Regan, his approach to songwriting is much different when he writes alone, as opposed to with the D'Urbervilles. "My writing tends to be a little poppier, a little more direct," he says. "Lyrically, I write from a wholly personal perspective. I'm not speaking for anyone else, I'm not speaking for a group, I'm speaking for myself. It's really nice to have a personal outlet in that way."

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