By Melody LauWhen John O'Regan first posted his video for "All Yr Songs" in 2009 under the moniker Diamond Rings, it was evident that he was brimming with new ideas and directions. An album and multiple tours later, O'Regan is back with his second album, Free Dimensional, which distils all his pop rock ambitions into something with a clearer vision, stronger sound and hooks that are even catchier than his first record, Special Affections. Free Dimensional is infectiously positive, building off of similar foundations as his previous tracks while boasting a fuller, more dynamic sound, thanks to O'Regan's better understanding of synth-pop hooks and the help of producer Damian Taylor (Robyn, Björk, Austra). Diamond Rings has evolved past its '80s glam-pop melodies into a new era of electronic music that's still shimmering with boisterous pop, but introduces new dimensions into its already packed bag of tricks, including a rap verse or two.
Is Free Dimensional a more fulfilled vision of what you originally had in mind for Diamond Rings? Yes and no. The vision grows and evolves all the time. When I first posted "All Yr Songs" to YouTube, I was in a completely different band and I had no visions of being on record labels, going on tour and making a new band. I was just looking to do something fun and different, and I think at the core that's still what drives me to do what I do. But as you experience different things different opportunities open up and things happen that necessitate some kind of change.
How was it different working with producer Damian Taylor on this record? He has an incredible ability to get at the essence of what I'm trying to express as an artist. Everything feels like it's in the right place and lyrically, too, there's a consonance about this record that the first record didn't have. I'm more in control of my sound, my artistic destiny. Having had that experience working with [producer James Bunton] really enabled me to know what I wanted to do with this one.
You also rap for the first time on this record. That was just my desire to try new things and challenge myself artistically. I listen to tons of different music and this record was an attempt to distil all those influences into a cohesive blueprint of where I am as an artist. One thing that I've never really done extensively before is say all the words faster and make them rhyme, which I guess is rapping. That was probably the hardest thing to do on the record.
Do you think you're a good rapper? I think I can rap as well as Drake can sing [laughs]!
You also perform with a band now. How does it feel to not be alone onstage anymore? It's a feeling that I've missed for the past few years and I'm really enjoying it. Part of growing as an artist and as a musician is learning your strengths and weaknesses, and I think one of the things that I do really well is perform. Not having to worry about every single thing that's happening onstage definitely opens up new possibilities and allows me to open up and be interactive with the crowd, which is the most important thing for any performer to do. It's a lot easier to make those connections with fans when I don't have my face buried in a laptop.
You've stepped things up a bit, both in your sound and with your image. My creative director, Lisa, and I spent a lot of time over the past few years imagining ourselves at this level, doing things bigger and imagining how it was going to look, as well as sound. I could've done all of this a bit sooner, but I wanted to wait until I was really ready to do it properly and do it the way I've always wanted to. I'm really fortunate that I get to do it my own way and that's the only thing I could really ask for as an artist and musician.
Do you ever see yourself veering back towards rock? Maybe, if that's what I'm feeling. I think that's what's exciting about music. I'm always working on stuff, but never really with an end goal in mind. It's just a song and another song and another song, and before you know it, you have a bunch of songs that seem to go together and that's when you make an album. With Diamond Rings, I don't really try to set any sort of parameters; I just follow my heart and see where I end up.
What do you hope listeners take away from Free Dimensional? I hope that, more than anything, the record offers people positive respite from a lot of the hardships that exist day to day. I really hope it can be an inspiration for people, that it's something they can take with them and hopefully use to affect some manner of positive change either in their lives or other people's. I've never tried so hard to make something as life affirming and full of positive energy like I did with this album.