Published Oct 18, 2012Diamond Rings' John O'Regan may not see himself as a "pop star," but that doesn't mean he doesn't aspire to be one. Having gained the experience and confidence through his 2010 debut album, Special Affections, the synth-pop singer-songwriter has learned how to compile an album that's bigger and more ambitious, as well as a band that allows him to truly be the performer he is.
"My creative director Lisa Howard and I spent a lot of time over the past few years imagining ourselves at this level," O'Regan admits to Exclaim! "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 would never call myself a pop star, though. That would be scary to think about myself that way because, on a relative scale, that's not who I am regardless of how much I may aspire to reach that level. I'm just an artist with a vision."
Free Dimensional, Diamond Rings' upcoming new album, is the product of O'Regan's preparedness for this much-coveted next level he speaks of. Teaming up with producer Damian Taylor (Björk, the Prodigy) for this album, O'Regan feels that his vision was truly understood and expressed on these 10 tracks.
"I'm more in control of my own sound, my artistic destiny," O'Regan explains. He doesn't discount the influence and help of his previous producer, though. "Having had that experience working with [producer James Bunton] really enabled me to really know what I wanted to do with this one."
Other people who O'Regan learned from were his tourmates, Robyn and Twin Shadow. Spending most of last year opening up for them on tour, O'Regan observed them onstage and really took the time to think when it came to assembling his own backing band.
"The common thing that makes any band successful is the connection between the people involved," he says. "So first and foremost, I wanted people who were great musicians, but I also wanted people who were great friends."
Diamond Rings is now touring with a three-piece backing band, which includes Graham Van Pelt of Miracle Fortress, and not only does O'Regan know and trust them, but he's glad he doesn't have to "call some talent agency in Los Angeles and get some hired guns; this is a real band."
As a recent Pop Montreal show demonstrated, one of the luxuries of this expanded stage set-up is that Diamond Rings the performer is freed from his equipment and able to really reach the fans.
"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," O'Regan says. "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."
Diamond Rings, the music and the live show, has benefited from these two years – there's more of a performance, there's more dancing and O'Regan isn't shy to even throw a few rap verses into his songs.
"That was just my desire to try new things and challenge myself, artistically," O'Regan says of his rapping aspirations. "I listen to tons of different music and this record was really an attempt to distill all those influences into a cohesive blueprint of where I am as an artist and rapping was 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, I'd say."
But when asked if he thinks he's got what it takes to go head-to-head with today's top rappers, he laughs and replies, "I think I can rap as well as Drake can sing!"
Free Dimensional drops on Tuesday (October 23) in Canada through Secret City Records. See Diamond Rings' upcoming tour schedule here and stream the album below.