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- Posted on Nov 22nd 2012 12:00PM by Sarah Kurchak
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Is the genre and gender-bending singer/songwriter experiencing a bit of latent Canadian modesty now that Free Dimensional has been released?
"Maybe," John O'Regan, the man behind the music, the Letterman and Leno appearances -- and the Max Headroom costume -- admits to Spinner. "And it probably shouldn't be, 'cause it's sort of why Diamond Rings exists, is to sort of smash that kind of tendency that I think we all have to sort of hide behind ourselves. And I think this record's probably, or definitely, my strongest statement that I've made to date."
He does admit that he was surprised at just how strongly that statement came across at first, though. Putting all of the songs together on his own was one thing, but unleashing the album, as a whole, to the masses was a very different beast, and might explain some of that original hesitancy he was experiencing in interviews.
"You record these songs, in my case, in my room and with one other co-producer. Really outside of or away from the world, at a remove from the world," he says. "And, at the time, it's really fun and I'm just doing my thing. And then it's done and it's on a CD and, yeah, you kind of listen back and go 'Whoa.' You know?"
Part of Diamond Rings' concern might also come from the fact that he doesn't want to come across as brashly cocky in an empty way. The songs that make up Free Dimensional, from the label-eschewing "I'm Just Me," to the vow to keep loving in the face of heartbreak in "Hand Over My Heart," are more about embracing oneself than any empty swagger, and he hopes that vision coming across to his fans.
"I listen to a lot of pop music and a lot of rap music, stuff that's typically pretty heavy-handed and boastful in a lot of ways," he says. "Which is kind of the point. It's great to embody that persona, but I think sometimes that it is, at least for me, a little off-putting or unrelatable. What I try to bring to the table that's different is the sort of wanting to be this really open and exposed and out-there personality and having to reconcile that, I guess, with the insecurities that I have or, that anyone has.
"And I think maybe that's hopefully what makes it relatable. But, at the same time, with this record, I was feeling really confident and really excited and really more in control of my destiny as an artist, so I think that's what kind of comes through. Hopefully people receive it that way, that it is more about owning yourself and not just the good parts of yourself, but the everything."
John O is definitely concerned with how people receive the message and the record. Part of the point of the whole Diamond Rings project has always been to write meaningful pop songs that have the ability to appeal to a broad range of people, and he's put a lot of effort into crafting music that can achieve that without pandering or coming across as overbearing.
"Trying to make something that connects without beating people over the head with it, that's really hard to do," he says. "It's very easy to make something nonsensical or abstract and it's also very easy, in a way, to make something that's really direct and obvious and that's kind of more the structure of a typical pop song where you can almost see the rhyming couplets coming at you verses ahead. You can finish the line before the singer even gets to it because it's just so obvious. What I always try to do is find that space between, where you can still keep it interesting but also give people something they can hold onto."
It was a challenge that got the critical darling thinking about forms of musical bonding that happen in places rarely associated with hot underground acts, and the journey made him rethink some long-held principles about his writing process.
"I would have detested the idea of writing a love song when I was like 20," says John O, who used to front angular rock band The D'Urbervilles before transforming into Diamond Rings. "But take anyone to a karaoke bar or a wedding or anywhere where people are communing around music and those are the songs that they gravitate towards, those are the songs that they want to hear. And I spent a lot of time thinking about why that was, and I think the answer is because they make us feel good and they make us feel connected to one and other.
"And, ultimately, I think that's what music and art should do, is bring people together. It shouldn't push them apart."