When Diamond Rings’ “All Yr Songs” single came out in 2009, it stood out from the acres of other up-and-coming indie rock around it. It was more than just a glint of something; Canadian singer/songwriter John O’Regan’s vision seemed to arrive fully formed and unstoppable, in two minutes of chugging but sleek guitar rock, with lyrics that sprang directly from his heart to his mouth, with no stops in between.
It had an enigmatic power to it, and Diamond Rings itself had a touch of the same. Fans of the song soon discovered that what sounded like a fully formed band was really a one-man project, with the strikingly lanky and perfectly art-designed O’Regan at its core. His voice had echoes of Bowie, and his severe look drew on rock dress-up gods like Klaus Nomi while still managing to be unlike anything else. The question was: Who was Diamond Rings?
For O’Regan, who performs at the Crepe Place Friday, that question only got more complicated while putting together his album Free Dimensional, the follow-up to 2010’s Special Affections. Songs like “Runaway Love” on the new record re-capture the guitar magic of “All Yr Songs,” while others like “Day and Night” have a fully electronic club feel to them. The pronounced split can be kind of a risk for an artist seeking to establish his musical identity.
“Once I’d gotten the bulk of the record done, it became pretty clear that it wasn’t just going to be one kind of sound. I worried about that…for about 48 hours,” says O’Regan. “Then I decided I didn’t really care. I’m never going to be the type of artist that just does one thing. For me, it’s just about embracing the feelings and the spirit of the song, and letting that song take me where it wants to go.”
What it really boils down to, he admits, is that he finds listening to the same thing over and over again “kind of boring.” Yet there is something unifying about the songs: O’Regan’s clear, concise way of speaking from the heart.
“That’s the goal of all my songs,” he says. “They’re about me, but they’re not really. It’s about trying to tap into some sort of collective consciousness, or some collective emotion or feeling that everyone can understand. If I’ve learned anything in my time in music, it’s that the way I feel is often not much different from the way everyone else feels, deep down. For me, the big thing on this record was learning to trust that if I say what’s on my mind, people are going to get it, if it’s done in a way that’s unique and fresh.”
As for the furious positivism of his music, perhaps its not surprising considering the 27-year-old O’Regan started this solo project (after years in bands like the D’Ubervilles, who became Matters and are currently on hiatus) after he was hospitalized in 2008 with Crohn’s Disease. “All Yr Songs” was a burst of energy that expressed everything he couldn’t while shackled to a bed.
“I was in the hospital hooked up to an IV in pajamas for a few months,” he says. “That’s definitely part of the reason that Diamond Rings exists, and the reason that I write the music I do. I think anytime someone goes through a trying experience, it’s hard not to be impacted or touched by it. For me, all I could think about every day was just what I was going to do when I got out, how great it would be.”
It was also where he came up with the name, which has a double meaning for him.
“The diamond obviously has its glamorous bling associations, and as an artist who prides himself on the aesthetic as much as the sonic side of things, it fits. But there’s also a real hardness to the diamond, it’s one of the hardest rocks in the world. Only diamonds can cut other diamonds. So there’s a toughness beneath the shine.”
Diamond Rings performs Friday, Nov. 9 at the Crepe Place.