John Gregory O’Regan – Diamond Rings – is sitting half-naked next to me inside the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver. For our photoshoot he’s changing into silver leggings, purple knee-high socks, black Converse and is pretty stoked about his Ride The Lightning Metallica shirt.
But right now, all 18 feet of his lankiness is in his underwear in a big leather chair. “The men’s loos are over there if you wanna change,” I say. “Oh, we’re well beyond that. I have no shame anymore.”
Thank Christ for people with no shame. Really. All hail the return of the fabulous altpop star.
So… Diamond Rings. Haven’t you heard?
Here’s the potted bio: 25-year-old post-punk guitarist with Toronto band D’Urbervilles heads out onto the ledge of his identity and discovers that he’s actually a glamazon synth star with a penchant for hooky Casiotone+guitar pop songs and a shedload of MAC makeup. Up against basic synth and click tracks, his unusually deep baritone and heart-on-a-hightop-shoe-string lyrics makes debut album Special Affections definitely 80s, but quite the grower. Pitchfork raves, SPIN blogs about him, Interview goes in for the fashionista angle…and you get the sense that John O’s about to ride the new new new wave into a supernova.
But it’s not just hype, and Diamond Rings isn’t just an ad for American Apparel. I’m fairly certain the boy has legs. And they look fabulous in tights.
Also, being Canadian, he’s ridiculously nice. Chatty. Sweet. From the stage, he invites all to come and introduce themselves afterward. When I tell him that Lou Barlow from Sebadoh/Dinosaur Jr really dug his odd-choice B-side cover of “On Fire” so much so that after he heard it, he tinkered about on his own dusty synths, John O beams. “Wow! Really? That’s amazing….I heard the song in the van when we [D’Urbervilles] were on a tour and it just sort of stuck with me. So when it came time to do a B-side I called up the other guys and asked them what the song was. I really like the lyrics.” He rifles through a duffel bag filled with technicolour clothes, pulling bits and pieces out…
…which I interpret as the international signal for “Come, follow me into the men’s bathroom”. No? Photog Kris Krüg has it in mind to get up close and personal. So, yunno, we do.
John cradles a crappy, tied-up plastic bag filled with stuff as he heads towards the urinals. “Are you telling me you don’t have a proper makeup bag?” I tease. “Oh no, this is just…other things,” he says as he grabs armfuls of makeup bags, brushes, the works. The transformation begins. Kris snaps away. They’re talking about MAC glitter eyeliner.
“I’ve got the black one with sparkles in it,” I say, trying to edge into a makeup discussion between two men. “I’m wearing it, actually.” John spins around, holding out a pot of Blitz & Glitz. “You mean this one?” He smiles. Yes, I do.
Following the shoot, he and manager Remi take my advice and head out for a sushi dinner nearby – in full make up, gingerly carrying around his guitar, now with rainbow strap. Later, he returns to the club and hangs by the soundbooth. He stands out in all the obvious ways, but also because he’s got that Ziggy Stardust-ed aura, minus the attitude. People whisper and point from across the club: “There he is!” This is what you want to experience when you’re a musician at that certain-level-of-not-yet-famous. Because it means you’re possibly-going-to-become-famous.
Live, Diamond Rings is all analog-ward but utterly compelling. It’s just him, his Mac (not the makeup), a synth and a guitar. For opener “Play With Me”, he stands on stage, back to the audience and throws shapes, whilst wearing white, Kanye West-slat sunglasses. You’d laugh at the ridiculousness of it if you didn’t think it was actually great. During the last minute and a half of “You & Me”, he breaks into a spastic dance and throws off his jacket to play the rest of the set in just his leggings and a rainbow-hair necklace “made from free-range, organic unicorns”. It’s all kinds of brilliant and fun. See?
But the highlight? The guitar rock freakout on “Something Else”. John falls to his knees on the guitar, doing all the big-arena poses and grinding. “I wrote this song for you to sing,” he growlsings, and the crowd obeys. People a few feet back are sitting on their friends’ shoulders to see him. No small feat in a club with a capacity of 350 and low ceilings.
“Phew, time to put my dick back in my pants,” he says right after the showiness. “Thank you for indulging my rock star fantasies.”
No, really, Diamond Rings, thank you. \m/