Sitting on an old desk chair in the back room of Broken City, I watch as a young man wearing make-up is fiddling with a large bag of costumes, and casually snacking on hummus and veggies. The young man is John O, also known as DIAMOND RINGS, and in addition to being a healthy eater and a very nice guy, he’s one of the most talked about acts in Canadian indie-pop music.
On the cover of Exclaim! and Beatroute, being featured on Pitchfork and even pushing through to the latter pages of the Calgary Herald’s entertainment section (a feat considering the mainstream junk and AP reprints they normally stick in there), Diamond Rings is getting a lot of press for a solo artist originally from Oshawa, Ontario. While donning a pair of gold lycra leggings, I ask John what he thinks of his success and he answers fairly non-chalantly, but with some doubt in his voice.
“It’s hard to create something unless you can see it going beyond your circle of friends,” commenting that he was not really shocked when he started getting some press. He told me that being recognized is great, but later lamented that it is easy to let bad press, especially YouTube comments get to you. He mentioned being called out for his style, and being referred to as a hipster. He brushed it off, but there was something in his voice that reminded me that I was talking to another 20 something musician like myself, and despite the make-up and hype, he’s just another guy eating hummus.
Being driven to do something different and break free from the shackles of the suburbs, Diamond Rings has put together some very catchy and personal pop songs on his record “Special Affections”. Some tunes making you feel a little melancholy, while some are just plan rump-shakers. Being a big fan, I asked him about David Bowie, and how that relates to his music, and his image as a glam pop-rocker.
“I’m enamoured with the idea of an image that is unique, but on the stage, that’s still me, I don’t autograph records ‘DR’. I think the idea of an alter-ego implies a binary, what I am is so may different people. It’s ok to try different things out… searching inside your self for some type of meaning,” Later I asked John how Diamond Rings relates to sexuality, his answer was pretty much what I was expecting, playing more to the expectations of how men and women dress. He mentioned that if he were Emily Haines, no one would even mention the way he dresses.
“Obviously I want attention,” said John, as he was pulling on the last of his flamboyant outfit. “I’m not trying to blend in,” is one of the last quotes I scribbled on my pad of paper while Broken City staff members made food, and took smoke breaks in the freezing cold Calgary night. After the interview I had some time to contemplate John’s words, before even hearing him play a note, I can tell that he understands music far and above the average laptop musician.
After a few more beers and a couple of cigarettes in the terrible cold, I was delighted to see Broken City fill up, and welcome Grey Screen to the stage. GreyScreen, AKA Kevin Stebner rocked the dance floor with some really thoughtful and well produced live chip-tunes. After GreyScreen shuffled his table to gear off to the side, Diamond Rings took the stage and wooed the crowd with his folky electronic pop songs. Keeping a sense of humour while his guitar strap broke and remaining extremely relatable to the audience, John AKA Diamond Rings struck doubt in the idea that he might just be another example of music journalism hype and made a fan out of me and many others.