Diamond Rings with Gold & Youth
When: Friday, 7: 30 p.m. (early show)
Where: Club 9ONE9
Tickets: $15 at Lyle's Place, Ditch Records, the Strathcona Hotel and ticketweb.ca
John O'Regan, the coiffured fash-ionista who doubles as Diamond Rings, uses the same bedroom studio in the west end of Toronto for all his recordings.
And his two full-lengths thus far - 2010's Special Affections and its follow-up, Free Dimensional - have followed the same one-man formula, with O'Regan using only a few guest vocalists for his first and a handful of outside guitar licks and synth loops for his latest.
But according to the 27-yearold, the tone of Free Dimensional differs greatly from anything he has done before.
"The album is so celebratory because that's how it felt making it," O'Regan said while on tour in Santa Cruz, California. "I've grown and developed a great deal as writer and producer and arranger, and a lot of the sonic shifts [are] a result of me being more comfortable with the medium."
O'Regan has been busy promoting Free Dimensional of late, having taped both the Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in recent weeks. He's back in Canada for 12 dates beginning Friday in Victoria, a hectic but welcome pace for the musician and his bandmates.
The new Diamond Rings lineup officially debuted at the Pop Montreal festival in September.
It was a momentous occasion for O'Regan, who to that point had been the sole member of Diamond Rings, both in the studio and on stage. Performing solo was "getting to the point where it was repetitive and boring," O'Re-gan said.
The addition of his bandmates was a welcome opportunity to help sharpen his focus. Performing with a band is a new approach for Diamond Rings, but for O'Re-gan, it's old hat.
Prior to embarking on his new synth-pop direction four years ago, he was in a series of Guelph-and Toronto-based groups. The shift from solo performer back to group member was a natural evolution, according to O'Regan.
"I got my start performing in bands, and writing and recording with bands. If anything, performing solo was the weird thing. That was an adjustment. When I started Diamond Rings, that was part of the whole concept, trying to find a creative outlet that would really push me outside of my comfort zone."
The three-piece Diamond Rings touring band, which is outfitted in uniforms at O'Regan's request, has given the Juno nominee another creative outlet in which to dabble. While his live show provides a note-for-note reproduction of Free Dimensional, O'Regan wants the onstage presence to be equally memorable.
"I have always been inspired by artists and groups who take pride in their visual esthetic as much as their sonic one," he said. "That was one of the exciting things of getting a band together. There had to be a uniform esthetic, literally. We've taken a lot of inspiration from groups like NWA and Public Enemy and Devo and Kraftwerk, and tried to put all that together and re-present it in a way that feels unique to me."
Unique is a frequent point of reference for O'Regan. His physical appearance - tall, impossibly lanky and purposefully ambiguous - is a big part of the package. So is the mostly computer-generated pop he creates, which comes across like a mixture of Erasure and Depeche Mode, with visual accompaniment from Max Headroom.
The majority of Free Dimensional was recorded with producer Damian Taylor on a computer with "readily available software that anyone could use and find," O'Regan said.
"It's really exciting what you can do right now with digital software. In that respect, I'm really not snobbish about that stuff, either. For me, it's about finding the right tool to make the right sound. Sometimes that's a vintage synth, other times it's a really sh---y sound from GarageBand."
Experimentation, adventure, exploration - it's all part of the journey. "Everything I've ever done in music has led me to where I am now, just as what I'm doing now is going to lead me somewhere else. As an artist, it's about keeping your antenna up, staying open to possibilities, to new sounds, to new ideas, and always being willing to embrace what is unknown. That's what keeps me going."