Synth-pop charmer John O'Regan steps out from the darkness on sophomore album
Diamond Rings' John O'Regan wrote most of his glammy pop project's darkly, irresistible 2010 debut, Special Affections, while he was in a hospital recovering from Crohn's disease. It's understandable, then, that album had a mortality-minded lyrical undercurrent. Thankfully the situation was far less dire for the follow-up, Free Dimensional, out October 23. The first album's plangent guitars have been replaced by swooshing synths. The rinky-dink drums have been biggie-sized. The vibe is Here-I-Am rather than I-May-Be-Gone. "[Special Affections] is all about wanting to be a musician and wanting people to hear my music and play shows," says O'Regan, speaking on the phone from his Toronto home. "The new one is about having those dreams fulfilled and being excited about the future."
Easy to understand, given how brightly Diamond Rings shone last year. In addition to seeing Special Affections get nominated for the Polaris Prize, O'Regan spent a good, glittering chunk of 2011 opening for Robyn. "I went to art school for my undergraduate degree, and touring with Robyn was like getting my master's in performance," says O'Regan. "I learned so much from her. As far as pop artists go, she's embodies just being herself more than anyone. Seeing that really inspired me to just go for it with Diamond Rings."
As a result, explains O'Regan, "there's a confidence to Free Dimensional that wasn't there before. In terms of lyrics and singing and song structures, everything is a step up." Co-producer Damian Taylor (Björk, the Killers) was in the studio to offer a boost. "He's the reason the record sounds as big and as bold and confident as it does," says O'Regan. "There were a lot of moments where I knew I wanted to do something a certain way but because of my indie background or whatever I didn’t really have the courage to go all the way with. Damian was really great at kind of pushing me to take the songs where they wanted to go, which was unabashedly pop."
Diamond Rings will play a small handful of showcase performances this month, and then start a proper tour September 20 in Portland, Maine. "It's going to be crazy," says O'Regan about the live show. "I'm touring with a full band. Not, you know, a Kylie Minogue-sized band," he says, "but you're going to leave the shows feeling good to be alive, I promise." And he'd know.