Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brad Kopplin, Recorded at Breakglass Studio in Montreal, Canada, October 2010 during the Pop Montreal festival
Tonight, what's happening is that, for the second time in just over a month and a half, we're reevaluating what Diamond Rings is meant to be - who he is. The first moment of reflection came as we were in the studio, there in Montreal, recording the session you're about to listen to, hearing John O'Regan perform his songs in such a vulnerable way. I can't quite remember if he was wearing any of his signature eye-masking makeup that dreary afternoon, but I think I would have remembered if he had, as those bursts of rainbows look like tie-dyed Fruit Roll-Ups applied over his eyes, the bridge of his nose and reaching to the edges of his face, meeting the bottom cut of his sideburns. They're well-done. They're thick and they must take hours to apply. He looks like a superhero when he wears them and as we've all been educated to know, all superheroes become who they are as a response to something traumatic that happened to them in their childhoods. They obtain extraordinary strengths and powers to compensate for the pain that they had to go through at one time or another and they become bound and determined to right the wrongs, to ultimately get revenge and as it's usually rigged for the good guys - do some social good. O'Regan is no Peter Parker or Steve Rogers, but he does wear a costume and there is much hidden behind face paint, the old school, ratty sneakers, the acid-washed jeans, basketball shorts and jerseys (this day, if memory serves, a Vince Carter Toronto Raptors top thrown over his lanky torso). He covers himself in bold and bright colors, dresses in gaudy, broke as fuck club kid attire - taken to a different world all his own - and writes songs that he embellishes with flavors from the 1980s, manipulations that make it easier to see Diamond Rings as mere funtime and something of a guilty pleasure, but it is not meant to be a ruse or a put-on. The songs, when they are bare and shivering as they are here, with stark instrumentation - accompaniment from a single guitar pulled down from the studio wall or the upright piano in the corner - are bleeding and pulsing examples of hypersensitivity and of a narrator who has been to some dark places.
O'Regan's music as Diamond Rings is much more than the get-up, but actually the logical preludes to Matt Berninger of The National's tales of aging domestic woe - of men and women fighting over the amount in their bank account, their sad lives, the ways things used to be and what's going to get them through another broken down day. These are the same stories, but told from the point of view of a young man just getting to the edge of the woods, when things begin not looking familiar anymore. These are serious matters that are, sometimes, not the easiest things to think about, even if they're done in the framework of a pop song. There almost needs to be some kind of a guise or a shield to give the illusion that it's all just artsy stuff, that there isn't a whole lot of reality there to believe in. O'Regan sings, "We are grown up and that's good we're told/When do grownups just become plain old?/And if you wanta throw a party, I can cry tonight/You would cry too if it happened to you, right?/I keep falling in and out of love with you/I never loved anyone the way I do/You," on "It's Not My Party" and later in the song, mentions that he was "born under punches and a real bad sign," giving us a clearer look into the psyche that's bringing these incredible songs to life. The pain seeps out of him. It is bare and bony and he means it when he hopes that he never gets old because he knows it's only going to get worse from here.
Diamond Rings Official Site
Pop Montreal official site