If there's a single accuracy to High Fidelity's Rob Fleming, it's that devout music listeners are compulsive list-makers. And those quick to compartmentalize will surely reduce Toronto blog-buzz darling John O'Regan, AKA Diamond Rings, to the easiest, glam-drogenous denominators: Ziggy Stardust, Boy George, Adam Ant.
But layered eyeliner, animal-print tights and retina-scorching legwarmers aside, Diamond Rings, playing Friday at Long Live The Queen, isn't just retro night writ large. If anything, he says, O'Regan's channelling Gordon Lightfoot---sans moustache, of course.
"My songs are folk songs, that's how they're written," he says. "Like the disco version of 'If You Could Read My Mind,' by Starz on 54---that was originally a folk song. I wanted to tap into something like that, something malleable but distinct. Because a good song is a good song."
O'Regan, otherwise known as the bookish, boyish leader of Ontario post-punk act The D'Urbervilles, isn't just being brash here. In the space of a year, he's amassed more than 100,000 YouTube views and landed tours with Woodhands and Owen Pallett. One Big Silence, an upstart electro label headed by Fucked Up's Mike Haliechuk, selected a Diamond Rings single as its inaugural release, due this summer. He's enlisted Ohbijou's James Bunton to produce his forthcoming debut full-length, Special Affections. He's even wowed the jaded tastemakers at Pitchfork---in fact, they premiered his video for "Wait and See."
This, on the strength of two limited-release singles. But hard as it may be, O'Regan's pragmatic about the hype.
"It was wicked! When you looked at Pitchfork's sidebar, there was the record that we designed and pressed beside the cover of, like, the new Usher single or something. Total mindfuck, right?" he says, with a laugh. "But I'm aware that people are incredibly fickle. It's important to not look for validation from the outside to justify your own effort."
O'Regan approaches his music as work---he's wary of being "just another singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar." His bedroom dance-party starts with a MIDI keyboard, a six-year-old Mac and his rudimentary-but-improving Ableton and Garageband skills; live, he adds a smoke machine and an onstage persona he describes as a "veritable freakshow."
"I don't want to be the guy that everyone talks over," he says. "The sound, the look, it's a survival mechanism. I'm going to make it loud and visually arresting."
But then, there are the Flemings of the world. O'Regan says his sexual orientation's always in question; but those are the questions he wants his audience to ask of him and perhaps, of themselves. While immersing himself in queer theory---he cites philosopher Judith Butler and feminist art historian Amelia Jones---he became finely attuned to the concept that performance isn't limited to the stage. "People always want to say, 'It's a gay thing, it's a straight thing.' It's not about that," he says. "It's about the idea of viewing gender and everyday life as a performance. Being onstage in tights and makeup is no different than [Pavement's] Stephen Malkmus being up there in a plaid shirt and jeans."
But while O'Regan aims to challenge with his stage persona, he's still adamantly pop. Besides, he says, lo-fi indie snobs could learn a thing or two from Usher and crew. "It's easy to make something abrasive and openly confrontational---something no one likes," O'Regan says. "If you can make something that your mom will like, that's still fresh and raw and new, that's fucking hard. And that's what I go for."