Diamond Rings has one motto: “Stay fierce.” He’s a man who rocks rainbow eyeshadow and zebra print leggings but can still make a layup. The frontman of Canadian indie rockers The D’Ubervilles uses his solo project to combine Bowie-esque glam with his own particular brand of sometimes-synth pop, sometimes-rock songs that carry a bit more emotional weight than your average dance track.
The man behind Diamond Rings, Toronto’s John O, chatted with NBN by phone from his latest tour with Twin Shadow somewhere between Baton Rouge and Houston, giving us the lowdown on his love for Dennis Rodman and plans for his next album. You can catch him at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall October 2.
You’re pretty well known for your style. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Fashion related influences? From all over really. A big part of stuff I’m into is rooted in sports and athletic culture, which I guess has tie-ins to hip hop and that whole scene — that idea of wearing uniforms or memorabilia that represents a certain team and therefore a specific city as well. Lots of just old stylish basketball players from the early 90s, bright colors, logos, all the stuff that goes along with that — the materials, satin, nylon, that kind of stuff. I just wear shit that I like; I don’t really think about too much.
So do you have a favorite basketball player from the early ‘90s?
Well everyone was into Jordan, everyone was into the Bulls, but my favorite player all around is probably Dennis Rodman, more just for his attitude and what he did. You know, he was like a punk rock athletic superstar. I played a lot of sports growing up and I played a lot of music as well, and the two worlds are fairly separate in a lot of ways from each other — the stereotypical attitude of most musicians relative to how we think of athletes — but he managed to do both and pull it off and I think that’s really cool.
How long does it take to put on that really intense eye makeup?
It depends on how much time I — and my creative director — have before a show. If we need to, we can bang it out in as little as a half hour, or if it’s a photo shoot or something we’ll usually do two to three different looks just for the shoot. That’ll be a whole afternoon or something. We can dress it up or dress it down, to not only suit the venue or the location, but also the reality, like how much time there is.
It depends on what I’m wearing: The colors have to sort of match the outfit and vice versa. Depending on how loud or how fierce the look is, the makeup is scaled accordingly. It’s something that really changes depending on how I feel, how we feel as a team, and just the vibe we’re getting from the space we’re in, the venue itself. It’s pretty specific.
Did you learn anything from being on tour with Robyn?
Yeah, I learned stuff every day. It was a really big learning experience for me. Mostly I think I learned a lot about myself and my own abilities and limitations as a performer getting to see someone who’s — for lack of a better word — well seasoned as a live performer. That was super inspiring. There’s a lot to learn from someone like her.
What can fans expect from your live performance?
Loud music… I don’t know. I just go out and try to do my best and have fun and make connections with people. I make the music that I do and perform it in the way that I do because I want to start a conversation, create the opportunity for a dialogue between myself and the listener. I do what feels right and what feels fun for me as an artist and leave it up to everyone else to interpret it in whatever way they want.
I’d like people to expect nothing. Not nothing in the sense that nothing’s going to happen, but to be open to anything happening. I want to keep them guessing.
Do you have plans in the works for a second album?
Yeah, I’m always working on new songs. I was recording a bunch this summer and we’ll be recording a bunch more as soon as tour’s over, in October and November. So far it’s feeling really exciting.
You recorded Special Affectations in your apartment. How has the recording process changed since then?
Nothing’s changed really so much as more layers have been added to the process. I still write and record on my own in my home studio. That’s where I start, that’s the basis of everything I do. But I am working with a new producer this time around in Montreal and bringing him my tracks — my sounds, my beats –taking the songs as far as I can on my own. Kind of like having a personal trainer but for music, giving them that extra muscle and sculpting them in a way that really is going to take it to the next level . That’s what was missing on the last record. Or maybe not missing, it just was not where I was at that time in my life. I’m ready to do something a bit bigger. A bit more confident.
Are you still working with your band, the D’Ubervilles?
We played a few shows in this is my main priority so we’ll have to sit tight and see what the guys have in mind. It’s pretty all consuming.
Does having Crohn’s disease change how you operate on tour or how you make music?
Not on a day to day level. I’m always pretty conscientious of how I feel and trying to do right by my body, more or less. It should be a good thing as we’re leaving Louisiana — I ate a bit too much fried alligator. More than anything, it was my initial setback and my initial diagnosis with Crohn’s that set a lot of what I’m doing now into motion. Having that kind of moment, being forced to really step back from my own life and just do nothing — I was incapacitated for a while, physically, not mentally of course — without having had that experience I can’t imagine that I’d be where I am right now. In a long term, sort of macro sense, it affects what I do, it affects how I view my own life and my own time. It’s given me a sense of urgency to chase after the things I’ve always wanted to do as an artist. But day to day, driving to Houston, it’s not something I think about, which is great.
Your motto is “Stay fierce.” How do you go about staying fierce?
[Laughs] It’s just like, a guiding kind of attitude that shapes everything that I do: everything that we do as a team, the way I approach each show. It’s about going for it, making it happen, being tough, not being a jerk or anything but standing your ground and standing up for what you believe in, what you think is right, who you think you are and how you feel as a person regardless of what other people may say or do or think about that.
Diamond Rings, October 2 Lincoln Hall $14