OTTAWA – April 8, 2010
- Ming Wu (MW)
- Emily Jeffers (EMJ)
- Diamond Rings (DR) [who has brought a duffel bag of supplies, are in the men's washroom at Maverick's.]
MW: Hi, I’m in the washrooms at Maverick’s right now, and I’m with Diamond Rings.
DR: How’s it going?
[Diamond Rings starts to rummage through his bag for the night's attire.]
MW: So, I’m going to ask you some questions…while he’s changing…
How did this project begin?
DR: Excuse me, sorry, I’m putting on a shirt. [Interviewers proceed to blush.]
I started playing Diamond Rings shows with a friend of mine named Katie Stelmanis last May, in Toronto. She was playing a show for the Wavelength concert series at Sneaky Dee’s. I had some songs and was bugging her to let me play, mostly because I wanted to see her play and didn’t want to have to pay to get in. So I was like, put me on the bill! I had a bunch of songs—folk songs, basically— and then I re-imagined them for the computer. I basically made them into dance songs and wore a cool outfit, and that was that. People were really into it, and I had a lot of fun doing it, so I just kept doing it.
MW: That’s nice to hear. Katie Stelmanis is amazing.
DR: Yeah, she rules. You should check out her new album when it comes out. I listened to it on the way here, in the thunderstorm. It was very intense, very scary. If there’s ever a time to listen to Katie Stelmanis, it’s in a thunderstorm in the middle of the night on Highway 416. Really epic shit.
[Diamond Rings calls us over to the mirror as he begins to apply his makeup.]
MW: Are you surprised your music has really garnered some attention?
DR: I don’t want to say I’m “surprised,” but I’m definitely thankful that people are into it and people are responding to it so positively, more than anything.
I think when you make stuff and put it out into the world, you want it to be recognized and you want it to be successful. Sometimes there are so many great bands out there that it doesn’t always happen for everyone.
It’s great that people are into it and the response has been good, so hopefully I can keep connecting with people.
EMJ: I read that you’re from Oshawa, and you started there playing with someone, and then you went to Guelph, did the D’Urbervilles thing—do you feel like Diamond Rings has been something you’ve always wanted to do, or was it really that spontaneous that you decided to take this approach?
DR: Wicked question. I think it’s been an evolution over time, and it’s been something I’ve been thinking about and—I don’t want to say “crafting,” but kind of, in a way—formulating this idea of the type of show I want to put on.
My background is in the arts, and I think one of the great things about art and art making is trying to make something unique and original that you don’t see being done by other people. Being in Toronto, where I am right now, I feel like I’m filling a void, filling a hole. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on, but I wanted to do something that I didn’t see happening and that was exciting. It’s coming together pretty well. It’s been a while coming.
MW: Would you say your music is inspired by the new wave, dance, poppy music of the 1980s?
DR: Certain elements. I enjoy a lot of that music. I have every New Order album. I listen to a tonne of stuff.
When I’m writing a song, I’m rarely thinking of making it sound like anything other than what’s best for the song, and writing something that’s good. Certain things come out maybe more obviously than others, and it’s great if people want to draw those comparisons, but I just kinda make it and throw it out there, and hopefully people pick up on it.
EMJ: You cite Grace Jones as an inspiration. Is that purely a cosmetic thing or is it everything about her being?
DR: It’s definitely both. I really like her look…her looks, in the plural. I think it’s really great when an artist does something unique but isn’t afraid to change it up, too. You know what I mean? You don’t wanna get caught being… I don’t know what kind of band…The New York Dolls or Kiss or something… You’re a prisoner of your own uniqueness almost, in a way.
Anything that’s originally shocking and bold and daring can become really quickly assimilated into the culture and normalized or explained away. I really admire artists like her and artists like David Bowie, who flip the script and keep people guessing and change things up. It’s never static. It keeps it exciting. That’s what I like about her.
I like her songs, too. They’re great. Yeah, she’s a hit maker.
MW: Would you say that with Diamond Rings and your other band, the D’Urbervilles, you’re growing or evolving as a musician/artist?
DR: Well, one is working with a group and fitting in with that group aesthetic, writing songs as a unit. [Diamond Rings] is my chance to express the side of me that’s really personal. The stuff I’m doing is not anything—at least that I know of—that anyone else in the band really wants to be a part of, especially, which is fine. You know, we’re not going to be a hair and makeup band.
MW: Isn’t someone in your band in The Magic?
DR: Yeah, our guitar player, Tim [Bruton] is in The Magic. Everyone else does other stuff. For a long time, I was the only one not doing other stuff, and that was a bummer. So this is partly even born out of that, I guess. I was like, “Shit, I need my own thing. Everyone else has got their own thing, or another shared thing.” It’s good to be creative in as many ways as possible. This is one of them, right here.
EMJ: You went to SXSW, right? How was that?
DR: It was busy, but super fun. Woodhands were there, lots of Canadian bands were there, lots of friends from Toronto. Unfortunately this year I didn’t really get to hang out with any of them. It seemed like we all went down and didn’t hang out with each other. We were there, you’d see everyone in the street and you could high five from a distance, across the road or something.
That’s kind of the idea, too. You go down there to get noticed, and play shows, and perform for people who wouldn’t otherwise see what you’re doing. It’s good to be busy. It’s good to be running around.
MW: Did you try the foods there? The food and alcohol?
DR: I had food, yes. I ate…maybe not as much as I would have liked. Food and drink are fairly inescapable at a festival of that magnitude. It’s a good time to go down and just have fun and celebrate music and do interesting things. It was great. People were really into it. Hopefully we’ll be back there soon.
MW: In the near future, do you think you’ll have backup dancers for your live shows?
DR: If the timing was right. If I had the time to really work on something that I felt was really going to add to the experience. I think there’s a lot of things I’d like to try out. Right now though, I’m really having fun exploring and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible by myself on stage. I think there’s a certain power or dynamism attached to just…
MW: …owning the stage.
DR: Yeah, totally. I think people are really getting a kick out of that right now, and so am I. I’m not really feeling too much of a need to change things up right away. But shit, yeah, there are so many things I’d like to try out. That’s what it’s about.
MW: I could see it, like in the video for “Wait and See”. I could see someone going up on stage and dancing.
DR: Yeah, doing that video was fun. It was great to incorporate other people. That was the idea after the first video, to show that I did actually exist in real life, not just in front of a green screen, and that I did have friends. I think a lot of people didn’t know what to make of the first video. There was a lot of debate over the validity or seriousness of the project, over whether or not it was a joke.
EMJ: Who does the choreography for the videos?
DR: In the first video, it was pretty off-the-cuff. It was myself and my makeup artist, who is also my cousin and my best friend. Her name is Lisa Howard. She helped out with the choreography for that, but it was mostly me nerding out in my living room. We played the song over and over again and I just kept dancing around. I did as many takes of that as I could get.
In the second one, the choreography was shared between an old friend of mine from Guelph, who was a professional cheerleader for the Toronto Argonauts back in the day, and John Caffery, who plays in Kids on TV, which is an electro band from Toronto. They put a lot of time into it. I like to dance, but I wouldn’t say I’m a dancer…at least, not yet.
EMJ: Maybe that will come into the Diamond Rings experience later on.
DR: Yeah, totally. Like I said, there’s room to grow in the project and make it different. The last thing I want to do is become a caricature of myself. I want to keep it unique and exciting and fun for everyone. It’s all about fun. If I can bring people along in a year, in a few months, whatever. When the time is right, it’ll happen, I guess.
EMJ: You mentioned that your cousin is a makeup artist. Has she given you direction on how to create your look?
DR: It’s a very collaborative process. When I play in Toronto, and when we can, she comes with and I sit back and let her work her magic. But she’s also in school full time and has a life, so she can’t always make it on the road.
We’ve had some makeover sessions. I’ll usually go over to her house on a Friday and we’ll split a bottle of wine or something and try out some new looks and listen to Rihanna and it’s just fucking fun as shit.
EMJ: So tell us what’s in your makeup bag. What kind of products do you have?
DR: I’ve got a bunch of brushes, which I’m using now for my eyeshadow and my blush. I bring a few colours of shadow with me on tours—all the regular shit, basically.
EMJ: You’ve got some MAC, some CoverGirl…
DR: I like to buy MAC things, mostly. We have a really good MAC store in Toronto. Their stuff’s good. It’s like equipment, like anything else. It’s like guitar strings, or a guitar, or a computer. If you’re using shitty gear, it’s going to look shitty or it’s going to sound shitty. I like getting stuff from them because it’s actually good. It’s artistic product. That’s how I look at it. I’m a painter, technically. That’s what I studied in school. It’s kind of an extension of that. I know my colour theory and how to do stuff.
It’s fun. It’s super fun. I started out in music staunchly opposed to the whole idea of the image of the artist. Coming out of the Guelph scene, bands like the Constantines and really working-class, honest-to-goodness stuff was really what I was into in my late teens. Doing this has shown me you can still have fun and have it be real and honest and not stupid. We’re just in this gross washroom doing this. It’s not that glamourous.
I think people like it. Some people do. It’s nice seeing a performer that wants to…
MW: …be real.
DR: Yeah, and actually realize that people are coming out and have paid their ten bucks or whatever and have worked their shit job to afford to come to the show. I want to do something to acknowledge that, something special that they’re going to take home with them. I don’t want to just slouch around in a plaid shirt and pretend I don’t want to be there, or something.
MW: What can we expect on the full-length album. It’s done, I guess?
DR: Yeah, it’s done. You can expect a really sassy album cover. There are ten songs right now—it might change. There’s a bit of everything. It jumps all over the place. Some songs are really guitar-oriented, some are piano ballads, some are in between, some are rap, some are really atmospheric. I would say the thing that ties it all together, mostly, are the lyrics, which I spend a lot of time on. That’s always been my favourite part of the song-writing process; really spending time writing lyrics that mean something to me, that rhyme in interesting ways and have metaphors and double entendres and hidden meanings.
That’s what I like when I buy a new record, and take it home for that. People don’t buy records anymore, but, taking it home and listening to it and getting the lyric sheet out and being like “What does he mean? What is this about?”and trying to relate those things to your own life and your own experiences. That, to me, is the magic of making popular music.
So hopefully, expect some lyrics that you can relate to, that will help you through the day and make you feel like there’s someone else in the world who understands, because sometimes that’s really important.
EMJ: Did you happen to read the Pitchfork review of “All Yr Songs”, where the person writing the review actually suggested a different lyric for one of the lines?
DR: Oh, yeah, I did read that.
EMJ: What did you think of that?
DR: Whatever, I guess it’s a review, it’s constructive criticism, essentially. Good on them to kinda want to remix it a little.
EMJ: Well, just the fact that you say that the lyrics mean something to you…you’re telling your story, it’s not the person writing the review.
DR: I guess that’s true, but at the same time, I’ve wondered that with songs sometimes. People come at them from different directions. Maybe that’s what they wanted to hear. I mean, I’m not going to change it, so ultimately, that’s what they’re stuck with.
It’s nice also not to privilege the lyrics. Maybe that wouldn’t be as big a deal if it was “maybe the guitar should sound more like this here.” There are some weird hierarchies that exist in the world of popular music between different instruments, between vocals and whatever else. People have expectations and take some things more seriously than others.
[Diamond Rings takes a step back to look at himself in the mirror.]
EMJ: You look great!
DR: Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s coming together. Almost there.
MW: Speaking of “All Yr Songs”, what do you think of Green Go’s remix of it?
DR: It’s cool. It’s wicked. It’s totally great. Remixes are fun. I’ve been starting to do more of them myself.
I did one for Woodhands, actually, that is going to be coming out really soon. I don’t know if I’m spilling the beans on that. I might be, so maybe I won’t say anything more.
I think it’s something that people are really gravitating towards right now. I think it’s really great.
My songs are remix-ready. I write them as songs, first and foremost. They can be performed around a campfire, essentially. They’re not, because I play in bars, not at campfires. To me, right now, I’m really into just trying to capture, to write that perfect song that can go anywhere, that someone can be humming on the bus, or singing when they’re washing dishes or mopping the floor, or whatever it is you do. I’ve had to do crap work in my day. It’s a bummer sometimes. Hopefully they help people through some things.
MW: Going back to remixes, who would you want to remix your songs?
DR: If I could have anyone?
DR: I really like… Well I just had Graham [Van Pelt], who plays in Think About Life and Miracle Fortress—we were touring together and we did a few remix trades for each other. That was really cool. He’s great. I really respect and admire what he does. That already happened, so that was wicked.
[Dan Werb from Woodhands walks into the washroom]
Dan: Hi. I’ll be real quiet.
DR: Go for it. Don’t worry about it. Just do it. Fuck it.
Yeah, I should probably pick someone really famous and awesome.
Dan, who would be good to remix a song? Who would be great, if I could pick anyone to remix a song?
Dan: [From one of the stalls] Don’t you want us to remix it?
DR: Yeah, well Woodhands is good. Dr. Dre maybe? He’s pretty cool.
Dan: Does he do remixes though?
DR: I don’t know if he’s in the remix game. He should be, because that’s where the money is, these days.
Dan: He’s more into platinum-selling albums.
DR: I dunno….I dunno… Maybe…
Dan: [Emerging from the stall] Mozart.
DR: Yeah, Mozart. I want him to come back from the dead and reinterpret my shit for solo piano. That’s my answer.
MW: My last question: What’s your favourite format—CDs, LPs, or cassette tapes?
Dan: [Running water at the sink] Wait, is LaserDisc an option? I know [Diamond Rings] really likes LaserDiscs.
DR: If LaserDisc is an option, yeah.
EMJ: I actually had a MiniDisc player for a while.
MW: I have a LaserDisc player at home.
Dan: What, you don’t like MP3s? I like MP3s. They’re my favourite.
MW: Yeah, there’s that too.
DR: MP3s are good for when you’re driving to shows.
Dan: You can e-mail them to people.
DR: Yeah you can e-mail them and be like “Hey check out this band! They’re called Woodhands. They’re playing tonight in Ottawa. They’re so good. Me and my friends are all going to go. We’re going to get crunk!”
Dan: [Turning off the water] The water remains cold.
MW: I just want to say thank you very much for the interview.