Diamond Rings has come a long way from recording music in his Toronto apartment to touring with Bjork and playing Letterman and Leno. Free Dimensional is infectiously good. Listen to it once and you might have a hard time listening to any other pop music for a while.
You’ve been on tour for a while and still have many dates ahead of you. How is the tour going, so far?
It has been a lot of work and a lot of fun. It takes tones of practice and rehearsal to get to a level where you can tour a great live show. It has been great so far.
What was it like to play Letterman and Leno?
It was surreal. We tried to soak in the entire experience. Many bands and artists work really hard their entire careers without ever getting an opportunity to do something like that – and the audience that kind of exposure brings. I guess I was doing it for me, but also for all of my fellow musicians who won’t get the chance to do something like that. It meant a lot to me.
Free Dimensional has been out for a few weeks and is already a great success. Can you talk about your approach behind this album?
I really tried to focus on writing for this album. I consider myself a lyricist and song writer first and then a musician second. I try to make my songs real, honest, and different.
Did you listen to other music for inspiration during the creation of Free Dimensional?
I try not to listen to too many things while writing. I go for days without listening to anything other than my own music. I try really hard to maintain an original sound and something that is true to me. Sometimes I will look through random youtube videos, obscure things to get inspirations for chords or drum sounds, things like that. There is a balance between being a music fan and a music creator – its important to maintain your own sound. I think that an artist has to be able to disconnect from the world and to be reflective. Away from the noise.
You are currently touring through America’s south, how is Diamond Rings received in conservative places?
I’ve learned that luckily for me there are weirdos everywhere. Even in the smallest most conservative towns there are people who feel different than the rest – the people that come out to my shows are the same in big cities in New York and Toronto as they are in small towns. My music has a way of finding an audience. It really means a lot to me to have people come out and enjoy my music when I’m thousands of miles away from home. It’s comforting.
Your first CD was a D.I.Y success and for Free Dimensional you’ve worked with a high profile producer, Damian Taylor. What was that like?
I met Damian while I toured with Robyn in 2011, he is someone I have always respected. Damian has worked with huge acts like Bjork, Robyn, The Prodigy, but also with smaller bands in Toronto. He came highly recommended to me. We worked really well together, his work ethic and personality were a great match for me. It was great to have someone as connected as Damian on my team. It made me realize that the world of music is a small place.
The other day in Nashville we had a major technical difficulty, our rig got fried. I phoned Jeremy Greenspan for help. Our sound tech, who toured with Robyn, was on the phone with Sweden asking for help. It was surreal. While recording Free Dimensional we were stuck on something in the studio and Damien quickly texted the guys from Prodigy – and got the answer to our question. It turns out that Prodigy have an encyclopedic knowledge of music. It’s amazing to know that all of these resources have opened up to me. It wasn’t always like that. Before this album it was just me in my bedroom in Toronto with garageband.
While you are working with successful producers like Damian Taylor and are touring with huge names – you still work with your close friends. Why is that important to you?
Whenever I create something new I always run it by my roommate and the same friends who have been with me for years. At the end of the day I make my music for me and my friends.
You’ve played Hamilton many times and often work with Hamiltonian artists and musicians. Hamilton’s cool guy Greg Sanitlly is playing drums in your band and the very talented Errol Richardson designed your album cover.
Yes, I’ve known those guys for years, they are dear friends. Dear, and talented friends. I was lucky to have my touring band be made up of my friends. Errol was great on the album design too – he is a really talented guy.
Who are your favourite Hamilton musicians?
I love a lot of music that comes out of Hamilton: Junior Boys, Austra, Owen Palant, and so many. My absolute favorite has to be Motem. He is one of the best personalities and musicians out there right now. He is very unique and always follows his heart with his music – more so than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s a very special individual – that’s just Greg. I really respect his vision.
What else are you listening to these days?
I try to keep on top of things, but it’s hard now that I’m on tour. I’ve been so busy recording, promoting, and not touring that I tend to fall behind on new music. I’m not always up on the latest D.I.Y local scenes and new stuff as much as I’d like to be. I used to be the guy at every show, working the doors, and listening to the new bands. Now that I spend half a year away from home it is hard to keep my finger on the pulse. There is so much great stuff out there that I’ll never be able to listen to all of it – it’s just the way it is.
However, I am surrounded by a lot of great musicians and I DJ on the side – so I am exposed to a lot of great music. The guys I’m touring with are all great musicians and we listen to all kinds of stuff on tour.. Mariah Carey, B.I.G, Kraftwerk.. it’s all over the place. I’ve toured with Gold Fields – a very cool Australian project. You should check them out.
On a timeless note – I really love Annie Lennox. She’s inspired me in many ways. As an artist she was way ahead of her time. Technologically, she was on the cutting edge of music. I really respect her willingness to try something different and the way she presented her self to the world. She didn’t conform to gender norms; she paved the way for a lot of musicians. She told us that there are different ways of being, different ways of existing.
Have you listened to Mykki Blanco?
Yes. I respect the way Mykki is approaching image and music too. I embrace diversity. There are different ways to do things that pop music is more likely to embrace, as compared to hip hop. Hip Hop is on par with Country music when it comes to gender stereotypes and diversity – so I have to respect Mykki Blanco for stepping up and doing something different and exciting.
Thanks a lot, John.