Nathan Phillips Square will be rocking Saturday night as the City’s annual Cavalcade of Lights celebration showcases a wealth of local talent alongside the lighting of the City Hall Christmas Tree and a fireworks spectacle courtesy of Circus Orange.
This year’s Cavalcade presented by Great Gulf, features musical performances by Tyler Shaw, Cold Specks, Divine Brown, Carvin Winans and Diamond Rings (left, photo by Norman Wong), followed by an open-air skating party with DJ Dopey under the glow of thousands of lights in Nathan Phillips Square.
For Diamond Rings, left, playing the big stage on NPS isn’t so much a dream come true as it is a what am I doing here? kind of moment.
“This gig is a really nice culmination,” says the artist. “To go from playing the backroom at the Rivoli or upstairs at Sneaky Dee’s to doing a big, free show in front of City Hall with fireworks is quite surreal. It’s not what I would have imagined was even possible for me in music.”
“Toronto has a deep pool of musical talent rich with incredible diversity and international appeal,” says Cavalcade booker Natasha Emery. “For this event I like to combine new, rising star talent with seasoned performers in different genres. With pop, r&b and electro-dance beats there is something for everyone at Cavalcade of Lights.”
With just a pair of solo albums under his belt, Diamond Rings – John O’Regan to his landlord – has come a long way since dropping his debut single in 2009. But O’Regan downplays his career progress to date saying, “I’m not as popular or famous as some people in Toronto or Canada would imagine. I’m not Drake, I’m not Bieber; my social life and personal life I can keep to myself, which is great. It’s cool to wade into a sea of people and be anonymous. It’s as simple as wearing a hat.”
O’Regan paid his musical dues in indie rock band the D’Urbervilles while attending the University of Guelph School of Fine Arts and Music. The band toured and recorded and was ultimately “put to sleep” but everyone on stage with Diamond Rings this weekend is a connection from John’s days in Guelph.
“We all met playing in someone’s basement for our friends,” recalls the singer fondly. “Being a part of that scene was really good for me, to have a small, safe, forgiving place to try things and experiment, screw up basically.”
The word experiment comes up several times during the course of our 25 minute interview. O’Regan is clearly not interested in treading a path tamped down by others. After playing more than 100 dates last year he’s kicking back in his home studio these days trying to push is musical envelope and forge a new sound.
“Lately I’m writing on a synthesizer,” he informs me. “So much in musical history has already been said through or with the guitar and any time I pick one up I’m walking in the footsteps of great guitar players who have come and gone, you almost have to be as great as them to say something new with it. Synthetic sounds afford me the opportunity to be a bit more experimental and try to make something no one has heard before.”
Because of his look, Diamond Rings is frequently called a glam artist but the descriptor says more about his style than his sound: “I don’t really have anything in my catalogue that sounds like T. Rex or early David Bowie,” says the artist. “Glam to me as a sound is rooted in more traditional rock and roll and blues.”
“Right now I’m drawing from pure dance, techno, house, electronic stuff but earlier on, especially for my first album, I was looking to early new wave and punk for inspiration. It was composed synthetically with the aid of keyboards and drum machines but used in a traditional pop framework, I’m thinking here of groups like Human League or Gary Newman, those were my early inspirations. I’ve absorbed a lot of that now and I’m creatively restless so now I’m experimenting with pushing songs beyond the 3.5 or 4 minute pop song structure, experimenting with extended mixes, concentrating more on the elements of each track, the rhythm, the melody, understanding how a bass part fits with a drum part.”
If anything surprised me during my chat with O’Regan it was how down-to-earth and level headed he is. There was very little ego or pose, just a young man who genuinely wants to create something fresh and exciting with a really thorough understanding of just how difficult that will be to achieve.
“There are a lot of great musicians, not just in Toronto but everywhere, and what makes a musician popular isn’t always based on how talented they are or how interesting their music is. I remember being a kid and going to shows and wishing I was that person up on stage and I’m sure there’s kids in my audience thinking the same thing. Knowing that the city and the world is full of great artists keeps me motivated to improve constantly.”
WHERE/WHEN: Calvalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square (100 Queen Street West), Saturday, November 30, 7 pm, free.