Posts tagged ‘rock n roll road trips’

January 26, 2013

Diamond Rings takes on the world

[This article was published last month in Vacay.ca as part of its Rock ‘n Roll Road Trips series. Diamond Rings has since been nominated for a SiriusXM Canadian Indie Music Award, whose show takes place March 22, 2013 during Canadian Music Week in Toronto.]

Diamond rings, John O’Regan says, are glamorous and tough. That’s why they’re the namesake of his on-stage persona, an act that has busted out of the Toronto music scene to earn superlative-laden reviews across the continent. One reason for the success is the fact diamond rings are mesmerizing too.

It’s difficult not to keep your eyes on O’Regan. For one thing, you have to make up your mind whether his act is an artistic form of self-expression or a schtick. One listen of his hit “I’m Just Me” should convince you he’s much more Ziggy Stardustthan Gary Glitter, which is to say that Diamond Rings has substance and cred. It’s quite possible the persona O’Regan has created is the most interesting act to come out of Canada since Arcade Fire. “I’m Just Me” comes across as a mantra for the sexually uncertain, the androgynous or the transgender, but like any great song it has universality to it, appealing to anyone who embraces their individuality when it clashes with bullies or the sensibilities of the establishment. There’s both a rebelliousness and a sweetness to the song, underscoring the duality O’Regan talks about in himself and his performance.

While most audiences are now hearing about Diamond Rings for the first time, O’Regan isn’t an overnight success. He’s been toiling in Toronto for several years, fronting the electro-pop band The D’urbervilles, recently renamed Matters. In Toronto, the 27-year-old spends his days in Roncesvalles, a historic neighbourhood known for its Polish heritage and proximity to High Park.

“I tend not to leave that neighbourhood when I’m at home. Being away, being in a rock band there is so much stimulation, a lot of long nights, a lot of loud music and loud clubs, and although Toronto is great for all that stuff, when I’m home it’s rarely what I want to do,” O’Regan said during an interview three weeks ago in a suite in the Ritz-Carlton Toronto.

Roncesvalles is beyond West Queen West, an area that’s become a cultural hub for the city, with vintage clothing stores, nightclubs, and a pair of notable boutique hotels, the Gladstone and the Drake, that are a breeding ground for artists of all sorts. O’Regan’s part of town is much more low key, although it does have two of the city’s best new restaurants in Hopgood’s Foodliner and Barque. Despite his flamboyant stage presence, O’Regan struck me as very much an introspective artist devoted to pushing himself and his work as far as he can, and that makes Roncesvalles a fit for him. It lacks the bustle and distractions of other areas of the city, allowing him to hole up and make music.

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August 13, 2012

Paul Brandt talks travel and songwriting

[I had a quick chat with Paul Brandt, one of the truly good guys in music world, for inclusion in the Rock n Roll Road Trips series Vacay.ca is producing. Brandt, whose new album is out this fall, talks about how travel informs his songwriting and names his favourite road-trip song of all time. The interview took place during the 100th Calgary Stampede, where he headlined the Grandstand Show each night. This article and video first appeared on Vacay.ca.]

CALGARY, ALBERTA — In “Alberta Bound,” Paul Brandt sings about the province’s “black fertile ground” and “big, blue sky” in an ode to the beauty of his home. The tune could be a contemporary anthem for Alberta, one that would fit hand-in-hand with Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds.” For the songwriter, though, “Alberta Bound” is a travel song. Brandt notes that its lyrics held significance for him while he was away from Calgary, touring the world and living in Nashville for almost 10 years.

During an interview with Vacay.ca last month, Brandt called “Alberta Bound” a song “that has defined my career in a lot of ways.” Its inspiration came from the drives he would make during the Christmas holidays, travelling from Nashville back to Calgary.

“The seeds for that song were planted during that time. We would always hit the Sweet Grass sign at the Montana border and we knew we were getting close to home and that made it into the song,” Brandt says, noting the song’s opening lyric that speaks of being 40 miles from Canada, a sentiment reminiscent of many road-trip tunes from this country, including “Last American Exit” by the Tragically Hip and “Coming Home” from City and Colour.

Recently, Brandt’s work has kept him home, to his delight. He headlined the “Century” Grandstand Show at the 100th Calgary Stampede, teaming with a roster of international entertainers to thrill attendees with theatrics and song. With that undertaking complete, he returns to recording and touring. His new album “Just As I Am” is due out in the fall and a cross-Canada tour will follow its release.

The country music superstar rose to prominence in 1996, earning Top New Male Artist of the Year honours at the CMT Awards. He has racked up eight Juno Awards during his career and has received more accolades than any male Canadian country singer — and he only recently turned 40. Brandt’s success has taken him around the world and also led him right back to where he started.

An avid fisherman and marathon runner, Brandt revels in the many outdoor activities that Albertans enjoy, whether it be hiking the Rocky Mountains or taking in the scenic trails around the province. He and his wife, Elizabeth Peterson, chose to raise their family in Canada rather than Tennessee, which is why they returned north.

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