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review: Andy Hess
all photos and interview: Julia Benton

For me, it’s always a little discouraging to walk into a show and see a laptop next to a mic stand. Luckily Tuesday’s Diamond Rings show at the Red Palace was not the case as the District’s Outputmessage and Toronto’s Diamond Rings brought their own brand of pop to a small crowd.

Outputmessage is the project of Benard Farley. He makes aching dance pop with anthemic choruses and hooks that remind me of Robyn songs. Over the course of 30 minutes, Farley had the small but enthusiastic crowd moving the entire time. Most of the songs Tuesday night came from his record Autonomous, though Farley mentioned that a few of them were remixes. Even after the first song you knew what you were going to get the rest of the night, but the performance alone won me over. It’s not groundbreaking, but Farley does get the formula right.

If you haven’t listened to Diamond Rings record Special Affection, you’re missing out on a really solid synth pop release. Kicking the night off with album opener “Play By Heart” and running through the high points of his record including single “Something Else”.

Decked out in Toronto Bluejays gear and armed with a guitar, keyboard and laptop, it was a minimal setup with a great delivery.

The encore of a PS I Love You song was an apt closing of the night. The audience begged for more, but on the last night of his tour Diamond Rings packed it in with plans to return in February with the band he covered in the encore. Mark your calendars now.

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Your new album Special Affections which was just released last month is absolutely fantastic. Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process behind it?

This record started out as mostly acoustic songs. I had been working on them in my room, writing them trying to find some chords I like, coming up with some good melodies, spending way too long writing the lyrics. Once the song is more or less done in that sense it’s more a matter of finding the right sounds, the right sonic tempo to express the feeling of the song’s lyrics. So depending on whether it’s more aggressive and confrontational or more passive and withdrawn, making a production that fits the mood. That’s when I get to have fun with my computer, mess around with drum sounds and synths. I think that’s partly why all of the songs on Special Affections ended up being kind of different because lyrically they tackle all kinds of subjects.

How would you describe your music in one sentence?

In one sentence? An honest attempt to create popular music for everyone. That’s a big, big goal, not sure how well I’m doing at that.

DC is the last stop on your tour. Has there been a show that you’ve performed that has stood out as being the very best or the very worst?

Chicago was really great, I have these Chicago bulls gym shorts that I busted out for that and everyone was freaking out. New York was good. A lot of them have been really great. I’ve been playing music for a while and the idea of going somewhere that you’ve never been before to play a show can be really intimidating. You know, are people going to come? And if they do come are they going to get it and enjoy it? So far it has been great. Everything has been really positive which is nice

What goes into the making of your music videos? Do you choreograph them yourself?

Oh yeah, yeah. They always end up really last minute and even though we try to plan things ahead of time we still end up practicing the night before. And I usually end up having a panic attack, how are we going to do all this? I’m not trained as a dancer or anything, it’s just fun for me to do. So yeah a lot goes into them though, it’s more than just me, I have a whole team of my friends. That’s one thing that I really like about them; it starts out as something really personal and intimate literally in my room with my guitar and then it turns into something that involves a lot of people. I’ve just been really lucky that I have so many talented friends in Toronto that are inspired by what I do and are willing to help out.

You’re pretty well known for the eccentric outfits you wear on stage. How would you describe your fashion thought process? And where do you buy your clothes?

Most of them I just buy at thrift stores around the city or I find in my mom’s closet, pretty basic places. I’m not super well versed in the world of high fashion or anything. It’s not that I don’t like fashion, for me it’s just about what’s fun and exciting and cheap. And I think like my music and like my videos it’s not about having access to tons of money or the right people; it forces you to be more creative. I think my choices become a lot more personal; I really have to pick what I like and understand why. It’s not some designer shoving stuff down my throat. The whole process is really intuitive. Usually if I’m a little nervous about it then I know I’m in the right place. Both with my style and with my music. When I’m playing a show I want to bring some excitement.

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What musical or non-musical influences do you have?

A lot of my friends from back home inspire me and then I also listen to so much music. Right now I really like the new Kylie Minogue record. I’m working on getting better at trying to listen to everything but be able to pick and choose certain elements to really focus on. I want to be able to take the specific things I like in any song or record and learn from them.

What was the last thing you dreamed about?

Oh well I actually don’t really dream. Probably my worst dream I have is when I imagine I’m playing a terrible show. In the dream I’ll break a string and then I’ll break another string and then the microphone won’t work and then I’ll fall over. And then I’m like ahhh!

Ahhh! That’s so awful! So what’s up next for you after your tour ends? Any big plans?

I just got a bunch of new equipment and I’m really excited to experiment with that. There are still a lot of things I want to try. I’m looking forward to having more time to practice and just get better. I’ll be working on more videos, more songs. I always try to work on new stuff when I’m away on tour but I think for anyone who’s trying to do something creative, it’s really important to just have a long period of quiet, focused time which is difficult to find when I’m traveling. I’m excited to just peace out, listen to some records, go tobogganing.

Any last words?

Stay fierce, have fun, be creative, all those things.

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