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1. How do the messages and themes within Free Dimensional compare with those expressed throughout Special Affections?
The first album, Special Affections, was definitely more about wanting something that I didn’t yet have which was a career as a musician, plainly – wanting to be able to perform and engage with an audience and be a pop star, or my idea of what a pop star was. The new record, Free Dimensional, is very much more written from the perspective of being that person who has in many ways achieved what I set out to which is always great – to do what you wanna do in life, I think that’s all any of us could ever do. So there is a confidence to the new material – for that reason alone, the first record doesn’t have. The new record is written from a more confident and assertive, positive place – that was probably the only preconceived notion I had going into the writing of the album. I don’t often like to think about what I’m gonna say or how it’s gonna sound – I just do it and it becomes what it is. It becomes what it’s meant to become over the course of doing the work but I knew that I wanted it to be positive, I wanted the message to be positive. I just felt really strongly that at this moment in time, this moment in history that was what people need to hear. I think we’re more aware now than ever of all the negative things that exist and that are out there and it’s pretty easy to access and become involved and engaged with what’s wrong in the world. There’s not often a lot of talk about what’s right or what can be right or what can be beautiful and special. I think a lot of what is special is our power as individuals to love and embrace each other for who we are. I think before we tackle a lot of bigger issues, I think that self-love and self-empowerment – that’s the key to stepping outside oneself, to embrace who we are and to be able to embrace other people in the same way. So that kind of positive message – that was the goal. The second goal was to do that in a way that didn’t seem trite, didn’t seem to pander – that was probably the biggest challenge. There’s a push and a pull because there’s a lot of music out right now that tackles similar subject matter and I think it’s great that it exists but I find some of it gets into the realm of telling someone how to feel and it rubs me the wrong way. It’s hard to walk that line and that’s always what I’m trying to do.
2. Can you explain the concept behind the video for ‘I’m Just Me’ and what do you have planned for future Free Dimensional clips?
For that video, I wanted to work with my team in Toronto. I don’t always want to work with my team in Toronto. I think part of growing as an artist is expanding oneself and collaborating. That was our first full-on fashion collaboration with Charles Youssef who designed all the jackets. I met him here in New York at a show and we really hit it off. It’s one of those great instances where what I imagine and what I want in my mind is exactly what he wants to do. A lot of times when you collaborate with people it’s this big sort of lengthy process – you’re kind of trying to shoehorn their aesthetic into your own whereas we really just hit it off. He did all of the costuming but beyond that, the director, the dancers, the choreographer – obviously Lisa, my creative director – we’ve worked with all those people before. I really felt it was important jumping off, stepping into this new world, releasing an album with a major record label for the first time. I didn’t want to fully just cut that cord – we have a budget, we now can all make the kind of video that we’ve all wanted to do since the beginning when we were throwing parties in my loft filming it and calling it a video. Now we can make a real video. I’m happy that we had that opportunity and that we were able to do that together. From here, I think it’s about listening to the songs and finding the right aesthetic. The video very much always has to suit the song. I’m looking forward to really blowing it out and trying some different stuff and doing some things that people don’t expect.
3. You worked alongside revered producer Damian Taylor on Free Dimensional. How did that collaboration come about and can you describe the recording process?
He’s worked with a ton of crazy people but he’s not a crazy guy. I met him originally before Special Affections was released through Owen Pallett – a friend of mine and supporter of mine from early on. Damian knew Owen and found me on MySpace – which tells you how long ago this was – and asked Owen about me and we ended up actually meeting up together for the first time at Iceland Airwaves in 2010. I was performing and he was there working with Bjork – we had a sushi date. We talked a bit about working on Special Affections but he was slammed getting Biophilia out and I also was really married to the idea of that album being this very sort of pure and honest kind of statement – a lo-fi love letter. So it just didn’t work out – we talked about him maybe mixing that record and I’m glad it didn’t work out because I think I needed to go through that whole process in the way that I did. But when it came time to do a new one, he was very much at the top of my list because I really like him. He comes at it without a big shot attitude, without an ego. He’s not the kind of producer that privileges genres or styles or sounds one over the other which is a common problem. People create these rules or these boundaries for themselves in every aspect of life, not only just in how we see ourselves but in terms of the music we listen to or the clothes we wear – that’s never what Diamond Rings has been about aesthetically or sonically. Having a producer on board who’s very much willing to watch Nirvana videos back-to-back with Kylie back-to-back with The-Dream in the studio was imperative. Our first few weeks together were literally probably just listening parties – it felt kind of like a sleepover. He grew up in New Zealand and he lived in the UK through the rave explosion – he’s worked with Prodigy – I was learning a lot from him and he was learning a lot from me in terms of what I liked. He just spent two, three years doing that Bjork record and I mean, I don’t know if you’ve heard the record but it’s not a Kylie record, right? I spent a lot of time switching him back onto pop. In a lot of ways I think we both just kept kind of pushing each other to sort of pass that boundary – him as a producer and me as an artist which was great. He gave me a lot of encouragement. I grew up on indie rock and a lot of what I do sort of flies in the face of that very much intentionally. It’s not easy for me to just put away this whole part of my past – it’s scary to really put yourself out there as an artist. It doesn’t get easier – it hasn’t for me. So it was this really great situation – he has a five-year-old daughter who’s totally into Britney & Rihanna so we’d have her in listening to the tracks. When we went into the mastering studio, we brought three albums – Britney, Rihanna & Crystal Castles. I think that says a lot about where my head is at but I think it says a lot about where popular music is at. I feel like there’s a lot more that Britney & Crystal Castles have in common then probably both artists would be willing to admit. I’m just waiting for Crystal Castles to produce a whole Britney album – I think it’d be amazing! In a lot of ways we were trying to make these really interesting juxtapositions – to ram these two supposedly opposite things together. What if we have Nirvana sounding guitars over a house beat with me rapping on it? That could be awful but that could also be so cool. Nine times out of ten it was so cool.
4. Can you break down the unexpected yet superb rap sequences on Free Dimensional?
There’s a lot. I wanted to go there and use the right person to push me into that realm. The energy you have to bring as a rapper is so much different than as a vocalist. It is so much more direct and so much more about the emotion and the charisma and the rawness and the character that you present. I think hip-hop is very much a character driven sort of medium, more so than pop which I think is really cool. I never realized that until I started trying to do it. It’s not just enough to write the words down and make sure they rhyme and have the right number of syllables – you have to sell it, you’ve gotta believe it 111%. It’s all about the words, it’s all about the person behind the words. That was really fun, scary but fun.
5. ‘Day & Night’ is one of my personal favorites on Free Dimensional. What’s the inspiration behind the track?
That was one of the last songs I wrote for the record. We’d been watching The-Dream, The-Dream, The-Dream, The-Dream – we were obsessed with The-Dream. That one happened so quickly – by lunch I was sitting on the chorus, the whole structure was there – that rarely happens. Most songs take me weeks or months of fiddling around. That was one of those really pure and honest and amazing moments where it just clicked. It sits at the end of the record and at the end of the show because I don’t know at this point how to really top that tune. Lyrically, to me, it sort of ties the whole thing together but as a song – I see that as a springboard into something different.
6. Your live show now includes a full band. How do the extra members enhance the set?
I feel freer to engage with the audience and to assume the role of performer. I can perform 100% of the time with a band whereas before half the time I’d be buried in the computer or playing keyboard – that was great at the time for people to see that I was doing everything and had some sort of technical facility and it wasn’t just some guy up there with a straight backing track or a laptop DJ or something. Now I can engage. It’s really liberating to feel like now I can actually do what I do best which is perform but certainly there is pressure – at the end of the day the show is on me. Everyone’s gotta perform and everyone’s gotta be tight but I’ve gotta set that tone and lead by example and be not only there for the crowd but for my band – that’s a challenge that I’m definitely ready to take on now that I wasn’t ready for two years ago. For me, the true testament of an artist or a band has always been their ability to deliver in front of a crowd.