Michael Diamond, who records under the name Blood Diamonds, isn’t as mysterious as the black hoodie he loves to sport on stage. A dynamic producer in his own right, he’s logged attention for collaborating with best friend Grimes—most notable on the single “Phone Sex“—and shoring up a massive tour headlined by Skrillex and Diplo. Not to seem unproductive, he just released the Phone Sex EP last week. We caught up with him on the phone to discuss those friends in high places, producing for Katy Perry, and the videogames he used to be into.
I read you moved to Toronto to study videogame design. What type of games were you trying to make?
I wanted to work on MMOs—massive multiplayer online games, like World of Warcraft or Everquest. Shit like that. I played it for most of high school, MMO games, and it’s such a high traffic medium for art that I wanted to be a part of it. But once I got deeper into it doing game design, I got deeper into doing music as well, so I’ll probably put that on whole for a while.
Do you still have the time to dabble with games?
No. I play some games every once in a while—I mostly play with other producers or other artists when I have time, but there’s just no time for that anymore.
How did you get involved with music, then?
I played guitar in jazz band. I could never read music but I could play it—I was a little musically inclined, but not like necessarily a musician by any means. I didn’t really start using computers until junior year of high school.
Did you finish school?
Yeah, I finished school—it was only a one-year program. I had a job but I turned it down to pursue this. There’s something about sitting in front of a computer which I don’t like at all. I figured, I’m 21, this is the time to do things like this, you know? Which is crazy because all I’m doing now is sitting in front of my computer anyway, but it’s a bit different.
Why did you decide to release this EP now instead of folding it into your album, which is coming out sometime next year?
I don’t know, I haven’t put out anything out in a while and I needed to put something out that was a step up from anything else I’ve put out. Claire [Boucher, also known as Grimes] is my best friend, and we wanted to not put it out with an album because it’s a special thing, and I wanted it to stand on its own—having the remixes and have it be just one package that represents a certain point in time. If I waited until next year it would just be too late, not for the music world, but for us. Because I’m on tour with her right now and it just seems like a very right moment.
When did you first meet Claire?
Almost two years now. We met in Vancouver. It was my first show and it was her first show outside of Montreal, and we just vibed right off the bat. She made a bunch of funny blog posts, blogging about reviews of the bands she plays with, and it was just really sweet and earnest. We stayed in touch and just ended up hanging out a lot and things started happening for us. You know, just positive energy and stuff.
Had you collaborated before?
We’ve done other things, but it’s the first song we’ve released. In the future we really want to work together more, not necessarily as Blood Diamonds and Grimes but as a producer/songwriter team for other artists.
Who are some of the artists you’d like to work with?
Oh, there’s a ton. I really want to write a song for Katy Perry, actually. And so would Claire, I’m sure.
What would you want to write for her?.
I think I’d want to make the production a little more looking forward and less Dr. Luke. I love Dr. Luke’s production, but it seems it’s a very ‘now’ sound. It would be super cool for Katy Perry to do something like a new sound or a single that’s barely guitars and rock drums. I think she could definitely pull it off, in the sense of someone like Robyn.
Have you seen her documentary yet?
Actually, I went to her new movie and met my friend Will, but I was like ten minutes late and he was already in the movie theater, and they fucking wouldn’t let me in like it was too late to buy a ticket to the movie. So he had to watch Katy Perry by himself, and I felt really bad. I still want to see it.
You said that you wanted “Phone Sex” to be “the perfect pop song.” What are some perfect pop songs you can think of?
There’s a lot of really good pop songs to pick a definite one. I don’t know, someone like Katy Perry. Rihanna’s “We Found Love” is a very now, perfect pop song. It’s very modern and catchy, and the production is slick and everybody knows it. We went more into it not like “this should be ‘California Gurls,’ or this should be a pop song in some expressive arty thing.” I hate it when people think to be artistic or independent or alternative and think they need to tone down related to mainstream pop culture, like dance drums or big catchy choruses. Because I think that in itself is an important art form, and in North American culture especially. It’s a very hard thing to do.
Pop is obviously accepted at large, but have you encountered a resistance in the more, shall we say, alternative circles you run in?
Yeah, a lot, especially from other artists and blog heads. People like that, but when you can look out from the glass box you see someone like Aphex Twin and someone like Rihanna are on the same level of genius. They’re on the same playing field. One isn’t more artistic than the other, although one may be pushed way harder on the radio and in the mainstream, but it’s on the same level of artistry. You know?
Even James Murphy was asked to write a song for Britney Spears.
Exactly. I feel like when people transcend that point of not caring, all this music is playing the same game, I feel that’s a very beautiful free thing. Claire and I talk about Skrillex a lot. Skrillex is brilliant, and writes super good songs, and I feel like he’s on that same level of an Aphex Twin or a Britney Spears. Just because he’s had commercial success doesn’t mean he’s not a very deep, intellectual artist.
It’s this idea that once you’re rich you try less, I think.
There’s a very intuitive North American mentality toward commercial success where people get intuitively jealous. We feel like we have to be famous and be a big deal. There’s just too much culture and TV and radio and billboards screaming at us that these people are better. It’s an unhealthy image, and this weird hatred for good music that does commercially well. I’m very curious how someone like James Murphy would be received if he had six North American number one hits and was just a super millionaire?
You mentioned Skrillex. How is it touring with him?
We got pretty close. Very positive spirit, positive art. Going through Canada, no one had cell phones or service or 3G or anything, so a lot of the dialogue and things that were done on the train became just about music and not about selling yourself or promotion or positioning, but just about the music. They had a baggage cart which was converted to a room with a PA, and everyone would just take turns DJing until the morning. We all played different things and it just became about nothing but the music.
Have you learned anything from watching him, since he’s such a huge superstar now?
Going back to the whole mentality of people selling out, I think he was kind of a victim of that whole machine because he’s just making what he likes. He doesn’t really do things with an extravagant lifestyle aside from music gear. And that’s something Claire and I picked up on immediately, and we ended up learning so much from him in terms of having a positive life and being an artist without caring or succumbing to people’s expectations of what you should be. And just being a humble, positive person to be around and share energy with, and that was just the feeling of the whole tour, with everybody, which was cool. We’re pretty satisfied.