Multi-instrumental musical menagerie

Casey Mecija and her posse of musicans are looking to get even more collaborative

Ohbijou have become known for their musical home in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood in Toronto.
Ohbijou have become known for their musical home in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood in Toronto.

Multi-instrumental Ohbijou melts hearts—and icicles. The the seven-person Toronto band’s soft and precious tunes have endeared audiences to a diverse range of instruments and talents, all equally able to soothe a wintry soul. Ohbijou, originally the solo project of singer-songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Casey Mecija, is composed of friends and siblings all brought together in a collaborative spirit evocative of the musical moment.

Mecija, a former production assistant for MuchMusic, learned early that her musical projects could benefit from her sister Jenny Mecija, an accomplished violinist, organist and singer. Soon the sisters welcomed friends Heather Kirby (bass, banjo, guitar) and Anissa Hart (cello) into the fold. The group became Ohbijou when James Bunton (drums, trumpet, melodica) and Ryan Carley (keys, percussion) completed the crew.

Ohbijou’s first two releases, the 2005 EP Zips and Zangs and 2006’s LP Swift Feet for Troubling Times realized Casey Mecija’s vision with the an array of different instruments featured on each release. This quickly established the group in the Toronto-scene and soon they became synonymous with community. The 2007 compilation album Friends in Bellwoods was a collaborative effort benefiting the Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank, featuring artists such as D’Urbervilles, Forest City Lovers, Kids on TV, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Gentleman Reg and The Acorn.

As a band toting a wide range of instruments, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ohbijou is something of a staple in the Toronto-indie-pop scene. In a musical climate increasingly comprised of collaborative genre-bending efforts, Ohbijou snugly encapsulates many of the scene’s best qualities. There’s no hesitation toward less conventional instruments and community-building comes as a second-nature impulse.

The group is currently touring their most recent full-length album, Beacons released this past August. Beacons, is soft and glowing, but has more textured instrumentation resulting in a more complex and layered album.

“The big difference is we tried to focus on our arrangements,” Casey Mecija said. “We tried to make the songs a bit fuller, colourful and vibrant with different sounds we didn’t use on the first record. It comes out more lush and dynamic—progression to something fuller with more range.” Ohbijou quietly kindles a small fire in the ribcage, hushed tones stroking heartstrings and stoking a warmth well-suited to counter even the cruelest February. Mecija’s vocals sneak up to wrap our brittle bones with a hug from behind—a little too sentimental and suffocating for some, but a grace to those who crave the comfort of enveloping. The sugary vocals are complimented by layered orchestral arrangement. In Beacons, Mecija’s molasses vocals melt into string accompaniment. Precious and delicate composition builds to sweeping epics, charting a tale of the holes in our hearts to potholes on the city streets and other more seasonal dangers to drivers and pedestrians alike.

“All of the material is written in the winter,” she said. “Lyrically, a lot of the images are from the winter. Our wintering, we become cold, and icicles and things like that.” Beacons is a welcome addition to seasonally-inspired musical works. The building and collapsing valleys of the album serve as a guide through the transition from freedom to hibernation we undergo with the changing of the seasons. Perhaps it’s the trauma the band’s instruments that makes their music even more melancholy, but over the past few tours they have posed some difficulty on the road.

“There are difficulties in translating those instruments to a live show. The technical requirements that it takes... it’s difficult for any venue to accommodate us.”

That said, Mecija still sees casual and intimate venues as important places to play.

“We still play in bars…. Just because we have orchestral instruments doesn’t mean we have to play venues that traditionally accommodate those sounds.”

Unwilling to confine their project to conventional halls, Ohbijou, in all its broad complexity still graces small stages like the Grad Club.

Mecija defies convention in other ways, too. Although her house has been dubbed the “new epicenter of indie rock” by NOW magazine, she has until recently been employed by the more mainstream music industry. Her time working at MuchMusic was educational and humbling, she said.

“It opened my eyes to the differences and similarities between entertainers regardless of their stature. I now have more appreciation for bigger name entertainers—they are working really hard as well.”

Coming into a new writing season after the cross-Canada tour, the same can be said for Ohbijou. When asked what’s coming next, Mecija once again talks of more creative expansion.

“Change the groove, for lack of a better word. We want to get really collaborative with the writing. In the past records, the lyrics, melody and structure started with me.”

Ohbijou plays the Grad Club this Friday. Doors open at 9 p.m. and tickets are $13 and are available at The Grad Club and Destinations.

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