There’s a time in every successful group’s life when its horizons widen, as it goes from local buzz band to underground sensation to international touring act. And for Ohbijou, that time came after the 2009 release of its second album, Beacons. As singer and bandleader Casey Mecija points out, once that disc hit, “We were touring a lot, touring abroad, and experiencing a lot of shifting geography.”
For most ordinary ensembles, a life of travel often means little more than the geography of bars, hotel rooms, and truck stops. Based on the evidence of Ohbijou’s third album, however, the Toronto sextet has done things a little differently. Metal Meets encompasses visits to Niagara Falls, a woodland shrine near the Irish town of Sligo, a mysterious turquoise lake, and Echo Bay, Ontario, a fetchingly named hamlet located just east of Sault Ste. Marie.
By pure coincidence, “Echo Bay” is both the name of a song on Metal Meets and where Mecija happens to be when she picks up the phone in Ohbijou’s tour van.
“The song was initially just inspired by seeing that sign on the side of the road,” she says. “But now that we have a little bit of time we’ve come to seek out this little town—and it’s so neat to be able to take in what this town has to offer.”
A sequel, one senses, may be in the offing. Despite Mecija’s sensitivity to place, however, it would be a mistake to view Metal Meets as a road map set to music. The landscapes she describes are mostly interior, reflecting the emotions that places, and place names, evoke.
“Echo Bay”, for instance, is not a song about a small town on the shores of Lake George. Instead, Mecija says it’s about “the emotions attached to desperation and love”.
“It’s about calling out that love into this empty void,” she explains. “And ‘Echo Bay’, those words really seem to encapsulate that.”
Love and the varied textures of experience are running themes on Metal Meets. Mecija often uses images from the natural world—iron, obsidian, blood, the forest—asa kind of shorthand for emotion, a cool, literary approach that suits both her fragile voice and her band’s violin- and cello-laced chamber pop.
Sometimes, though, her feelings run closer to the surface—as they do on the gorgeous “Balikbayan”, which speaks to the longing that Mecija and her violinist sister Jennifer feel for a place they barely know.
“I was born in Canada and only visited the Philippines when I was young,” Mecija says, after explaining that the song’s title refers to the care packages Filipinos abroad often send to the family members they left behind. “But a lot of the past couple of years have been spent trying to excavate that ethnic heritage of mine, which had kind of laid dormant in my curiosity. It was nice to spend the year asking my parents about their love story, and about their travels from the Philippines to Canada and things like that. Just acknowledging their struggle through music was important to us.”
The singer doesn’t say whether the musical Mecijas are planning a return visit, as adults, to their parents’ former home—but there’s no doubt such a trip would be a powerful source of material for future songwriting adventures.
Ohbijou plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (November 19).