January 11, 2007 : Parkside Pop - Now Magazine
BY SARAH LISS
On an overlooked side street in the asphalt core of downtown Toronto, slightly east of the canine utopia of Trinity Bellwoods Park, there's a tiny cottage that looks like it was airlifted in from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
Set back from the street, the building – known to some as Bellwoods House – isn't much to look at. There's a herd of bikes chained in the yard. Inside, it's dim and cramped. A paunchy brown Labrador retriever bodychecks you when you walk through the door.
You'd never know it, but this house might just be the new epicentre of T.O.'s indie rock community. It's home to one-third of Ohbijou, the orch-pop crew who are becoming known as one of the city's most exciting bands.
"When I moved in, I discovered we were lucky enough to have a basement that afforded Ohbijou the comfort and privilege of an in-house practice space," begins Casey Mecija, the group's founder and frontwoman. "From there, I realized we could hold shows. And the bands who played there, the bands we know, were really good. I was totally surrounded by inspiring, interesting music.
"The spirit of it reminds me of the St. Patrick house," Mecija adds, alluding to the Queen and McCaul area pad where the Three Gut Records label and artists set up shop and threw house-parties-slash-impromptu-rock-shows.
It was the stream of artists passing through Bellwoods House that inspired Mecija and bandmate Jamie Bunton to create the fab Friends In Bellwoods comp, a two-disc benefit for the Daily Bread Food Bank ($10 from each CD sold goes to the organization) that also serves as a state of the union of Ontario indie music.
Featuring rare, new and unreleased tracks, the comp admittedly leans toward the softer side of the spectrum – something you'd anticipate if you're familiar with Ohbijou's string-enhanced shimmering pop. Musical soulmates like Ottawa's gently twangy Acorn, Parkdalian guitar rockers Forest City Lovers and electro-tweaked pop squad Telefauna fit right in.
But there are also high-energy assaults like the angular jolt of the D'Urbervilles' We Are The Hunters, expectation-smashing surprises like the tender cover of Lou Reed's Sweet Nuthin' by Mecija and the Cons' Bry Webb, and a shockingly delicate ballad from DFA1979 noisenik Sebastien Grainger.
One thing that makes Friends In Bellwoods – which is coming out on Bunton's roommate Stuart Duncan's Out of the Spark label – a real community undertaking is the fact that most of the tracks were actually recorded in Bellwoods House.
"If you listen closely to some of them, you can probably hear Appleby walking upstairs. The floorboards are really thin, and he's really fat," Mecija says. "People sang in my room. At one point, someone put bongos in the laundry machine."
Since both Mecija and Bunton are accustomed to the familial ethos of the tight-knit music scenes in southern Ontario's smaller cities (he went to university in Guelph, she grew up in Brantford), it's not unreasonable to hypothesize that they're trying to recreate that experience in Toronto.
"Cuz we've been part of such tight communities, it's almost unconscious to try to create one in such a big population," says Mecija. "The word 'community' is thrown around so much and means different things to different people, but I guess it's about maintaining positive connections. And being motivated to organize things. Applying the same active approach to music that people do in politics is really important."