By Travis PersaudOhbijou spent considerable time writing and crafting Metal Meets, the third album for the young Toronto, ON-based six-piece. The result is their most focused record, with lush landscapes, layers of aural mystique and crushingly beautiful melodies. In short, it's their best effort to date by a wide margin. From the first reverb-laden guitar note on "Niagara," it's apparent that Ohbijou have created something very special. Casey Mecija's airy, angelic voice carries the 11 songs, with pounding percussion ("Sligo"), soaring orchestration ("Balikbayan") and dreamy melodies ("Obsidian") differentiating one song from the next. The album peaks on "Turquoise Lake," a track that typifies the maturation of the band. A slow beat and Mecija's moving voice take a slow waltz as whirling delay effects and a calming bass line fill the background, then the tempo changes as a completely new melody takes over; it's a wholly brilliant song. It showcases their forward movement ― away from the safety of simply revamping their past two records and towards this incredible place that evokes emotions, images and a sense of optimism that they've never touched before. Metal Meets is a triumph.
How long was the writing process? Mecija: We went away to the Bruce Peninsula in a little hamlet called Dyer's Bay; we did four writing sessions there and each session was about a week. Then we demoed the hell out of each song and went to Montreal in spring to record with Jace Lasek and did that for two sessions. It's been a long time coming.
What does a weeklong writing session look like for Ohbijou? It's pretty relaxed ― everyone's in their pyjamas. The whole time was dictated by when it felt good to play music; it nurtured this dynamic between the six of us that we never had before. Toronto is so full of distractions, so just the opportunity to go away ― it's the proverbial band story of going away to record an album. But when we did that it totally made sense to take time to focus. We incorporated that in our methodology of being a band; it's better to do things in chunks of focused time than weave it into each day, or week, when in the city. We contemplated the process of this album way more than the previous two. The first one we pieced together when we had time, and the second one was all over the place as well. This is by far the most focused record that we have.
Were there any surprises during the writing and recording sessions? We planned out each song quite a bit, but I think what surprised us most was what came of each song while working with Jace Lasek. I think having him at the helm of the recording process was an incredible surprise to us. We hadn't met him before; we just knew him by his reputation. He's sort of a chemist of all these amazing, grandiose sounds and we wanted to incorporate that into our record. He really knew what we wanted to house the songs in and he built it.
What did he bring out of the band? He's not only a technician, but he was so up for hearing our ideas; he never really changed anything we wanted to do, he just enhanced it. He would really encourage our ideas and then make these really big sounds with effects and pedals. We're not known for big sounds, but it's still who we are as a band, so it's not a huge stretch. But it's still a progression, for us.
Was it a conscious decision to create a "big-sounding" record? We did a lot of it during demoing; we wanted to play with different things other than just guitar. We wanted to improve our musicality and get to know what pedals can do and what reverb and delays can create. We wanted to change the environment of this record. Incorporating things like this can really create that unique environment. What came out was a very organic thing. With some of the sounds we're like, "Wow, I don't know how that happened!"
What new sound did you fall in love with the most? One of the last songs is called "Turquoise Lake" and I love the sound of delay in it. I love how you can manipulate the sound to this manic speed, but then it can be these emotive tools as well. I love how it reverberates and how you can control it with a little knob; it feels like magic. With Jace in the studio, he's this huge guy, and he seems like this big wizard, to us. He helped foster our desire to make these sounds work.
Would you agree that Metal Meets marks the maturation of the band? I would hope it sounds more mature, for sure. We're coming into our age. I feel we welcome what all this experience of playing music brings to us because it only enhances our ability to play music and traverse this music industry in an open-mined way.
There's a big focus on geography in the lyrics. How much has touring been an inspiration for your writing? Well, we all existed in a specific geography in Toronto. We lived on Bellwoods Avenue, where we always played shows. But then we had the opportunity to tour across Canada and the world, and I think those travels opened up this window to look at the world with more complexity. That was a good starting point for this record.
"Balikbayan" is a very striking song, both lyrically and musically. What's the story behind it? It's a very important song for me and the band; it brings this body of colour to it. I wanted to bring my cultural heritage into [the record] somehow. Balikbayan is translated loosely from Tagolog as "a return to one's country." When I think about that, I think about my parents and the struggle they went through to give my sister and I a better opportunity in life. Balikbayanalso refers to the cardboard boxes that families pack up to send to family members back home. Right now there are about nine million Filipinos living overseas, and that's like a tenth the overall population. Much of what's supporting the economy of the Philippines is its people who live outside its borders. I think of the struggles of that separation ― that's why this song is important. It pays homage to a side of my sister and I that we haven't let into our music before.