Friends in Bellwoods: Where are they now?
by Mark Teo
October 10, 2014
When the Friends in Bellwoods compilation debuted in 2007, few could predict how it would alter the landscape of Toronto’s—nay, Canada’s—music scene. At the time, the collection (along with its 2009 sequel) felt like it documented a group of close-knit musicians, loosely associated with Casey Mecija’s Bellwoods Avenue home; years on, Mecija and associates have become some of the most heralded names in Canadian music. Rightly so, if you ask us. Still, revisiting the compilations (and stories like the one Sarah Liss wrote for NOW Magazine in 2007, which had Mecija ruminating on creating a small-town-esque community within Toronto) feels almost quaint. And when Wavelength threw a positively Bellwood-riffic show a few weeks ago, headlined by alt-gospel supergroup Bruce Peninsula, it got us thinking: What ever happened to the Friends, anyhow?
So, we decided to find out.
It’s only fitting that we start with Ohbijou, considering Friends in Bellwoods orbited around singer Casey Mecija’s house. (Her sister, Jenny, was also in the band.) Since the release of the compilations, Ohbijou has released two orchestral pop gems in Beacons—surely the most evocatively Torontonian LP of the aughts—and Metal Meets, before they disbanded in 2013. Mecija, in the band’s farewell note, wrote a wonderful screed questioning labour, the arts, and Canada’s multicultural myth, but its members still continue on in other projects: Heather Kirby plays in Vag Halen, Anissa Hart and Ryan Carley continue in Kite Hill, and Mecjia is making music in Warm Myth (and debuted My Father Francis, a short film, recently). Bunton, who helped compile the Friends in Bellwoods compilations, now plays in Light Fires. More on them later.
Katie Stelmanis had a solid recording career by the time the Friends in Bellwoods comps emerged: She released an album, Join Us, on Blocks Recording Club in 2008. She’d contributed to her friends’ projects, joining the Bruce Peninsula choir and contributing to Forest City Lovers and Diamond Rings recordings. But her career took off in earnest with her Austra project, whose albums—her Polaris shortlisted debut, Feel It Break, 2013’s Olympia, and her latest EP, Habitat—found Stelmanis’s music moving into new wave, and occasionally cold wave, directions. Fortunately, it’s a style that suits Stelmanis well.
Guelph-based post-punk act the D’Urbervilles (who would later be called Matters) were one of Ontario’s most fascinating bands, culminating in 2008’s We Are the Hunters, released on Out of This Spark. Live, they were largely compelling thanks to nerdily compelling singer John O’Regan, who, while layering t-shirts atop hoodies, would solo dance through their dancey punk songs, almost as if no one were watching. Fast forward six years, and O’Regan’s one of Canada’s most beloved musicians, but he’s embraced his dancing in earnest as Diamond Rings, his hyper-stylized, David Bowie-inspired synth project.
The Meligrove Band have quietly been one of Toronto’s longest-running bands—from their beginnings on Ductape Records, to their breakthrough with Planets Conspire, to their last album, the exuberant Shimmering Lights, the band’s been quietly perfecting their own brand of power pop. And they’re still at it: In fact, they’re gearing up for the release of their fifth album, Bones of Things, this November, and it’ll come courtesy of We Are Busy Bodies, the label that handled the original vinyl edition of Planets Conspire. To top it off, it’ll be produced by By Divine Right’s Jose Contreras, a dude who knows a thing or two about Canadian indie pop.
Like the D’Urbervilles, Reg Vermue came to Toronto by way of Guelph. Vermue released albums on tastemaking labels—such as Arts & Crafts and Three Gut, another label / group of friends that predated the Friends in Bellwoods era—all of which were marked by his experimentation with genre and distinctive vocals—raspy yet slinkily high-pitched, his singing was immediately distinguishable. The 2008 LP Jet Black was probably the best-known Gentleman Reg album; now, he performs as Regina the Gentlelady in Light Fires, a synth-pop project he helms with another Friend, Ohbijou drummer James Bunton. (Of note: The project also has cameos from others associated with the Bellwoods scene, such as Owen Pallett, Maggie MacDonald of the Hidden Cameras, and Maylee Todd, then a member of Henri Fabergé and the Adorables.)
Bry Webb was already an established name in Canadian music by the time Friends in Bellwoods rolled around; by 2007, his band The Constantines, had released Tournament Of Hearts. Still, one of the most memorable tracks on Vol. 1 was a duet with Casey Mecija, covering Lou Reed’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” A lot has happened to Webb since the comp was released: He’d cut one more Constantines album, Kensington Heights, before breaking up and reuniting again in 2014; he moved to Guelph, had a son, and found a job in independent radio; and he released two stripped-down folk albums in Provider and Free Will, establishing him a a solo-songwriting force. Friends in Bellwoods was only the start.
Forest City Lovers
Indie-folk troupe Forest City Lovers produced three albums of pastoral folk from the heart of Parkdale—not London, ON, the city commonly known as Forest City—culminating in their 2010 swan song, Carriage. Beyond the project, though, the Lovers have been active: One-time member James Bunton, as previously mentioned, is now in Start Fires. Violin / viola player Mika Posen, meanwhile, went to work with Timber Timbre—she plays on Creep on Creepin’ On and the 2014 Polaris-nominated Hot Dreams—the previously mentioned Kite Hill, and her solo project, The Meek. Distinctive singer Kat Burns, meanwhile, moved onto the excellent Kashka project, which, on last fall’s Bound, added electronic flourishes to her folk inclinations. Turns out, Burns had some metal influences, too.
Rural Alberta Advantage
While the Rural Alberta Advantage became world conquerors with the success of Hometowns—even signing to Saddle Creek records in the U.S.—it’s easy to forget that, in 2008, the band was playing Wavelengths shows. And they also contributed two songs to the Friends in Bellwoods comps, contributing “The Air” and “Rough and Tumble” to the comps. Since then, they’ve cut Departing and just released Mended With Gold, an album that further solidified Nils Edenloff as one of Canada’s best, stripped-down folk songwriters. (We won’t make a Jeff Mangum comparison, because let’s be honest—we don’t need to.)
After the dissolution of Death From Above 1979 in 2006—following the now-canonized You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine—its two members split in two divergent directions: Jesse Keeler pursued DFA1979’s harder-edged dance tendencies in MSTRKRFT, while Sebastian Granger pursued various project, from his solo work to the Hand Drawn Dracula-released Bad Tits. Most recently, Grainger reunited with Keeler to release DFA1979’s The Physical World, a much-hyped album that, in aesthetic, was part shearing noise, part car commercial. And we meant that in the best possible way.
Friday Morning’s Regret
Friday Morning’s Regret had a track on the 2007 edition of Friends in Bellwoods titled “The Wooden Sky.” By the time the 2009 comp became available, the band had become—you guessed it—the Wooden Sky, one of the most beloved acts to emerge from the Bellwoods scene. Now four albums deep—and brandishing a roots-inflected indie rock sound that feels as inviting as a hand-me-down wool curling sweater—the Wooden Sky earned one bona-fide critical powerhouse with 2012’s Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun. And they’re building off the success of Every Child with Let’s Be Ready., an album whose cover nods to Tina Coffee, the beloved, Bidini-approved Roncesvalles diner. The band unveils Let’s Be Ready.‘s tracks at a double header at Lee’s Palace on October 17 and 18, and as luck would have it, we have tickets to give away courtesy of Collective Concerts to both nights!
Winning a pair of your own is as easy as filling out the form below—just be sure to specify which show you want to go to. You’ll be added to our mailing list, but we promise not to pester you. Already signed up? No sweat! Fill out the form – you’ll still be entered and we won’t double up your newsletter membership.
If you’re not a lucky winner, you can grab tickets here.
Tags: Music, Contests, austra, Bry Webb, Death From Above 1979, Diamond Rings, Forest City Lovers, Friends in Bellwoods, Gentleman Reg, Katie Stelmanis, Meligrove Band, Ohbijou, Sebastian Grainger, the d'urbervilles