Half Moon Run on the rise
Watch out for this hot Montreal folk act in 2013
After graduating from a college program in music-industry arts in 2009, Ottawa musician Devon Portielje moved to Montreal for a promo job. He quit the first day, but stayed in the city because he’d already signed a lease on an apartment.
A singer-songwriter-guitarist with recording skills, Portielje cruised Craigslist on a daily basis, until one day an ad caught his eye. It was from a band looking for a bassist or drummer. “I was neither,” Portielje admits, “but it was so compelling and the musical interests were so similar, I had to respond.”
Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes and Radiohead were some of the mutual interests, but the ad went deeper than music: “It was also the esthetic of the post, talking about what the goal was, that it was a professional thing. It was about feeling and dynamics,” says the 26-year-old musician.
That was the start of Half Moon Run, now one of Canada’s hottest new indiebands. Signed to Montreal’s adventurous Indica Records, their first album, Dark Eyes, was released in Canada last year, quickly attracting international attention for the expansive nature of its Radiohead-meets-Crosby, Stills and Nash musical vision. Fuelled by an electronic undercurrent, the lush folk-rock melodies feature Portielje’s striking tenor, anchored by the harmonies of his multi-instrumentalist bandmates, Conner Molander and Dylan Phillips. Newest member, Isaac Symonds, rounds out the touring lineup.
Tours with Metric, Wintersleep and Patrick Watson kept them busy in 2012. By the end of the year, the band also signed deals with Mumford and Sons’ label and Radiohead’s management company, setting themselves up for a pivotal 2013, which will include the global release of Dark Eyes in June.
Just back from an Australian tour, Half Moon Run will head to Europe this spring with Mumfords, performing in front of tens of thousands of fans. And at this month’s South by Southwest festival, they’re tagged as a band to watch.
Before that snowball starts to roll, there are a handful of Ontario dates this week, including a long sold-out gig at Zaphod Beeblebrox on Saturday, which is, believe it or not, the band’s first club show in Portielje’s hometown. Half Moon Run played Bluesfest two years ago, and had a club show across the river in the Hull sector, but have not experienced the rite-ofpassage that is the cross-Canada club tour.
The reason they skipped that stage of evolution was because Indica had other methods to develop a band, including recording, showcasing and networking in Europe and Australia. The Montreal label caught on to Half Moon Run early, scooping them up before they played a dozen shows.
As Portielje says, the chemistry between himself and the other two core members, Molander and Phillips, was readily apparent. He felt it the very first time they got together to play, after the Craigslist meeting.
“It was pretty explosive,” says the singer-songwriter guitarist, recalling their first practice in a stuffy jamspace near the Bell Centre in downtown Montreal. “It took off right away. It was very rich and full and we were doing harmony practice the first jam, pretty much right away. The sparks were flying right off the top.”
Portielje grew up around Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood. He attended Nepean High School, but also spent a year in the literary arts program at Canterbury high. The son of a musician turned civil servant, Portielje first picked up the guitar at the age of 11. As a teenager, he went to all-ages punk shows at Babylon and Barrymore’s, and volunteered at Bluesfest.
When he met Molander and Phillips, who both grew up in Comox, B.C., neither one had a clear path set out for their lives. A classically trained pianist, Phillips was considering moving to Germany to pursue classical music, while Molander was planning to be a firefighter. One thing they had in common was a willingness to work on the music, even in summer when the temperature in their unventilated rehearsal space reached 40 Celsius.
“Work ethic was essential,” Portielje says. “Our motto is pretty much, ‘Nobody stops working until all the work is done.’ We’ve always been quite serious about it, and it just worked really well.”
Half Moon Run, the Montreal indie folk band composed of, from left, Conner Molander, Dylan Phillips and Devon Portielje, is rising quickly with an acclaimed album, Dark Eyes, under their belt, and a spring tour of Europe planned.