Half Moon Run on the rise

Watch out for this hot Mon­treal folk act in 2013

Ottawa Citizen - - FOOD - LYNN SAXBERG

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.

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