Montreal band Half Moon Run reflect on inspiration, pressure and mojo

By Savannah Leigh Wellman
Half Moon Run harvested the warmth of California to power their new record, Sun Leads Me On. Photo: Jennifer McCord

Half Moon Run harvested the warmth of California to power their new record, Sun Leads Me On.
Photo: Jennifer McCord

VANCOUVER — Half Moon Run seem to have “it” – call it destiny, luck, or perhaps mojo (the term used by Plants and Animals to describe their soon-to-be tourmates). But with just their first album they accomplished the kind of career landmarks that most indie bands can only dream of. The group’s very formation could be seen as an act of fate, when Connor Molander and Dylan Phillips found singer Devon Portielje via a Craigslist add looking for musicians. From there, their debut album Dark Eyes went gold in Canada, and the band found themselves playing international stages with the likes of Mumford & Sons. But they’re careful not to subscribe to any ideas of grandeur, and even get a little uncomfortable at the idea. “I feel extremely lucky, but when the time comes where you’re reflecting on those things, it’s a dangerous mental territory to get into. Pride comes before the fall – I’m weary of thinking about how great anything is going,” Molander shares from his home in Montreal.

After any successful first album, there is always the looming question – will they be able to follow it up? Expectations from fans and critics can put a lot of pressure on the creative process, but the group decided to turn inwards and use it to their advantage. “Internally is where the most meaningful pressure came from – all we can do is try to do our best, and you can’t bother with what anybody else is going to think about it. And I think that internal pressure is a good thing, it keeps you from getting complacent – even to the extent of conjuring it up when I don’t feel it, because it’s such a great motivator.”

Even with that kind of drive, when it came time to focus on writing their follow up album, the foursome (now joined by Isaac Symonds) found themselves at a bit of a creative stalemate being at home. “We had all this free time in Montreal to write the new record, and we needed to light a fire under our own asses, so we basically just got in the van and tried to make an adventure out of it. We needed a spark, and it worked wonderfully – that’s when we really hit our stride.” The final destination was California, where the band was able to mix work and leisure in a setting that inspired much of the music on the album. Even the title, Sun Leads Me On, is a nod to that journey, chasing the sunset as they drove west. The sunshine seemed to have an effect on the tone of the album too – there are more moments of optimism and pleasure than on the mostly melancholic Dark Eyes. You can almost hear echos of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds era in singer Portielje’s falsetto, or in the opening track “Warmest Regards,” a pleasant reflection featuring acoustic guitars and flutes. But the band hasn’t strayed from the percussive intensity and vocal harmonies that have become their signature sound – they’ve simply built on it, going deeper into the darker depths, and the delicately optimistic ones as well.

Their upcoming Canadian tour takes place in theatres, something Molander is looking forward to. “It allows you more ebb and flow within a set, you can really bring things down to an intimate moment.” The band has some surprises planned for this time out, in Vancouver specifically, to take advantage of the acoustic opportunities theatre venues provide. And as the band continues to build a career that has already taught them a heck of a lot about putting on a good show – you can be sure there will be some magic.

Half Moon Run performs at the Burton Cummings Theatre (Winnipeg) December 9, O’Brian’s Event Centre (Saskatoon) December 10, Winspear Centre (Edmonton) December 14, MacEwan Hall (Calgary) December 15, and Orpheum Theatre (Vancouver) December 16.

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