Half Moon Run

Half Moon Run hit new heights with A Blemish in the Great Light

An interview with second most popular Montreal band, according to the Best of MTL readers poll.

The third album by Half Moon Run, A Blemish in the Great Light, brings the Montreal-based band’s sound and style to new heights sonically and spiritually. 

Its pacing is graceful and the four-piece’s songwriting is at its best yet, and its titular blemish is certainly inaudible in the music.

“Every time (we make an album) is a little bit different. Sometimes we just get a gimme and the song’s done in an afternoon, the lyrics and all. Sometimes it’s bits and pieces over eight or nine years,” says Devon Portielje, primarily a singer/guitarist and keyboardist within the four piece’s shifting instrumental configuration onstage.

“This record has both of those. But playing live is certainly very informative. You can feel the energy rise and drop at certain points, and you can bring it back, cut a section, get more of another part going because the vibe was happening. You have a new level of objectivity when you play a song in front of a crowd if they’re keen listeners.”

Half Moon Run has been a staple on the city’s musical map and the international rock landscape since their 2012 debut, but both Portielje and bandmate Isaac Symonds still speak in measured terms about the unlikelihood of having found success as they enter a new decade with promise on their side.

“We met on Craigslist. It was instantly high level. We were doing harmonies within like, half an hour,”  Portielje recounts. “We did Dark Eyes and during (that tour) we decided we needed to bring someone else into this to magnify the sound. We knew Isaac from the old days. He took a huge leap of faith and rolled out with us.”

“I think your first show with us was opening for Metric at Festival d’Ete in front of 8,000 people,” Portielje says to Symonds, known primarily for his bass and drum work on stage.

“Yeah, I was shitting myself,” Symonds exclaims, laughing. “I don’t even smoke and I remember taking some puffs from a cigarette.

“I went to (a Montreal recording arts) school straight out of high school and dropped out after two months. It was kind of shitty to be honest,” Symonds says. 

“I started recording with tape as soon as I got into music and when I got there it sort of felt like it was a bunch of kids with rich parents who didn’t know what to do with their lives and were like, ‘I’m gonna be a pro-ducer!’ or something like that. 

“And the tuition was like, 20 grand, when even the teachers were just like, ‘Get a job in a studio.’ Having this on your resume isn’t gonna be the big difference.”

Portielje shared a similar experience. “I learned a few good life lessons,” says the former pro online poker player. “But that’s about it.”

While the rest of the band hail originally from Comox, B.C., Portielje grew up in Ottawa and originally came to Montreal to find work in the music biz.

“I came for an internship and quit before lunch on the first day,” he says plainly.

On the topic of founding Half Moon Run with Conner Molander and Dylan Phillips, Portielje is, today, grounded when describing the early excitement the group found with each other.

“We were signed (to Indica Records) within 10 shows in late 2010,” he says. 

“There was a lot of early 20s kind of naiveté, like, ‘Man, if we could just play a show, wouldn’t that be the best thing you could, like, ever do?’”

“For probably a year straight there was a thing happening in my mind, like, ‘I just need to get in that band’,” Symonds describes. 

“Seriously, from the time I’d get out of bed my every waking thought was either that or that I needed to get into a touring band and at least get on the same level musically. The chances of that happening were so small. 

“And then Conner sends me an email one day like, ‘You should join the band.’ Like, in a week. We’ll try three shows, we can pay you 100 bucks a show. It might not work out but let’s try.”

“Fly across the country on your own dime!” Portielje laughs.

“I was 20 years old and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m in,’” Symonds continues. “I had a job, I worked in a studio, I had a girlfriend. And I just like, cancelled it all. 

“Well, the girlfriend came with him,” Portielje pipes in.

“If I knew what the odds I was facing were back then, I don’t know if I would have taken the leap. But it felt like the most important thing to do in my life,” Portielje explains.

“Then you get some years and shows under your belt and you wonder if it’s the most important thing you can do for the world. 

“I’ve kinda come to terms with that. I’m at peace with that. People still need to enjoy themselves and enjoy life, and music can be a release for that. It’s certainly a release for me.” ■

Half Moon Run website.

This Half Moon Run interview appeared in the Nov. 2019 edition of Cult MTL.

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