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Gig Pick: Half Moon Run at Dragon Boat Festival—06.20.19

By Stephane Dubord on June 20, 2019





The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival prides itself with its focus on local and national artists, and the 2019 edition of the festival kicks off Thursday with a trio of artists with strong ties to Ottawa.

Kicking things off at 6:30 are The Vile Bodies, followed by ex-Balconies front-woman Jacquie Neville at 8:00. After releasing her debut single “Lead The Way” last fall, expect many more new tracks filling up her setlist.

Headlining the opening night is Half Moon Run. While they may technically be based in Montreal, lead singer Devon Portielje hails from our fair city, so we claim them as our own as well.

Half Moon Run burst onto the scene in 2012 with their first album Dark Eyes, which peaked at #8 on the Canadian album charts and achieved platinum status. Their follow-up in 2015 made it even higher, up to #4, and has already been certified gold as well. However, while many bands would succumb to the theory of striking while the iron is hot, they instead have gone quiet, with no new songs released since that album four years ago. In fact, their last appearance in town was at the Dragon Boat Festival in 2017, and they’d only played a handful of shows since—anywhere.

We tracked down Devon for a chat on what the band has been up to, and if we’ll finally get to hear some new music from them soon.

APT613: How have you been? It’s been a while since you’ve been on the radar?

Devon Portielje: We’ve been great! Really just nose to the grindstone. We just had our vacations for a few weeks, but before that, for the last 18 months, we’ve been hammering pretty hard, writing and recording, but overall, great. Spirits are high.

I’m really curious to find out more about this upcoming album. You had substantial success right out of the gate with your first two albums, both reaching the Top 10, so the anticipation has been building for four years now. How has the process been going?

It’s crazy, it really doesn’t feel like it’s been four years for us. It’s been going great though. We did almost all of it in five weeks, with a producer named Joe Ciccarelli, based out of L.A. We did it here in Montreal, and it was relatively smooth. We got some great tones. Joe is a wonderful engineer.

Photo: Jennifer McCord

In terms of the plans for this new album, is there a date yet for the release?

The industry has been changing so much, it’s become so hard to nail down a specific date because of how the ‘machine’ works and the different territories, but we’re looking at the fall. We’ll have a lead single, but we’re still not quite there yet, but it should be soon.

On your first two albums, you focused a lot on the harmonies, the multiple instruments, and it had some clear linkages to the indie folk sound of the time. Is there anything new that might have weaved itself into the mix that we should be expecting?

You kind of are what you eat, musically, but I try to never go in with any specific intentions, like I want to make an indie folk song. I either like it or I don’t, and wherever it takes me is where I’m going to go. I think that’s how the rest of the band approaches the situation too.

“You kind of are what you eat, musically.”

It is less indie folk I think. We get a little weirder, maybe even a little electronic, there’s a depth and a richness, but also a clarity or a brightness that wasn’t present before. Stylistically, we’re all over the map. I like to think the other records had a little bit of that too. Anywhere from a simple folk tune to a little industrial on the last record. There’s a broad cornucopia of styles. Except hip hop and metal.

I guess those will be for the remix albums. How’s it been not touring so much? Are you back to the early day jitters and nervous energy?

Big time jitters and nervous energy. Just putting my rig together, like the pedal board, has been just a mammoth task. It’s not like in the first days when I was ready to throw up in the bathroom, but getting in front of a crowd again is up there. I’m pretty comfortable on stage now. I feel jitters in that I really want to do well, and I want to deliver up to the expectations of the people, which in my mind are undoubtedly high, and that’s where I’m concerned.

We did a few secret shows in the last year and a half, and the set started to grow from 75 minutes onwards, and we all noticed our age catching up to us, so most of us have started working out in cardio to get that youthful energy back for the express purpose of performing better and longer.

I’m sure it’ll be fun getting the intricacies of your new songs translated into your live set, just based on the number of instruments you play, the harmonies you have, getting all of those down pat live must be quite the puzzle to put together.

It really is. Especially for Connor, who’ll be jumping around from pedal steel to Wurlitzer to electric, acoustic and bass guitar, harmonica. He’s doing a one-man show, jumping around like crazy.

Other than another secret location show, Ottawa is going to be your big launch for your cross-country tour. How is that going to feel, debuting some of these new songs in Ottawa?

Wow, I try not to think of it. We practice every day now, and we try to get it as tight and rich as we can. It’s nerve-wracking for sure, but hopefully the people of Ottawa will be kind! Last time we were at Dragon Boat it felt like a great show, lots of energy, nice location, so I’m roughly expecting some of the same.

The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival kicks off Thursday June 20 at Mooney’s Bay Park and runs through to Sunday June 23. Be sure to check back on for daily previews and interviews with headliners.