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Interview: Half Moon Run embraces “chaos” in their always-changing live show—31.01.20 at TD Place

By Stephane Dubord on January 29, 2020



This past summer we were fortunate to have Half Moon Run debut a handful of their new songs on their expected album planned for the fall. Fans who made it out to their Dragon Boat Festival show were treated to sneak peeks of new single “Then Again” and stand outs “Flesh and Blood” and “Favourite Boy,” mixed with their catalogue of hits.

Fast forward seven months and A Blemish In The Great Light has earned the band praise, a spot in the Top 5 album chart in Canada, and a Juno nomination for Adult Alternative Album of the Year. The band also embarked on extensive tours in the U.S. and Europe through most of the fall and then launched 2020 with Canadian dates, which will culminate back where they kicked things off this Friday. That said, their triumphant return to Ottawa will mark the first time they have headlined a venue as large as TD Place.

We sat down with lead singer—and Ottawa native—Devon Portielje before their show in snowy Vancouver last week to catch up on the last seven months and finally discuss the new album.

APT613: With how the music landscape has shifted since your debut, and many bands that had similar ‘folk’ sounds around that time moving into the synthesizer-based pop or rock spectrum, I was wondering where you would land? I was a bit surprised to find a California Country feel to it, with steel guitar and honky-tonk piano. Where did those influences come from?

Devon Portielje: We all loved folk music deep down; it’s a big thing in Canada still. The honesty or the simplicity of it is very nice. The sensibility of it, focusing on a core song that stands alone. There’s thousands of influences, so it’s hard to say what comes through. You are what you eat when it comes to music. You listen to a lot of a certain kind of music and it comes up because it’s in your ears.

There are definitely some moments where you build off the harmonies of the earlier albums on this album, which meshes so well with that early ’70s Eagles type of sound.

Oh yeah, I like The Eagles. And great songwriting. One example would be “Favourite Boy.” I really wanted a Fleetwood Mac “Dreams” drum sound they had. And so I scoured the Internet looking for the techniques they used to drum it and I ended up finding someone had scanned an article, posted on a forum, from a magazine from 1978 interviewing the engineers who did “Dreams,” they even diagram out the microphone placement on the drum kit. I thought this was the gold mine. So we set it up and we tried, but it didn’t work at all. Not even close.

So that didn’t work, but our producer called it a retro sound, like that snare sound. Like ’70s soft rock. We listened to a lot of that. Smooth, easy listening rock, but play it funky.

You’ve got such variety within the album, you need a really good production to bring it all together and make it sound harmonious. Like the honky-tonk piano on “Flesh and Blood” adds such a warmth and depth that just really comes through the entire album.

Yeah Joe Ciccarelli, the producer, is a very talented engineer, he’s got a lot of experience and we wanted to come out in front of the curtain with this one. And there’s so many layers, you have to be very careful with the layers because it can easily sound choked up and it doesn’t come through properly. So everything’s got to have this little place in the sonic spectrum to be able to breathe properly. So it is quite dense, but it does kind of spread out.

So now that you’ve toured this past summer and fall, and took these songs out on the road, how are the songs maturing?

I feel like the last tour we did was, I think, the best tour ever. And I don’t say that lightly. Just the way that it all fell into place, and the way the rooms participated with the songs, they really feel engaged more than ever before. The set feels like it’s flowing really nicely.

Not too difficult to arrange that many instruments, played by so few people?

There was some arrangement adjustments here and there. If you’re watching, you’ll see that. If you know the album intimately, you’d be like “where’s that part gone?” because we don’t want to play tracks off the computer. We tried it one time and in the space of 30 seconds, we knew, “Absolutely not, never doing this again.”

But you’ll see that at one point, Connor (Molander) goes from steel, and he’s got the bass around him, and he just goes right on that. And then when he goes back on steel, Dylan (Phillips) takes the bass part on the keys. And so there’s a lot of trading going on. One reviewer described it as ‘acrobatic,’ which we thought was funny.

The word that comes to mind is ‘chaos,’ which we’ve discovered recently is an important element. If you keep doing the same show every night, and everything’s nailed down, there’s kind of a push towards that from a crew and business perspective so it’s really predictable. And I mean, that’s good to keep sane, but you have to throw in some chaos to keep it interesting as spectacle. So we try to now inject chaos by making last minute changes for ourselves, so we’re always kind of holding on tensely all day. Every five to ten shows we’ll start to change it up and inject more chaos and do a song we haven’t played in a long time.

With the Ottawa show coming up at TD Place, that must be pretty momentous?

Yeah! Getting close to sold out now. And we even got a message from Kettleman’s Bagel. I used to always get their bagels and they reached out and said “Hey, can we give you guys some bagels for backstage?” So, I’ve made it! But yeah I’m really happy—my mom, dad and my sister are coming out and bringing a bunch of friends. It’ll be really nice. Biggest venue we’ve played in Ottawa, and the response is great.

Half Moon Run will be performing at TD Place on January 31, 2020, with support from Winnipeg singer-songwriter Taylor Janzen. A few tickets are still available here, or you can keep an eye on APT613’s Instagram page for a giveaway.