Half Moon Run leave plenty of room to breathe in their material. Onstage at London's KOKO venue, the Canadian group seem to swap instruments on virtually every song, moving between all out rock bombast and something rather more tender, rather more introspective.
It's a soaring triumph of a show, but then, we've come to expect such feats from the Montreal collective. New album 'Sun Leads Me On' feels like a continuation, an evolution of their debut, the material fired both by their experiences on tour and the act of playing live itself.
“We played a lot of it live as a band,” frontman Devon Portielje explains. “So all the drums, the guitars and even some of the vocals were recorded at the same time. Which is a huge help, having that live energy. And, of course, having learned from what audiences respond to, I think that probably informs the songwriting process. So we knew how to build energy in better ways.”
Building energy is certainly one of Half Moon Run's aims. The band seem to take bold strides with each song, employing the talents of Jim Abiss to help retain the vitality of their live performances. It's a choice that seems to have resulted in almost immediate dividends. “He's really good at guiding you towards a performance that's going to work and choosing the best performances and piecing something together that contains all the best bits,” the singer says. “Which is tough to do from inside the band, because you're fighting, for one reason or another. He was helpful in just guiding us in the right direction.”
“It's so hard to find somebody who clicks in that way, it's like finding another band member,” he continues. “Somebody who's creative direction that you can trust, at least as much as your own. I mean, if those kind of people were easy to come by it would be an easy business to be in. But you only meet a handful of people in your life – if you're lucky – that can influence you in that way.”
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Writing sessions at the band's base in Montreal went well, but Half Moon Run still felt a certain lust for the road. Packing up, the group opted to rent a place in California, and allowed blazing sunshine to fall on their second album. “It had just started to get very cold in Montreal! We'd finished touring and there was maybe two or three months when we were writing, and it was very spontaneous one day. We decided, oh fuck it, let's go to California! I think it was a bit of tour withdrawal. We wanted something fresh and exciting. We decided it one day and literally two days later we were driving in the van.”
“We had a little house there, that we rented,” he reminisces. “Just trying to live life in a fun way and then just meld it all together with the music that we're making, was the idea. And it didn't quite happen that romantically all the time, we had our normal ups and downs while we were there. It was inspiring to be able to do that. We were very lucky. And it worked, we got some really solid material out of it, I think.”
Returning to their native Canada, Half Moon Run booked a studio space in a remote area of Ontario. A secluded cottage, Jim Abiss joined the group to lay down material in a series of heavy duty recording sessions. “We were living in a house that had a studio downstairs – Jim and all of us. So it was nice to really immerse yourself in that way. You didn't have to go to a hotel at the end of the night. We would make noodles and eat together. It was like a different world.”
“The remoteness is part of it,” Devon explains. “We kind of have this thing that when we record we have to sleep in the same building as the studio. You go late at night and you don't want to be thinking, oh we've got to get a cab or drive back. So it's kind of like a rule we have when recording. And yeah, it's good not to have distractions. Although it's also important to take at least on day off a week or it becomes less productive to be stuck out there – you get cabin fever and everybody gets a little angry.”
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Try to follow your instincts to the end of the line...
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These tensions, though, only seemed to fuel the songwriting process. Half Moon Run seem to reach outward with their music, but burrow ever inward with their lyrics – a dichotomy that fans appear to thrive in. “Whatever you're feeling, try to be honest and search your thoughts for the most honest way you can express yourself. It can be light or dark or whatever. Try to follow your instincts to the end of the line.”
“On the writing and recording side of things there can really be no compromise,” he continues. “Now here I am and you can't let anything slide at that level. The compromise comes on more of what you're willing to let yourself do... travelling around the world, it can be hard to maintain your relationships, and you've got to be able to eat healthy, get enough sleep and stuff like that. There has to be a bit of personal sacrifice on that level but definitely not on the creative side – that's where you need to be strict, I think.”
Perhaps part of this intensity, I offer, stems from their base in Montreal. An incredibly city, the area's warm, placid summers are matched by biting winters. A recent visit to POP Montreal saw Clash immerse itself in the local creative community, many of whom cited those long winter nights spent indoors as the spur for musical endeavour.
“It's very true, yeah,” he says. “And for some reason, I feel reluctant to admit it, I guess it is true. That's just what we do. In the early days, before we had gigs or anything, we would spend most of our time at the jam space writing together.”
Ultimately, though, Half Moon Run isn't a band capable of being cooped up in a small rehearsal space – their music thrives on openness, continually striving to full vast arenas. Kicking off their European tour in London, the band seem to relish each moment, to desire each and every note.
“The tour withdrawal that I was talking about was that it was something so familiar, like the life that we knew that you were floundering afterwards, wondering what to do with yourself,” he admits. “The domestic life was unfamiliar, and it was uncomfortable. It's not necessarily that we love being on tour the whole time but it became a way of life that we knew. But certainly, in its best moments being able to perform the songs in the right environment is a high that you can't replace.”
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'Sun Leads Me On' is out now.