What: Half Moon Run with Plants and Animals
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. (doors at 7)
Where: The McPherson Playhouse
Tickets: Sold out
Half Moon Run’s three-week tour winds down Saturday in Victoria, a perfectly timed bit of tour routing for the Montreal group. Three members of the quartet are from the Comox Valley, and they will be spending Christmas on Vancouver Island following what amounts to the biggest tour of their career.
“We could end the tour in one of two places — East or West — and it would be home,” said 25-year-old singer-guitarist Conner Molander. “But I love this arrangement. I finish the show, and then I go sleep at my mom’s house.”
Molander, who graduated from Highland Secondary in Comox, is joined in the group by two bandmates, drummer Dylan Phillips and multi-instrumentalist Isaac Symonds, who also hail from the valley. The group, however, came together in Montreal, when Molander was attending McGill University. He crossed paths with Phillips in 2009, and the two posted an online ad looking for someone to join their musical project. Devon Portleje, a singer-guitarist from Ottawa, signed on immediately and Half Moon Run was born.
The band spent a few years honing its sound before releasing its debut, Dark Eyes, in 2012. In the years since, Half Moon Run has come into its own, and is now counted among the best musical exports Canada has produced in recent years. And while the band has just two full-length albums to its credit, nothing about its success screams too much, too soon.
The band knew a year ago it would wind down 2016 with a theatre tour of Canada, now counted as its biggest venture to date. Leading up to the tour, which began Dec. 1 in Toronto at the 2,700-seat Massey Hall, Half Moon Run wrapped a successful run through Europe and the U.K. that was highlighted by appearances at British summer festivals Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds.
To say they are ready for Canada is putting it lightly.
“We didn’t want to hold back on anything,” Molander said of the tour. “It’s our home market, and to go out and play a normal show in a normal venue with compromises we are forced to employ in places where we are not as successful would definitely be underselling people, I think. We went all out on this one.”
The band’s first theatre tour is the equivalent of a closing chapter. The band has been playing the songs from 2015’s Sun Leads Me On for well over a year, and new material is needed. Half Moon Run and its management figured a soft-seat tour of its home nation would be the perfect way to send off this batch of songs before making way for new ones to be added to the set in 2017.
“There have been a number of strategies over the years to keep it intimate, but the plan for this one was to play in places where we could capitalize on good acoustics. In every major city, there’s one theatre where it fits 1,000 to 3,000 people, so we could bring full production and really go all out and try to make it an expansive and immersive kind of show.”
New for this tour is the addition of a string quartet, Molander said. “We can’t always afford it because it’s a lot of money and logistics on our end. But whenever we can, we try to do it because in terms of how the recordings came out, things like strings are integral to some of the songs. When we can have [the quartet] on stage, it finally feels like how the songs were meant to be.”
Dark Eyes and Sun Leads Me On have both sold well in Canada, and the hit Turn Your Love has been a door-opening single for the group. Half Moon Run remains somewhat of a cult entity, however, given its slightly left-of-centre folk-pop. That could change following a second run of Canadian dates in February and March that were recently added to the itinerary. The band will go back into the studio next year to produce its third album, parts of which are already coming together, Molander said.
“At no point do we turn off that side of our brain, but it’s a lot harder to engage in it when you’re touring. Inevitably, when more time opens up, we’ll be able to spend more time pursuing songwriting more seriously. When inspiration comes, you try to follow it.”
Closing out 2016 in style is the only thing on their minds at the moment, according to Molander. Thanks to a year of consistent touring (which resulted in a Polaris Music Prize longlist nomination for Sun Leads Me On), they have earned the right to recuperate.
For Molander, that means spending time with friends and family on Vancouver Island. “I’m feeling more and more like I have two distinct homes. I have lived in Montreal for seven years now, where my life as a professional has been spent. When I was in B.C., I was basically a kid, an adolescent. But I see myself settling down on the West Coast. There’s something about it. It definitely feels like home.”