In this episode, PausePlay’s host Zac Monson chats with Half Moon Run’s Devon Portielje and Isaac Symonds.
Welcome to a very special edition of Stingray PausePlay, here with Montreal's own, Half Moon Run. Hi, guys. Great to have you guys back.
Although I think last time we had a different combination of you guys on the show, so... Welcome back for the first time!
Devon: On behalf of Half Moon Run, thank you for having us again!
The first time you guys played together I think was October in 2009. So you're really right up on your decade. You've been together for 10 years now. Happy aluminum anniversary, by the way!
Devon: Is that 10 year, aluminum?
It's tin and aluminum, yeah.
Devon: Oh, those metals suck.
Half Moon Run's terrifying experience
Do you guys have a, like, what's been the highlight of your last decade for you guys as a band?
Devon: Oh, that's big.
Isaac: For me, I'd say the playing with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. That was crazy.
Devon: Terrifying show.
Why so terrifying?
Devon: Well, the conductor keeps time in a way that, he moves his hands ahead of the beat, which I've never seen before. So I had to get Dylan to interpret his timing, and then give me private time.
Because it's like the tip, right? It's the tip that's the tick?
Devon: Yeah. I never figured it out, so I was just like, "Do not watch that guy, bcause if I follow him, it's gonna be a disaster, so... He's a great conductor for other people, so I'm told.
Badminton club & Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2
What can you guys tell me about a badminton club?
Isaac: Oh, a badminton club. Uh... Well, actually, Devon started... invited me to play badminton, like, two or three years ago. And ever since then, just, like, took off. I do it as much as I possibly can. And Dev's technically the best. It's like, I've actually taken lessons in badminton. 'Cause I really want to be the best. But, like, Dev just comes in after so long of not playing and just, like, kicks my ass.
Devon: It's all in your mind, it's all psychology!
We had kind of a league in the music industry, and we had all these people. At one point we had 12 people a week coming out. And everyone's out of shape. No offense, guys. [laughter] And I was keeping stats. And rates, plus and minus.
So who took the whole thing home?
Devon: Oh, it was my buddy Jared. 99.7% win rate.
Isaac: Yeah. Although, he only came a couple, like, 5 times. But still, he's the best. He doesn't need the stats to tell that.
And I hear you're a serious skateboarder.
Isaac: Yeah, yeah. Well, I started skateboarding when I was 7, maybe? When my dad lived in California, and then it's just like a dream come true, just when we tour anywhere, usually the States is the best, then just try to go to a skate park in every town. Just get exercise and peep the scene.
Devon: We were living the teenage dream for awhile. There was one tour where we were able to bring our bikes, and every day in the States, we would just bike to the skate park, whether it was across town or next door. It's like my teenage dream. We visited every skate park in big city America.
Isaac: Having played Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2, a lot of those skate parks are there, you know?
That's about... that's as far as I got in my skateboarding career, was that game. I've never even stepped foot on an actual board, but that game killed it. I think I learned so many new songs from that soundtrack too.
Isaac: That was a huge soundtrack.
Yeah, for sure.
The Chainsmokers' question
So we asked the last artist that we had in to ask you guys a question. The artist is The Chainsmokers, and the question for you is...
The Chainsmokers: Hey everybody, we're the Chainsmokers, and our question for you is... Would you rather lose the ability to lie, or believe everything you're told?
Devon: Both are actually kind of good ways to live. If I lost the ability to lie, I think that would be ideal. If I believed everything everyone told me, I would be very susceptible to being taken advantage of, which would be a bad trait in this industry, so I would take the former. Difficult moments ahead, but ultimately, the truth would reveal itself, and you would live really ideally. Maybe I should just do that.
Isaac: "You're gonna be star!"
Devon: "I am a star? Thank you!"
A Blemish in the Great Light
The album is A Blemish in the Great Light, and I've always been such a fan of you guys, but really after this record, I'm a real fan. There was something magical, magical, magical about this record. There's, you know, CSNY, Kings of Convenience, some Beatles kinda stuff. I know there's some definite "Eleanor Rigby" little melody lines in a couple of those songs. [singing melody] You know? What's your favourite moment from kind of creating this whole project?
Isaac: I'd say mine is probably "Black Diamond," and it's the moment in the jam space while it's happening and it was like Devon just started playing this guitar riff and then we all sort of just chimed in and the instruments we chose first were the ones that were final ones. You know, that's always refreshing. And we all just started playing and then the song just came together in a couple days.
Devon: Yeah, which is very fast for us.
The last couple records, it's like when you listen to them, when I used to sit down with my headphones and listen to those albums, everything felt very close to my ear. Like, very close to my head. This album is not that way. There's like a spatial quality and a distance, almost, with this record. Was that something you guys kinda thought about in terms of production value? 'Cause it's really, it's like an open, more airy spatial record and it was one of the things that really stuck out to me.
Devon: We tried to bring it forward. Like, the presence of it, bring it forward. I felt like the other ones are a little [muffled sound]. And so I wanted to bring it up, bring it present and be more, a little more punchy. And so...
Isaac: Yeah, that's almost the opposite what you just described.
Devon: I think it's in the same... I think it's in the same thing, yeah.
Isaac: There is, like, a 3D element to the sonic field, for sure.
That, to me, is even better-said. There was a 2-dimensional kind of quality, not in terms of the creativity, but sound-wise, this one is definitely 3D, almost 4D, I'll even give you that 4th D in there. Beautiful, the sound quality is really amazing. [laughter]
So, what is the biggest difference for you guys? In terms of this record compared to your last records.
Devon: Well, there's that, there's the production value. Boy, we went through a lot of songs to get to, to land of these. I don't even know how many there are, ten or eleven on this. And I think we have, like, 40 starter ideas that didn't make it. And so there was a lot of writing before we decided on these. And then we went in the studio with 20. Then cut it down to 11.
"Favourite Boy" is such a great track. Such a great single. Tell me about the story. Where did the story come from? Because it seems like such a simple story, but it feels so powerful. You can feel exactly kind of what's happening. So tell me where this idea came from.
Devon: It started with me and Conner in the living room at his house and we just kind of... It started as an addendum to another idea, which then we chopped off the original idea and then we had these, basically, 8 chords, which almost is the whole song. And then the band, the other guys put a nice beat on it. And then I kinda wanted to have, like, an attitude in the lyrics, more than just kinda like... [whining vocals] I wanted it to be more... more of a story, more story-telling vibes. I think that you have to bend, to make a good story, you have to bend some rules. But it's still emotionally truthful, while perhaps being intellectually not entirely true. So there's, yeah, the emotion is true.
I think a lot of songs are probably like that.
Devon: All these perfect events that rhyme all the time! [laughter] That's just too dead-on.
We need to find that guy. There's gotta be one guy out there whose life is a perfect song...
Devon: Elton John. But he doesn't even write his lyrics. It's Bernie Taupin.
Half Moon Run's tattoos!
As you guys kind of get more well-known and travel the world, your fan-base obviously grows. What is the weirdest or most fun fan experience that you guys have had?
Devon: There's a lot of tattoos coming around.
Isaac: Yeah, I was just gonna say that one.
And are we talking lyrics or y'all faces?
Devon: Not faces. I haven't seen a face yet. But there's been the moons...
Isaac: There's been one in Burlington a couple years ago, and I had ages ago, like I signed my autograph on this girl's arm and she got it tattooed.
She kept it!?
That's love, man.
Isaac: Yeah, that's true love.
Devon: There was a young woman in Germany that I had to write out these words again and again. She was like, "No no no, more like this, more like this." And I was writing it out for a long time. And then she got that tattooed as well.
Sorry, so she didn't like your handwriting?
Devon: Yeah, so I had to write it like 20 or 30 times until I got the one that was the tattoo.
Isaac: We were hanging out with fans, I forget where this was, in Europe somewhere, but, like, you ended up getting a tattoo on your neck?
Devon: Well, it was in Norway. They do things really high-quality in Norway, so their temporary tattoos aren't so temporary. And I was trying to impress this girl and got this... this big, like, two sailor girls with this big ship's wheel, like, right there. And, you know, she laughed and whatever. I don't think she was impressed. Anyways, next day, I stayed up all night, and then I had to walk, like, straight into the cab to the airport to the next show. And then, you know, backstage at the festival, trying to just get it off and it's just not even... It's just getting redder. It's not going away at all. So I had to go onstage with this giant neck tattoo.
And from a distance, it looks legit.
And it looks really red.
Isaac: Like, no tattoos on the arms, but the neck?
Straight to the throat! If you guys had to live inside somebody else's music video for the rest of your life, what music video would you live inside?
Devon: Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse From The Heart." 'Cause it's just an endless array of surprises, and actually, you got football, you got karate, you got dancing. It's like an activity center.
Um, I hope they have food. I think they have, like, a Last Supper. They must have a Last Supper spread.
There's gotta be a snack there. A cheese plate of some kind.
Isaac: I think mine would probably be, ah, back when I used to watch music videos all the time, probably Alexisonfire, "Pulmonary Archery." It was just like a nice house. I could live in that house. It looked pretty cozy. There's like a jam space, obviously. The camera just goes into the house and then they're just freaking out, jamming there.
That's one of the more realistic life plan answers we've had to that question. [laughter] I actually like it. I kinda wanna go hang out with you in your life, yeah.
Guys, I'm so happy I got to sit with you guys and get to know you a bit better and really and truly, I'll tell you a thousand more times, the new album is really magical.
I'm so excited for people to hear it. And you guys are great. I can't wait to see you guys do it in the next five years, another decade together. I don't know what 20 years is, but it's gotta be better than aluminum. So, whatever it is, I'll get you that.