A few days ago I came to the conclusion that, figuratively speaking, I’m near bursting point. Like those guys you sometimes find at work who wipe whatever greasy shit they eat on their break around the packaging three or four times to savour their addiction, the second quarter of 2014 has been an utterly gluttonous friend to Liverpool’s music fans: already we’ve had the camaraderie of Threshold, the glorious return of Sound City, and a steady stream of gigs sparing no effort in giving us thrills to gorge upon. More celebrations are on the way too, hopefully to match this heatwave we’re due; although they always say we’re meant to get the best or worst summers ever, usually supporting that classic British cynicism, the sense that no pattern can be trusted. So let’s avoid hyperbole and conclude that Liverpool’s vibrancy and creativity are intact, while secretly permitting ourselves excited whispers about the future, the developments and the city’s ever-growing draw for fresh-faced talent. The metaphorical stomach is expanding, and it feels delicious.
As good an example as any of this is X&Y Festival, which sees another impossibly crammed day of gigging headlined by a band who are buzzing so hard you’ll be stung if you don’t catch them at this crucial stage in their career. But don’t tell HALF MOON RUN that: they prefer working in the dark, even though being open is their bread and butter. At least it is in terms of the biggest bloody open spaces possible, for their ability to handle arena and festival crowds is garnering unusually high praise from all corners of the critical concerto. By injecting folk music with indelible, restless atmospherics (likely to swing from maudlin to ecstatic in a heartbeat), the Canadian quartet know that experimentation is as important as security, along with taking stock of what they’ve accomplished. “Sometimes it’s a rush and we don’t get a chance to see or do anything,” explains guitarist and keyboard player Conner Molander, somewhat understating what has been an insane couple of years on the road. “To be honest, we really needed to slow it down for the sake of our longevity. This summer we’re playing some good shows but otherwise we’ve left ourselves a lot of time to work on being creative again… it’s why we do this.”
Molander is just one arm of Half Moon Run’s dizzying instrumental juggling act. He still hasn’t stopped travelling, and phone troubles cut our interview short, leaving an extra day for me to think on the band’s ideology while I wait for his email to defy the perils of trans-Atlantic conversation. When it comes through, his answers seem quite guarded, unspecific, yet distractingly relevant and honest, and it’s obvious that he and his bandmates need time away from talking about themselves. Onstage, they share one another’s guitars, drumsticks and microphones with easy adaptability. Ditto the vocal harmonies that have become the group’s major talking point – unified against criticism, they are contemplating another kind of harmony before the world comes calling once again. “Right now I’m in a headspace that rejects any analysis of what people may think of the band. In fact, I think we’ve recently returned to a way of thinking about music that’s similar to the way we thought before we even signed a record deal: as a means of expression, of communication. It’s an escape; just one part of living a good life.” Considering the comparisons that have been thrown at Half Moon Run (Fleet Foxes, Local Natives and, for some bizarre reason, Radiohead) since their debut album Dark Eyes made a splash on the indie circuit in 2012, it’s hard to blame him for rejecting outside opinion. Hyperbole can be a bitch.
“The whole [music industry] is really very non-musical,” says Molander, “and I’ve found it unhealthy to dwell on.” This contributed in part to co-members Issac Symonds, Devon Portielje, Dylan Phillips and himself hiring out a cabin in the Canadian wilderness, which he describes as “kind of a recovery time for us”, allowing them to avoid staring at the egotistical precipice yawning up to many who achieve early success. Their touring schedule has seen the Half Moon Run bus pitch up in places as far apart as Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Australia, mainly in support of some big names. However, playing second fiddle may well be a thing of the past, especially if the fertile history of their home is any indicator. Montréal, their base camp, is already notorious for its status as a breeding ground for creative innovation. Mac DeMarco, Purity Ring and Arcade Fire have capitalised on the city’s low cost of living and welcoming artistic infrastructure to set the bar for their respective genres, and here’s hoping that Molander et al displace tour mates Mumford And Sons as folk’s go-to rabble rousers. And since they’re bolder and more beatific, it could well happen. Stadium-sized fame and notoriety does bring its own problems though, and Conner admits that “insecurity or narcissism” are things to be wary of, perhaps understandably. However, for a band brought together by a Craigslist ad, the strength of their live act shows that Half Moon Run’s connection to truth without pretence is paramount and delicate, and totally reliant on self-belief.
Good press has done its business too, mind. Full Circle gained huge exposure after soundtracking the Assassin’s Creed IV trailer, notching up over a million hits in 24 hours. NME named them the Buzz Kings of the M Is For Montréal festival a while back, while the Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan singled out No More Losing The War as an “exceptional” track on an album full of “gorgeous, velvety drama.” Ask Molander where the lyrics to that song originated (lines like “they caught her at Waterloo station, strung up on a Ferris wheel” are maddeningly oblique) and the answer is what I’ve come to expect: “It’s very difficult to describe our music in any way that doesn’t leave me feeling a bit sick to the stomach…” But this particular example is about someone, directly telling a story. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that all there is to know about the lyrics is present in the words themselves,” he goes on. “Any interpretation that someone may have is as valid and true as mine is!”
Fair enough. It doesn’t matter if a little mystery is maintained – and there’ll be more in the guise of new songs, which Conner confirms X&Y will definitely witness. Make sure you’re there to mark Half Moon Run’s ascendancy, because they will be switching to a gallop very, very soon.