Comox roots run deep in Half Moon Run
Screaming and crying.
That was Dylan Phillips’ memory of his reaction the first time he tubed down the Puntledge River in the summer after moving to the Comox Valley from the Lower Mainland.
He recalls being outdoors a lot - and acknowledges one of the first friends he met for introducing him to mountain biking.
Being outside was a huge change for a kid growing up in Richmond, says Phillips, whose activities involved going to the mall and playing video games.
Immersing himself into the “huge community of arts” in the Comox Valley, Phillips credits his time onstage with Rainbow Youth Theatre with his passion for performing, but it was his talent with music that took him from the Valley to Victoria and eventually Montreal where he lives.
Phillips is one of the four members of Half Moon Run - an indie rock/pop band who has opened for the likes of Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men and Metric.
Their debut album, Dark Eyes, was released in 2012, with the accompanying tour taking the band through Europe, Australia and North America.
They’ve played festivals including South by Southwest, Osheaga, Canadian Music Week and Glastonbury Festival 2013, and released their sophomore album - Sun Leads Me On - in October last year.
Their single Turn Your Love climbed to the 11th spot on the Canadian alternative chart.
But for Phillips, being in a band was never something he thought of growing up.
“I took lessons in piano but I really didn’t like it. I kept playing on my own,” he said, crediting prolific Comox Valley pianist Sean Mooney for helping him find his interest in piano.
“I always wanted to be in the (orchestra) pit.”
After graduating from Highland Secondary School, Phillips attended the University of Victoria, graduating with a bachelor of arts in classical piano. Music then took him to Montreal, where he entered a program with the Conservatoir de musique et d’art dramatic Québec.
“I never planned on being in a band. But my sister told me a friend was looking for a drummer and I did some drumming. She was pushing for it, so I went outside my comfort box.”
Calling their first jam together “amazing,” Phillips said the musical connection between singer Devon Portielje, Conner Molander, Isaac Symonds and himself worked instantly.
Perhaps one of the reasons it worked was the Valley connection - in addition to Phillips, Molander and Symonds all hail from Comox.
Their first album came together quickly, albeit serendipitously - through friends who were students at a recording arts school.
“The band had a ‘yes’ attitude. (The single) Full Circle was part of their project. One of the teachers heard it and a record label (Indica Records) heard it and actually came to us. It happened so fast.”
Phillips, then in his fifth cycle - the final step - of school in his program (equal to a post-masters equivalent), made the decision to drop out of school.
“I was scared to death. I was the only student in piano with a teacher. It was a very intense, focused work.”
When he told his teacher he was dropping out to join Half Moon Run, his teacher offered his support, telling Phillips at the end of the day, they’re all musicians and are all wanting the same.
A year after the release of Dark Eyes in 2012, Rolling Stone magazine highlighted the group in the Band to Watch section of their website.
The band toured in support of the album for three years.
Phillips admits finding out they were opening for the likes of Grammy-award winning Mumford & Sons was “a pretty cool call to get.”
Their newest tour in support of Sun Leads Me On starts this week in Seattle, taking the band throughout the west coast, then across the U.S., ending their North American segment in Vermont. Mid-February they begin their European tour, eventually returning to Montreal for shows in April.
Phillips says there’s a good mix of small and large venues throughout the tour, and the band approaches each one differently.
“(In intimate shows) you really feel the presence of the audience. Even if the sound isn’t the greatest, it’s really powerful and intimate. With bigger venues, you can bring out all the bells and whistles.”
For more information on the band, visit halfmoonrun.com