You never know who’s listening.

When Montreal’s newly formed Half Moon Run went into a studio to provide a track for a student project, they had no idea they’d get a record deal out of it. In fact, as Dylan Phillips explains, going into the session was a bit of a blur.

“I was super sick, so I can’t remember much of that day,” says the band’s drummer and keyboard

“You meet people and they’re clearly more interested in being in a band than writing songs, making music… We don’t want to turn into those guys. – Dylan Phillips of Half Moon Run

player. “I know it was pretty rushed. I do remember that soon afterwards we heard from Kyria [Kilakos, label manager of Indica Records]. She was teaching at the school and the recording caught her attention. We hadn’t even played 10 shows yet, but a couple of weeks later we were signed. It was quite exciting, although it was also faster than we were able to handle.”

The song was “Full Circle,” a nimble bit of hypnotic folk-rock highlighted by the double-time, three-part harmonies of Phillips, guitarist Conner Molander and lead vocalist Devon Portielje. The three had come to Montreal from across the country for different reasons: Molander to study psychology at McGill University, Portielje for a music industry job, and Phillips to pursue his masters in classical piano. They met through a Craiglist ad, and (with exception of a short-lived high-school rock group for Conner), Half Moon Run was their first band.

Still, they weren’t newbies. Portielje had studied Music Industry Arts at Fanshawe College in London, ON, which is why he says he met the initial offer from Indica with “raw skepticism.”

“I wanted to be DIY,” he says. “I wanted to go viral on YouTube, and have a position of power when

“Songwriting was like going to a new job. Keep your head down and start working.” – Devon Portielje of Half Moon Run

talking to labels. One of the main things covered [at Fanshawe] was getting ripped off by contracts. But we had an entertainment lawyer look at [the Indica contract], made some amendments, and signed.”

After initially telling Indica they could have an album’s worth of songs ready in two months, the band took almost a year to do it. Dark Eyes was released in March 2012. The band’s sound is delicate and intimate, a mix of au courant sensitive indie rock and retro psychedelia, with subtle electronic flourishes.  Dark Eyes found its place onto the shelves of Radiohead fans, Band of Horses listeners and the like, and Half Moon Run found itself touring North America as the opening act for Wintersleep and Metric.

Then last October, they got a major boost from Ben Lovett of international chart-toppers Mumford & Sons, who told the influential U.K. magazine New Musical Express that Half Moon Run was his favourite new band, and “potentially one of the most important bands debuting an album this year.”

Since then the group (which now also includes multi-instrumentalist Isaac Symonds) has been capitalizing on the attention – playing the Glastonbury and Reading festivals in England, touring with Mumford and Of Monsters And Men, getting airplay on BBC radio, and signing deals to release Dark Eyes in France, the U.S. and the U.K.

But the men of Half Moon Run haven’t been able to squeeze in much songwriting. “It’s really tough,” says Phillips. “We do have seeds of ideas. We try stuff on acoustic guitar, we harmonize, and then I take it to my computer in the van and add keys. I have used iPhone recordings into Logic. We’ll try anything. But we really need our set-up and some meaningful time off. You can’t see a song to completion on the road.”

For a new group, Half Moon Run already has a defined system of creating music. Portielje says this is partly because the band members weren’t friends first, so from the get-go, their get-togethers were focused on production. “It was like going to a new job,” he says. “Keep your head down and start working.”

When the band is finally able to settle down to craft the follow-up to Dark Eyes, its four members will continue to apply the rules that served them so well the first time. For Portielje, that includes writing the melody first, then syllables, then words. But don’t ask Phillips about his lyrics. “We don’t discuss what a song means,” he says. “That’s why sometimes the lyrics might be dark, but the music is not.”

Most importantly, Phillips says Half Moon Run will never forget the real reason they came together, and flipped their lives upside down to pursue their opportunity.

“You meet people and they’re clearly more interested in being in a band than writing songs, making music,” he says. “We recognize those moments in ourselves too, and we can make fun of ourselves. But we don’t want to turn into those guys. Songs always come first.”

Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Canada, Indica Records Inc.
Discography: Dark Eyes (2012)
SOCAN Members since 2011

A soulful singer pays homage to the Motown Records sound each week. She meets a sound engineer and multi-instrumentalist in a basement bar. The result: Imaginary Cities – yet another band with a big sound unearthed from Winnipeg’s fertile music scene – is born.

Marti Sarbit, one-half of Imaginary Cities, recalls this serendipitous meeting. “Rusty [Matyas]

“This record definitely has more of an orchestral sound. We are really proud of it.” – Marti Sarbit of Imaginary Cities

came up to me between sets,” she says. “We ended up singing a song together. We had a really good time and the rapport was great. Awhile later, I asked if he would help me with some other songs I was working on. We ended up recording ‘Say You,’ which became the first song on Temporary Resident. From there, we couldn’t help but continue.”

Next up in the duo’s evolution was finding a name. Sarbit says their first thought was Sparrow or Old Sparrow, but legal reasons prevented them from adopting this moniker. In a rush to come up with an identity, she searched for inspiration amongst the dusty book jackets in her parents’ basement – enlisting her dad for help.

“We saw one book called Imaginary Beings and another called Invisible Cities,” she says. “I called

Where the first record was a blend of different styles, with Fall of Romance the duo has found their sound

Rusty right away and said, ‘These sound cool, should we somehow use one of these?’ We both liked the result when we combined these two titles together and felt it was big enough to match our sound.”

Imaginary Cities released its debut (Temporary Resident) in 2011 to critical acclaim. After an exhausting touring schedule in 2012 that included sharing the stage for nine straight weeks with The Pixies, the pair returned to the studio. The result, Fall of Romance, dropped at the end of May, and shows the band’s musical maturity. Where the first record was a blend of different styles, with their sophomore offering the duo has found their sound – grand and atmospheric indie-pop, laced with haunting harmonies.

The bed tracks for Fall of Romance were laid down in Winnipeg. Imaginary Cities then journeyed to Vancouver to record the remainder of the songs, over the course of three weeks, with Howard Redekopp (The New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara).

“This record definitely has more of an orchestral sound,” says Sarbit. “We are really proud of it. I hope people like it as much as we do. I even find myself listening to it, which is not something I usually do… it’s pretty exciting.” – DAVID McPHERSON

Track Record

  • Temporary Resident was long-listed in 2011 for the Polaris Music Prize
  • It also won a 2011 Western Canadian Music Award for Best Pop Album of the Year.
  • Imaginary Cities’ TV credits include Degrassi, Less Than Kind, and MTV Tough Love


Publisher: Downtown/Imaginary Cities
Discography: Temporary Resident (2011), Fall of Romance (2013)
SOCAN Members since 2002 (Matyas), 2010 (Sarbit)

Music has always come naturally to Edmonton-born sibling duo The Command Sisters. Still only 17 and 14 respectively, Charlotte Command and Sarah Command have been performing relentlessly since 2005, captivating audiences across North America with their country-pop harmonies and dynamic energy. Listeners caught on, and soon they were flying to Nashville and recording with some of country music’s biggest producers.

Music isn’t the only thing close to their hearts. This year they were part of an anti-bullying campaign and school tour run by the Alberta RCMP, and they busk at a farmers’ market in Edmonton to help raise money for local causes.

They spent the summer of 2013 recording, and performing at festival showcases in Nashville and in Canada. Where do they see themselves in the future? “There’s no limit,” says Charlotte. “It’s awesome. We can plan and make goals, but the unexpected is what excites us!”

Watch for their first Canadian release in 2014.