With sounds echoing the DIY punk scene, mixing a certain raw musicality with humor, book references, and splashy stage performances, Wizard Rock — or Wrock as seasoned fans know it — fueled the Harry Potter craze of the early 2000s. A music genre defined simply by songs about Harry Potter, Wizard Rock was so much more than just bands crooning about Potter in costume: the genre calls back to an era of fan-driven fandom, an era when getting the best Harry Potter content meant following individual creators across forums and MySpace, an era before YouTube even existed.
Leading the charge back in 2002 was Harry and the Potters, a band made up of two brothers, Paul and Joe DeGeorge. Harry and the Potter was at the forefront of the Wrock community — and the Harry Potter fandom community in general — not only performing live shows and releasing albums, but inspiring other Wrock bands, hosting annual events, and co-founding fan-driven non-profit activist organization the Harry Potter Alliance.
Lumos, their first studio album in 13 years, is available today. It recounts the events of the final Harry Potter book, brings back their iconic bedroom indie rock sound, and offers a commentary on today’s political climate. We sat down with Harry and the Potters to talk about finding the sound of the Deathly Hallows, DIY fan communities in a pre-social media world, and the evergreen activism of Harry Potter.
Polygon: First thing’s first — why make a new album now after all these years?
Joe DeGeorge: The timing was right for us.
Paul DeGeorge: We lived in separate of the country for the last decade. It was a little challenging to work together on stuff in a concerted way. But I think we also felt like if we were going to keep playing as a band, we wanted to be able to play songs that felt relevant in this political and cultural moment we’re living in. For that, we really wanted to embrace this idea of digging into the seventh Harry Potter book, where it all sort of comes to a head with Harry and his friends fighting against this authoritarian regime.
Joe: We had never really fully written too much about the seventh Harry Potter book. It was always a goal of ours to write a record that addresses it and it felt very appropriate now to do it.
Lumos has a mix of more somber songs and more upbeat songs that still convey some of the darker themes of the book. How do you strike that balance?
Joe: It’s a fun band to be in, because we’re not constrained by any particular genre — at least not any typical musical genre — we can be pretty flexible and draw from all sorts of inspirations and use all sorts of musical cliches to communicate what’s appropriate at the time. The books are so rich; they’re vibrant and dark at the same time. It’s fun to just be better musicians at this point in our lives and be able to draw from different tools and inspirations to bring it all in.
I’m thinking particularly of the penultimate song — “The Stone” — which is pretty different from the rest of the album. For one thing it’s much longer, it’s very dark, and makes use of eclectic elements like orchestral sounds and voice tracks thanking Harry.
Joe: The idea for the last three songs the record is that it’s sort of a Deathly Hallows suite. We have a song inspired by each of those items. For the Resurrection Stone that Harry uses, we wrote this piece surrounding the part where Harry figures out how to use the Stone for its true purpose. That’s also culminating during this final battle of Hogwarts in the story. There’s a lot of things like we’re trying to communicate like storywise into that song that might be a little more subtle and take up different space than just like communicating it verbally or lyrically. There’s an opening introduction that’s a quote from a Shostakovitch’s Leningrad Symphony, which was written when Leningrad was under siege by fascists. And famously performed by a dying and starving orchestra and broadcast to the Nazis. The rest of the song — I was like, I want this to sound kinda like a dense smog. It’s really dark and gloomy.
Paul: It’s a little bit of that and a little bit of thinking about the Mount Eerie record that’s about Phil Elverum’s wife dying. Those are the musical touchstones. I’m glad you pulled that one out. That’s really the emotional core of the record and that’s the scene on the album cover as well: Harry preparing to walk to his death —
Joe: — but seeing all his friends along the way.
Paul: That whole chapter in the book is Harry sort of surveying Hogwarts, witnessing his friends fighting on his behalf and feeling really rallied by that. Then of course, using the Stone and seeing his parents and Remus and Sirius. The voices you hear are actually all for the most part people who have been a part of this band or helped us along the way or in some way played a role in this band over the last 15 years. We just hit up all of our friends with emails and said like, can you say a couple of these words or phrases? That’s meant to buoy Harry as he walks to his presumed demise.
Joe: We got a lot of our drummers on there.
Another stand-out song is “Where’s Ron?” which has that fun Potter Puppet Pals music video. I know you’ve worked with Neil Cicerega and the Potter Puppet Pals in the past, but what was it like creating this music video specifically?
Joe: We left it in Neil and Alora’s hands to direct it.
Paul: We approached them with a loose idea. We thought that would be a fun song just because Ron is such a fun puppet. We thought very loosely of just like these scenes of Ron off gallivanting. That was all we hit them with. Then basically they came back to us a few months later and were like, can you film yourself? We want to put you in a portrait. That was it. That was all pretty much all of our involvement with that and giving them the fun. They’ve toured with us off and on for years. They play our annual Yule Balls pretty frequently up in the Northeast.
Joe: We’ve been friends a long time. They came to see us ages ago when we played at a middle school on the south shore of Massachusetts.
Paul: They’re from Massachusetts too. I’ll share one fun factoid. I took Joe to his first rock and roll show which was Weird Al Yankovic at the Warwick Melody Tent, August,1999. He was 12. We come to find out many, many years later that our drummer, Brad Mehlenbacher who played on this record was also at that show six years before we met him. And so was Neil Cicierega — and also Neil’s future wife. So this Weird Al show in the Providence suburbs back in August 1999 had some sort of really positive influence on the Harry Potter fandom.
Given the current political climate there’s been a lot of comparisons — people on social media, essays, etcetera — to the Harry Potter books, specifically book seven. Lumos continues this trend. Do you think this continued comparison to Harry Potter is something evergreen?
Joe: I think the books are just so rich that there’s things appropriate for anytime at any history layered in them. I think it’s always appropriate to be kind of using these stories. There are still people who have so many things in common with these stories, like these stories are a meeting point for a lot of people. They’re a great tool to use to have these sorts of discussions.
Paul: It’s a shared language now.
Joe: It’s great to have a place that’s like a little bit outside of our universe that we can have an outsider perspective on it and a fresh look on events going on in these books. But also see how they have direct parallels to the histories we’ve lived in our society and that we’re making now.
This isn’t your first foray into more political and charitable territory. Can you tell me a bit about forming the Harry Potter Alliance?
Paul: We consider it a fan activism group. That was a novel idea at the time that we helped to start it. There’ve been plenty of past fan charity efforts, but we didn’t want to just like raise money. What we wanted to do with sort of like raise consciousness and raise activists, really being inspired by Hermione really at the core of it, like Hermione taking this proactive approach and forming Dumbledore’s army during their fifth year of school and creating this training ground for young activists to fight back. That was really the core of the inspiration and that’s continued to this day. The HPA has chapters all over the place of kids in their schools and community doing that work.
The major thing happening now is that the Harry Potter Alliance has the annual leadership conference called the Granger leadership academy, which is really cool. It’s a weekend long intensive training ground for young activists — super cool, super amazing. I’m just so glad it exists. Even though now we’re in a culture that very frequently is framing like a contemporary social justice issues onto cultural works, that was a pretty novel idea 14 years ago when Harry Potter Alliance started and we caught a lot of oh, really? Isn’t Harry Potter for kids? That’s sort of evaporated now, it feels like. I mean,don’t get me wrong, there’s still challenges to being a nonprofit called the Harry Potter Alliance. But the stigma and baggage that fandom one pat around it has kind of been ameliorated over the last decade or so.
Wizard Rock comes from this time period full of fan-generated Harry Potter content, right when the books and original movies were still coming out. Can you tell me a bit about this sort of pre-mainstream fandom, pre-social media time? How’s it different being a fan creator now?
Joe: Well, we did use some social media.
Paul: We were thriving on MySpace.
Joe: That frankly feels like the good old days before surveillance capitalism.
Paul: The one thing I feel like has happened as fandom has mainstreamed is that it’s also gotten more corporate. You can see that in the Harry Potter world, where there used to be just like a handful of products. Now there’s so much stuff out there for people to buy. It used to be fans leading the way and creating fan art and other goofy things like House sweaters on Etsy. Now whatever you want is out there and available at Hot Topic or elsewhere. Like Vans just released a whole line of Harry Potter shoes that seemed pretty lazy to everybody.
Actually the artist who did the artwork on our record texted me a photo of a jacket with just the Deathly Hallows symbol on it. I just wrote back right away like, Dan, we tried so goddamn hard over here that make stuff that’s cool and they just put this crappy logo on this thing and they’re charging 80 bucks for it. I was just like, man. I still think there’s plenty of opportunity out there for fans and fan artists. It’s just a question of navigating this much more corporate fandom world now in 2019.
What do you think of the additions to the Harry Potter canon — for instance the Fantastic Beasts movies and the Cursed Child?
Joe: We don’t really comment on those. They’re outside of the canon we work with. We are concerned primarily with Harry Potter’s perspective. That’s the limitation of our band.
Paul: Frankly, as a fan I have almost no interest in them. Part of that is being burned. The other part is just like, I don’t feel like I don’t need them. I feel very satisfied and comfortable with what does exist. There’s still plenty of room inside of what does exist for folks like us and for other people who want to continue to create in that world and for people to go back and read. Man, what a joy it is to go back and reread the book. That was part of the fun of making this new record for us was just rereading them again.