The Leader talks with Paul DeGeorge of Harry and the Potters
A decade ago, brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge sang some songs about wizards in their parents’ backyard. Since then, their band Harry and the Potters has been featured in documentaries, on MTV, and in nerd hearts everywhere—and Wizard Rock has become a fandom phenomenon, with countless Potter-centric bands playing at conventions and literary festivals worldwide.
Their songs conjure up wordplay and Potter puns like head-bobbing magic spells. They sing it best in New Wizard Anthem– “Who cares about the Sorcerer’s Stone, cause we got the rock right here.”
The Leader talked with older brother Paul about indie rock, J.K. Rowling, and the power of the Harry Potter Alliance, a social justice non-profit organization he helped co-found. Whether they’re rocking at comic cons or house shows, Harry and the Potters make one thing clear—wizards’ robes and time turners are totally punk rock.
L: How do you find music inspiration when all the Harry Potter books and movies have wrapped up?
P: Well, we already have a lot of songs written. I guess we haven’t focused too much on writing new material recently, but whenever we do I don’t ever feel like we’re held back by the amount of material there is. There’s always more you can explore in those, and in some ways it’s kind of a cool challenge to say “Well, this is all we have to work with, so how can we keep making interesting and creative art out of that?”
L: You guys released your first album nine years ago. How has the band and the music scene changed since then?
P: Wow, this is a big question! Well, number one, we definitely got better at what we were doing. For sure. I have a lot of trouble listening to our first album. You know, we were just kind of goofing around. We certainly never thought that nine years later we’d be still touring—or touring the country at all. That thought hadn’t crossed our heads when we were first recording and kind of putting the band together. All we were really thinking was, “Hey, this would be cool if we could get a show in a library or something, so let’s write some goofy songs about Harry Potter and see what happens.”
So yeah, I guess what happened is, it certainly became more than just a weird little side project for us. It became like our job. After Joe graduated high school, I quit my job, and we started touring and recording pretty much full time. We’d be on the road for like 120 shows a year. So what started out as a joke became kind of serious. I mean, it’s still a joke, but it’s a joke we take seriously.
L: Has J.K. Rowling ever responded to the band?
P: Uhm, no. Not the band necessarily. She did send me an email once. I’d been over in Scotland with some Harry Potter people filming this documentary, and one of them was kind of buddy-buddy with J.K. Rowling. Do you know Melissa Anelli? She wrote this book called Harry, A History, and J.K. Rowling wrote the forward to her book. So Melissa kind of had a close connection to J.K. Rowling, and I kind of knew that we would maybe get a chance to meet her. We didn’t end up getting a chance to meet her, but we ended up at her office, and I had lunch with her assistant. That was cool.
So I left her a little gift. It was a trophy of a witch riding a broomstick, and I had it inscribed to say “World’s Greatest Witch, love Harry and the Potters.” And I left that for her, and she sent me an email the next day saying she really loved it. So that’s basically been the extent of my interactions with our creator.
L: I know you guys play a balance of shows at conventions or wizard rock festivals, and at house shows or underground venues. So what’s it like moving between those two sorts of venues.
P: Well, it’s funny, ‘cause I feel like for many years we’ve focused so intensely on unconventional venues. It’s almost been like one of our motivators, is to kind of help open up show spaces and what people don’t consider show spaces. So we’ve done full tours where we play almost exclusively in libraries, you know?
So, I love doing the house shows or the really intimate ones because those are the shows that changed my life when I was 19 years old. Seeing bands playing in living rooms, and thinking, “Wow, this is totally possible. These are real people. They’re steaming up the windows with me.” We’re all in this together sort of deal, you know? And that’s when it’s really clear that the show is only gonna be as good as the audience can make it. The audience and the band together.
So I guess that’s the approach we take to any show, regardless of where it is. Whether it’s in a library or a basement or at a convention. Honestly, the conventions get to be so big. Usually they’re in hotels. A big hotel ballroom is probably, like, my least favorite place in the world to play outside of a gymnasium or something, ‘cause usually it sounds terrible. But the crowds are what make those shows so special.
L: Can you talk a little bit about your involvement with The Harry Potter Alliance?
P: I can talk a lot about that! Is there any specific direction you want to go?
L: Can you kind of just explain what you do, and what it’s for?
P: I cofounded the Harry Potter Alliance with Andrew Slack who is the executive director. My specific involvement is probably more hands-on than most people on the board of directors. I mostly look at the vision of the organization and help to craft campaigns that cater to the Harry Potter fandom or interact with other fandoms in different ways. Sometimes I will get really hands-on with certain campaigns. Wizard Rock the Vote was a campaign I sort of spearheaded. There’s a few others in the past that I’ve had a more hands-on role in. Generally, I talk with Andrew a few times a week about this and that, whatever organizations he’s been working with. Or just scoping out partner organizations.
I do a lot of fundraising for them too. And publicity stuff—awareness about them. We’ll do benefit shows and things like that. That was really probably my biggest role at the outset. Andrew had this cool idea, and he needed a way to get it out to Harry Potter fans. We were kind of instrumental in helping him to do that, because I have those connections in the Harry Potter fandom. And I knew how to hit the Harry Potter fandom with a weird idea, and make it work.
L: You guys are playing two Chicago shows on April 6 and 8. What can fans expect from the upcoming Midwest tour?
P: Hmm, good question! I’m not even sure what to expect. We have a brand new drummer. Our first practice with him is on Tuesday, and our first show with him is on Thursday of next week. So I don’t know! I’m really excited to play with this guy, though. His name’s Mike Harping, and he plays in one of our favorite bands. They’re called Good Luck. We’ve known Mike for a few years. We have this real Spinal Tap kind of problem where we just run through drummers like crazy. We do a lot of touring and other people don’t necessarily have the free time or the motivation that we have. So it’s kind of like, we’ll take a drummer out for like two months and then he’ll get a job. We’ve had like fifteen drummers, I feel like. This has become an annual event for us, teaching someone new how to play all of our songs. But it’s always kind of fun because the songs will change a little bit or we’ll add in new bits. That’s definitely part of the fun for us.
We’re on tour with this band (Koo Koo Kangaroo) who we’re pretty pumped about playing with. I read somewhere, or somebody said they’re like the Beastie Boys meets Sesame Street. So it’s sort of high energy dance-y music, but it’s definitely kind of juvenile. I do think they target kids in a lot of ways, but it’s also smart and weird so it’s not inappropriate for adults, either. They’re really funny guys, and artistic.
I think we’re kind of along the same lines. We don’t necessarily gear our music towards kids, but it is appropriate for young people. I like to think that there’s jokes in there for a whole wide age range. There are smarter jokes in there that someone who’s twelve years old probably won’t get to ‘til they’re 20. At least when it gets to the musical reference points, or the Bruce Springsteen postcards, you know.
The show we’re doing on the sixth is a house show at a place called The Spaceship. The drummer we were playing with last summer’s cousin lives there, and my brother and he stayed there last summer. He was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to play there, the house looks like a spaceship!”
L: What’s next for you and Joe?
P: Oh, wow. Well, there’s a lot of stuff that’s not even next that’s happening concurrently. I live in (Lawrence) Kansas and I co-own and co-operate an art gallery shop and kind of event space that’s downtown in Lawrence, it’s called (Wonder Fair). That’s been a big focus of mine recently.
Joe lives in an artist’s co-op in Providence, Rhode Island. The co-op’s called AS 220. It’s actually like a music venue and also an arts center space kind of deal. He’s working on a few really weird performance art pieces… works? I’m not sure what to call them. A couple of them are Bach related.
L: I know that Harry Potter fans can get pretty enthusiastic—myself included. Have you ever been surprised or overwhelmed by a fan at a show?
P: Hmm. Gosh. It’d be hard to pinpoint, like… any one fan. We’ve definitely seen the most intense of the most intense, I think. Some people are maybe so intense that they probably don’t leave their house. They’re probably, like, catatonically intense about Harry Potter. For the most part—that was one of the surprising things to us, when we started the band. We didn’t know there was such an active and engaged fandom. I mean, we knew that Harry Potter had plenty of fans. It was getting read by billions and billions of children. But we didn’t know how deep that went—especially with some people. I guess maybe the most surprising thing was when we first got to a convention or something like that, just to see sort of so many people en masse who are really, really into it. And I think that’s super cool because I can geek out the same way about plenty of things, like Bruce Springsteen. I can talk your ear off about Bruce Springsteen for, like, four days.
L: My roommate loves Bruce Springsteen. I know you made those postcards based on something of his—she freaked out when I put one up on my wall.
P: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s a special bond that Springsteen fans have with each other, and it’s the same with Harry Potter. Absolutely the same. You kind of feel like you’re inhabiting your own little world and you’re dying to share it with other likeminded people. I think that’s part of why we’ve been moderately successful as a band, because our shows become one of those times for people to kind of revel in that pure love of Harry Potter and being super geeky and getting dressed up in their Hogwarts uniforms or their Durmstrang uniforms.
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