Fueled By Death Cast Ep. 133 - HARRY AND THE POTTERS
JOE AND PAUL DEGEORGE - HARRY AND THE POTTERS
"I also think we're in a unique position, having been this band of two Harry Potters over the years to comment through the lens of Harry Potter, if he was out looking at our world today and saying, this was my experience taking down Voldemort." Harry and the Potters
ABOUT HARRY AND THE POTTERS:
Joe and Paul DeGeorge are brothers with a shared love of Harry Potter. In 2002 they accidentally started a band and put together a bunch of songs about the magical franchise. Now, Harry and the Potters have toured multiple times, playing many all-ages shows at public libraries across the countries, and they have released four albums, their newest Lumos out now that draws its themes from the seventh Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows. They are known for spawning the wizard-rock genre in music and have also co-founded a charity organization The Harry Potter Alliance.
Jeff: I want to start off, guys, first of all, thanks so much for joining us here on the show. I just want to say welcome back to Harry and the Potters, guys. It's been too long.
HATP: Thanks. We're glad to be out there doing this and traveling around and all that.
Jeff: So, first record since 2006, Lumos, comes out on the 21st of June everywhere that you can find that music. And you guys did a Kickstarter to do this, and everything else. My first question is really, what brought you back to the game? We missed you. What brought you back at this point?
HATP: Well, I mean, we continued to play live shows as Harry and the Potters, but hadn't had the dedicated time to work on making a full-length recording, so we intentionally made that time earlier last year, and got it rolling. It just felt like the right time for us to do it. We'd always wanted to write about the seventh Harry Potter book, and with seeing the world we're living in with its global rise to the right, we really feel there's a lot of parallels in the story of Voldemort's climb to power in the last Harry Potter book and the ways that Harry and his friends band together to fight that. And thought if we were going to stay relevant as a band, it would be... and we're going to write about the seventh Harry Potter book, anyway, there's plenty of great source material for us here. And we're in a unique position as two Harry Potters, to be commenting on Neo-fascism.
Jeff: Yeah. So, is that where the idea for Lumos germinated with you guys, was the current state of affairs, you guys wanted to kind of write on that? Or was it always, down the pike, we're going to do an album on the seventh book, we just got to get there?
HATP: Yeah. It was a little bit of both, to be honest. Our last album was 2006. It was mostly about the sixth Harry Potter book, and then Deathly Hallows came out in 2007, and I think in a few ways, we love this book so much, we really wanted to be able to honor it in a certain way. And that really meant trying to find the time to sit down and put our best foot forward when it came to writing about this book, and yeah. The sort of global political climate that Joe mentioned, this sort of rising Neo-fascism, gosh. It's inescapable. It's on our minds all the time, and of course it's going to inform any writing we do probably in this band or any other band, to be frank.
Shannon: So talk about what inspired you guys, writing tracks for this album, because obviously there's a lot to unpack in the seventh book, so picking moments to write songs about must have been an amazing creative process. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
HATP: Yeah. We had a great time kind of re-reading the books together and picking out things and making notes that we wanted to visit.
HATP: Yeah. We're unusual in that our creative process starts with reading. So that's really fun. We literally sat on my couch for almost a full week, just kind of reading the books together and making notes and kind of looking at places we wanted to revisit or thought would make interesting songs.
HATP: So, yeah, we came up with the idea to do a Deathly Hallows suite to sort of close out the record and that's the last side of the double disc record and, yeah, I don't know. Is there anything in particular you're curious about?
Shannon: No, we were talking about some of our favorite songs that we listened to so far. And Jeff wrote down a few. I'm blanking on the one song title about media literacy.
Jeff: Yeah, I was saying I think one of your standout hits from this record is definitely The Trace.
Jeff: That song just hits real well. You can definitely tell where you guys came from with that and it's got a great beat to it. But I was very curious of the On The Importance of Media Literacy Under Authoritarian Rule. First of all, mouthful of a title, guys. Great job. And how did that come to be?
HATP: Yeah, well. It's the kind of thing that's sort of constantly on our mind as we've entered sort of a new media climate where all of us are essentially members of the media. That's what it is. It's social media. And so there's a certain responsibility that I think we all share now more so than ever as people. There's a responsibility for the kind of things that we're putting out there on the internet and the way that that feeds into the information system that we're all a part of. So that's at the foreground of our thinking when it comes to this song and seeing how Voldemort's able to control and manipulate the media in the seventh book to his advantage and just thinking about all of that and trying to unpack it all in a three minute barn burner.
Jeff: That's so great. And bringing it all the way back, I mean, you guys, you started out in 2002 as, and I know the story, as, oh, crap, a band canceled and you guys kind of brought this together just to make it happen. But then it spawned this entire genre, this wizard rock genre. It spawned this incredible journey you guys have been on. What's the difference back then, playing as Harry and the Potters, in 2002, and really getting your start, as to now, coming back with Lumos?
HATP: Well, first off, this has a video component. Okay, well, I'm going to show you, because we're at our parents house right now. I'm going to point out the window.
Jeff: All right.
HATP: I don't know. Can you see that shed back there?
HATP: That's where it all started.
Jeff: Oh, my God.
Shannon: That's awesome.
HATP: So that was where our first show was, was in that shed. Still storing a bunch of old cds. So we're pulling cds out, putting them in the van tomorrow.
HATP: But, yeah, the first couple of years we were playing as a band. We thought maybe we'll just be playing some kid's birthday party or doing shows in bookstores and libraries around the Boston area. It was early on for us and we knew Harry Potter was popular but didn't realize to what extent there was already an existing and connected fandom where people were very connected and excited and able to share information with each other so quickly and a few only Harry Potter communities started writing about our band. The LiveJournal community was big in our first entry into sort of the greater world outside of our local reach and, yeah, we had never expected we would be a nationally touring band or going around the world meeting Harry Potter fans. When we started this band, we just thought we were a funny punk band that would play some songs for kids in our library.
HATP: All right. Yeah, I mean, in some ways it's different, but in some ways, it's exactly the same. We always had this political bent to what we were doing and a sort of respect for the stage, as it were. When we're up on stage, we want to kind of honor all those people who are coming out to see us and spend time with us and that's kind of been the band attitude from day one, so I don't know. Fandom evolves and changes and I think fandom, by and large, over the last 15 years has evolved in good ways that are more inclusive and bring more people in. There used to be this sort of, what's that? There's a word for it where you're very protective of fandom or something. At least, in the Harry Potter fandom, we don't see that nearly as much. I think people want to keep it open and make room for more people to feel included by it and doesn't always happen, but by and large, I think we see a lot of, I mean, people-
HATP: The Harry Potter fandom is greater than these tiny subsets of fandom. It is far-reaching and ever present.
HATP: Yeah, and that's part of the fun is like fandom can still feel like a little in-club, but Harry Potter as a cultural work goes so far beyond the niche of fandom. People just love these stories and I would say 70 or 80% of the people who come see us at the library have no involvement whatsoever in fandom. They're just fans of Harry Potter and this sounds like something fun to do. And that's awesome.
Jeff: That is awesome. And I mean, what a rollercoaster it's been to the point now. You guys are about to embark on your next tour, which I want to get into in a second. But you even had an incredible article just recently published in Rolling Stone, which is incredible, when you get to say that out loud. And I was reading in there, I wanted to ask you, some of the antithesis of you guys coming together as Harry and the Potters is you said that you really felt that Harry Potter, the written books, and the character himself had a very punk rock sensibility to it. Can you talk a little bit about that?
HATP: Yeah, I mean, Harry Potter, you see it more come out as he gets older, but he has like a anti-authoritarian spell within himself and him and his friends are organizing Dumbledore's Army.
HATP: Yeah, they're activists.
HATP: Yeah, they're-
HATP: They're activists within the books.
HATP: And they have a do-it-yourself, do it together attitude that we found present in punk communities that we've been a part of, so it just naturally made sense for Harry Potter to be out there fronting a band.
HATP: Yeah. That's [inaudible 00:10:43] cannon, I think. And the other thing is, it's not just Harry. It's really Hermione as well. It's these characters who, I think they're able to recognize when the rules need to be broken and that's what really drew us to that. I think that's what draws all of us to them, is the books do a wonderful job of articulating the sort of bad parts of bureaucracy and to be fair, I don't think all government is necessarily bad. But they do a good job of articulating when and where that needs to be pushed back.
Jeff: That's really cool. I did want to mention, too, I was reading, also in that article, that you guys were citing some of your influencing and obviously that the biggest parallel is They Might Be Giants. You get that a lot with your music sensibility and the way you write songs and stuff like that. But you also mentioned one of my favorite underground punk bands that I didn't think a lot of people knew about. Adam and His Package.
HATP: Hell, yeah.
Jeff: That is-
HATP: Very inspirational to us. He was one of the first concerts I ever went to see and we, when we were starting our band, figuring out how to tour around, we were reading Adam and His Package tour diaries that he would just post online on his website and be like, oh, this is what the reality of driving around playing shows is like.
HATP: Yeah. I think we learned how to tour by reading Adam and His Package's tour diaries, which was just like you drive around and sleep on friends' floors and couches and that's like, okay, sounds like fun. Let's do it.
Jeff: Wow. That's really cool. And Adam was so influential in that early scene, doing it on his own, by himself, with his package, and it was just like, that's really cool.
HATP: He's got a cameo on our new record.
Jeff: On this one?
Jeff: Oh, no way.
Shannon: Oh, my goodness.
Jeff: That is awesome. What track is it?
HATP: It's on The Stone, the second to last one, with all the voices.
HATP: He's one of the voices at the end.
Shannon: That is so cool.
Jeff: That's full circle. That's so cool.
Shannon: There we go. Yeah.
Jeff: Another thing you guys brought up that I want to get to the bottom of. You're both identified as Harry Potter in the band, yet different years. Where and why is this? How come? Wasn't this just going to create a rift between the two of you?
HATP: Well, Paul originally had the idea to start a band that was like Harry and Ron and Hermione and Hagrid, but couldn't convince any of his friends to do it. But I was 14 at the time and looked enough like Harry Potter and since we were brothers, we just figured we could both be Harry Potter.
HATP: Yeah, we tried to sort out other ways it could work with just the two of us in the band, calling it Harry and the Potters and couldn't figure out what the other person in that band should be, so you know there's time-turners. Time travel exists in the books. So-
Shannon: There we go.
HATP: Two Harry Potters together onstage at once and like double the fun.
Shannon: Are there specific reasons why one of you picked fourth year Harry as opposed to seventh year Harry?
HATP: That was just my age at the time.
Shannon: Oh, okay.
HATP: Joe was 14 and I'm older. I'm older by eight years, so I guess, at the time we started, I was early 20s, playing a 17 old, which is pretty normal by TV standards, but now I'm 40, so still got the youthful vigor, though.
Jeff: That's so great. And going back to the tour that's coming up. Starts the same time the album hits on June 21st and you guys are going all the way into August, playing libraries, again, which is so amazing, but you guys are playing some really incredible venues, as well. I saw The Knitting Factory you guys are returning to in NYC, which is awesome. You guys are going to play The Troubadour, out in California. Are those shows different than your library shows?
HATP: The lighting's usually darker.
HATP: The library shows are all at 7:00 and they're outdoors or in their main atrium. Yeah, they got better lighting control, better sound systems frequently. Yeah, when we're touring libraries, we have to bring our own sound equipment.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
HATP: Libraries aren't set up for rock and roll bands, really. Some of them are now. That's changed a lot. But to be on the safe side, yeah, we travel with our own sound system. It's like, I don't know, seven or eight hundred pounds of sound equipment that we're hauling every day.
Shannon: Oh, my God.
HATP: Into the library. It's not easy to tour libraries, but it is really fun.
Jeff: It's such a cool way to bring what you guys are doing to the masses. Because at the end of the day, like you said, you guys start your writing process by reading a book, so it just makes sense to be in that space.
HATP: Yeah. Absolutely.
HATP: Yeah. It's a architecture that celebrates the stories and the books.
HATP: And it's also, the other important thing about libraries for us is that it's truly accessible. They're designed for all the people in a community to find a place there and find something there. Instead of having to potentially fight with a club about doing age restricted shows or anything like that. The library's always like, oh, great, you want to play. It's open to everybody. We're the library. That's what we're here for and so it's a great way to make what we do even more accessible to people. It's a really great partnership for us. It can be frustrating in our other bands that it's not as easy, sometimes.
Jeff: The other thing I saw on your tour, which I wanted to ask about is you guys are having an appearance this year at LeakyCon.
Jeff: Can you talk a little bit about the convention circuit that has come up around the Harry Potter fandom? Is that as crazy as I imagine it to be?
HATP: Boy. I think it is really... The Harry Potter fandom is really open and welcoming and LeakyCon in particular feels like a sort of new paradigm in fan convention. It's run by women. It's focused on fans and not celebrities, largely. It's really cool, and we've been a part of it sort of since the get go. LeakyCon's celebrating their 10 year anniversary this year and we're playing. They've got one in Dallas in August and another one in October in Boston.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
HATP: And it's really such a wonderful weekend that just sort of celebrates the fan experience without being really corporate feeling. Yeah, it's super genuine. And we have a sandwich company. This is not... You didn't get this in the press release or anything. This is on the DL. But this is right in line, since you're coffee. We're talking food here. I should've given you a head's up. But we created a sandwich called the Golden Snitchwich. It is a peanut butter and Golden Grahams sandwich.
Shannon: I'm in.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
HATP: We sell them at the fan conventions, because usually they're in weird convention centers and the food sucks. And so for three dollars we serve Golden Snitchwiches and here's some of-
Jeff: Oh, my gosh.
Shannon: That is so cool. [crosstalk 00:18:28]
HATP: For three dollars, you can buy a Golden Snitchwich, but we also do offer the athletic delivery upgrade. For an extra dollar, we will sculpt the sandwich into the shape of a Snitch and throw it at you and-
Male: And you can catch it in your mouth.
HATP: Just like Harry Potter in his first Quidditch match.
Jeff: You guys are the best.
Shannon: That is insane. I love it.
Jeff: Oh, my God. You guys are the best. That is so incredible.
HATP: Truly, most of our time at Leaky Con will be spent selling sandwiches.
HATP: Sandwiches. We're also available for broom service, if you're staying in the hotel.
HATP: Yeah, if you're in the hotel, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and how many sandwiches you want and we'll show up usually between midnight and two a.m. with your sandwiches.
Shannon: That is amazing.
Jeff: That's amazing. That's amazing, guys. That's so cool. You guys have just such a great inspirational story and mentality about what you do and bringing it to as many people as you can. Not just music but now with sandwiches and with everything. And that kind of leads me into the other part of it that I wanted to talk about. Your real life Dumbledore's Army. The Harry Potter Alliance. Can you guys talk a little bit about that?
HATP: Sure. Well, we helped co-found this organization called the Harry Potter Alliance and that was, I guess, back in 2005 now. It's a non-profit and it's not... A lot of other fandoms have sort of charity arms and charity efforts and this is less about raising money and more about-
Male: Raising activists.
HATP: Yeah, raising activists. Creating these heroes that we read about. Very much inspired by Hermione and Harry, creating Dumbledore's Army, basically, yeah, wanting to do that, wanting to emulate that and train up an army of activists who will go fight for a better world. And so the Harry Potter Alliance has had a lot of really great accomplishments over the years, pulling fandom together. At one point a fan came to us and said, "Do you know cocoa?" They were talking about the Harry Potter frogs, the chocolate frogs. And told us that cocoa, by and large, can be a problematic commodity. Like 70% of the world's cocoa supply comes from Ghana and there's a lot of child labor problems and potentially even child slavery issues.
HATP: So we tried to start a dialog with Warner Brothers, who owns all the merchandising rights here about where does the cocoa come from in these frogs and other products? And it took a long time to kind of get an answer, because the reason they didn't have an answer is because they didn't know, right? They're subcontracting this through four different layers of bureaucracy. They don't know where this cocoa's coming from. So eventually after like literally five years of continued fan pressure, we sort of got through. We got through to J.K. Rowling. We got through to some other folks at Warner Brothers and they took action on it. And now all the chocolate frogs you buy in the theme park are labeled fair trade or Utz certified and that's because of the Harry Potter Alliance and the action of Harry Potter fans.
Shannon: That is so cool.
Jeff: That is so, so cool and, again, just another inspiring arm of what you guys are creating and putting into the world and that's what's really awesome and that brings me to the question I get to on this show, every single time. Through everything that you've done since starting this band as a lark and it coming into its own as what it is, the Harry Potter Alliances, now with the Snitchwiches, and everything else that you do, what fuels you guys to keep going, to keep creating, what fuels your passion to keep doing this?
HATP: Yeah, I think it's just great when we're playing the library and it's the first time there's someone at a rock show. There's nothing more that warms your heart than seeing a seven year old head-banging or getting in the pit for the first time, so that's part of it. I also think we're in a unique position, having been this band of two Harry Potters over the years to comment through the lens of Harry Potter, if he was out looking at our world today and saying, this was my experience taking down Voldemort. I don't know about you, but...
HATP: Yeah. Part of it is having that platform and wanting to use it for good and the other part is it's truly fun and we have a blast doing this. We write music to try and crack each other up and that's really fun and yeah. It's so easy to be in this band, to be frank. It seems like sometimes you read interviews with other bands and they talk about how hard it was to get that record out or whatever and it's like, boy, we are just having non-stop fun doing this band, for the most part. I hate posting on Facebook and it crushes my soul, so I stopped doing it. There you go. Cut out the stuff you don't like about your job.
Jeff: No, that's really awesome and inspiring and it shows through in what you create, as well. In fact, both Shannon and I got an early release of your record, but prior to this interview and in the office, we've been screaming back and forth, "Did you hear the lyric on this one?" And just laughing. You guys nailed it and it just makes it more fun and like you said, this fandom is so inclusive and so overwhelmingly nice. I think that's why it'll continue for years and years and years to come. I mean, the books and the movies have been out for a while now and we're still as excited about HP and everything.
Shannon: And it's just amazing how inclusive J.K. Rowling is in the book. It's the whole point of being inclusive, being welcoming to different walks of life and how that transcends into her fandom and how it just continues on. It's fascinating to watch, especially as younger generations start reading Harry Potter for the first time.
HATP: Yeah, that's such a good point. Those sorts of themes are really touchstones and I think the books have informed morality for a generation.
HATP: Of people and it's great. They're so rich in their themes that it's great to be celebrating them as a rock band.
Shannon: And I think it's why it's so easy to revisit them as adults, too, because the themes are still so relevant, as we get older. It's great.
Jeff: It is great. At the end here, I wanted to nerd out with you guys a little bit, because we all are fans of this incredible fandom and Harry Potter and all that and I did want to just start off... I know you guys are both Harry in the band, but as in actuality, as Paul and Joe, are your houses both Gryffindor? What are your Hogwarts houses?
HATP: Yeah. I'm Gryffindor.
HATP: Yeah. We're both Gryffindor.
Jeff: All right. All right.
HATP: If we're going to go like on the cusp, I'm probably Ravenclaw on the cusp.
HATP: Yeah. I might be on the cusp of Slytherin.
Shannon: All right.
HATP: Just like Harry Potter.
Shannon: Yeah. There we go.
HATP: Could go either way.
Jeff: That's really funny. And do you guys have and this can be a book or movie question, but do you have a book or movie that you gravitate towards more than any of the others? Maybe one that you've reread or re-watched more than the rest?
HATP: The seventh book is so fresh for us right now and we've been living that, making this record.
HATP: I really loved, when I would go back to read just a chunk at the time, I would really love digging into Half-Blood Prince. I just love those scenes where they're dipping into the pensive and stuff, because that feels like, that's a moment where the world really kind of opens up and you start to see these other time periods.
HATP: Yeah, the whole book just seems kind of like world-building and my favorite chapters of the previous books were the ones with Dumbledore in them, where he's kind of explaining how things work.
HATP: And that was most of the sixth book. [inaudible 00:26:58]
Jeff: What about you, Shannon, do you have one that you go to?
Shannon: I've reread Deathly Hallows the most, just because I think, just seeing everything come to an end is really satisfying as a Harry Potter fan, but I think my favorite is actually Chamber of Secrets. I love that it's still a young Harry, young Ron, and young Hermione still figuring everything out, but I love everything that has to do with Tom Riddle's diary.
Shannon: And Ginny and the basilisk. It's just creepy in a sense, which is what I like.
HATP: Chamber of the Dark Horse.
Jeff: Yeah. Mine is always Prisoner. The third book for me is where the world hits Harry. The first two books, I love, but it's still that child wonder and like we're on a Goonies type adventure kind of-
Shannon: I think that's why I like it.
Jeff: ... of stuff. That third book is literally, as far as Harry knows, a psycho killer out to get him. From page one. And it's like, oh, no, the world is dark and scary and it's coming after me.
Shannon: Meeting Sirius was a pretty transformative moment in the series, too.
Jeff: So do you guys... What would be next for Harry and the Potters? Are you guys thinking about doing more than the Harry and the Potter books? Would we see an album of the Fantastic Beasts from you guys? Or Cursed Child? Or you guys are just going to stay on the books?
HATP: Yeah. Just going to stay on the seven.
HATP: That's the whole limitation of our band is that [crosstalk 00:28:27] Harry Potter.
Shannon: I figured.
HATP: Singing from Harry Potter's perspective during his school years.
HATP: During his school years. And book seven. He cut school that year.
HATP: Yeah, he's just dropping out of school then, but.
HATP: Yeah, got no interest in that Cursed Child kind of scene. No, not at all.
Jeff: Good. That's good. I'm happy to hear that. I'm happy to hear that.
HATP: No, in my cannon, all the time-turners got destroyed. We're not going back there.
Jeff: Right. Exactly. Exactly.
HATP: Except for the one we use for our band.
HATP: Yeah, we use one for the band.
Jeff: Do you guys... There's still so much happening in the world of Harry Potter in reality. I mean, we've got the Wizarding World of Harry Potter from Universal. We've got the new smartphone app that's going to be coming out very soon, the Wizards United, the Pokémon Go-esque thing. Are you guys still actively involved, outside of the band, in the fandoms, like that? Do you go to Wizarding World? Do you immerse yourselves in all these things still?
HATP: We've been to the Wizarding World and it's fun.
HATP: It's cool. I mean, it's cool to sit in the Hog's Head and have a beer. It really is. Yeah, I mean, we typically end up down there for a band thing, like playing at a LeakyCon or something like that. But, yeah, we're definitely going to get that mobile app. Hell yeah. We were playing Pokémon Go.
HATP: And we're going to a lot of places. We're covering a lot of ground this summer.
Shannon: Oh, true.
HATP: I don't know what the game does, but we're going to get all them Bowtruckles or whatever.
Jeff: I'm guessing you'll be able to fight a Dementor in every state that you play, probably, which would be amazing.
HATP: I guess so.
Shannon: We were talking about earlier about making our office a hub.
Shannon: For Dementors.
HATP: I think the premise of it is you have to protect the magical world from being leaked to Muggles, which is kind of... I think that's kind of bogus.
Shannon: That's an interesting approach.
Jeff: I mean, because at the end of the day, aren't we all Muggles and we're protecting it from ourselves in a sense?
HATP: But it is like, yeah, there is that ethical question. If these wizards have all these powers to help people out, why are they just-
HATP: Keeping them for themselves?
Shannon: I'm interested to see what it's like.
Jeff: I'm interested to see what it's like as well. Guys-
HATP: We pack the powers. Maybe we play the other way.
HATP: Yeah. Except on your own terms.
HATP: Maybe what happens. See what happens.
Jeff: That's a good one. That's a good one. I can't thank you guys enough for talking with us today. I'm so excited for the release of your record. Can we talk a little bit about where people can find the record? How they can follow you guys and follow the tour?
HATP: Yeah. HarryandthePotters.com is like your main hub and we're also on Twitter and Instagram. Those are our kind of go-tos for regular daily posting. Record you can find in all the digital places you'd find music and if you want to buy, we did a vinyl press, double LP, it's beautiful, if you want to pick up that or if you want to pick up a cd. Those will be in some stores. Probably not all stores. There's so many stores.
Jeff: So many.
HATP: Not going to be in all stores. But it might be in some. You can ask at your local record store. Or through our website, you can pick it up, mail order.
Jeff: Awesome. We should try to get it stocked at the Wizarding World, as well, so you can pick it up.
HATP: That's not going to happen. Not going to happen, Jeff.
Jeff: I can dream for you guys. I can dream. Again, it was an absolute pleasure talking with you guys, and I can't wait to hear about all the awesome stuff you get into on tour this year.
HATP: Thanks so much. This was so fun. Thank you.
Shannon: Yeah. Thank you.
Jeff: Awesome. Awesome.