Wizard Rock’s Harry and the Potters Bring Magic to Muggles [INTERVIEW]

While it has been years since J.K. Rowling wrapped up the final chapters of the Harry Potter series, fans’ enthusiasm for and belief in the magic of our favorite characters is far from over. With our trunks packed and wands newly purchased, many of us continue to wait patiently for our acceptance letters to Hogwarts to shuttle down our chimneys. For brothers Paul and Joe DeGeorge, making the world of Harry Potter come alive for us Muggles is just a part of their job. As members of the punk rock band Harry and the Potters, each takes on the persona of Harry Potter on stage, with Paul dressing as Harry from year 7 and Joe dressing as Harry from year 4. Together, they sing punk rock songs about everything Harry Potter, from “Platform 9 and 3/4” to “My Teacher is a Werewolf.” Finishing up their 2012 Summer Tour with the Harry Potter Puppet Pals, the preeminent brothers of the wizarding rock world took a few magical moment to share their stories, tour memories and why they can’t go on tour without a VHS copy of E.T.

What is the history behind the band? How did you guys get started?

Paul DeGeorge: It was really sort of on a lark. As I was first reading the Harry Potter books 12 years ago, I just had this sort of idea that Harry Potter embodies a lot of these characteristics I would see in my favorite punk bands. He has this distrust of authority, and he’s always sort of standing up for the things he believes in, and I thought it would be cool if he was fronting a punk band with Ron and Hermonie and Hagrid playing behind him. I would say it’s like Harry Potter quit the Quidditch team and started a punk rock band. I just kind of filed that idea away in the back of my head as being a cool but pretty weird idea. And it just kind of happened one day that my brother, we had these ongoing concert series in the shed in my parents’ back yard, and a couple of bands cancelled that day, and we sat down and we’re like maybe we should put together a band to play for anyone who might show up. So we sat down at the kitchen table and wrote half a dozen songs, practiced for like an hour and then played a show later that afternoon. Then had hamburgers and high-fived.

Wow, then it just kind of took off from there?

You know, at first we thought, “Well, that was pretty cool,” but then it wasn’t until about a year later when the 5th book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” was coming out we were like we have those songs that we wrote, let’s see if we can put a show together and maybe play at one of the book release events. I kind of cold-called a book store and was like, “I have this band,” and they said it sounded cool and to send them a demo. We actually played five shows in a 24-hour period when that book came out. And then from there, we were like it would be really cool if we could play in libraries and play to a lot of young people who haven’t experienced live rock and roll music before. After that, we tapped into this existing Harry Potter fandom we didn’t know that there were Harry Potter fans that were hyper-engaged online and debating if Snape was evil and all that. Once they kind of caught wind of us it enabled us to start touring on a national level.

Neat. Do you guys have a background in music?

Yeah, I mean we were both playing in other bands at the time, and we always knew this was just a weirdo kind of weekend side project. Not that our other bands were full-time things, but we never expected this to become a sort of crazy thing it has become with us touring across the country. We both went to school for science, and then I think realized we had a lot more fun with these crazy art things. I live in Kansas, and I co-own an art gallery and a little shop downtown there. Joe lives in Providence, Rhode Island in an artist collective, and he’s been self-publishing comics recently. We were just a goofy set of brothers who were just having fun and like writing fun stuff to jack each other up.

What is a Harry and the Potters concert like?

Joe and I kind of dress identically as Harry Potter in two points of time, and the whole idea of our concert is Harry Potter is using rock and roll as a weapon against evil in the same way that he uses the power of love to defeat Voldemort. We love rock and roll and it comes from my background with music where I feel like it’s had this kind of powerful and profound impact on my life. Music has affected my politics and my philosophy, and I feel like we try and represent that when we are on stage. We represent the power of rock and roll to be a motivating and positive force in the world in the same way the Harry Potter book did then.

What has been one of your favorite tour memories?

We played a series of shows over in Sweden a few years ago, and the last show we did was so epic. We had a bunch of people who were shadowing us and taking trains or buses to see us in different places that we were playing. Our last show was in Stockholm and at this legendary punk rock venue that’s been around for like 30 years, and Joe and I were just playing acoustic, no microphones, out on the floor of this venue. It was so cool to just have all these Swedish kids singing along to all our songs. We learned a couple songs in Swedish, and they were losing their minds when we did the Swedish stuff.

What is a typical tour day like for you?

[laughs] A typical tour day is get up at 7am, drive for nine hours, unload our stuff, set it up, play, pack it up and then go sleep at a friend’s house and repeat. We’ve been kind of making a beeline across the United States. Since we left Seattle, the drive on the West Coast is a little easier; we have a little more free time. Mostly, it’s like pretty business-oriented, but occasionally late at night we like to watch E.T. We have been traveling around with several VHS copies of E.T. and watching them occasionally.

Favorite movie?

It’s just really struck a cord with us on this tour for some reason. We just watched it when we were practicing for tour, so we had a couple nights when we were practicing, and we would practice in the day and then stay up real late watching E.T. I don’t know, I guess that just kind of resonated with us. There are many similarities between E.T. and Harry Potter too. E.T. is sort of saved by the power of love just like Harry.

What is your songwriting process like?

Sometimes we’re just writing goofy songs about characters or plot elements, and other times we try and take themes from the books and amplify them. We’ll try and take themes from the books and amplify them or reinforce them, I guess, through music. More recently, we’ve been doing a literary critique of the books as well where we’ll make the songs a little snarky and almost like poking fun. We had the experience where people were taking the books so seriously, and we thought they were pretty funny and some things about them that are downright weird and don’t make sense, so we were kind of focusing on that.

What did you guys kind of originally hope for the band when you first started it?

We honestly just hoped that we could play some rock and roll in libraries. We wanted to perform for young people who were going to be experiencing live music for the first time and wanted to give them a cool introduction to that. We knew that young people loved Harry Potter, and we used that enthusiasm to get them out to a library and show them some rock and roll. Maybe that will do something for them in their life, because I think of the bands that I loved when I was really young, and it was a band had kind of silly songs, but they were also really sophisticated and smart. There are plenty of jokes in our songs that you don’t get until you’re like 30 years old, and you’ve had a lot of life experience behind you.

If you could be any Harry Potter character, which one would you be?

That’s a tricky one. I would want to be George Weasley. He seems like he has a good life, he’s real fun loving, he has his own business and he’s a jokey guy. Well, he lives too. [laughs]

Joe Degeorge: I’m a big fan of Dumbledore; he’s got a lot of style. You know, he does things in his own way and on his own terms; he doesn’t really cater to anybody else. He’s a cool dude.

If you were going to date any Harry Potter character, who would you choose?

Oh, I have to date one? Oh man, Harry Potter would be hard because he’s kind of got a lot of issues, so I’m ruling him out. I think Dumbledore would be a really good one to date. I would go with Dumbledore on that one.

How did you guys kind of use social media to popularize your band?

I feel like it’s almost impossible to exist these days without using it in some form or another.  Back in 2004, we were just making connections with people through Friendster and that turned into MySpace a year later. MySpace became this sort of hub for bands, particularly independent bands to connect with a fan base and it was such a great resource. I can’t say how valuable that was to us. Obviously, they kind of lost four or five years ago, and that void is now filled by a number of different things, whether it be Facebook or Twitter to Tumblr or YouTube. In general, we just try and make our content funny and engaging and try not to overload people with all kinds of clutter. I feel much more comfortable on Tumblr which is a multimedia platform where we can post songs or photos.

How do you connect with your audience and build an audience?

We have been touring across the country for eight years, and we’ve kind of developed an audience in a pretty organic way. Certainly with help from social media, but I think by doing so much touring — we’ve played almost 700 shows — has enabled us to create a reputation, and it’s cool to come back to the places you’ve played a year ago and for there to be a buzz when you get there. In part, social media helps, but I think that another big component is getting out there on the ground and developing a reputation. People will see you, go and talk about it to their friends, and next time you come to town, they are like, “You’ve got to go see Harry and the Potters, it’s magical.”

What advice would you have for musicians trying to start up their own band?

Just do it. Play as many shows as you possibly can, you know. I think that’s the best way. Social media is a great way to reach a broad audience across the country, but I think the best way to really connect with people is to get face to face.

Do you ever feel restricted being in this one genre and one persona of Harry Potter?

No, I think that that’s part of what makes it fun for us. Maybe that’s a little challenge in some ways that we have to write only about this book, but we find many ways around by writing these kind of meta songs that are about the books but slightly critical of the books or poking fun of them in some ways. Its fun to use the books as a way to explore these other things and to discuss the phenomena of Harry Potter. I love having that specific focus and purpose behind the fans, and I’ve seen other fans who play wizard rock who are writing songs about Harry Potter and then they go and branch off and write songs about “The Hunger Games” and makes me sick to my stomach.

I was looking on your website, and it said that you had created the Harry Potter Alliance. What is that?

The Harry Potter Alliance is a social activist nonprofit organization. There’s about 100 chapters in high schools and colleges across the country. They do work in their own community, and then on a national level we’ll run two or three campaigns over the course of the year that we ask the chapters to be involved in. We helped co-found this almost seven years ago and wanted to create a model for fan-generated activism. You can think of it as a Dumbledore’s Army for the real world. It taps into this enthusiasm of Harry Potter fans and tries to get them engaged and mobilized around contemporary social issues.

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