Never Forget Harry and the Potters and the Bizarre World of "Wizard Rock"
Joe DeGeorge and Paul DeGeorge were not born wizards.
Joe DeGeorge and Paul DeGeorge were not born wizards. Paul, the elder by eight years, toured the northeast with his feather-dusted power-pop project The Secrets. The 14-year old Joe would occasionally play with his brother in a band called Ed in the Refrigerators. It was juvenile stuff, made for family giggles and far removed from the public eye. Paul had toyed with the idea of forming a Harry Potter themed rock band before. He imagined the principle characters in the series filling out all the instrumental roles, something like a cosplay tribute band. It was a silly, cast-off idea. Something for brothers to laugh about. After all, who’d buy records about books?
A couple years later at a family barbecue in the summer of 2002, Joe was facing a crisis. He had advertised a concert featuring his own Ed in the Refrigerators, but none of the other bands on the bill arrived. Sensing opportunity, Joe asked his brother if they could finally cash in on that Harry Potter idea. In the span of a couple hours they wrote their first songs, had their first practice, and played their first show to six people. They christened themselves Harry and the Potters, the first ever fan-fiction rock band. Two brothers dressed in traditional Gryffindor garb and sang about Snape, Ginny Weasley, and Voldemort. It was a gimmick, a daydream, and a beautiful geeky power-fantasy all wrapped in one.
As inauspicious as it was, this the beginning of a movement. “Wizard rock,” Joe and Paul’s accidental creation. Within a year of their first show Harry and the Potters had put out an album and started touring their local libraries. At first their crowds were mostly children, but as the name grew and their Myspace page churned, more and more teens started to write their own rickety indie rock songs about their favorite young adult fiction franchise. Wizard rock was simple, usually composed with nothing more than a guitar and keyboard, but it had tremendous heart. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Before long the genre was crowded with names like The Whomping Willows, The Moaning Myrtles, and of course, Draco and the Malfoys. Wizard Rock developed a huge following—Harry and the Potters themselves played over 800 shows. United in fandom, making sure no nerd felt alone ever again.
The pinnacle most people point to is 2007 and 2008. Wizard rock was never destined to take over the world, but amidst the pandemonium generated by the seventh and final Potter book, it got surprisingly close. Wizard rock meant something to people. Maybe you grew up in The Smell or Glasslands, but these kids learned how to love music on the carpeted floors of convention centers. Think of it as a highly specific subculture in indie rock. The bands created their own self-sustaining scene; there were wizard rock record labels, there were wizard rock music festivals, there was even a wizard rock “EP of the month” club, which issued songs by over 30 bands in those two years alone. Sure the bands were never booked on Letterman, but in 2008 Harry and the Potters played the freaking Bowery Ballroom, the same venue that’s welcoming Thurston Moore and Mac DeMarco later this month.
But then, after the 2007-08 peak, the scene slowly deflated. Harry Potter was over, and wizard rock bands slowly drifted into the ether. Kids grew up, got married, found jobs. This wonderful dream came to an end. As much as it hurts to admit, being in a full-time Potter themed rock band in your mid-20s doesn’t make great economic sense.
But Harry and the Potters are not dead. Not in the slightest. A few weeks ago they were in Sweden, wrapping up a series of shows that’s taken them to conventions and clubs up and down the country. Sure they’ve only got three gigs on the domestic docket, but don’t get it twisted. In 2015, eight years after the last Harry Potter book, they’re still hanging on.
“There was a lot of work at the band’s height,” says Joe DeGeorge, now 28. “We were playing 100 shows a year and I was in school full time. It got to be stressful. I’m glad that all those things happened in 2006 or 2007, but I don’t know if it’s something I’d choose to do again right now.”
There are still some wizard rock bands propping up the scene—hiding out in ancient Myspaces or hidden Bandcamps. But none are quite as active or in-demand like Harry and the Potters. The two brothers who started it all remain the genre’s greatest champions, 13 years later.
You cannot underestimate the energy, or the excitement of being a Harry Potter fan during that book’s unprecedented run through the last decade. It didn’t matter who you were, you could always relate to someone about Hogwarts. It’s hard to find stuff like that in adulthood. The fandom has dissipated in popular culture, so you’re forced to keep it alive in your head. It makes Harry and the Potters a nostalgia act, to a certain extent—expected from a band that’s only put out two new songs in the last five years.
“People come to our shows to reconnect to that ‘midnight release party’ vibe,” says Paul DeGeorge. “It conjures a lot of those feelings that haven’t been exercised in years.”
“We basically started this band to play midnight release parties,” adds Joe.
Kristina Horner was the lyricist, singer, and one-half of the now-defunct wizard rock band The Parselmouths. She’s 26 now, but was barely in high school when she formed the band back in 2004.
“We were actually the second wizard rock band to ever exist, as far as we know,” says Horner. “I had been a fan of Harry and the Potters from the very early days. My friend Brittany [Vahlberg] and I were writing songs together and we thought ‘what if we were the female Harry and the Potters?’ We told Paul and Joe about it at one of their concerts and they thought it was awesome. Eventually we were encouraged enough to put out our own album as more and more bands started popping up. We had no idea it’d turn into what it was.”
In 2006 The Parselmouths started playing shows, and by 2008 they were going on consistent tours and making money. Kristina was 19. This is where she grew up.
“People have early experiences from college like ‘oh I got drunk for the first time and fell asleep in the quad!’” says Horner. “I went to college, but my experiences were more like ‘I got drunk for the first time at this Harry Potter convention!’”
Horner is now a community coordinator for Microsoft in Seattle. In her off time she maintains a successful YouTube channel, mostly focusing on books and video games. She’s done well for herself, post-Parselmouths, but she still remembers that part of her life very, very fondly.
“I’ve got two Harry Potter tattoos because I wanted to remember exactly how those years felt,” says Horner. “I’ve gone on and done bigger and better things, but we’ll never experience the feeling of that book coming out again. You’ll never get that high. We were part of something amazing. You can’t even fully explain it to people who weren’t there. Harry Potter has had such a massive impact on my life, and it is sad to think that I won’t have those experiences as often.
The Parselmouths concluded in the early teens, after Horner’s long-time bandmate Brittany moved to California and settled into domestic life. They took one last tour, and put out one last album. She can’t remember where, or what the final show was. These things tend to slip through your fingers.
“Honestly the energy never was the same after Brittany left,” says Horner. “It just felt like we said all we had to say.”
“It's hard not to let the more grueling tours of 2011 and 2012 taint the glory of those peak years, but I can't help feeling wistful about 2007 and 2008,” says Matt Maggiacomo, founder of the still-active wizard rock band The Whomping Willows. “I'll never forget the wizard rock show at Prophecy, which was held in Toronto in 2007, just a week or so after Deathly Hallows was released and the fandom was basically losing its shit about everything. Just before the show began, I was standing with Brian Ross of Draco and the Malfoys and watching them literally tear down the room dividers because there were too many people to simply enter through the doorways. We just stood there arm in arm, overwhelmed and crying. We grew up in the same town together and played countless shows to audiences of zero people, and this moment of recognition was something we never really expected.”
There’s a real hangover when something character-defining disappears from your life. It’s even harder when you embodied every bit of it. Wizard rock is plenty goofy, anyone who participated in the scene would admit that, but there was something very nurturing about it too. Harry Potter nerds took it upon themselves to sing about their love of fiction from a stage. One of the best songs in the Harry and the Potters catalog is simply called “This Book is so Awesome.” “This book is so awesome /I can do anything /this book is so awesome.” You didn’t need to be afraid, or ashamed, and you certainly didn’t need to be cool.
“One of the reasons we continue to play is because our shows provide a place for people to be excited about a work of literature that’s important to them,” says Joe. “It’s a place where you can scream about a book. I think that’s really cathartic.”
“That was the cool thing about being a ‘wizard rock star,’” says Horner. “The Parselmouths music wasn’t very good, we all knew that, but it was about how it made you feel. We’d go to these conventions and they’d never get J.K. Rowling and they’d often never get any of the actors from the movies. But we could still have these shows and people would come meet us, and it was weird to be that person because I knew I didn’t deserve that level of attention. But it was okay because we were still just fans. It was fans, celebrating fans, celebrating Harry Potter. We were equally in love with this book.”
Wizard rock was a scene based on total, indiscriminate acceptance. No hierarchy, just dorks like us, writing songs about Harry Potter. Songs that are really about falling in love. Wizard rock might never touch the heights it once did, but Harry and the Potters are keeping those fantasies alive. It’s cross-generational now.
“There’s people coming to our shows now who are in their early 20s, which means that they were like four when the books first came out,” says Paul. “There are still new people coming to Harry Potter and looking to connect.”
It shouldn’t have worked right? A rock band about kid’s books? No other fictional universe has sustained a scene. There isn’t such a thing as “jedi rock,” “klingon rock,” or “elf rock.” But somehow these two brothers found a way. So many lives would’ve been different if the DeGeorges had second thoughts at that summer barbecue in 2002. They wrote music about what they adored, they had no fear, and along the way they fostered a beautiful thing.
“I used to be a bit of a scene purist, but I really like what wizard rock has become,” says Maggiacomo. “There are so many young singer-songwriters putting their nerdy songs on YouTube, and they see wizard rockers as forebears of what they're doing now and they integrate wizard rock into their repertoires because they respect it as its own special medium. Wizard rock festivals might be harder to pull off now that there is no real centralized scene, but I think the wizard rock that exists now is more natural and less beholden to community expectations.”
“This band has completely changed the course of my life,” says Paul. “It’s given me so much more confidence as a person, that I’m almost overconfident. Now whenever I have a cool idea I’m like ‘yeah that will work!’ Be it entrepreneurial projects or creative projects, I’m always willing to take a chance on it.”
Towards the end of our conversation I ask Joe the simplest question I can think of. Do you miss Harry Potter?
“It’s hard to miss someone like that,” he pauses. “I mean hey, we’re still playing 30 shows a year. I get to be Harry Potter!”
Luke Winkie was also not born a wizard. He's on Twitter.