Fathers of wizard rock Harry and the Potters (brothers Joe and Paul DeGeorge) are back with their first full-length record in thirteen years. Titled Lumos, it uses the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series to drive an anti-fascist narrative; given the current political climate in the US and beyond, the tracks feel incredibly timely. I hopped on the phone to both Joe and Paul last week to discuss the new songs, touching why now felt like the right time to release this album, their collaborations with Kimya Dawson and the Potter Puppet Pals, and what it’s like to play gigs at libraries, something they’ll be doing again extensively on their upcoming tour. Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, pre-order a copy of the LP (out Friday 6.21), and mark your calendars for the band’s stops in DC at Woodridge Library on August 20th and in NYC at the Knitting Factory on August 22nd.
Brightest Young Things: So this is the first full-length from you guys in thirteen years or so. Can you walk me through when you decided that you were going to start working on this?
Joe DeGeorge: Yeah, I mean, we’d had it in the back of our heads for a while, but really just a year and a half ago I went out to Kansas for a show with my brother in a library, and we decided to set some time aside from that and write these songs.
Paul DeGeorge: I think we felt somewhat of a responsibility as a band if we were going to continue to play and perform to write some songs that were maybe also a little more appropriate for the political climate we were living in. Politics has always been a part of our shows, but I think in the back of our minds we wanted some material that felt a little more current. Digging in, the whole album is about the seventh Harry Potter book, so it really is sort of endgame for the crew as they’re fighting back against this fascist regime.
BYT: Yeah, and it’s so interesting to me how sort of aligned the series is with everything that’s been happening in the lead-up to and aftermath of this most recent election. I found myself referencing it a lot.
Paul: Yeah, and that was truly a turning point for us where pretty shortly after the election we had a lot of fans kind of coming back into the fold, really turning to some of our older material, certain songs in particular, sort of highlighting those. Our sets started to change and evolve a little bit in certain ways. So that was definitely a real part of what motivated us to set aside time and start writing music again.
BYT: What does your process typically look like? I read about how at the beginning the songs were written very quickly and kind of as a fluke, but how (if at all) has that changed for you guys over time?
Joe: When we did this record we kind of sat down and read the books for about a week side by side. And then we picked out things that resonated with us from the books, things that resonate with our time. So there are songs about the media’s behavior under a fascist regime, and we’re writing songs responsive to that.
Paul: It wasn’t exclusively that either, though. I would say as we reread the books, other things jumped out as well. We kind of went into it knowing we’d be writing a solid handful of anti-fascist anthem-type songs, but also, part of what we try and do as a band is explore sort of all facets of Harry’s character, so there were these other moments that jumped out in the books that we really wanted to highlight as well. There are a couple of songs where Harry is almost mournfully sort of touring Privet Drive, giving Hedwig a tour as he’s about to leave. So, you know, highlighting those little more human moments as well is part of the process for us, too.
BYT: Absolutely. Now, on one of the songs, Kimya Dawson comes in to sing as Hermione. How did that collab come to be?
Joe: That was a song we wrote in the studio as we were recording; it just kind of came to us. We’d been toying with the idea of doing some sort of duet with a character, whether it was Ginny or whoever, but doing this one with Hermione in the absence of Ron made sense. We recorded the song, and we didn’t know we’d be able to get Kimya to do it, but Paul asked her when she was touring through and got her to record at the library.
Paul: Yeah, Kimya was recorded at the library in Lawrence, Kansas. There’s a recording studio in our local library. A full-on recording studio. So we just got in there for the day, or…well, really just an hour. But Kimya is such a hero to us, and it was truly an honor to work with her. She’d seen us play about a decade ago at her local library; she came and checked us out there, and we kind of stayed in touch over the years. We were really looking for an excuse to work together, and I guess we’re just real fortunate that she’s down to clown. [Laughs]
BYT: And the video for that track is also a collab with the Potter Puppet Pals, who it seems like you’ve been in contact with for a good long while. What was the conversation around that one like?
Joe: Yeah, they’ve been friends with us for a while, and we’ve done tours with them. They often play with us. It just made sense; we thought it’d be a funny video. You see Harry and Hermione together while Ron is off doing his own thing, and all the terrible things that happen to Ron as he’s alone in the world. There was sort of a pitch and they made a beautiful, beautiful video!
BYT: Do you plan on releasing videos for any of the other tracks on the album?
Joe: We don’t have any currently in the works, but we may have another video for the “Hermione’s Army” song. It’s possible there may be a figure skater, but that’s not confirmed. [Laughs]
BYT: We’ll keep an eye out for that, that sounds rad! Alright, so in terms of your shows, you play a lot of them at libraries. Are those usually inside? Outside? What’s that like?
Joe: Some are inside, some are outside.
Paul: Our real preference is playing in the stacks. If we can organize that, that’s our absolute favorite. But sometimes the space doesn’t allow for that.
Joe: Yeah, sometimes we end up in a foyer, or an auditorium room. It’s tricky. Usually we can end up playing in the stacks if we can get an after-hours gig going. Sometimes that’s a little harder with some of these libraries.
Paul: What we really learned, though, was to be totally flexible and adaptable, and roll with the punches. Because every situation is different. Quite different from touring rock clubs, anyway, where you’re going to have a sound person who knows the room, because that just doesn’t really exist in too many libraries since they’re not used to having bands play. You’re figuring it out as you go every night. Then as far as the audience, it’s sort of all over the map. The library knows how to promote what we’re doing to their regular patrons, but just by nature of having it be in this very public space, there’s all sorts of people who might end up at the show who otherwise weren’t expecting that. They’ll put up posters and things around the library the day of the show that say, “Hey, we’ve got a band playing. It’s gonna be loud, just a heads up!” Just warning all the other patrons, basically.
BYT: [Laughs] Any complaints on that front? Maybe not to you directly, but maybe to the staff?
Paul: Oh, we’ve gotten complaints directly for sure. And in fact, early on we got complaints directly from librarians occasionally. I guess in some cases they might have gotten more than they bargained for when booking us. [Laughs] But now we kind of have a reputation that precedes us, and we haven’t had any problems.
BYT: Well that’s good to hear! Now, what’s been going on with your nonprofit, the Harry Potter Alliance, lately?
Paul: The main focus in the more recent years has mainly been…I mean, we’ve always had a mission to build heroes, you know, like turn people into members of Dumbledore’s Army or Order of the Phoenix, essentially, and so one of my favorite things that’s come out of that mission has been the Granger Leadership Academy. So it’s usually a thirty day workshop/conference/retreat where usually a couple hundred dedicated individuals will come and spend that weekend sharing, learning, learning new tools of the trade so that they can kind of go back to their own communities and be those types of leaders. I guess we’ve really been focused on executing Hermione’s vision that she articulates so well in founding Dumbledore’s Army, creating that training ground for new wizard activists.
BYT: That’s amazing. And I know this has been your vision for a long time, but did you ever imagine it would get off the ground on this scale?
Paul: Yeah, that was the goal! [Laughs]
BYT: Alright, fair enough! And lastly, is this musical project ideally a forever thing? Or do you think you’ll ever get sick of Harry Potter?
Paul: Tricky question. I think we outlined a scenario by which the band would likely end; our band started with a show in our backyard, so we decided to end it when J.K. Rowling invites us to play a show in her backyard. So that’s the end. We’re just working our way there. I think that’s how to go out on top. And if J.K. Rowling’s ever like, “Boy, I’ve had enough of these Harry Potter fan bands…” then she knows how to put a stop to it. Ball’s in her court. [Laughs]
Featured photo by Kim Newmoney