I first found out about Harry and the Potters in high school. We introduced them to all our friends who were obsessed with HP and younger siblings. Younger siblings especially loved the music and some of them got to see their first rock shows because of Harry and the Potters! The DeGeorge Brothers have been doing the DIY thing for years, and have inspired thousands of kids across the world. If you have been lucky enough to catch them on tour you know how fun and friendly the guys are in the flesh. I got in contact with Joe via knowing a former Harry and the Potters drummer, Zach from Iji! Joe was kind enough to share some insights on his experience in the band, keeping it political, and the guys’ dream to play in JK Rowling’s backyard.
Yer most well known for starting Harry and the Potters (and thus the genre Wizard Rock) with yer brother back in 2002- but what was Joe doing musically before he took the muggle-based wizarding world by storm?
If you want to get to the beginning of things, I think my first musical memory is of my brother and I singing a song to our baby sister while he was cradling her in his arms. The song repeated, “You’re a fat, fat baby.” I also think around that time I would grab a broomstick and pretend to play it like a guitar whenever “Johnny B Good” began playing on our family’s cassette copy of the Back to the Future soundtrack. A few years after that I started taking piano lessons because I wanted to be like my older siblings. I began writing some songs for piano when I was about 8 or 9 and performed them at my annual piano recital. To put this in perspective with the rest of the world I think that around that time the band Fastball was about to get big, or maybe we’re still there, waiting for Fastball to get big. When I was in the third grade, my friend Alex and I were in a band called the Spus that made one tape that was mostly us singing into a handheld recorder and hitting things that happened to be nearby. Alex had to move to a different town so we more or less broke up the Spus in 1999. That’s when I started Ed in the Refridgerators with my good friend, Andrew MacLeay. I met him in a fifth-grade afterschool play where we both played Cinderella’s step sisters. I taught myself some limited guitar skills for Ed in the Refridgerators and played on a keyboard that I bought with money I had saved from mowing lawns. We wrote songs about Sea Monkeys and R2D2. My older brother booked Ed some shows at his college radio station and in an on-campus house. We began playing around in Boston every couple of months, having my mom drive us in her Ford Windstar to shows. EitR was fairly active from 1999-2005 overlapping with the beginning of Harry and the Potters. In fact Andrew has been a drummer in the Potters for a few tours. Ed in the Refridgerators had few releases. Our first demo was called “Good is Dumb.” We followed that up with a 15 minute full length called “It Could Happen to You.” “It Could Happen to You,” was recorded with a lot of the same songs that were on Good is Dumb, but I had just turned 12 and my voice was changing so we wanted to re-record some of the songs more professionally and with my more grown-up voice. We saved some money from playing shows and went to a recording studio for that one. We recorded onto reel-to-reel tape and that taught me a lot about the recording process and those sessions informed a lot of my own strategies in home recording. We kept recording songs here and there throughout our high school years and released a full-length, an EP, and a collection of B-sides that coincided with the passing of Pope John Paul II. Respectively they were called, “Get Excommunicated,” “Für Pope,” and “Not Songs.” I’m wondering now with all the attention this current anti-capitalist pope is getting if it might be appropriate to reunite Ed.
Harry and the Potters, as a band, are very based in the punk tradition of DIY rock ‘n’ roll. Why is DIY so important to you?
I don’t want to live in a world where our culture is force fed to us from the guy with the top dollar. What was so great about the Harry Potter phenomenon was that the books grew in popularity not because of advertising or because they were forced into the hands of young people. These books were recommended from peer to peer, around the whole globe. I mean it’s not like JK Rowling was self publishing Harry Potter, and this all kind of changed once Warner Brothers owned the intellectual property, but the important thing that inspired us out of this phenomenon was that Harry Potter resonated so strongly in our culture that it grew to be a cultural landmark before the guys with dollars in their fists could get a hold of it. I liken it to that cool honey fungus in the Blue Mountains that grew from a single spore into the largest organism on the planet. That huge mushroom didn’t have any help from the big industries. Monsanto certainly wasn’t fertilizing that.
As far as stumbling into DIY music, I just remember being so excited and inspired that the world suddenly had a new a depth to it that was never described in the TV I watched, the things I learned in school, or the things I found in my suburban adolescence. I went to see Atom and his Package with my brother when I was 12, and after that I sort of learned what DIY touring entailed by reading Atom’s tour diaries. I think those diaries were a big help for my brother and I when we decided to tour. There are few bands that decide to drop everything else and just tour for a few months straight. Reading accounts from other people that had done exactly that thing on their own just made it seem more possible to us.
I got a little sidetracked here, but to answer your question in a sentence: DIY ethics are important to me because if you don’t create your own culture than you will live in the culture created by the wealthy members of the generation before you.
H&tPs were very much about empowering kids to make and enjoy music on their own terms. How did the HP books help you guys bring this message to the world?
The Harry Potter books grew to popularity in a grassroots style. With our band, Harry and the Potters, we imagined that we would be able to harness this organic enthusiasm for these stories and expose young people to a sort of music and culture that might inspire them to say, “hey, I could do this too.” We have played a lot of shows in libraries around the USA. We always make our shows all ages and we try our best to host them is very accessible venues, so that it encourages younger people to attend and be more easily subverted into our goofy wizard punk subculture. We were really inspired, and hoped that our audience would be too, by the band, The Hungarian Horntails, which was a 7-9 year old and his younger brother. We tried to play as many shows as we could with that band, so that other young folks would see people their age or younger than themselves making it happen in a band.
Some people might have thought you were making a mockery of HP (if they hadn’t seen yer shows). Why was comedy and humor so important for the band and roles you and yer brother played?
Generally, as a band, we have an attitude of reverent irreverence. We’ve got a lot of goofy songs, but we also try to bring out central themes of the book. Our creative contributions to this band have been mostly to try to make ourselves crack up. We’d write songs to try to make each other laugh. We’d goof on stage to try to get the other one to lose it. It’s kind of a healthy sibling rivalry that just keeps the band fresh for us. When we’re on stage our biggest concern is that we put on a quality show for the people coming to see us, especially with knowing that out in the crowd there is probably someone at the first rock show of their life. Knowing that, I just have to perform my best and goof my hardest. Otherwise I could ruin that person. They might decide that they hate rock and roll forever and never care about music again and lose all the magic that a world of music could have offered. It’s a lot of responsibility.
Were there/are there any other projects you guys were/are working on outside of the HP universe?
My brother and I started a Clam Rock band. We only play songs about quahogs. We’re called Black Wampum. We’ve played a handful of shows in New England. We’d like to press a record with clam juice and shells in the process, but I honestly doubt there is much of a demand for something like that. Maybe that’s what kickstarter is actually for, projects that would lose money no matter how much effort is given to them in the void of the free market.
I’m working on a new saxophone project at the moment.
I’ve also been self publishing some comics and zines. I’ve done two comics about the band Good Luck and their adventures through space time. It’s kind of a crossover fanfic with punks and E Street band members. My favorite zine I’ve done is an E.T. Activity Booklet.
Some artists I’ve been playing shows or recording within the last year: iji, Hank Green, Jason Anderson, Styk, Math the Band.
I’ve also been doing these strange Bach performances. One is called “In Glove with Bach.” This performance consists of me playing the same Bach invention a few times repeated. Each time that I play it, I put on a pair of progressively heavier and thicker gloves. The other project, “Switched off Bach,” consists of me playing Bach songs on a synthesizer that is turned off, while I mic the keyboard.
I took “In Glove with Bach” on the road last year when I was on tour with iji. It was really fun, and I’m amazed that an idea that weird has gotten such a positive response from folks.
I love the reference to Tipper Gore and the PMRC. Do you think its important to put a political edge into H&tPs and try to expose kids to new view points and social issues?
Yes. First of all Harry Potter is ripe with political themes. It’s not like other popular cultural stories like Star Wars, which for a movie about a rebellion is surprisingly apolitical. As a band we have tried to take the political themes from the books and amplify them with our music. In the songwriting itself, we wouldn’t do as much direct crossover between our real world and the HP universe, but we have always been more explicit at our shows. We have drawn parallels between Cornelius Fudge and that of the last Bush Administration. We would often compare S.P.E.W. to certain human rights programs. The band has it’s place but I think a lot more energy from the HP community has been put into The Harry Potter Alliance, which does exactly what we have been trying to accomplish politically with our band, only with greater efficacy. The Harry Potter Alliance is a non profit organization that aims to harness the cultural energy and enthusiasm for stories like Harry Potter and transfer that energy into creating a real social goods. It’s my opinion that they are effectively fostering an intelligent activist cultural in the coming generation. They’ve been running a really great campaign around the Hunger Games that has a lot to do with inequality, and it echoes a lot of the rhetoric from the Occupy movement. It’s a really smart form of activism that meets people where their interests lie rather than more traditional forms of activism that tend to leave people feeling condescended.
What challenges were there booking libraries across the country for shows? Were there any significant upsides (besides a built in audience)?
It wasn’t too difficult to convince librarians to let a band that has two Harry Potters in it to play at their library. Logistically, we needed to tour with our own sound system since most libraries are not equipped to handle a full blown rock concert. So we’d have to carry a bunch of extra equipment every day on tour and run our own sound, but that’s no different than what Fugazi would do most of the time, really. The great thing about playing shows in libraries is that they are a family friendly environment that everyone knows how to find, and they provide a safe space that people feel comfortable bringing their children to see a show. So it really allows for an all ages event to happen that can really bring a lot of people together that may not have otherwise crossed paths.
How long do you see you and yer brother continuing the band?
Our first show was in our backyard. We will keep playing until JK Rowling invites us to play in her backyard. I can’t imagine how we could play any shows after that.
Are there any future plans for H&tPs in the works?
Nothing too major. We’re slated to play a few shows this year, though I’m not really sure we will do a whole lot of touring apart from those. We’ll be at the Quidditch World Cup in South Carolina, Plan it X fest in Bloomington, IN. Leaky Con in Orlando, FL. We’re going out to play the ten year anniversary of the Seattle Public Library building in May. I’m sure a few other shows will pop up for us. We have a few recordings we’ve made, but we’re not really sure how to release them now that traditional physical media is dead. I’d like to do something creative. For instance, put them in a potion bottle and when you drink the potion you get to sing the song three times. After that you would forget it and have to order another potion or figure out how to make your own. Patent pending. JK about the patent. As you might guess, coming from someone who has reappropriated Harry Potter, I have strong liberal leanings with regards to intellectual property politics.
Name 5 books/records/restaurants/foods/bands our readers should check out!
Meanwhile, Jason Shiga.Choose your own adventure comic book with time travel and mind reading written and drawn by a supreme logician. Need I say more?
His Dark Materials Series (The Golden Compass, The subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), Phillip Pullman.This is the best young adult fantasy coming of age story I’ve ever read. It’s punk in the most anti-authoritarian sense possible.
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry. Just finished this book. Acclaimed as the best western ever written. It’s real page turner once you fall in love with Gus, which I reckon to happen mighty swift.
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood. In a not so distant plausible future of corporate compounds and urban wastelands humanity is destroyed and reborn in a comically weird way, all according to one mad scientist’s vision. Watch out for my new band, the Pleebland Dirtballs.
Basewood, Alec Longstreth. This is a beautifully rendered graphic novel. This guy spent most of his adult life making this. It’s so beautiful. It’s about to compiled into an actual book so you can read it all at once. I read it serially. He did some insane things that are kind of unheard of in comics. He drew every single snowflake in the blizzard issue. He’s self publishing the book. For some reason none of the major indie publishing houses picked up on how great this is. But whatever, DIY dude.
Forest of Feelings by David Sancious – This ex-member of Springsteen’s E Street Band broke off with Ernie Boom Carter around 1974 to pursue his own insane piano-synth-prog-fusion project. Totally siq. This is his best record in my opinion.
Advisory Committee – Mirah. This is a beautifully produced record. Heartbreaking songs that can inspire you to grip life and rip it.
1st Imaginary Symphony for Nomad – The Music Tapes. Antiquated and novel recording processes produce a great listening adventure complete with accompanying comic and guide to the record. This is one of my all time favorites.
Into Lake Griffey - Good Luck. This is probably my favorite album of the last ten years. I’ve played it a lot. Power pop punk with amazing dualing vocals.
Yep – Jamie Buckmaster. You can get this for free. http://jjbbuckmaster.bandcamp.com/album/yep Jamie is Worcester’s best kept secret. He’s a versatile musician. He plays in the Terribles, Styk, The Dungeoneers, Gnärds, and Talchemist among other projects. Yep is a solo record he made over the last two years. The songs are written around the drum parts, and the vocal arrangements are outstanding.
Downtown Boys – Providence, RI. This is the only punk band left. Sorry, your band isn’t gonna cut it. Maybe you can’t tell from their recordings but if you ever see them live you will be left feeling that it’s 1979 and music is never going to be the same. Downtown Boys is a social-justice-charged-latina-fronted-sax-bomb.
The Detroit Party Marching Band - Detroit, MI. The names says what it is. There are a lot of saxophones in this band. If you see them try to position yourself in front of the woodwinds for the best listening experience.
Jacob the Terrible – Worcester, MA/Providence, RI. Dawn Riddle says that this is the best band she’s ever seen. I don’t doubt her. This band is a supergroup, made up of the Terribles, but fronted by Jacob Berendes, playing Jacob’s songs. Jacob is also the the mastermind of the sometimes monthly local-national? publication Mothers News. They play infrequently, so you’re lucky if you catch them. If I could choose one mosh pit to ever be in it would be one at this show.
Mega Gem – Denver, CO. This band is a huge band. There’s a lot of people in it. Their latest record is really good. I played a show with them a couple years ago. There was a 7 year old in the band then. Also I’m a big fan of Oliver. While I was grocery shopping with him he told me he lived inside of a Dolphin for a couple years. Ask him about it.
Joe is playing bass on the upcoming Downtown Boys tour.
Downtown Boys are the only punk band on planet earth. They are amazing.
TOUR DATES w/ EMA:
Thursday April 24 – Washington, DC – Rock & Roll Hotel
Friday April 25 – New York, NY – Mercury Lounge
Saturday April 26 – Philadelphia, PA – Voyeur
Sunday April 27 – Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
Monday April 28 - Greensboro, NC - ****NOT WITH EMA**** Glenwood Books w/ Daddy Issues + R Father
Tuesday April 29 – Atlanta, GA – Drunken Unicorn
Wednesday April 30 – Nashville, TN - The High Watt
Thursday May 1 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway
Friday May 2 - Bloomington, IN - ****NOT WITH EMA**** Message for details! w/ Nu Youth + NYHD
Saturday May 3 – Madison, WI – High Noon Saloon
Sunday May 4 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
Monday May 5 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick Lounge
Tuesday May 6 – Toronto, ON – Legendary Horseshoe Tavern
Wednesday May 7 – Montreal, QC – Il Motore
Friday May 9 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade
Saturday May 10 – Allston, MA - Great Scott
OK…so we did it. It’s happening. Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers…our first album. It’s a thing, it’s happening now. It’s available for pre-order in both clean and explicit versions and it will ship in the beginning of May (hopefully end of April, but I’m padding the estimates.) Every pre-order will be signed…so you’ve got two weeks!
The clean version, btw, doesn’t just have bleeped lyrics, it’s entirely kid friendly. Example, the line “Put a light bulb up in my ass” in “I’d Rather” is changed to “Swallow an entire live bass.”
14 tracks, some songs you’ve heard, some you haven’t. It’s a six panel digipack with a 12 page booklet…all the lyrics included.
I cobbled The Perfect Strangers together by asking some of my most talented friends if they would be in my band. It was a crap shoot, but Andrew Huang, Joe DeGeorge, and Rob Scallon all signed on and lent their amazing talents to this project. We will be playing our very first live show at VidCon, and then we’ll be going on a short tour…with some AMAZING guests…but if you’re not in the western US you will, unfortunately, be out of luck for that particular tour.
I have heard this whole album and it is SO GOOD!
I’m so excited. Preorder your signed copy now!
Only one version of Accio Deathly Hallows?
Let’s make this happen! Your move DFTBA Records.
i’ve been listening to too much harry and the potters
and for anyone interested, this took me the entire first act of avpm to draw/color, i’m just that inept
Deep lyric reference.
Can’t believe we got actual Harry Potter to be our new spokesperson. So cool.
There’s a new Harry Potter in town.