Joe and Paul of Harry and the Potters Talk Magic Striking While Writing “Lumos”
by Brienne Green · Published · Updated
Harry and the Potters have a new album after 13 years, and we’re obsessed. The album, called Lumos, was released today, and this journalist had the chance to discuss it in detail with Joe and Paul DeGeorge, the two members of the band.
Harry and the Potters will be touring across the United States this summer, performing in libraries, cafes, and parks. You can check out their touring schedule here. Trust us, you don’t want to miss any live performances of the new Lumos songs.
Check out our full interview with Joe and Paul below. We’re thrilled the new album is finally here!
Brienne Green: It's been 13 years since your last album. What made you decide now was the time to come out with a new one?
Joe DeGeorge: We've made a few little recordings here and there, and have been touring since then, but we just hadn't put in the time together to work this way creatively. Other things just got in the way - Paul moved to Kansas and things like that - but the timing just was right now, both in our personal lives and with the climate around us, to make this record.
Paul DeGeorge: It also felt like we had some unfinished business because we had never really comprehensively addressed the seventh Harry Potter book. I think we always felt that way. Whether or not we decided to do the album was not something Joe or I were ever really sure we would get to, but our last full-length, [Harry and the Potters and] the Power of Love, kind of was covering the sixth book, so I think always in the back of our minds we were hoping we'd get a chance to cover the seventh. Like Joe was saying, it was sort of both things aligning in our personal lives and also feeling like, if we wanted to continue as a band, we needed to kind of address the things that were going on in the world around us, and really digging into the seventh book was a good way to do that.
Joe: We're kind of in a unique position to amplify these anti-fascist themes in the Harry Potter books as Harry Potter singing in a band.
Paul: It's kind of what we were born to do with the band. If you're going to have Harry Potter in a punk band while fascism is on the rise, this is the album we were made for.
Brienne: How long have you been working on the new album?
Paul: Our whole lives. [laughs]
Joe: It's been in the making for a while, but really, we hadn't sat down to write anything for it until last February. We had a show in Kansas with a library out there, and I stuck around for a couple of extra weeks. We re-read the books together and started writing some songs together, similar to the way we would do it in our parents' kitchen.
Brienne: Do you feel like your musicality has changed over the last decade?
Joe: We got so much better! [laughs]
Paul: We did. We got so much better as musicians and as composers in the way we approach songwriting, I think, and also in the way we work with each other to construct songs. Everything about the band is better than it's ever been, but I also still feel like the songs sound like us. This is a better-sounding and a better-thought-out record than all of our previous records, but it still sounds like Harry and the Potters. We didn't change anything too significantly, but overall, we're just really happy about all those other elements that have grown and developed over the last 15 years or so.
Joe: And we have Brad Mehlenbacher on drums with us on this record, too. He helped write one of the songs on the record as well.
Paul: He's probably our OTP drummer. We never had a chance to do a full-length with him, even though he's been playing in the band, really, for 13 years consistently now... basically since the last record came out, Brad's been our number-one drummer.
Brienne: The first two songs you released were "The Trace" and "Hermione's Army." What made you choose those as your first singles?
Joe: Alora [Lanzillotta] had already made a video for "The Trace," so... [laughs]
Paul: Our friend Alora just made the video without us asking, so we were like, "Oh, cool!" But a song about the surveillance state is relevant in our current media climate, whether you're talking government or the surveillance of private corporations on their user base, so that one sort of just fell in our laps.
Joe: "Hermione's Army" was more like... I think we've picked out a handful of our favorite, strongest tracks, and that's just kind of where we're going with the singles we've got coming out.
Brienne: What were some of your musical influences for this album? "Good Riddance (Privet Drive)," for example, seems to be a nod to Green Day.
Paul: That song's actually somewhat of a pastiche homage to a lot of '90s alternative bands. It's got a little Weezer riff, it ends with a little Third Eye Blind riff. So yeah, we were aiming for that sappy sentimentality of "Time of Your Life," in a way, but it's still very much a Harry and the Potters song. I wouldn't necessarily put Third Eye Blind among our most direct influences, either, but it's sort of in the pop culture ether there, and sometimes, it just kind of lands in your head, you know?
Joe: But if Harry Potter's trying to remember Privet Drive in the '90s, that might have been on the radio, you know?
Paul: Yeah, that was definitely in the back of our minds - Privet Drive in the '90s, what's the soundtrack of that? Dudley's watching MTV, Harry's stuck in his room overhearing Nirvana through the door.
Joe: As far as other influences, musically, there's a piece I quote from Shostakovich's "Leningrad" symphony, which is a symphony that was played under the siege of Leningrad. It was Leningrad's anti-fascist symphony, basically, where, as the city's surrounded and under siege, there's this orchestra of starving musicians, people are dying in the orchestra. During the week of rehearsal, they're calling people from the front lines to play in this orchestra, to be broadcast to the front lines, and it's just kind of saying to the fascist group that's sieging the city that they're not going to give up. So that kind of fit in the part of the album that's supposed to address the Battle of Hogwarts. There's also some... let's see, what do we have... a lot of Meatloaf.
Paul: Meatloaf, Jim Steinman, the really incredible combo that brought you Bat Out of Hell, which is a big influence on us. I think when we're writing songs, we're thinking about a band like They Might Be Giants, where they write songs that have this tremendous age appeal. They never feel out of place when you put them on for children, but they're also songs that those children can kind of grow into, and so I think that's always at the back of our mind, too - sort of creating this pathway within a song where there's going to be an element that brings in somebody young, but it's also going to be a song that's there for them when they're ten or 20 years older, and they can look back and be like, "Oh, wow, I wasn't thinking about fascism when I was listening to this song, but boy, how about that?"
Brienne: How did the song "Where's Ron" and your collaboration with Kimya Dawson come about?
Paul: Sometimes magic strikes, so we went into the studio, we had about 15 songs that we were dead sure we were going to record, but when you're in the studio sometimes, there's a little bit of downtime. We kind of had an idea in the back of our mind to do a sort of duet, maybe between Harry and Ginny or Harry and Hermione or something, and so we just started riffing one night while the engineers were cleaning up for the night. We were just kind of passing around a guitar, with Brad filling in, like one person would do one line, another person would do another, and then, sure enough, this song sort of takes shape, and Joe jumps on the piano, and bam, we've got a chorus, this is great! And then, basically, the next morning we came in and told the engineers, "We have a new song, we're going to record it right now." They're like, "Okay," and they roll with it, and the amazing thing is, when it was done, the engineers were like, "Boy, that's your big single! That's the best song here." As far as the Kimya part, we didn't know for sure if Kimya could do it or not, so we recorded the whole thing without her, thinking, "Well, if it's not a duet, that works, too." But it really works as a duet, and that's what we wanted. Kimya, we've been orbiting around each other for a while. She had come to see us play ten years ago in Olympia. She was a real inspiration for us as just this sort of fearless freak punk rocker, anything goes, be really playful in your music but also be really political and serious and genuine, and so we just shot her a text, and it was like, "Hey, I see you're coming through Lawrence on tour. Do you want to come record this duet?" And she said yes, and that was it. We took her down to the Lawrence Public Library's recording studio, and an hour later, we had her part down.
Brienne: Can you talk a bit about "Voldemort in Your Head"? It seems to be referencing the fact that everyone has something of a dark side.
Paul: Exactly. You nailed it. It's very much like everybody has their own sort of struggles, as they are, some more than others, but part of it is figuring out how to work with those things, turn them on their side or use them to your advantage, whatever it is you can do to sort of feel complete, I guess. I don't necessarily think that the Horcrux in Harry is allegorical to mental health struggles, but I don't know. A little bit of it's in there.
Joe: I feel like there's that mental health angle, but there's also just... we get raised in violent societies, and I feel like the Voldemort in your head can be white supremacy in your mind or the way people have been colonized, and just being aware of that is like the first step to undoing centuries of colonization.
Brienne: Were you surprised to see your Kickstarter campaign double its funding goal in 24 hours?
Joe: That was cool. We're so excited, and it's affirming to have that sort of outpouring of support and know that these songs are wanted by people, and we're thrilled to be able to finally share them.
Paul: And the other thing that's particularly exciting to me is that we're in an age where it frankly doesn't feel like people put value on music, and it's nice to know that a lot of people are willing to say, "Yeah, this is a thing I want, and I want to have it in my life, and I'm willing to pay for it." [laughs] It felt really good. I love supporting bands and buying their albums, so it just felt nice to have people do that for us. Thanks, everybody!
Brienne: Are you excited to be going out on tour again for the first time in a while?
Joe: Yeah! I've been spending all winter emailing and calling libraries, so I'm excited to have all this pay off in the end. [laughs]
Paul: Just like old times. No, it's great. It's going to be just like a summer of adventure, super fun for us, and we're excited. In some ways, we get to meet a whole new generation of Harry Potter fans. A lot of folks who probably saw us ten years ago now have little kids that they're bringing out to a show, which is going to be really fun, I think.
Brienne: What's the primary thing you hope people take away from this album?
Joe: The album addresses a lot, and it's really kind of a celebration of these stories for us.
Paul: There's no one hero here. It's like a team effort, and we need to be the heroes that our world needs. These were just high school kids, and they were dedicated and working towards that goal together, and that's the kind of thing we need more of right now.
Brienne: Inquiring minds want to know: Which characters are you guys' favorites?
Joe: I love Aberforth Dumbledore. There's a specific reason. In the last Harry Potter book, you kind of see him when the kids show up to the Hog's Head, and he seems almost resigned that the Death Eaters have won and this is going to be the new regime, and he's adjusting to this new normalization of life under Voldemort and the Death Eaters' rule. And you don't know if he's going to show up to Hogwarts and fight, but he does. I don't know what happens after the kids sneak through that portrait, but there's something inside of him that changes, and he shows up to be part of the last resistance at the Battle of Hogwarts.
Paul: I'm having trouble choosing here, to be honest. I just want to say Hermione because I think that there's still so much to learn from Hermione. She's always there for people, and she's always pushing to make the world better.
Joe: And she's not afraid to make mistakes along the way, too, which I think is great. That can hold people back sometimes, that fear of making mistakes.
Paul: That's what makes her a true Gryffindor there.
Brienne: Any final thoughts you'd like to share with everyone?
Joe: Thanks for listening! And it's great to be back on MuggleNet, kind of where it all started for us.