Transcribed by Adam Leuenberger and Marissa Osman
Irvin Khaytman: Tell me about the Wizrocklopedia Compilation Club. What's the story? What's the pitch?
Grace Kendall: The Wizrocklopedia Compilation Club is a digital music subscription service for Harry Potter fans. We're releasing four wizard rock albums over the course of the year. Every three months, you get a new compilation album. Ten different songs by ten different artists delivered straight to your email inbox for you to obsess about and enjoy!
Irvin: Fabulous! You're saying that this is a subscription service, so it's going to keep on going? You want lifetime subscribers and then in 40 years, we'll be doing issue number whatever?
Grace: Yeah, that's the dream. We're breaking it into one-year chunks but optimistically hoping this continues forever. It's planned for this year for sure, and we already are brainstorming for next year, so [it's] highly likely we'll keep going. Four albums a year. The first one came out today, so we will keep going every couple of months from here.
Irvin: Fabulous! You have been putting out, for the last few years, the Wizard Rock Sampler, right? Which is just essentially a song from all the new wizard rockers out there. Everyone who wants [to] submits a new song and it's fabulous. How was approaching this, and doing this, different from the Wizard Rock Sampler, and what made you think that you needed to do this much instead of just keeping up with the sampler?
Grace: The Wizard Rock Sampler is my adorable baby. I'm so proud of it and I love seeing all of the stuff that comes in. The biggest difference is, the Wizard Rock Sampler will take anything. The last sampler had 35 songs on it. [laughs] It was massive. And it's wonderful. There are pretty much no rules on what can go in. It's a really good celebration of what people are making at the moment. For the Wizrocklopedia Compilation Club, we really wanted to focus on finding a way to compensate artists for their work. The sampler is completely free. It's all volunteers; we don't make any money, so it's a challenge to pay people. We haven't done that yet. But with the Compilation Club, since we charge a subscription fee, we're able to use that to pay artists. And we're also able to curate. We invite different musicians that we're really excited about to participate so that we have really unique, diverse lineups all making music on a theme. For the first compilation, our theme was "Back to the Beginning," and that's a lot of meta wizard rock, people talking about how they discovered the Harry Potter series or their first experiences of reading the books or listening to wizard rock or playing their first wizard rock show or even - in character - what their experiences at Hogwarts were like. It's a unique environment that's very different from what we did with the sampler. The other big difference is there's a team of us putting it together. The Wizard Rock Sampler is just me putting all of that together and then some very lovely people volunteering to do the cover art and mastering. But it's pretty much just me on the organizational level. And we have a whole wonderful team - that I love working with - of amazing people that are putting the Compilation Club together.
Irvin: Awesome! Do you want to give shout-outs to who all is working on the Compilation Club?
Grace: Yeah! The other admin is Bess Carnan, who works for the Wizrocklopedia, is part of the team running that, and also does one of the only wizard rock podcasts at the moment, which is WZRD Radio. It's wonderful. We have a different organizer for each compilation who is really responsible for seeing it all the way from inviting bands to putting it all together, putting it in order, and getting it out to everyone. TK Lawrence from Totally Knuts was our first organizer. They did an amazing job with the first compilation. We have Kjetil from Norway and Christie from Hawthorn & Holly. I say "Norway" like it's a band; it's a place. Hawthorn & Holly is a band.
Grace: [unintelligible] these lovely people who will be putting together some of the future compilations. And then some help from the rest of the Wizrocklopedia team. Sagan and Andrea have been wonderful.
Irvin: Awesome! You said the Compilation Club is by invitation. Is it purely by invitation, like you pick who's on it ahead of time? Or do people submit and how does that all work?
Grace: This is [by] invitation only. We have brainstormed long lists of bands we think would be really good for each theme or prompt that we're organizing around and we're inviting them to create original music that's brand-new and exclusive to these compilations. We're trying to find a mix of old voices and new voices and people who we think will complement and contrast each other nicely. I know from the Wizard Rock Sampler, one of my favorite things to do is put all the songs in order, and I know the importance of having a good flow and a good energy that carries you through that listening experience. So getting to build something really curated is really fun and [it's] satisfying to listen to an album that was put together with intention. Even though we don't know what the songs are going to sound like, we have an idea of what kind of energy we're going to get from these bands and then we get the delightful surprise of whatever they decide to turn in.
Irvin: I wanted to ask, how do you choose what order the songs go in?
Grace: That is up to each compilation organizer, so I can't speak to how TK chose to organize this, I just love the choices that they made. I know when I go to put a project together, you want a really engrossing opening song that draws you in and sets you up for what you're about to experience. You want your emotions to move up and down as you're listening so that you're never too stagnant or stuck in one genre of music since wizard rock is so multi-disciplinary, which is wonderful. You want an awesome closing track that's going to leave you with good energy and a strong emotion, and that's going to make you want to feel good for the rest of the day.
Irvin: Fair enough. I listened to it a bit before the interview and I was fascinated because you start off sort of slow and emotional, and you're like, "The time-turner! Ah, we take you back," which sets the scene for how there's going to be a lot of feeling here. And then you end with Pussycat Dolores, and it's a party because it always is with them.
Grace: Exactly. It's so satisfying, and I love the How Airplanes Fly opener; it sets you up with such nostalgia which is, I think, the heart of this. Especially as everybody's renegotiating their relationship with the Harry Potter universe right now. It's nice to have a moment to just be like, "Oh, take me back to that moment of when I started all of these and recognize how much everything is changing." There's a nice mix of emotions in there because everybody put so much heart into their songs but some of it's really fun and upbeat, and some of it's really nostalgic, and then Ariel's song. I love the energy of a petulant teen. "I don't want to read this book! It's not cool!"
Irvin: [laughs] Yeah! Does each album manager pick who they're inviting? Or is that happening at the top level? Will a band pop up on different albums, or is it one-and-done, 40 different artists?
Grace: We're going to do one-and-done, 40 different artists, because we want to involve as many different people as possible, which is one of the goals in putting all of this together. We decide as a team. We brainstorm a long list of bands that we think would really suit that style, or that idea, or that concept, and then the organizer for that individual compilation gets to make the final choices. We encourage them to make sure they've got a diversity of voices for a variety of experiences. Not all from the US, not all the same gender, things like that. But they get to make the final call on who's involved and I'm really excited about the people who are involved. Not only in this first album but on the ones coming up.
Irvin: Can you tease anyone?
Grace: I can't! I'm not allowed to say!
Irvin: [makes a sound of despair] But can you tease what the topics of the other albums are going to be?
Grace: [laughs] I wish I could. But we are keeping things under lock and key for the moment because we've just put out this first album, so we want to ride the energy of that for a little bit longer before we start teasing out what the second one's going to be.
Irvin: Ugh! I tried to get it out of her but ugh!
Irvin: What was the thought process behind doing Back to the Beginning? There isn't as much meta wizard rock out there. There are a few really, really big songs, but I think you might have just doubled the amount of meta wizard rock out there.
Grace: It's certainly possible. Meta wizard rock usually falls into two categories. It's either "I love this community" or "I've been on tour." I feel like those are the songs that I've...
Irvin: Ah, so basically "I love this community" and Matt Maggiacomo's album.
Grace: [laughs] Basically. Which is wonderful, but it's nice to have a different kind of meta. And it wasn't really one of the core thoughts when we put it together, it just felt natural as we were like, "Where do you want to start a project like this?" From the beginning made sense. We went back and forth on the wording of it and what we wanted to evoke. Were we going to do Sorcerer's Stone songs? Were we going to go back to the first book or movie? Where were we going to define the beginning? Basically, we just decided to let the bands decide what that meant to them, and what they wanted to be nostalgic for, and what they wanted to engage with. But for us on an admin level, it just felt like that's the best place to start: the beginning. It seems like an appropriate time to be doing some meta and some self-reflective stuff, and then that gives us the freedom to dive deep into whatever we want to go to in the future.
Irvin: Yeah. It works especially now because we're all nostalgic for the world as it was a year ago. Just keep on all the nostalgia.
Grace: As wizard rock keeps going, there's that weird [pattern of how] it goes in lulls and sparks, where sometimes the scene is fairly quiet and sometimes it's having a boom like it is right now. So there's a lot to be nostalgic for of the olden days - the halcyon days - of wizard rock where you're just nostalgic for going to a concert or a [convention], all those things we're missing right now.
Irvin: I've got to tell you, it took me a minute to figure out that you were doing a thing. I just started listening and was like, "Oh, it's lovely! We're opening up with a meta song!" And then I'm like, "Oh, [Tonks and the Aurors] also did a meta song! How cool!" And then once we got to Ariel's I'm like, "Oh! Oh, I see what we're doing here."
Grace: "Oh, we're fully committed to this? Oh, yeah." They won't all be themed like this. Some of them may be demographic groups or different high-concepts or really intense, narrow ideas, musical genres... There'[re] a bunch of different ways we could go and a lot of different ideas we've explored. They won't all be like, "All songs are on the same topic!" But we are trying to make sure that each compilation has at least a loose thread that ties it together that distinguishes it so it's not just an endless pile of new wizard rock, which is also delightful, but there's something nice about setting an intention. Sometimes that helps for a musician to know what to write about to give their creativity a direction.
Irvin: How did the pandemic and all that affect how you worked on this whole project?
Grace: Uh, it happened. [laughs]
Grace: I don't know that I would have had the spare time if I wasn't between jobs, you know? It's nice to have a project to focus on when you don't have a lot else going on and you're stuck in the house for a long time. I've been really appreciative of having a lot of spare time that I can put into putting this sort of thing together. I think for some members of our team that's been the case and others are still life-as-usual. They're trying to juggle school and fostering cats and jobs and life on top of all of that. For me, it's been really nice to have the time to put the organization stuff in on the back end so that when I'm not as free with my time the project will already be set up to keep running.
Irvin: What did you find most surprising about working on this whole project?
Grace: How delightful it is to work with other people. [laughs]
[Irvin laughs dramatically]
Grace: It was a genuine surprise because I do so many creative projects alone, and it's not that I don't trust other people, but it's so easy to rely on yourself sometimes - at least for me - I find that I know I will or won't do something and then I will or won't feel bad about it, right? But with a team of people, you have other people to be responsible to and responsible for, and they come up with so many different amazing ideas that you wouldn't have had on your own, you know? It was really fun to brainstorm band lists together and see all of the different musicians that people are excited about coming from their own experience. Because there's so much wizard rock, you can't know every band, which is amazing to me! You'd think you'd be able to know everybody at this point, but then somebody comes out of left field from the Wizrocklopedia and they're like, "Have you heard this amazing new artist?" and "We should get them in the mix," and it's just nice to not have to go at it alone. It's wonderful to be able to create collaboratively with other people.
Irvin: We need to talk about Dots and Lines.
Grace: Oh my.
Irvin: Holy shit! Who are they? Why don't I know them? Why am I obsessed with them, and why don't I have all their music? And what is the story, because I was listening to them and I was like, [dramatic gasp] "Oh, my!"
Grace: Right? Dots and Lines [are] great. They are a Yes All Witches Grant winner from pretty recently. They were on one or two wizard rock samplers. They make amazing music.
Irvin: Yeah! An entirely acapella song, and then the voice, and I was like [gasps] Yeah, Yeah. I started Googling them and there was pretty much nothing, so I go to you as the expert.
Grace: Zoe has a couple of recordings but a lot of lyrics written for a lot of song parodies. A lot steeped in songs that were originally girl scout songs as melodies; it's awesome.
Irvin: That's fabulous. So the compilation club. It's the most ambitious putting out [of] wizard rock music as a community thing since the EP of the Month Club.
Grace: I think we are all of the same consensuses there.
Irvin: Right. So how are you engaging with the legacy of that? Do you feel a bit of pressure? Are you trying to differentiate yourself from them?
Grace: The EP of the Month Club is so baffling to me. It was so successful and so incredible, and I have no clue how they did it. It's so professional. They were able to give artists so much, not only such an incredibly large platform but also paying them and giving them copies of CDs that they could sell. I have no clue what it takes to have that level of production, and I'm so impressed by it but also intimidated by it. So you set your sights on this as a separate project, and I don't have to live in the shadow of this incredible EP of the Month Club that we all love and were inspired by. But when I was trying to decide what kind of project - because I had an idea for this - and then talked to a couple of members of the Wizrocklopedia team, and they had similar or related ideas. We were able to put them all together in one thing. So I just drew from my experience, which is putting compilation albums together. That's not scary to me. I know how to do that, right? And so we were able to build a small model around that, where we're able to compensate musicians as much as we're able to and put something new together that will hopefully continue to celebrate the community, to give out regular new music, and [to] encourage people to create new music, which is one of the things the EP of the Month Club did best. Some of those EP's are just legendary. I'm so glad that they exist, right? So I hope someone will feel that way about some of these compilations one day as well, that they'll be like, "This is one of my favorite wizard rock albums, and I'm so glad it exists."
Irvin: Yeah, and then we can meet in the back rooms of wizard rock concerts and be like, "Do you have the Compilation Club from 2021? The summer edition?"
Grace: Right? People are swapping files. [laughs] It's so funny, too, because sometimes on eBay you'll find a whole set from EP of the Month Club from one year, and you're like, "Oh, do I have that year? [laughs]
Irvin: Yeah. I didn't realize how legendary a thing it was because I got into wizard rock [in] 2009-ish when it was still new, and everyone was still selling the CDs at every concert. I was like, "Oh you have wizard rock CDs." A whole bunch of them were in this weird brown square thing. And as the years went on, I went, "Oh, it's a thing!"
Grace: They're all related! Yeah, it's amazing. We were inspired to try and up some of our production values as well, for the wizard rock sampler or the compilation club, based on those projects. We were really lucky to have John Pisani from Swish and Flick master this first compilation. That is part of why it sounds so amazing. And that wasn't something I thought about before. Seeing how much that helps the EP of the Month Club sound so cohesive despite everybody's different production values and recording setups.
Irvin: As someone who doesn't make music on account of not being able to sing, I'm completely removed from this. I barely know what mastering is, and it all sounds so fancy.
Grace: Sometimes we feel the same way. That's the thing where it all sounds good, right? Who do we know that makes things sound good? [laughs] [We'll] get them to handle all the hard parts.
Irvin: Touché. I'm curious, on a more macro level, what it's been like for you in the dual role of [being] a wizard rocker yourself, but you're also a community organizer now and doing all these awesome things: the Wizrocklopedia, the Compilation, the Sampler. How do you balance those two dual roles?
Grace: It's so funny because most people, I think, [that are] in the community now know me for my organizing and not for my music, to the point where sometimes people are surprised I make music at all. And then people are surprised to find out about my Snidget era of hammered dulcimer-ing because that's so far in the past now.
Grace: I know, right? But people have no concept of it, and I forget that sometimes! And it's really funny to be like, "Oh yeah, I haven't taught a whole generation of kids what a hammered dulcimer is. I'm slacking.
Irvin: I feel that. It's like when the Dancing Deatheaters perform and suddenly not everyone in the audience is doing the Death Eater tango chorus because they haven't been watching this for ten years. And I was like, "Oh..."
Grace: It kind of takes you back. You're like, "Wait, I thought everybody knew this by now." But time has passed. Oh goodness, we're old in this community now, right?
Irvin: Oh. Yeah.
Grace: It's wild. So I don't mind that perception, but it's easier to lean into it. Organizing is something I'm good at and enjoy. And if we want this community to keep going, and keep growing, there have to be people in those roles - in those spaces - to support the people who are making music. So I'm happy to do that. I play some virtual shows, I released an album... Was that last year? It was a year or two ago.
Irvin: You released one at MISTI-Con '19. Because I got a copy. That's the Sad Songs for Sad Girls one?
Grace: Yeah! That was the last one. So two years ago now. Again, time is immaterial in pandemic life.
Irvin: I keep saying last year as in 2019 because nothing happened in 2020.
Grace: Right? It's just a void of time. So I do still make some music, but for the most part, I have been channeling most of my creative energies into supporting other people in their making of art because that's something that fulfills me and makes me feel happy is giving other people the space to run with their creative freedom.
Irvin: I love that. And you said earlier that wizard rock, there are lulls; it ebbs and flows. But one thing I find remarkable about the current era is the renaissance of community organization in terms of, suddenly, the Wizrocklopedia came roaring back, and there are samplers, and there are [virtual] concerts with 20 bajillion bands playing who haven't been heard of in 12 years. It's wonderful. What's that been like?
Grace: It's amazing. It's part of how this compilation club was able to form because everyone was excited and wanted to keep carrying that energy forward. Wizard rock has that problem that a lot of online groups have, which is, how do we find each other? That's why it was so successful in the beginning because everyone was on Myspace. And then you have local scenes where you could show up for a show in New York. You don't have to know who is playing. It's a wizard rock show. Who cares? I'm here. And so we need those kinds of spaces online as well, and I think there have been a handful of people who have been excited to do some of that community organizing. Everybody [who]'s running Wizrocklopedia right now has got that energy, and it's so cool because they all come from different areas of interest. Sagan has been collecting an incredible archive of wizard rock from bands that disappeared a decade ago. [They're] finding these old albums and archiving them for everyone to listen to for free, and Bess is doing the podcast, and Andrea is putting a chronological masterpiece together of wizard rock songs as they happened in book order. People have just got this energy and enthusiasm, not just for Harry Potter but really for the wizard rock community. And I think people feed off that, right? If you know people are interested, you want to make more music, you want to connect with more people, and you want to play more shows, even if they are just virtual. And the virtual shows have been beneficial too, because you get a lot more people from across the US, not just in regional clusters, from around the world. We're seeing so many more of our Swedish wizard rockers, which I have never been able to see live, and it's nice to see them in concerts. Because they are incredible.
Irvin: I love the Swedish wizard rock scene.
Grace: It's so cool.
Irvin: It's so good. I mean, Sweden is kind of the best at music. Have been ever since Abba. I love that that extends to our little community.
Grace: I know. It's so nice. It's so nice that there are these thriving scenes, and I hate that they get missed. There is a whole European wizard rock community that, again, has ebbed and flowed over the years and has incredible musicians that, in the US, we don't always notice or get connected to, and I love these community projects for us having a way to connect more through digital space.
Irvin: And also just finding the wizard rock. I think that's what the 'Pedia is so good for. If you are hunting for wizard rock, that is a place to dive down the rabbit hole. Otherwise, [if] I want to do wizard rock, you Google wizard rock and you get a Harry and the Potters video, and then if you're persistent you click on something you want to listen to. But on the 'Pedia, you can just go forth and click on a band and be like, "Oh, yeah, what are the Sweedish Shortsnouts, and why do they sound awesome?
Grace: Exactly. Oh yeah, a whole album about sea shanties. I need to read this review.
Irvin: Absolutely. I am in for the sea shanties.
Grace: TK is putting a whole sea shanty compilation together.
Irvin: I feel like this compilation club might open the flood gates. Especially if all of us keep having lots of time on our hands.
Grace: I hope so. You want these projects to inspire more projects. You want more people to be doing cool and interesting things because the way I know how to do something is only one way that it can be done. So I can put this project together, I'm going to see what you put together, and I'm going to see what they can put together. And I love seeing everyone's different projects, and there have been so many cool ones lately. We have Owl Fest coming up again, version 2. I can't wait to see what kind of lineup that's going to be.
Irvin: Wait, when is that? Because I could have sworn I saw a tweet about it and was like, "Oh, yay! I'm going to do the thing." I was trying to remember when it's supposed to be, and it's not on the internet.
Grace: It's at the end of the month. Let me look up the exact dates. I feel like I have that in an email somewhere. There it is. Owlfest 2021... Well, this is the wrong email address. [laughs] Darn. I want to say it's the last weekend of this month. I can email it to you because it's going to take me a few minutes to find the date.
Irvin: Yes, please do. Because Owl Fest was wonderful.
Grace: It was amazing, and honestly, it's one of the most diverse wizard rock lineups I've seen in years. I was so grateful for it. He got Ginny and Heartbreakers to play. I lost my mind. I was so excited.
Irvin: For me, it was the Pure Bloods. Because as someone who runs a dance group...
Grace: ... [unintelligble] Disco 2020.
Irvin: As soon as I heard it, these are the next Dancing Deatheaters routines. Done, we found them.
Grace: They are so good.
Irvin: Yeah, and then I went on a f***ing quest to find the music. Oh my god, I asked everyone. I emailed Julia Katz. I was like, "Hi, we haven't spoken in four years but do you have music by the Pure-Bloods?" And no one did. And I found their old Myspace, and I tried ripping the music. It didn't work, and so then I called the guy who audio edits my podcast, and I was like, "Can you rip this audio," and he's like, "No, it can't be ripped." And so then I'm trying to find their contact information, and it doesn't exist, and I'm being a creeper on the internet, but I was like, "No, I need your music."
Grace: Were you successful? Did you find it? Did you find them?
Irvin: I did. So it turns out they have a Facebook, and I don't have a Facebook. So that was an added complication. So I deputized one of my Dancing Deatheaters. I'm like, "Can you please contact the Pure-Bloods and tell them to get in touch with me." And they did, and they sent me the music, thank God.
Grace: Magnificent. That's such dedication.
Irvin: When I decide I want a wizard rock song, I'm very dedicated.
Grace: [laughs] I love it.
Irvin: I guess we can begin wrapping up. For people who aren't deep into the wizard rock rabbit-hole like we are, what would you say is the hook for someone who hasn't explored wizard rock as of 2021 and you're trying to get them into our community?
Grace: Do you like music? And do you like anything related to Harry Potter? There is some music here that you will enjoy. It will either make you laugh or sing along or get stuck in your head for three days. There are so many different musical genres represented that if you like music, there is some song inspired by the Harry Potter universe that you are going to want to hear.
Irvin: Fabulous. I think that is a good note to leave it on. Thanks so much for doing the interview.