By Sean Moeller
Paul and Joe DeGeorge of Norwood, Mass., band Harry and the Potters make the spines of copies of Jane Eyre , Salem's Lot and all those boring James Patterson books shake. They force a quiver out of all of those titles lining the young adult section, causing some of them to pop right out of the shelf and crash to the floor, bending over pages hurtfully until someone walks by and puts them back in their place. The DeGeorge's aren't hoodlums disrupting the quiet sanctuary where, at any given time during a school year, a teenager could be researching the migrating habits of the Monarch butterfly, the gross domestic product of Paraguay or getting into the National Geographic archives for impure reasons. They were invited.
When they arrive, these librarians, with their thin, bony fingers and tiny spectacles must think, "What a fine looking pair of bookworms. They sure do dress the part of our normal patrons, those mindful of the silence that's necessary for the harmonious meeting of the written word to the hungry mind. We've done a good thing by agreeing to let them play their little songs about Harry Potter for the youngsters." They tote their keyboard, amps, guitar and PA system in through the front doors and the librarians must get a bit more squeamish. Those speakers are so big. The instruments look so menacing and racket-making. They don't let on that they might be a little scared because there are 200 young kids there whose faces they've never seen in their library before. They might have library cards. They might not. They do have V-necked cardigan sweaters, black-rimmed glasses, fake tattoos for their foreheads and would wear T-shirts claiming, "I'd rather be at Hogwarts" should such T-shirts exist.
Since 2002, the DeGeorge brothers - Paul 26 and Joe 18 - have been booking tours in the many public libraries of the United States, playing their songs twining the details of J.K. Rowling's mega-successful Harry Potter series of books with punk rock in the vein of Atom and His Package, geeked up, but with a sly bit of poetic license to add new, often more mature levels to the characters that have been embraced by the world over. They've done everything on their own - the booking, the promotion, etc., even touring the Netherlands for a week to coincide with the release of a new Potter book. They've been swamped by fans on a MySpace page that has been viewed over a half a million times, they have over 50,000 friends and their four listed songs have been played nearly a million times altogether. They're suited for the rock and roll clubs, the basements and between the books. The same can't be said for AFI or The White Stripes. Their songs extrapolate on the basic characteristics of the principle players in the books, stretching what we know about them and probing deeper into the possibilities of what their thoughts are outside of what we've received in the pages. The DeGeorge brothers allow imaginations to get carried away even more than they already have and they particularly explore the romantic inclinations and considerations of Hermione, Ginny, Cho Chang and Harry. Sometimes, kind graying-haired librarians respond well to Harry and the Potters. Sometimes they don't.
"Playing in libraries is great. There's zero pretension when you play at a library. There's no dress code and there are no expectations, so it can also be really liberating for a lot of people. Some of the craziest shows we've played have been in libraries. We played a show in this small children's theater at the Dallas Public Library. It has this awesome, tiny stage and was sort of built like a little night club even. Well, it was in a small room right in the middle of the library and about 200 people showed up on a Saturday afternoon and they were all ready to party. We turned that children's room into a rock club," said Paul DeGeorge, guitarist and vocalist. "Maybe our worst library experience happened on our very first tour. Someone in Rockville, Md., contacted their library and basically arranged a show for us. They already had an ice cream event planned for that day, so basically we jumped on the bill with ice cream. When we got there, they had these great flyers that proclaimed "Ice Cream Party!" and then in really small letters, "plus rock band Harry and the Potters." It was a real Spinal Tap moment for us. We love stuff like that. Anyway, we set up all our stuff in the basement of this library and there were a whole bunch people there. About half the crowd was there to see us and the other half consisted of younger kids who were mostly dropped off by their parents so they could suck down ice cream for an hour. We started playing and the librarians were really not into it. They kept telling us turn it down and we even started arguing a bit with them. There were also these two elderly clowns who were painting faces and they started heckling us. They were saying stuff like, "Thanks for taking us back to the 60s." I don't even know what that means. Eventually we played a few quiet songs, and then we started in on our last song, "The Weapon," which starts all nice and quiet, but then really cranks. So we really turned up the juice on the last one and I don't remember talking to any of those librarians after that show."
Librarians, though they're not always won over, have begun to get hip to what Harry and the Potters are doing and Paul DeGeorge said that they've always been easier to deal with than the typically jaded, irresponsible rock club talent buyer.
"Well for one thing, librarians will return phone calls and e-mails. At the very least, that makes them 90-percent better at communicating than most booking agents at clubs," he said. "But even when we started it was fairly easy for us to get shows in libraries. They are desperate to put on events that get teens into the libraries and our shows really draw well in that age range. So, even early on, lots of librarians seemed to recognize that. And at this point, word has really spread throughout the library circuit and I probably get a couple e-mails every day from librarians all over the country asking about our availability."
The band wrote its first songs, had its first practice and played its first show on the same day when a punk rock show organized by Joe to take place in the family's back yard fell through and he needed a band to step up to the plate so he wasn't without.
"It sort of came together on a whim," Paul said. "I had come up with the idea the first time I read through the Harry Potter books which was about six years ago. I had just recently found a journal that I was keeping at the time and in the journal, I sort of outlined the premise of the band which had Harry as the frontman, Ron on guitar, Hermione on bass and Hagrid on drums. So the idea sort of hung around my head for a couple of years and then Joe was having a show in our backyard and a few bands cancelled and we just decided, 'Hey, let's do Harry and the Potters!' So rather than fight over who got to be Harry, we decided to have Joe play young Harry (Year 4) and I would play older Harry (Year 7). It's a magical world, so it's not going too much further to suppose that Harry could swipe a time-turner -- a time travel device -- and then start a band with himself. Anyway, we just sat down at the kitchen table and banged out about seven or eight songs and then played them for friends in our backyard.
"Then about a year later, when the fifth Harry Potter book was coming out, we decided to dig up those songs and see if we could get ourselves some shows at some book release parties. We ended up playing five sets in a span of 24 hours the day the book was released."
The number of shows the two have played hasn't slowed down since. They travel the country - just the two of them - in a messy van with travel bags full of white dress shirts, ties and sweaters, playing for lovers and worshipers of these books about magic and good conquering evil. It's the music, with its adolescent concerns and direness in the simplest of worries, that gives the band its easy likeability. "The Human Hosepipe" (a song that the band recorded for Daytrotter in the studio; and the only one of the five available anywhere else on the Internet) gets into the head of Harry after his first date with Cho Chang and shows him beating himself up about how poorly it went. It's just another boy realizing he doesn't know shit about girls. Other songs take advantage of Rowling writing racier material in the latest books, allowing the characters to grow into their hormones just like regular kids. DeGeorge takes advantage of this and emphasizes the love interesting and the awkward transition into life interacting with the opposite sex.
"We do tend to take certain liberties with the characters, but we're usually only doing that to sort of justify our existence," Paul DeGeorge said. "None of the characters had ever really expressed an interest in starting a rock band, but our band sort of presupposes that Harry would have such an inclination. But as for a song like "the Human Hosepipe," which is about Harry's first date, it's actually sort of a spot-on interpretation of the book. The song is obviously from Harry's perspective (as all our songs are) and when I was writing it, I really tried to capture just what Harry would have been feeling after having a first date gone terribly wrong. And I think a song like this is really in line with the progression of the books which has also gotten slightly racier. Rowling hasn't gotten outright sexy on us, but she does tend to dance around this late high-school romance stuff in her own cute little way. It's been a good source of inspiration for a few songs on our new record.
"I think we've always approached it as if we were writing songs about our own friends. If you had a friend -- Ron -- who drank down a bottle of love potion by accident and fell in love with some silly fourth year girl, wouldn't you write a song about that? Probably. And then you could play it for him and make fun of him. But we do have other songs. The heavy songs. For these, we really draw from a lot of the awesome themes in the book. So much of this can get overlooked because people get caught up in the story and they wonder if Harry will survive and if Snape is good or evil, but these books are really about friendship and love and bravery in the face of evil. There's a power inside each of us to make the world a better place. It's a triumphant storyline and it contains a very positive message and we try and bring that across as much as we can."
Paul has a degree in chemical engineering from Tufts University and he worked for a few years as a development engineer for a small vaccine company in Cambridge, Mass., but quit when Joe graduated from high school last spring enabling them to tour. Joe opted to delay beginning his college schooling at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., until this fall so they could squeeze as many live performances and as much recording as possible.
"Our parents were definitely confused by the whole thing at first, but they've always been very supportive of whatever weirdo endeavors we end up pursuing," Paul said. "They are great parents. I think they're still baffled a bit by the fact that so many people want to come see us play and that sort of thing."
They're expected by these mostly pre-pubescent admirers to be all-knowing of the secrets and wirings of the book.
"Well, if you're writing songs about books that people have read dozens of times, then you certainly better have your facts straight," Paul said. "So we have read the books a few times, but we're definitely not too obsessive about it and we really don't have the fortitude for recalling minor character names and all that minutia. I'd probably say that we end up coming out slightly above average on the scale of Harry Potter fans. Last summer, we did listen to all six books on tape during our cross-country tour. It was a nice refresher, and it did have us arguing a lot over the whole Snape thing and coming up with all sorts of theories that I'm sure have been beaten to death on a large number of websites. The Harry Potter Net is deep, my friends. Very deep."
One person who's never - as far as they know - heard any of the Harry and the Potters music is the author herself. Both Paul and Joe admit they'd be a wee bit crushed if the Godmother of Muggles disapproved.
"It would be sort of a bummer if we had sent her some of our CDs and then found out she didn't like what we were doing," Paul said. "I know she's not a big fan of all the merchandising and stuff that surrounds Harry Potter, but I like to think that we've conducted our band in such a way that she would get a kick out of it. We really try and stay close to the books and we use a lot of the powerful themes (love will triumph over evil) as focal points for a lot of our favorite songs. She must take a fair amount of pride in the fact that she's been such a catalyst for kids to start reading. We take a huge amount of pride in teaching kids how to start rocking."
Said Joe, "We wouldn't know what to do if she didn't like our band."
Miscellaneous Paul Potter answers:
Are you taken seriously by other bands that maybe don't sing songs about and dress like Harry Potter? I think it takes a certain person to appreciate what we do, but I also sense there's a growing affection for us amongst other musicians. We've always sort of viewed this band as an indie rock community service project. So much of our focus is on making a rock show that anyone can come to and many of the people that come to see us would never go to a punk show or a basement show or anything like that. They've just never had any exposure to that culture. So in that regard, we like to almost think of ourselves as a bridge between this mainstream phenomena of Harry Potter and the indie rock underground. Plus, we're also pretty strong adherents to the DIY ideal. We book all our own tours, travel with our own PA system, make our own merch, and only play all ages shows, etc. It's a lot of work to run a band that way, but it's also a lot of fun and I hope that in some way other young kids can take encouragement from that fact that you don't need a booking agent or a publicist or a m anager or any of that.
Are you surprised by the attention your band's received? Certainly! If I had known that we'd have like a million listens on Myspace then we probably would have spent a bit more time recording our songs and maybe even making an effort to sing in tune. But it's hard to anticipate that sort of thing when you're just writing silly songs and recording them in your living room over a weekend.
Do you have any famous fans? This record producer in LA brought his two daughters, six and eight, to see us at the LA Public Library last summer. He used to date Courtney Love. He's a great guy though. He sent us an e-mail telling us what a blast his daughters had at the show and that he's now heard "Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock" more than "Sticky Fingers" and it still holds up. A few months later he really put his professional integrity on the line and e-mailed all his friends in Georgia telling them they had to come see us play. Also, we have this rival band, Draco and the Malfoys (a bunch of jerks), and they told me that Michael Bolton ordered one of their CDs. THE Michael Bolton. Do you think that's proof that Michael Bolton is evil?
Have you two been pretty close your whole lives or was Joe always the pestering little brother who finally became tolerable as he grew up? Joe was never really that pestering little brother. He always had his own thing going on, you know. Smart kids are like that. But we weren't really all that close until he started a band when he was 11 years old. We're eight years apart and I just thought his band was the greatest. I started booking them shows at my college. We really started bonding over music. I would make him copies of all sorts of CDs and give him old mixtapes and all sorts of stuff. It was really like I was giving him listening homework. He ate it all up and spit it back out by writing amazing songs. It was awesome. I had always hoped we could have a band together and then this silly idea came along.
Click here to visit Harry and the Potters' myspace page.