REVIEW: WZRD

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For whatever reason, I tend to compare and contrast wizard rock albums I’m prepping for review – this is part of why I snuck the Hawthorn and Holly article in first, because no one should have to be compared with Lumos, and having We Are The Wizard Resistance and WZRD as bunkbuddies in mind works, given the talent crossover between the two. As noted in my article, We Are The Wizard Resistance is an album with great moments and greater ambition, but also fatal flaws. The only thing consistent about that album is how it is constantly flitting between brilliant and hard to listen to. In contrast to this study of contrasts, WZRD is a lushly produced collection of high quality songs that are content with not inciting massive societal change and upheaval and instead just Being Good Songs.

WZRD is not technically the debut album of Ashley Hamel (sometimes known as Ashleytrix and the Wizards), but it might as well be, and really is an astoundingly good debut wizard rock record. Now, to be fair, the quality of “first wrock albums” has increased considerably as time has moved on and there’s much more of a bedrock and foundation for new artists to build upon. Still, there is a tremendous amount of polish and passion on display here, and while the album may not strive for huge societal insights, there is a personal journey and message here that is touching and beautiful to witness in its own way.

Truth be told, I was already predisposed to liking WZRD, because this is an album with a gimmick – and you know the Wrock Snob loves themself some gimmicks.

Which makes sense, seeing as they’re nothing but a giant walking gimmick.

In what will be a running theme for the album, the conceit of this being a wizarding radio broadcast works well enough to serve the needs of the album as a whole, but there is just so much more that could be done with it. The voice acting is all top notch, and I very much appreciate that all the radio segments are their own tracks, instead of gumming up an otherwise perfectly repeatable song. It’s a pleasant and rather rare experience, to be listening to an album for the first time, and getting curated intros and outros to some of the songs. However, everything about this mode of the album is just crying out for MORE. Having only two DJs is a weird choice – the album would have been better served with one or three, rather than being inherently split into two halves that don’t really work thematically as a diptych. While the segments are all well-written, there are some bloopers, like The Howler admonishing a caller for naughty words – directly after a song that has “shit” in it twice. The Howler is instantly charming, and Gardenia Lagomorph truly has a soothing voice and demeanor (not to mention a hilariously Jo Rowling-esque name) – but the album would be better served honing in on just one of these personalities.

Besides, gotta save something for the sequel, right?

Because I love me some gimmicks, I am predisposed to enjoying an album with a gimmick of some sort – but I’m also going to judge the mechanics of the gimmick more thoroughly than most normally-functioning humans would. The radio segments are ultimately side-dishes in the album’s multi-course meal – delicious on their own, pairs well with the main courses, but ends up clashing somewhat with the other side dishes.

Really? A food metaphor? Already? We’re not even a full thousand words in. Your standards are really slipping, man.

That implies I ever had any standards.

Fair point.

We’ll talk more about the hosts later, but first, why don’t we actually discuss the music? After one more nitpick, of course: there are no lyrics on WZRD‘s Bandcamp page, so if I get any lyrics wrong, sorry. I would encourage Ashley Hamel and anyone else to make an effort to put lyrics up on their Bandcamp albums – it’s a big boon to people like me interested in critiquing and analysis; it helps the archival process; having all that delicious searchable text on each of your song’s pages increases the SEO of your entire album; it makes your songs findable for people who only remember a specific line or two; and most importantly, it makes your songs much more accessible for those who are hard of hearing, have auditory processing issues, or just have difficulty discerning lyrics.

This is coming from the person who once misheard “endlessly” as “penlessly” – which isn’t even a word.

“Love Cannot Be Sorted” is the closest this album has to a single, since the DJ introducing it mentions how it’s been topping the charts for seven – no, wait – eight weeks in a row! Seriously, The Howler is very good, and all his cadences get stuck in my head. So, this is supposed to be The Song, the album’s best foot forward, and… it’s fine. It’s in a genre I’m a huge fan of – plausibly diegetic songs; that is, songs that feel like they could actually be real songs recorded (somehow… how do wizard songs get on the radio?? What’s the medium? Who’s it benefit?), released, and listened to in the Wizarding World. I’m also a big fan of songs by generic random Hogwarts students – songs like “Mirror of Erised” by Stephanie and the Quaffles, or “Sorting Hat” by Talons and Tea Leaves. So, you’d think this would be right up my alley, but… It just kinda falls flat. There are no huge flaws with the track – Ashley gives a good performance (though later songs will be a much better showcase for her talents), the production and instrumentation are all high quality, the structure of the song is unique and interesting, and the lyrics do condense the houses into stereotypes in a new and interesting way – by zeroing in on how those traits would affect a relationship. Unfortunately, it just never really comes together to say anything.

Now, the song definitely attempts that, with the repeated title drop coda, but… it doesn’t really follow? We just had a whole song about putting people into boxes, and now we’re told… not to do that? The song up to this point didn’t condemn the house system or subvert the tropes of the houses – it was buying into them! When I first saw the title, I assumed it was metaphorically about the vast spectrum of sexuality and desire, but the lyrics do not bear that out. Ashley seems to use exclusively male pronouns when discussing her previous loves from the various houses, making this a rather straight song. Which is fine! Nothing wrong with a little straightness every now and then – and I obviously don’t want straight people to have to “gay themselves up” or anything; but the title and ending message of the song seem like they should be about not putting love and/or people in boxes, and that queer romance is cool – which just isn’t being said by the rest of the song.

Also, it feels like there is some sordid/sorted joke that could have been fit in somewhere, but wasn’t.

I’ve mostly focused on the lyrics, because I yam what I yam, but I want to make clear that the music is well done – it just doesn’t stick in my mind that much. The tune is pleasant, easy to nod along to, but it’s far from the best song on the album, and not the one I would have highlighted as the track that’s been hogging the diegetic charts (my choice for that should be fairly obvious, but we’ll discuss that when we get to it). It also doesn’t help that the next song is an absolute banger.

While “Love Cannot Be Sordid (Unless You’re Cool With That)” felt like a well-made but rather rote and boring wizard rock song, “Hey Dude (My Sister Tho?)” is a breath of fresh air. It explores the character of Ron, already a surprising rarity in the world of wrock, and specifically hones in on his complicated feelings about Harry and Ginny’s relationship, which is great. I love how in 2019 there is absolutely still room for fresh new takes on the canon – and also diversifying the music of the genre. Ukelele-based songs are nothing new, but the Carribean musical inspiration shown in this song and “Hufflepuff Puff Pass” is something we don’t hear often, and is done so well. Plus, this the first song on the album where I feel like I’m actually listening to Ashley being herself.

Which is somewhat ironic, given that this song is explicitly from the POV of a fictional character, while the previous track could have conceivably been based on real-life relationships Ashley had or knew about. But she just feels so much more real and natural here. I think it’s the inflections.

Yeah, it’s definitely the inflections – there’s just so much personality to the way Ashley sings this song, and it’s hard not to groove and sing along. The inflections are infectious. Everytime I put on this song, I get a little happier, feel a little less stressed. Ashley’s voice is beautiful here, especially on the sustained notes and “ooh”s, and the bass line is groovy as all hell. Like, the music is so good I’ve barely mentioned the lyrics – which are also quite good! Ron is a sympathetic character here, and I love how his mixed feelings are based more on his friendship with Harry, and fears of being left out, than a patriarchal protectiveness of his sister. This song actually gives Ron a lot of emotional intelligence – maybe more than canon Ron strictly has, but I love this version of Ron nonetheless. This is right up there with Kwikspell’s “Good To See You Wallenby” with all-time great Ron songs – I actually need to look into digging up a third one so I can refer to the “Trio of Ron Songs”.

Also, the simple percussion works really well.

There’s really only one issue with “Hey Dude” – it ends just a little bit too early. I love the ending of “Oh well, I guess it’s only one more / One more in the family” – it’s so sweet, and the musical drop underscores the feeling. But everytime I listen to this song, I expect to hear the chorus one more time after that. It’s just such a good fun catchy chorus! I want to triumphantly exit the track with the chorus one last time, maybe with the lyrics changed to show how Ron has changed over the course of the song? Still, if the worst thing you have to say about a song is that you wished it was longer and there was more of it… that’s a damn good song.

“Rudolphus” is also a good song! It’s more in the heavily-produced vein of “Love Cannot Be Sorted”, but a lot more successful. None of the more produced songs on WZRD are as catchy as the more acoustic songs, but the tunesmynship here is solid. Songs about Bellatrix Lestrange aren’t that rare, but songs from Bellatrix’s point of view are, and songs about Rudolphus Lestrange are even rarer. The only other one I know of is “Lestrangelove” by Luna’s Ceiling, but that song has unfortunately disappeared from the internet, so I can’t link it. I think I like the quiet, understated heartbreak of “Lestrangelove” a little more (plus the music has a sound and feel much more unique in wrock), but “Rudolphus” has some killer lines, especially the soon-to-be-iconic “It’s almost like I’m married to a slab of meat.” Here’s a free merch idea, Ashley: chef/grillmeister aprons that say “It’s almost like I’m married to a slab of meat.”

Actually, that’s a terrible idea.

No, wait, you’re right. Didn’t think that one all the way through until I was typing it out. Speaking of unfortunate implications, this song focuses a lot on Bellatrix’s manipulation of her husband, to a point of reveling in it. Now, obviously Bellatrix is a Billie Eyelash, and the song isn’t in any way endorsing her actions, but still… it makes me a little uncomfortable. To be sure, a song from the POV of a man manipulating his wife would make me a lot more uncomfortable, but… I guess we don’t have many songs from the POV of the villains, gleefully describing the heinous immoral things they do, because while it’s a fun, mostly well-written song, I just get a little squicked out listening to it. Also, the “You’re only good for two things” bridge doesn’t really work. The “providing this song” line is a classic songwriting trope that I always enjoy, but Bellatrix talking about happiness not lasting… comes kind of from nowhere. It’s a weird thing for her to be complaining about, a weird way for her to phrase it – it’s just a sudden shift away from how I interpret her character. I keep expecting the first line to actually be “And that’s providing a son”, and I think that would have been a better direction to go in – something along the lines of “your only point is providing me with social status and an heir to my bloodline, and you are unable to fulfill those marital duties”.

Sounds like someone needs the services of Crumbley Grundelshire.

No one’s going to get that reference.

Yeah, that’s why you foisted it off on me.

True. Also true? “Rudolphus” is a good song that I want to like more than I do. “Hufflepuff Puff Pass”, on the other hand, is a song I like so unequivocally, I’m going to do something a little different here. I will first briefly mention its merits, before skipping ahead to writing the rest of the article. Then, I will come back, get blazed with my muggle roommates, play this song for them, and notate their reactions. Because it sounded like fun.

It’s a song about weed! So, yet another track of a subject or format that I am already predisposed to enjoy, and this one really is the stand out of the whole album. In fact, I almost wish it wasn’t about weed, because I feel bad saying that the best track of an album that is at times intensely personal was the silly fun one about getting blazed. But it’s silly and fun! And also the music is just absolute aces – the Caribbean sound is back, the production really helps sell the sound, and Ashley just slays the vocal performance here. Like, I feel like I’m just looking like a big stoner here saying the weed song is the best one, but… it’s so good! And now, for a message from the future:

“It’s so chill and vibey, and then they throw in O.W.L. test and I’m like oh shit its about Harry Potter!”

In response to the line “Hufflepuff-puff pass”: “Fuck yeah”

“I love how it changes tones.”

“This upbeat part reminds me of an anime theme song.”

In response to the production over the “black and yellow” line: “Ooooh! Yeah, that’s good, and I remember [Hufflepuffs living near the kitchens] from the books. Like yeah they’re getting high there. It sounded like the feeling of getting high. I liked the effects there, it was really cool. Bentley! I know I’m yucky, but you’re gonna get me yucky with your licks! Who is a kissing boy? Is it you? You are a kissing boy! Kissing boy!”

Artistic Merit: 4/5

Pot Leaves: 4/5

“It was really fun. And I liked that it had different parts to it and they’re all interesting.”

~Sierra For Now

Time is a flat snake, and this song rules. If The Howler was a little less Platonic Ideal of Morning Radio DJ, and a little more alternative community radio, “Hufflepuff Puff Pass” would be the clear choice as the chart-topping song to start the album out with. Speaking of which, let’s talk a little more about the DJs, because here is where we say goodbye to The Howler (“and I… am SENT” is so good), and say hello to the other WZRD host, Gardenia Lagomorph. Again, Gardenia Lagomorph is a brilliant name, perfectly fitting in Jo’s very weird world of nomenclature, and Ashley embodies the character immediately.

Who the hell names their kid “Xenophillius”… ESPECIALLY when your last name is Lovegood?? Why not just call him “Alienfucker McGee” and be done with it?

However, her appearance does throw the album off balance a bit. I generally like this back half less, and she shakes up the established dynamic, and never really establishes her own. She shows up, says some words, a couple songs play, and she says goodnight. Speaking of which, The Howler wished us good morning, and now it’s nighttime already! Yes that is a nitpick so petty it barely counts, bite me.

Please don’t bite them. They are rather fragile.

Thank you. So, I get the AM/PM split as a way to divide the album, but… it didn’t need dividing? The songs in the first half are generally a little faster and louder than the back, but only a little. All but one of Gardenia’s songs have big, loud moments, and “Waiting” especially doesn’t really follow the laid-black, soporific Gardenia that well. Plus, if we are saying that these DJs are playing music to fit their tastes, that brings along the wild implication that noted war criminal Bellatrix Lestrange recorded a single about her love of abusing her spouse, sent it in to the radio, and they played it. Also, “Ashleytrix and the Wizards” is a remarkably strange name for a diegetic band in the Harry Potter universe. May I instead suggest Ashleytrix and the Wix?

It would be remiss of me to not mention that yes, of course, this is all nitpicking otherwise excellently written and performed spoken word pieces backed by appropriate music (Gardenia’s meandering piano is especially pretty), and I would be neither surprised nor offended if it turned out I am literally the only person on Earth who notices or cares about this stuff.

Anyway, here’s a Riddle™ cover.

Okay, so I just added Riddle™ to the tags for this article, and it didn’t pop up any suggestions, so this may be the first time I’ve used the Riddle™ tag on this site? That seems impossible and unconscionable, but here we are. I should take steps to remedy this in the future.

Wild. “Look At Me” is a song that I didn’t realize was a cover at first, and that has actually made it go up in my estimation. The main reason for this was my exasperation at following up the rather trite “Rise Above” with listening to a song that ends with “the bravest man that I have ever met”; exasperation that melted away when I realized these lyrics were written in 2008. That’s totally fine! Also, I think Ashley Hamel’s track is best served by listening to her version first. That’s not to say that this cover is necessarily worse than the original, just that there is something absolutely unique and spellbinding about the original vocal performance, which Ashley wisely doesn’t try and emulate. Her production and instrumentation help set it apart (though part of me does love the cheesy-ass string synths of the original – but that might just be the Voldemort in my head) – I especially like the emphasis on guitar over keys, and the drums coming in with the second verse. Also, this is just much more polished, so little missteps or recording quality dips in the original track are completely gone, making this a very easy listening experience. A listening experience that is easy, that is. Not an experience of easy listening.

Are there any easy listening wrock bands? Comment below!

Don’t be sure to like, comment, and sharescribe. After you’ve done that and listened to Hamel’s track a few times, if you then go and listen to the original for the first time in about a decade, it’s like finding this brilliant demo of that song you love. Everything in the cover is polished down to a mirror shine, which is great, because it becomes a nice companion piece to the warts-and-all original. I’m trying to figure out a clever way to compare the polishing down metaphor to how the cover has a great vocal performance, and the original has a flabbergasting vocal performance, but I can’t.

If you can figure it out, comment below!

No, don’t. Let’s instead move on to “Bring Them Home”, which is the most acoustic song on this side, and is entirely coincidentally, probably my favorite. Melancholy Molly songs are nothing new (Melancholy Molly new band name btw that one’s free), and while Ashley Hamel doesn’t exactly add any big bold new ideas to the mix, the writing here is the best on the whole album. Between stellar character work, clever writing, a melody that is slow and down-tempo but still catchy and pretty, and a very stripped down (but high quality) production ethos that ties it all together, the best thing I can say about “Bring Them Home” is that it feels like another cover a classic wrock song from back in the day – except it’s allllll new, baby!

What.

I don’t even know, sorry. The progression from worrying over Arthur to worrying about her family, to worrying about her extended family is well drawn, and Ashley’s voice really is something else here, elevating already great lyrics like

Pillows with no indents

Echoes of the years they spent

What a simple, brilliant, perfect little couplet. I’m also a big fan of the “nine hands of my life” line. I really can’t shake the feeling that if this was a song from 2008, “nine hands of my life” would be a well-known phrase in the community, up there with “I wish you peace and love and happiness” and “the weapon we have is love” and “Fang, stop peeing on my trunk.” Obviously, I still prefer the song with the swears and the one with the weed, but “Bring Them Home” is easily the best of the slower, quieter songs, and a clear highlight of the album. An album which is (almost) winding down, with the peppy, vibrant, and deeply compelling “Waiting”.

Feel free to use that as a pull quote, btw.

Shhh! You’re not supposed to say that part!

“Waiting” is… a hell of a thing. While I prefer the high energy, yet laid-back styles of “Hufflepuff” and “Hey Dude”, “Waiting” works well as a musical synthesis of everything making up the album, and clearly states “Hey, this is what an Ashley Hamel track sounds like. Also, buckle up, butterfuck.” The progression from simple to full production works as intended, and the instrumentation shines here, being given some breathing room after an album pretty crammed full of lyrics. Ashley’s wicked, snarky, Slytherin inflection comes through aces and spades here, especially in lines like

I’ve learned

That sometimes people say things

That are partly bullshit

To get inspired

Damn. What I love is that this wizard rock debut album ends with what is basically a call-out post for the wizard rock scene – no names are named or anything, but Ashley minces no words speaking about how our scene loves to talk about equality and inclusivity, yet the con lineups are looking more and more homogeneous every day (hint: it’s very white). It’s a song about exhaustion, and feels for all the world like a farewell to wizard rock, not the culmination of a debut. I think it’s meant more as a push forward than a wave goodbye, but between that and lyrics about the frayed relationship with her mother, “Waiting” is catchy and danceable and also one of the most deeply personal songs in wizard rock this side of Demons at the Helm. It’s not the track off this album I’ve listened to the most, and never will be, but “Waiting” is an artistically important and relevant entry to the wizard rock canon, even if it doesn’t end up as making as much of a social impact as it deserves.

Before we wrap up, there is one more song on WZRD, a bonus track called “Being Here With You Tonight”. It’s a bonus track and intended as such, so I’m only going to touch on it briefly and vaguely, because it is best listened to without expectations. This song does the bonus track gimmick well – the pause at the beginning is the perfect length, and the slow fade into Ashley noodling around is a gentle way to ease in those of us who are both forgetful and easily startled. The fact that the song is only Ashley, her guitar, and her voice, makes it stand apart from the rest of the album, and she is up to the challenge and ably acquits herself here without the safety nets of more instruments and cleaner production. As for the lyrical content, it seems to be the soothing balm after the truth bomb, possibly to the point of becoming the true capstone to the album, and this track only strengthens my belief that an Ashley Hamel wizard rock cover album would be absolute fire emoji.

How has that not really been a thing yet? An album where one artist does nothing but covers of other wrock songs? Sure, Christian ObatR had that MySpace page where he put up a grand total of like, three covers, but this really seems like a slam dunk for the current wrock soundscape – especially for a newer artist looking to reach a wide audience. I want to be clear – Ashley Hamel’s songwriting absolutely stands on its own – she is just very good at giving classics new life.

Damn tho – when that one thing happens? Wow. WZRD is nearly worth the purchase on the strength of that moment alone. The rest of the album is just icing.

But what delicious, intriguing, complex, and lushly created icing it is! Shit, I really need to watch it with the food metaphors. This could become a bad habit. WZRD is a triumph is nearly every category beyond Integrity of Framing Device, and my weird obtuse obsessions should not count against an album with this much going for it.

Oh, damn it all.

What?

Look at this.

Aw, shit.

Precisely.

So, I seem to have forgotten, been told, and then reforgotten that Ashley Hamel is late of Bella and le Strangers, so calling this a debut wrock album is a little more suspect – debut solo album would be a more apt description. Also, “Rudolphus” was originally a Bella and le Strangers song – I don’t think that information changes my feelings about the song one way or another, yet I’m terrified if I don’t inform you of this I’m an Unethical Journalist.

And they don’t even work in video games!

Also, I forgot that Grace Kendall of Snidget and @wix_rock fame helped write “Bring Them Home” – i.e. the one where I went on about how much I loved the writing.

Funny how that works.

Am I overusing this gimmick?

Probably.

Anyway, I was summing up WZRD – good album is good. I think the best description of the tracks is “high quality” – there is a lot of attention to detail and polish, but also a lot of passion, joy, and exuberance. If you’re gonna spend ten bucks on wizard rock, your next ten dollars should go towards getting this album in your ears.

Seeing as this is my final Review (but unfortunately, far from my final article), I would be remiss if I did not bring out the ol’ giant gold letters one last time for the grade. WZRD by Ashley Hamel easily earns my final score of

Thank you for your service, old friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…for Frequently Brilliant. Wrock Snob out.

IMPRESSIONS: We Are The Wizard Resistance

And now, for something completely different.

Today, I’m debuting a new type of article, as well as launching a site-wide revamp. Visually, things are gonna mostly stay the same, but in terms of organization and categorization, this whole place has needed tidying up for a long time. More details can be found at the end of the article, but to suffice it to say that Impressions are a new article format that focuses on less on every specific part of each song, and more on casual discussions of my initial reactions to an album after a handful of listens. While the goal is for those to be shorter, breezier articles, this is also where I’m going to try to put the more tangential discussions about culture, impact, weird things the songs reminded of, etc. Like I said, something completely different.

We Are The Wizard Resistance is an absolute study in contrasts, more than any album I’ve newly listened to in a long time. Not only is this brilliant but troubled album full of high highs and low lows, but these peaks and valleys are often in conflict. Thoughtful production meets poor mixing. Adequate to above-average voices grate against each other. Nearly perfect pop song-writing can be hampered by weak lyrics, and bold and inciteful political messages jockey for space with surprisingly retro and reductionist interpretations of canon.

So.

Here’s the thing.

Let’s get real. Let’s get really really real. Cancel the bubble round, cuz we’re getting real!

So, the plan was to make everyone think a review of Ashley Hamel’s WZRD was coming, but actually seed extraordinarily vague hints throughout the previous articles, all pointing towards Hawthorn & Holly (see if you can spot all three!), post a quick Impressions article about their new album, and then post the actual WZRD article the next day. But then I listened to We Are The Wizard Resistance, and… it was difficult. Like, literally, physically difficult to listen to. I believe I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth reiterating that I have Conversion Disorder, which manifests itself as Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures, or PNES. Everyone gets really concerned when my PNES comes out in public. At the time I first listened to WATWR I was also consuming some marijuana – I have found that being high can increase my susceptibility to seizure triggers, but also greatly increases my ability to fight them off.

Usually this trade-off works well – I don’t mind getting the tics and shakes more often if I’m able to stop myself from going unresponsive. But it became a real hindrance even just listening to the album. There was obviously a lot of care and love put into WATWR, but imperfections abound, and they happened to be the types of imperfections that trigger my seizures – unexpected pattern breaks, stumbled delivery, and high-pitched, discordant sounds. Every song I listened to had at least something to recommend it, often a plurality of things, but every song also had an at least equal number of issues.

If I had to narrow my issues with the album down to just one, the answer would be easy – the mixing. Voices sounded like they were recorded on different equipment, on different continents. The consistent swapping of lead vocals only served to highlight this contrast, and there were many times I visibly cringed, recoiled, or laughed out loud when a new voice took over the singing, because it just didn’t sound like it fit with the rest of the song (despite being voices I had been hearing the whole album). The drum work was particularly poor, and seemed to be an inexpertly programmed drum kit.

Adding to my frustration was that for every missed beat or bad note, there was a great bit of song construction, insightful character work, catchy chorus, or an absolutely HAM unexpected rap verse. There was so much to like, but… the shit that sucked was omnipresent and inescapable. I listened to We Are The Wizard Resistance a couple more times to make sure, and then promptly had some more major seizures that put me out of commission for a day or two. When I was feeling better, I sat down, all ready to bang out an unfortunately negative Impressions, and then move on to my last review, but I did want to listen to WATWR one more time before diving in.

And it sounded completely different.

Because this time I was using different headphones.

There were still issues with the soundscape – voices still tended to sound like they were markedly different distances from the mic when recording, and the switch between voices could still be a bit jarring, but all the many many edges and burrs were suddenly sanded down to non-threatening little nubs. Maybe a bit irritating, but nothing sharp and pointy for my mental yarn to get caught on. In fact, many of the issues I had with the mixing and general sound of the album, while still present, were now so minor that I’m honestly not sure I would have noticed them if I’d first heard WATWR with my fancy wired over-the-ear headphones. So now I was stuck in this position where I had an album that I knew was good but tragically flawed, and now the tragic flaw was gone, but my mind still remembered all the stuff that used to be wrong, you know? I had planned to start off a new style of article all about my first impressions of a disc, but now my first impressions were unexpectedly muddy and unreliable.

Which brings us up to now. So, what’s a Snob to do? Besides cutting back on starting every sentence with “So,”? Obviously, it’s time for an Interlude!

Welcome to Interludes, a new formatting thing I’m trying out.
Many times when writing articles, there’s a tangent I want to go on, but it’s a bit too lengthy for a mere parenthetical statement. Interludes are intended to be a solution to that, offering a clear visual break from the rest of the article, that also hopefully communicates “here is some related but non-necessary information, feel free to read it now, come back later, or skip it entirely”. I’ve always been fond of the use of humorous footnotes, but that style isn’t really user-friendly when paired with a 6,000 word wall of text without pagination. I would love your feedback on this.
Honestly, maybe this is the best way to introduce Impressions – the point of this article type is to be a place to put all of the “me” stuff. Criticism as an art form is neither wholly objective nor subjective, and while the two shouldn’t be entirely separated, there’s… a lot of me. I’m honestly a bit much. And that’s okay! But sometimes my emotional reaction to a piece, and the other avenues of thought prompted by said reaction, threaten to swamp everything else I try to do in a review. This is not and never will be a clean division – Impressions and their counterpart, Analysis, will often have lots of overlap, but the hope is that by putting this effort in to labeling and categorization, my work will be a little less structurally messy and a little easier to follow in the future.
While I’m here, I might as well talk about the other structural changes going forward. Right smack in the middle of an unrelated article is about as good as anywhere else, and definitely is consistent with my general lack of common sense. Tomorrow-ish, I will be posting my final review, or should I say, my final Review. This is a change that’s been a long time coming, but the threat of a massive new Harry and the Potters album was the final catalyst. I wanted to do Lumos justice, but I also knew that I would be awash in technical details, tangential feelings, and canon minutia. I could just chunk the review into parts, maybe per vinyl disc, but that only guaranteed its length, not any quality found within.  I’d like to think there’s a poetic nature to this – my first review was an overwhelmingly negative critique of an album everyone had bought and listened to, makes sense for my final review to be a [REDACTED] critique of an album that, while I don’t know its sales figures, could definitely use some more love.
Hmmm… anything else? I can’t really think of much. Oh, I might continue to call them Reviews when I do my semi-annual tradition of reviewing a muggle album on my birthday. No promises on that this year – I’m too busy with wizard rock! Man, I definitely didn’t think I’d be saying that in 2019, but… there are a LOT of things I didn’t expect to be things that exist in 2019. Anywho, I think that’s about it. Impressions are a format where you will see a lot of self-referential language, and Analysis will be a format with… less of that? Look, just like everything else on this site, it’s gonna be a messy transition, but if you’re lucky, there might be a quality dick joke or three. If you did read all this, thanks! The article continues abruptly below, as I pretend the previous 1500 words didn’t exist, and just start from the top, giving some general thoughts on each song of the album.

Well, I said I was going to abruptly continue the article, but I can’t even keep a promise beyond the end of a sentence. If you did do the right thing for yourself and your family, and skipped the Interlude, or if you did the wrong thing, read the Interlude, and forgot what the point of any of this was, here’s where we are: I have a lot of negative first impressions of an album, negative impressions that later turned out to be partly due to my daily-use headphones being shitter than realized. Unfortunately, I can’t just will those neurons out of my brain. So, I’m going to pull a page from the past and do a modified version of my Drunk Dives and Stoned Surveys (ignore that I only did one of each, the sentence flows better if they are plural and no I don’t think this parenthetical statement is ruining the flow at all), where I listen to a song and just write all my thoughts out until I have no more thoughts to say. This won’t quite be the case here, since We Are The Wizard Resistance absolutely does deserve an Analysis at some point, just not today. My aim is to give a full picture of my general thoughts of each song, but leave the bulk of the nitpicking and calling out of specific details to a later date. And by that I mean I will limit it to one nitpick per song.

Here’s the album cover again.

“Hermione” is honestly an odd choice for the start of the album. I understand the sequencing trope of the title/money-shot track coming second, usually after a slower tempo first song, but it just doesn’t quite work here. “Hermione” is one of the weaker tracks of the whole disc, being rather light on lyrics, musically adequate, and not really covering any ground not also explored in “Her Story”. To be clear, it’s not a bad song, and definitely has a warm, nostalgic throwback feel to it – but it would be a lot more comfortable in the middle section of a wizard rock album from 2009 than headlining an album from 2019 called “We Are The Wizard Resistance”.

Nitpick of the song: “Even though she’ll go on about SPEW” is a weird lyric, since it implies that her going on about SPEW is an unfortunate character trait instead of a positive one. Now, that could lead to an interesting discussion of the merits and problems with SPEW, but such nuance when it comes to dissecting canon is not really forthcoming in this album.

Fortunately, “We Are The Wizard Resistance” more than earns its stripes as a title song, and promptly sets to work making you forget about the lackluster beginning by repeatedly kicking your ass over and over. I still have issues with the final mix, but I just can’t be sure how much of that it because of real problems with the mixing and/or recording of the album, or because I have shitty headphones and a shittier motor cortex – otherwise, this is a brilliant song that once again, kicks at least 95% of the ass, if not even more. It also highlights how I easily could have received this album much more positively. I stumbled upon and listened to the original version of this song from the fourth Wizards and Muggles comp, and it’s fine, but it’s so scaled down comparatively. So I can easily imagine someone hearing this version for the first time and being super pumped at a song they knew already being just pushed to the limits in scale and scope. But I can also easily imagine someone familiar with this version from the 2018 Wrock Sampler eagerly starting up this album and being met with… “Hermione”.

BUT THIS ISN’T ABOUT THAT SONG. This is about a kick-ass title track that is absolutely overstuffed with production, but I mean that in a good way. I’ll save the gushing for the eventual Analysis, but suffice it to say that the bells coming in never fails to spook my jellies in the best possible way, and Ashley Hamel’s Hamilton-inspired rap verse (hAMELTON?!?!?!?!?) is only the second best part of the song, because the best part of the song is Ashley Hamel’s fronting over the last chorus. It just disappoints me that this is the only song with Ashley Hamel as frontmyn. And I don’t just mean on this album – I mean, as far as I know, this is the only wizard rock song with an Ashley Hamel rap verse and fronting. And I now want this on every song. I’m worried that this is going to ruin the as-yet unheard Lumos for me, and I will just be disappointed everytime a song ends without Ashley going “COME ON!” over it at some point.

To sum up “We Are The Wizard Resistance”, it is a nearly perfect song, an absolute game changer, instantly iconic, and proof that if, hypothetically speaking, you were running the most prominent Harry Potter convention this side of the asteroid belt (after you judo chopped the only real competition in the fucking throat back in 2012), and it was your job to provide an entertaining, insightful, politically charged, energetic, joyous, and above all KICK-ASS concert experience to your attendees, and you DIDN’T immediately seek out Hawthorn and Holly to perform, much less fucking ghosted them, then you would be guilty of very nearly criminal negligence.

All hypothetically speaking, of course.

Nitpick of the song: The “we are the” kids element of the chorus shouldn’t have appeared until after the first verse – it’s just one element too many to be hit with after the sparse drum-and-vocals opening. Also, not a nitpick, but, seriously, if y’all fuckers can learn the bulk of fucking “Ice, Ice, Baby”, then you can learn the Hamel-ton rap.

“Felix Felicis” is a perfectly structured pop song, and a triumph of songwriting. I still think a perfect recording of this song is yet to be made, and honestly? That perfect recording may not even be by Hawthorn & Holly, but that’s okay – this song is already an achievement as it is. I have long been particularly partial for those “generic” wrock songs – you know, the ones that take place from the POV and/or about unnamed characters, and especially the ones that could easily be diegetic pop songs. There are some feints towards specificity, such as “you with your trio”, but that really isn’t that conclusive, and the second verse makes it clear that this song is just from the perspective of Some Student. “Felix Felicis” also is the perfect follow-up to “We Are The Wizard Resistance”, starting more down-tempo to provide a breather, and then ramping up into an irresistibly dancey chorus. This is also the first song where, when listening to this album with good headphones, I noticed the drums really heating up. I generally won’t mention the drums much until the Analysis, but suffice it to say that they are much much better than I first thought. All that’s left to say about this song is that having already mentioned the sub-perfect mixing and/or recording, there is nothing to truly nitpick this song over. Damn. That’s a good song right there. Sure would be rad to see it performed on a big stage while surrounded by thousands of other Harry Potter nerds, that sure would be neato. Just a completely random thought that popped into my head.

“Department of Mysteries” is probably the song that fared best when exposed to adequate audio headwear – I kind of hated it the first few times. I now really really dig it, but the production does lend itself to poor compression. This isn’t a knock on the song, just that its intentionally claustrophobic, nearly paranoid production crammed to the gills with textures just this side of discordant quickly becomes a muddy mess when you use shit equipment to listen to it. That’s honestly about all I have to say about this one – it’s a fun idea with a fun chorus, and I love that it’s from the POV of Hogwarts randos again. Plus, been a long while since we had a good song about tentacle brains, right? Add another to the long storied canon.

Nitpick of the song: I don’t get the “give Hermione a run for her money” line. What does that refer to? Going insane? Why are the POV characters of the song being so rude? And ableist? If not, what does that refer to? Didn’t the brains go after Ron, not Hermy?

And fuck a duck and feed me pancakes but y’all, I’m tired. But I also really want to get a post up tonight. So, here’s the thing: if you are reading this article and there are lots and lots of words below this paragraph, then great! Keep reading and enjoy. If not, the rest of those words will maaagically appear sometime tomorrow next week. Otherwise, the already dubious quality of this article would only further plummet.

Wrock Snob out.

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REVIEW: Wzrd

Okay, I think I figured out the problem, and I am reasonably certain that this is the actual album I am supposed to review.

Reasonably sure.

Wzrd is a 2019 release from Stynx, a blending of chill-hop and glitch-hop that tickles your spine and tingles your ears. If you’ve ever put on in the background one of those “CHILL STUDY BEATS 24/7 LO-FI STUDY WRITING GAMING CHILL HOLLY BEAT AREA PLACE TYPE THING LO-FI” videos, you will be familiar with the sonic soundscape found within. I could wax rhapsodic about all the specific weird aural textures, but that’s way more effort than I’m expending on this ridiculous series of “jokes”. The walls have fallen down, the artifice laid bare. Time is a flat snake.

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REVIEW: W.Z.R.D.

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First off, I would like to extend my apologies to you, the reader, and the wizard rock community as a whole. I apologize wholeheartedly and sincerely for the article posted yesterday, wherein I reviewed, upon request, the album WZRD. Apparently I reviewed the “wrong one” and it “wasn’t even wizard rock at all” and “did you really write over a thousand words for a single joke that’s already a stretch at best?” or whatever. But, I always make up for my mistakes and I am always timely with my content, so below I proudly present my new, updated review of W.Z.R.D. – may this one be more relevant to your interests, and less of a thorne in your side.

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REVIEW: WZRD

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WZRD is the eponymous debut album of Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi and Oladipo “Dot da Genius” Omishore, teaming up together to form what Google tells me is an alt-rock band, but is clearly a wizard rock band. I mean, it’s all in the name.

The album starts us off with “The Arrival”, a hawt instrumental track whose opening synths and distorted guitar riff barrel straight into hip-hop drums, building a sense of anticipation. The drums become more driving and military as we hit the climax of the song, and you can practically see the wand carrier step into frame, showing us just the hem of their robes at first, as we pan up and see this newcomer to the wizard rock scene in all their glory. There are so many moments in the books that could be scored with this song, and it can be real fun to run through the different scenarios when the climax of the song hits.

“High Off Life” introduces us to the main conceit of the album – alt rock beats, indie rock choruses, and Kid Cudi kind of lethargically rapping over it all. “Lethargic” isn’t really fair though – it’s more languid, like a python coiled in wait. The song has a real sense of expectancy, of unfulfilled promise, which goes hand in hand with the lyrics, which are clearly about Sirius Black, his relationship with his mother and family, and the sort of live-in-the-moment nihilism that Malfoy Manor (aka Split Seven Ways) covered in “Live Fast, Die Young”. Kid Cudi’s freshman effort doesn’t come close to the frenetic heights of Zoë’s track, but there is an appeal to this more down-tempo approach. It’s a little on the longish and repetitive side, but I kind of enjoyed “High Off Life” when I listened to it the first time a couple hours ago, while slightly high and walking in the woods.

The title of “The Dream Time Machine” promises an ethereal, unearthly experience that never quite materializes. The relaxed tempo started in the previous song continues here, and it works for an introspective song by Harry, looking back on the journey he’s come through. While not explicitly a Deathly Hallows album, WZRD‘s songs definitely trend towards that perspective, which becomes even clearer as the album continues. There is good melody work in the incidental instrumental bits around the margins, but the meat of the song is honestly rather uninteresting. “Love Hard” fares much better, jacking up the voltage and hitting the listener off the bat with Kid Cudi literally just saying “blah blah blah” at you. There’s a nostalgic, early 2000’s rap-rock air to the song, but while more musically interesting than previous songs on the album, the generic “love bravely and without fear” lyrics and the fact that there are many more interesting and fun rap-rock songs around means this song gets off the ground, but never quite achieves liftoff. A sandwich comprised of delicious slices of bread and porridge.

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Stoned Survey: The Whomping Willows

 

In 2016, during the run-up to LeakyCon, I posted the first Drunk Dive – a new series where I would listen to an artist’s entire discography, reviewing it in real time, and taking a shot every three songs. I only ever did this once, reviewing The Mudbloods, and the world is all the better for it. The world is better because I only did it once. I wasn’t sure the self-deprecation fully got across there.

Despite that, we are bringing the schtick out again, but tweaked, in order to review the recently released Friends Like You Are Seldom Found, a digital box set of The Whomping Willows discography. Instead of over-consumption of alcohol, I will be indulging heavily in the kind green doctor. The gentle mental enhancer. That good good. Jazz cigarettes. Bible worksheets. Bob Hope. Assbandit. Curley wurley. Dat sticky icky icky, Poo We. The Devil’s Cabbage. Funky falafel. Grandpa’s medicine. Hungarian Hummus. Jupiter’s beard. Kevin Bacon. Lamb’s bread. Muggles. Nay nay famous. O-Z. Reefbuds. Schwugs. Smeed. Smookey smoke. Squirter-farter. Tooka. Wacky tobaccy. Zoot.

Marijuana. I will be smoking marijuana. Why? Well, it’s tradition to never continue any of my traditions or plans, so switching it up made sense. It’ll be interesting to compare the quality dips in this article to the Drunk Dive. Otherwise, it would have been kind of awkward to be downing shots during the latter half of Demons at the Helm. And most importantly, to say that I am honoring the career of Whompy by smoking these trees.

Yes, this whole thing was inspired, not by the retiring of one of the driving founts of creativity, organization, and passion in this community, but by that asinine pun. We are all very surprised.

So, here’s how this is going to go. Every three or songs, I will take a hit, and I will be writing my thoughts on these songs concurrently. The discography totals over 7 hours of listening time, so I’m expecting this whole debacle to take at least 10 hours (the length of this project is another good reason to do weed instead of booze). Some caveats: I am defining a hit as one lighting of the bowl, and a consumption of the smoke that arises until it is no longer producing smoke. I will be attempting to light enough for not much more than one lungful at a time, but fire is a fickle fiendish friend. I also will not be going strictly every 3 songs – I lump the demos and live recordings together a bunch, some hits have four songs to their name so I can finish up an album cleanly, and certain tracks are deserving of a hit all by themselves. You will be extremely surprised to find what tracks those are.

Also, at the time I am writing this, this document is sitting at about 1200 words. By contrast, my infamous Demons at the Helm review is just over 6,000 words. This is gonna be a LONG one. I should probably split it up into parts for ease of reading, but I’m not getting that luxury in writing this, so you won’t get it either. There is also a high probability of it turning into complete jibberish by the time I clear III, so, um, have fun. I will offer all these caveats as to the quality of what you are about to read, but I will do absolutely nothing to ameliorate the actual issues, because I’m a white liberal.

Today, my bud of choice will be Stardawg, a sativa dominant hybrid, bred from Chemdawg 4 and Tres Dawg. I would have thus called it Sevendawg or something like that, but it apparently gets its name from “the bright, sparkling crystal trichomes that blanket the strain like stars”. This particular bud has a THC content of 20%, and a CBD content of .07%, and is brought to us by the folks at Meraki Gardens, a local Oregon female-owned solar-powered cannabis farm. I love this state.

I have two grams of this stuff, which should carry me quite nicely through all 37 hits (!!!) – yet another reason for doing weed, because 37 shots of firewhiskey would definitely cross the line from whimsically dangerous to straight up bad news beagles.

Okay, enough preamble, we’re almost at 1.5k words now. That’s ridiculous. Just gonna grind up the first bowl, and get started. Oh, should probably crack a window, too. And light some candles. And get snacks ready. And post that picture to twitter. And cry a lot for no particular reason. Did I take my meds? Lemme check. Okay, yeah, we’re good.

Oh, and try and suffer through to the end, where I have a very special and exciting announcement! Once again, I must warn you that this is exciting for me, and probably quite disheartening for everyone else. Also I might get bored and spill the beans halfway through jegus kristos we are at 1525 words let’s just do this thing I can already tell this is gonna be the trainwreck to end all rambly self-indulgent trainwrecks okay let’s go

Oh shit I packed this bowl really tight

Oh double shit I should probably end this introduction by saying I live in a state where marijuana is legal, and I enjoy it recreationally, but pretty much anything can become an addiction, and that you should always watch out for when you “need” something to get through the day, or are using or doing something so you don’t have to face certain emotional realities. Mind-altering chemicals are super neat! But like fire or garlic, you must respect them, and how quickly you can cross the line to overpowering. All things in moderation, including moderation. Be safe out there kids.

Okay now let’s get WREEEEEEEEECKED

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An Interview with Lauren Fairweather, Part 3

Here at last is the final part of my interview with Lauren Fairweather, recorded during LeakyCon 2016. Huge thanks again to Tianna for the excellent transcription work – hit her up if you need any transcribing done. It took me this long to post all three sections and all I had to do was copypasta and hit Publish. Without Tianna this almost certainly would never have seen the light of day. 

WS: Do you regret “I’m Rapping”?

LF: No! No, that song… The joke was that Hayley and Kristina were in a rap battle that I was forced into by a challenge, so I was not initially part of it and I won, so now whenever Hayley and Kristina fight or are competing in any manner, it’s always my fault and I’m always the winner. So there was one point where Hayley and Kristina were fighting over who would get to be punished, and they ended up giving the punishment to me by default. Just look at the chorus: I’m pretty clear that this is not my thing. I’m not trying to appropriate hip hop culture; it was just a thing that I was challenged to do, and it was fun and silly. I tried to make fun of myself as much as possible, because that’s how I roll.

WS: Nice. How do you respond to accusations that Lauren Fairweather is a stage name, and that your real name is Stubby Boardman?

LF: People ask me all the time if it’s my real name!

WS: Really?

LF: Yes! I don’t know, I guess it kind of describes me well – I have a sunny personality. But people sometimes ask me if it’s real. I don’t know. That’s just my name.

WS: How did you get into plush making?

LF: I’ve always loved stuffed animals, and I spend a lot of money on stuffed animals. At some point I realized, hey, I’m crafty, I should probably learn how to make these. I’ve always loved making stuff, and I always see cool things and I teach myself how to make them, and I obsess over them for months or years at a time. The thing with the plushies is that it stuck, that people wanted more of them. I still cannot meet demand with the plushies, so that’s why it kind of became an extra business for me. People were asking for something other than T-shirts and CDs. They had too many T-shirts, and they were downloading CDs digitally, and they were like, “Okay, well what else do you got for me?” And all of the wizard rock bands were kind of racking their brains, like, “What do I make? Koozies?”

WS: Pins?

LF: So many different kinds of wizard rock merch that existed.

WS: The frisbee. I’ll never forget the frisbee.

LF: Yeah! I’ve got great frisbees. I have like four of them left that say ‘50 points if it goes through her head.’

WS: Nice.

LF: I’ve always been a child at heart, and things like that make me happy. For some reason, those two businesses kind of fit perfectly. I can sell my plushies at my merch table or in the marketplace at cons like this, and people come up for my music or they come up for my plushies, and they learn about the other thing in the process.

WS: What advice do you have for people trying to expand their entrepreneurship, and I mean in terms of scope? You started as a music entrepreneur, and then you went into a completely different medium.

LF: I think when you’re in a creative field, you have to diversify your income. You can’t rely on one income stream because what happens if YouTube disappears, or becomes a paid service and you can’t afford it anymore? You can’t rely on just YouTube videos or just music. People don’t buy the plushies year round; they buy them around Christmas time, or if there happens to be a birthday or something, so I sell them mostly in the winter. So how do you make money the rest of the year? You either get a day job or, hey, let’s do more YouTube videos. So for me, that’s always been my strategy. That’s how I can manage this, is hey, let’s do a ton. That way I can see what’s popular at the time because the Internet moves so fast, and I think it’s smart to find different avenues for making money, and just have them all available at all times.

The other good thing about that is you don’t burn out. If you’re creating multiple kinds of things, you can always take a break with one thing, and the fact that mine are all connected by my one Lauren Fairweather brand lets people know I’ve not just disappeared. If I had a different Twitter account for everything that I make and people only followed one, they’d think, “Oh, she’s stopped making music, so she must not exist.” It’s good to let people know that I am still working on things actively. Obviously if I have an opportunity to play a show soon, I might switch to music for a little while, or I might focus on making merch for that show. It’s hard to have a lot of things on your plate, so taking on too much can be a problem. But it’s also nice to wake up in the morning and say, “What am I excited to work on today?” And not have to force yourself to do something you’re not feeling at the moment. More

An Interview with Lauren Fairweather, Part 2

And now, the second part of my 2016 interview with Lauren Fairweather – thanks again to Tianna for transcription services.

WS: So when’s the last time you logged into MySpace?

LF: I tried to log in recently. I think I was looking for old wizard rock photos – somebody had asked me for them for some kind of flashback article or slideshow or something, but Molly Lewis’s “My Hope” came true and I forgot my MySpace password and it is now a relic, frozen in time.

WS: Literally my next question was can you still log into MySpace?

LF: (laughs) No, I couldn’t. I don’t even know. But they erased a lot of things; it’s all gone, all the old blogs and things like that, so even if I’d gone in just to recover some of that, it just isn’t there anymore.

WS: So was Bathroom Acoustics your first foray into a cappella, and where did the concept for that even come from?

LF: I had been in choirs and a cappella groups since I was a little kid, and I’ve always, always loved a cappella music, and so has Nina. We thought for a long time, first of all, the idea of bathroom acoustics – that you step into a bathroom and it gets all foggy and you sound like the best singer in the world because of the echoes and it’s just a beautiful thing. So we thought that concept for Myrtle would be really fun, and also that that would be the best way to do it. It was one of the hardest projects we’ve ever done. We got in constant fights when we were writing that album, just clashing constantly, but we really liked how it came out. We actually ended up writing instrumentation so we could perform it live, ‘cause we couldn’t have a million of our voices. I mean, we probably could’ve gotten Nina’s a cappella group to learn it, but we didn’t have the time. So yeah, we always had harmonies; there’s just music underneath them, so it was pretty easy to substitute in just a bunch of voices underneath us. And bathroom sound effects: all mouth sounds and things that you would find in a bathroom.

WS: Did you make those yourself, or did you get them from the Internet?

LF: We actually pulled in our drummer, who really never got enough credit. He’s a member of the Moaning Myrtles, he really is, Justin Bulava. He’s incredible; he did all of the drums on all of our albums, he did the accordion on a lot of songs… He plays a billion instruments, and we were like, “We need a percussion section that’s only in the bathroom.” So I walked around in our bathroom with him and recorded him banging on stuff, and he didn’t track that electronically. He listened to a metronome and did it all in layers.

WS: Oh wow.

LF: It’s not like he sampled things and then put them together. He performed them.

WS: He performed live percussion off of banging things in the bathroom.

LF: Yep. And toothbrushes and flushing toilets, and yeah.

WS: That is incredible.

LF: He’s a genius. He’s a magical human being.

WS: I’m so glad that we know that now. This is why I do these things.

LF: Yeah!

WS: How do you spell a cappella?

LF: A space C-A-P-P-E-L-L-A.

WS: It’s okay to be wrong.

LF: There may be one L… no, I think it’s double P, double L.

WS: I don’t think anyone actually knows.

LF: It may be one of those words that can be spelled multiple ways ‘cause nobody knows the real one.

WS: Back in 2008-ish, you went on a tour with Lena Gabrielle titled the Accio Bodyguard Tour. First of all, pronounce Accio.

LF: I say ACC-io, just because that’s how they say it in the movies, but AHS-io is the correct Latin pronunciation.

WS: Hmm, and ACH-io is the correct Italian pronunciation.

LF: Oh cool, I didn’t know that one! Yeah, really you can say it anyway you want. I’m cool with that.

WS: While the Bodyguard tour was mostly named tongue-in-cheekly, if that’s a word, it did highlight the very real problem of the relative safety and cultural willingness to allow young women to travel alone versus young men traveling alone.

LF: Yes.

WS: First of all, did you ever have a need for an actual bodyguard or some sort of security presence on this tour?

LF: Not in that sort. That tour we were very lucky. Probably the fact that both Lena and I were well known enough to bring an audience, but not well known enough that it would’ve been scary for us to be on our own. It ended up being a lot better than we thought. It was definitely tongue-in-cheek. We were honestly waiting for one of the bigger bands to invite us on tour and they never did, so we said, “Well why are we waiting? Let’s just do it ourselves.” I wrote 700 emails out to venues to book that tour, ‘cause I didn’t have any connections. All these bands had been touring for a long time, and they had met all these venues, and I was kind of hoping they would help me a little bit. They had their own stuff going on, so I was like alright, I’m just gonna look up every possible coffeeshop, library, small venue… any place we wouldn’t have to pay to rent, ‘cause we didn’t know if people would come.

It was a scary thought: what if we die? At that point, I was 20 years old, so my parents couldn’t say no, but they were definitely not happy about the idea of me going. My dad actually gave me a car so that I had one that would run for the full trip. He had his backup, and he said, “Alright, I can’t do anything about you going. I can’t say you can’t go, but I’m gonna at least make sure your car’s not gonna break down on the way.”

WS: Did it?

LF: No, it didn’t. Our battery died ‘cause it was really hot in Florida, so we just called AAA.

WS: Never go to Florida.

LF: We had fun, and we missed a show because of that, but it turned out okay. We didn’t get hurt or anything.

WS: What advice would you give to young women, especially those fresh out of high school, who would also want to road trip around the country?

LF: Be safe, first and foremost. If you can go with somebody who knows what they’re doing, that obviously is an easier way of going about it. But in general, I think you have to have confidence. In a lot of those situations, people are constantly telling you, “Don’t do it, this is a bad idea, who are you that you can decide to do something like this.” There’s a very real danger, but I also think that if more people did it, maybe there would be a better way of going about it.

I am so glad that I did it, but so many things could’ve gone wrong. I’d been working towards it for years and years, and I wanted to go on a real tour, and it just wasn’t happening. I had to take it into my own hands. I probably would not be at all at the level that I am now, because once I did that tour, people started taking me seriously. They realized I wasn’t just a girl making up songs in my bedroom and putting them up on the Internet. They realized, she wants to do this, and she works hard and she’s good at it. I put myself on the map because of that, and there are a lot of people who want to do better and feel like they’re restricted by the patriarchy or by the bands that are already taking up all the spaces on the lineups, and that’s a real concern, for sure, but I didn’t have it handed to me, either. I’m very lucky that nothing bad happened to me, but I think you should do it, honestly.

WS: So culturally speaking, probably the most lasting impact of the Accio Bodyguard tour was the Guacamole Ukulele song.

LF: (laughs)

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An Interview with Lauren Fairweather, Part 1

During LeakyCon 2016, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lauren Fairweather for a wide-ranging interview. As is customary, this interview has not seen the light of day until now because I am incredibly lazy. So lazy, in fact, that I didn’t even do the transcription – that was handled by the incomparable Tianna, of I Speak Tree, Tianna and the Cliffhangers, and being blocked by Jo on Twitter fame. We started off by getting a definitive “origin story” of both the Moaning Myrtles and Lauren Fairweather as a solo act.

Lauren Fairweather: So in around 2004, I found Harry and the Potters online and was just so excited by the idea of music about books, and specifically about Harry Potter. I wrote fanfiction prior to that, and I loved music, and I always wanted to make music, so I thought, “this is perfect!”

Wrock Snob: What fanfiction did you write?

LF: I don’t…

WS: You don’t remember any ships?

LF: Well, yeah. I liked… actually, honestly I was like twelve when I started writing it so a lot of it was putting myself in the stories.

WS: There is a new witch we have found! Her name is Lauren.

LF: (laughs) Yeah, just silly stuff like that. It was really just getting practice writing and figuring out who I am and meeting people online. I read a lot more than I wrote. I would start a new one and then write four chapters and start another story. I never really was in it for the writing, but I enjoyed the culture and community around it. Especially being so young, I felt like I had freedom all of a sudden, because my parents didn’t know I was online doing stuff like that.

But at that point, I was just a singer. I had no background in music, no knowledge of writing or performing any instruments, and I figured okay, maybe someday I’ll put together a wizard rock band. And so I started seeing Harry and the Potters perform live, because at that point, they were just starting to tour. I saw them twice before I managed to bring Nina, my best friend at the time, to the concert with me, knowing that she played piano and hoping that she would then get the same idea that I had had for several years and had no way of going through with. So we leave the concert and we’re driving to school the next day, and she says, “Hey. We should start a wizard rock band.” Just, “Yes! Finally somebody wants to do this with me.” Honestly, we both picked Moaning Myrtle separately, ‘cause I had thought about it too, and there was already a Hermione. Everybody was fighting over who would get to be the Hermione to the Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys.

WS: (foolishly, probably thinking about Ron) Which never really panned out.

LF: Well, I love The Hermione-Crookshanks Experience.

WS: Oh right! On the plane ride up here, I listened to “On Thestral, We Ride.”

LF: Yeah.

WS: God, I love that song.

LF: The whole Penelope album is beautiful, and she’s still doing stuff. She designed my It’s Real For Us T-shirt.

WS: Awesome!

LF: She doesn’t do wizard rock anymore, but she’s very involved in indie music and in art surrounding indie music.

WS: So when was this?

LF: This was in late 2005. We started writing music and we were young at that time. Nina was 16, I was 17. I just got a car and was just starting to be able to go to shows on my own without my parents. We weren’t really sure if anything would come of it; we didn’t really care at that point. We were just excited by the idea of creation of this music, and the fact that we could upload it online without any kind of record label, and just get it out to the people who wanted to hear it. The first thing we posted was a 30 second clip of “And Then I Died.” We hadn’t even written the whole song yet. We didn’t know how to record. It was just a little Skype microphone and we got, like, a hundred comments in a day from all these people who liked it. They found it right away and they loved it, and we thought yeah, you know, we should actually do this! And from then on, every time a touring band came through, they would invite us to play and we’d get to perform and people kept asking us.

We were talking earlier about how there are a lot of barriers to entry with touring, and it’s very expensive and you need to know what you’re doing and be able to physically tour. We did a tour of libraries within a half hour from my house, because that’s all that I was allowed to drive to. So we played in like every New Jersey library within a half hour radius of my house during the week that Deathly Hallows came out. We wanted to do it for fun, we wanted to make friends, and we found that people really wanted to hear it and were excited about it. I think the timing was very good. At that point people were really looking for new wizard rock, and they were looking for women.

So then at some point Nina lost interest and I then was faced with the decision: do I keep playing as the Moaning Myrtles by myself, or do I start something new? And when I realized that I wanted to start something new, the question was, do I start a new wizard rock band, do I come up with a new wizard rock name? Do I pick a new perspective? And I think writing from Moaning Myrtle’s perspective was so hard because she’s in it so little. I still have Post It notes in all of the Moaning Myrtle mentions in all of my Harry Potter books, ‘cause there are so few. I thought, I’m not gonna limit it, I am just going to use my name so I can write about whatever I want. I still write mostly about Harry Potter. I still assert that Lauren Fairweather is a wizard rock band, though it may confuse people who find me initially.

WS: Well if they’ve read your early fanfics, they’re like oh, deep cut! More

An Apology

“It wasn’t your story to tell.”

 

Of all the feedback you expected, that wasn’t it. This was the song you were proudest of, and the one you had worked on the longest. For the past year, whenever you had a spare moment (which was not nearly as often as you would have liked), you jotted down notes, which became lines, which became stanzas. Still, it wasn’t a perfect ballad, and you knew it – the scansion in some sections could never quite be pinned down, the twenty-third and forty-seventh stanzas used the exact same series of rhymes, the pacing took a major hit in the second act, and your melodies have always been pedestrian at best. These were the kind of criticisms you were expecting, while still hoping you wouldn’t receive them. And strangely, you didn’t.

When the last notes on your lute disappeared into silence, which disappeared into applause, all you saw were smiles. A larger crowd than you had expected had gathered to see your much-touted performance in Lomyn Park, and a humbling portion of that crowd stayed behind to congratulate you. You shook hands, took donations, and even signed a couple autographs! This was a first for you. It had felt so good to have your ambitions proven right.

You still remember the first time you heard of The Scourge of Regent Okohke. It was in the hold of the Meadowlark, on Day 23 of your nine-week voyage across the sea. The tale had captured your imagination – almost as much as your horror. You were braving the terrors of the ocean for a new life in Vespia, and to hear of such cruelty and tragedy in your future home filled you with shock, fear, and artistic inspiration.

You asked around with the crew, and it seemed no one had yet written a ballad about Okohke. Sure, news of how the great Empire of Sand had almost fallen to complete ruin had spread far and wide, but it was not a tale yet sung by the bards of Vespia. Maybe it was deemed too soon, maybe the scope of the tragedy was too great, maybe no one in Vespia had the skill to pull it off – you knew not. But this was important. Sure, the Empire had rebuilt, and all news coming from its high walls and dark alleys indicated that the new regent was doing an able job making up for her predecessor. But this story could not vanish into the shifting sands that gave it birth. Nothing in history was new, but with enough public awareness, some things could be prevented from happening again.

So you set feverishly to work. The entire first act of the ballad was written before you even set foot on the Vespian continent. Your pace then slowed considerably after you landed and began to acquaint yourself with the city of Hwab’tsier. Creating the Great Vespian Ballad was all well and good, but you needed to eat. Many a night over a bowl of seafood stew you pored through newspapers, scrolls, and the few books to be published on the matter. As you chewed through gristly seafood castoff, you felt emotions rise in you that you had never felt before.

You were never one particularly given to anger. Pettiness and sarcasm you had in abundance, but anger? That was a rare occurrence, brief and often triggered from some perceived threat. What you felt as you read about the Scourge’s insidious reign of terror was entirely new. It was not the brief flare of anger, but an unquenchable cold fury.

There was nothing you could do physically to this man, but by the Many, you still had words. These were the weapons, the grand instrument you would use to destroy any lingering reputation this human corpse fire was able to cling to. You were going to write something amazing… no.

 

You were going to write something perfect.

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