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New Times / Art

The following article was posted on June 4th, 2008, in the New Times - Volume 22, Issue 44 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 22, Issue 44

Harry Potter and the Muggle Musicians

Linnaea's features a night of wizard rock

By Ashley Schwellenbach

Oakland-based Potter wrock band Knockturn Alley will be performing at Linnaea’s Café, 1110 Garden Street, June 7 at 8 p.m. Band members Christy Herron and Rebecca Pittenger—“Becky”—engaged in an e-mail interview with New Times about their approaching show.


WITCHY WAYS
Rebecca Pittenger and Christy Herron of Knockturn Alley.
IMAGE COURTESY OF KNOCKTURN ALLEY
NEW TIMES What is your musical background?

HERRON We both grew up in the area (Nipomo and Arroyo Grande), and we first played music together when we were in high school. Becky has always been a musician—she played flute and guitar in high school—and I come from a pretty musical family, so we had a lot of shared interests around music. When it came to playing music together, though, our skills were pretty primitive; the first percussion instrument we played with was a can of rocks! Becky played in some bands in college, and then after college we both ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area and started playing music together. We’re both pursuing professional careers now, but we’re also still making music.

NEW TIMES Is Knockturn Alley your first band together? 

HERRON Our regular band is Deadpan Alley, which is more indie rock than wizard rock, but if you were to listen to the two bands, you’d hear that the styles of the songs are similar.

PITTENGER When book seven was just about to come out (in 2007), we decided to celebrate the event by putting together a set of Harry Potter-themed songs, just for kicks. Little did we know that there was an entire genre of wizard rock out there!

HERRON We ended up getting a gig at a book seven release party at a bookstore in San Francisco, and it was surprisingly easy to get gigs after that.

NEW TIMES How did you come up with the name Knockturn Alley?

HERRON Our regular band is called Deadpan Alley, so for the Harry Potter songs, we thought it would be cool to have a name with “Alley” in it, just for consistency. We debated between Knockturn Alley and Diagon Alley, finally settling on Knockturn Alley because it had more of an edge to it. Knockturn Alley is a place in London where dark wizards can buy things.

NEW TIMES A lot of media are talking about the somewhat recent phenomena of Potter rock. Do you object to the term as a description of your band?

PITTENGER We don’t object to the term Potter rock; it’s a pretty accurate description.

HERRON I think a more commonly used term than Potter rock is “wizard rock,” which shortens nicely to “wrock.”

NEW TIMES Do you listen to any other Harry Potter-themed bands?

HERRON Yes, and there are a lot of them; some of the more popular ones are the Weird Sisters, Harry and the Potters, the Parselmouths, Draco and the Malfoys, the Moaning Myrtles, Remus and the Lupins, and Roonil Wazlib. Some of the lesser-known ones that are totally wrocking that we really like are The Sneakoscopes, Hogwarts Express, and Mirror of Erised (we’ve performed with these last three groups, and they’re great people with a lot of talent). My favorite wrock band is probably the Weird Sisters, who are a Los Angeles band.

NEW TIMES I saw four songs on your MySpace: “Snape,” “Slytherin,” “Horcruxes,” and “Hey Hufflepuff.” Can you tell me a little about the inspiration for a few of your songs?

PITTENGER “Slytherin” is a true story; I went on the official Harry Potter website in 2002, and they had this quiz you take. Based on your answers, they sort you into a house. As the song says, “I try to be clean-living,” so being sorted into Slytherin was really unexpected. “Horcruxes” is basically a song about how mean and inconsiderate people can be.

HERRON “Hey Hufflepuff” is sort of a sweet little folk song sung to someone in Hufflepuff house; it’s a song meant to cheer someone up.

“Snape” is about having a crush on a teacher. We both have a crush on Professor Snape.

NEW TIMES How many gigs have you performed?

HERRON We’ve played four gigs so far—one in a bookstore, two in coffee shops and one in a library. We get some good crowds; once we had 100 people show up. We have two more gigs coming up (including the one at Linnaea’s).

NEW TIMES What can you tell me about your fans? Do a lot of people dress up in wizard and witch attire to attend your performances?

HERRON Our fans are a lot like us, I think, people who really like to read a lot and are really into Harry Potter. Lots of people—usually at least half—do dress up, which we love, but not everybody does. And it’s more common to see fans dressed up as Hogwarts students—in other words, they look like punky/preppy English kids with glasses—rather than in robes and a witch hat, though we see those too. We’ve seen some really good costumes, especially at a show we played in San Francisco (it was for a book seven release party, at a bookstore). Two of the best costumes were one woman dressed up like Rita Skeeter, and another woman dressed up like Madam Hootch, the flying instructor.

PITTENGER I think that as long as people have a passing familiarity with the Harry Potter books (e.g., know the names of the houses, know who some of the characters are), they’ll understand our music. I have a couple of friends who have never read the Harry Potter books, but they told me they like our stuff. It’s likely that if folks like indie rock music, our songs will resonate with them, even if they don’t know all of the particulars of the Harry Potter books.

NEW TIMES Do you sell CDs? If so, will they be available at the concert? 

HERRON Yes and yes!

NEW TIMES When you two aren’t creating music about the wizarding world, what do you do?

PITTENGER I’m a graduate student at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Redwood City, training to be a clinical psychologist. I’m going on an internship next year at USC Student Counseling Services. 

HERRON I have a full-time job at an environmental consulting firm. We’re also both published authors.

NEW TIMES When did each of you become interested in Harry Potter? Are you big readers? For people who have never read the books, what’s the appeal?

PITTENGER I think the appeal is that the Harry Potter books are really well-crafted stories, the characters seem like real people, and the archetypes that show up in the books suggest that they have an enduring, universal appeal, similar to the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Earthsea books. I first read book one in 2002 right before I went to see the first movie. About two or three pages into the book, I was completely hooked and have been a rabid Harry Potter fan ever since. We’re both big readers; I like to read before going to bed in order to de-stress. 

HERRON I think I started reading the Harry Potter books after Becky, mostly to see what all the fuss was about.

HERRON If the choice is between playing a regular, non-wrock set in a noisy bar for people who are drinking and not paying attention to the music, and playing a wrock set to an attentive crowd of Harry Potter fans in a bookstore or a library, I would always choose the Harry Potter fans, every time.

NEW TIMES Now that all seven books are out, how long do you plan to continue performing?

PITTENGER We plan to continue performing as long as people are interested in listening to us! Our first gig was actually on the night of book seven’s release, so it’s hard to say if there has been any shift in momentum since that book was released. I’d predict that once you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll always be one, so I don’t anticipate people losing interest any time too soon.

NEW TIMES What form would your patronus take?

PITTENGER Christy’s patronus would be a platypus and mine is currently a fox. About a week ago it was a dragon and before that it was a lion. It seems to shift between the three because those particular animals resonate with me a great deal. I realize patronuses usually stay the same through an individual’s life although there are exceptions to the rule—for example, Tonks, whose patronus changed when she fell in love with Professor Lupin.

 


 

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach can be reached at aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.