In which Grace Kendall talks about what keeps wizard rock going–behind the music–and all the ways they’re encouraging new people to join.
Hello magical friends, especially WZRD Radio’s newest patron TK, whose patronage makes this episode possible. I’m your hostwitch Bess, and this month’s guest is one of the cornerstones of wizard rock. Not just as a performer, either. Among their many other projects, they organize the annual Wizard Rock Sampler, which this year got a massive and fantastic 34 submissions.
It’s almost time to start the show! But first a word from another of this episode’s sponsors.
Illuminating and, as a vegetarian witch myself, mildly alarming.
Now it’s time for some music, starting with “Expecto My Fist” by Rubeus and the Hagrids after which I’ll be talking with Grace Kendall about what a treasure they are.
With me today is Grace Kendall of Snidget, Wix Rocks, the Wizard Rock Sampler, and many Wizrocklopedia features. What am I forgetting, Grace?
Grace: That sounds pretty comprehensive. One time I put a wizard rock museum exhibit together.
Ah, yes, and our wizard rock historian.
Thank you so much for being here!
Grace: I’m so excited to be here, thanks for doing this.
WZRD Radio’s patrons want to know a little about your journey creating your own wizard rock. What got you started?
Grace: I started writing wizard rock back at the tail end of 2005. Wizard rock had kind of just started as, like, a community vibe where there were more than, like, three bands writing songs and it was a lot of comedy music and there were just a couple people who were starting to write kind of emotional stuff and I was like “That’s something I can do.” And I loved wizard rock already and I just wanted to be a part of it. So I had a hammer dulcimer lying around which is an instrument shaped like a trapezoid. It has strings running across it—mine had 64. And you hit them with sticks and it sounds a bit like a harp. So I started writing emotional wizard rock on the hammer dulcimer, which is a niche within seven niches, I think. So that was kind of how I got my start and then I kept writing music. I eventually learned a little bit of guitar and found a love for the ukulele. I toured, like, 15 times with different bands which was so much fun.
Grace: Yeah. And I love touring. It was like what I did instead of vacationing for years, was just “now it’s time to go on tour for two weeks.” And you’d go with your friends or people you sort of knew through the wizard rock community. I got to tour with Lauren Fairweather and Matt Maggiacomo from the Whomping Willows and Kwikspell and Witherwings and my crew from Carpe Geekdom and it was some of the most fun that I ever had. I toured with Ashley Hamel…all sorts of good people.
You mentioned that you focus on emotional wizard rock—that’s a deliberate choice? Because in person you’re so always vibrant and upbeat and energetic and then your music is…you have your, ah, your brand.
Grace: Yeah. I love it. There’s just like “your music is, uh…..” no one’s quite sure what to say there. I love emotional music. I love storytelling in general and I love anything that makes me feel. I’m not good at the comedy stuff—that’s another way that people are great at making people feel things. You know, joy and laughter are great emotional elements, but I’m really good at telling emotional stories and those are the ones I’m most effected by when I listen to things or when I read things. When you sit down to write music you tend to pull pretty naturally from your own set of influences and so when I sat down to write in high school I was pulling not only from the emotional wizard rock stuff that I liked but from Sufjan Stevens and Regina Spektor and musicians like that that do a lot of really intimate kind of storytelling. And that was the kind of thing that naturally poured out of me and those are the stories that I love to tell.
That’s really cool. And it definitely is a vibe that a lot of people really enjoy. Sometimes it’s really cathartic to cry over your favorite ship or Luna Lovegood.
Grace: Yeah, right? And it’s such an interesting moment too. Like, the permission in wizard rock to experience things is so neat and so different and I love that in indie music in general—the idea that you can go to a concert and then, like, I’ll play before Swish and Flick, you know. And it’s like, “Okay, for Grace’s set everybody sit on the floor and cry” and then we’re gonna get up and dance to some Slytherin hip-hop. It’s really fun that you can do all of that in one night.
Yeah, it really is. That’s part of the joy of wizard rock concerts, right? The communal emotive experience.
Grace: Yeah! “Cathartic” is such a good word. Anybody that’s been to a Harry and the Potters show knows that their live show is why people love them so much. There’s so many feelings that you experience just from being in that room and being part of everything.
Yeah, definitely. I’m always curious, because there’s so many interesting and varied versions, why did you decide to go with Snidget as your band name originally?
Grace: I fancied myself a little animal rights activist, high school me being at the height of my vegetarianism. Like, I’m still a vegetarian but like, then it was a part of my personality. And so the idea that, baked into the lore of this universe was that the, uh, snitch was preceded by a bird that was then endangered by the popularity of the game and they had created this fictional sanctuary to save the snidgets…I was just like “Well this is great.” And it proved to be a very telling thing to choose a super obscure detail that most people were confused by or didn’t recognize or thought I had made up, and it wasn’t until Pottermore included snidgets as part of the usernames that were autogenerated that most people were like “Oh yeah, that’s actually a Harry Potter thing.”
Is that why you just perform under your own name now?
Grace: I’ve kind of used Snidget in association with the hammer dulcimer music which was, when I was touring under that name that was really the heart of what I was putting out. I had, you know, a handful of songs on guitar…but that always felt like that era, so even when I put out my most recent album, Sad Songs for Sad Girls in Hogsmeade, it felt like it was a part of me now and not necessarily from the same era of Snidget. So it’s just kind of a mental divider for me.
Yeah, I think I’ve heard that about other bands before, that the name changes as the perspective or the personality changes.
Grace: Yeah. Sometimes it bites you in surprising ways though. I played a wizard rock festival in Ithica, New York and someone came up to me after my set and was like “I had NO IDEA you were Snidget! I would have been here from the beginning.” So, you know, sometimes there are some missed connections there. Yeah, I guess it’s part of that artist evolution thing.
Mhm. So you have a fairly prolific backlist of music and you’re still creating music now, but you’ve sort of evolved past simply being a performer into an organizer and a backbone of the wizard rock community. How did that evolution occur?
Grace: Some of those things just happened naturally slash accidentally. Like I said, I’ve loved this community since it started. I’m just a big fan of wizard rock in general, and then your skillsets just kind of show themselves. So back in the earlier days of wizard rock I was studying photojournalism in school and I was taking a lot of concert photography gigs. So then I just naturally started taking a lot of wizard rock photos and then kind of made a name for myself in the community for having done that and then from there just kind of grew, I guess, into related roles and experiences. Creating the wizard rock sampler, I think, is what more people know me for now than for my music, necessarily, which is cool. You know, the way these things evolve. I just really like organizing things. I really love any time you create an opportunity for someone else to explore their own creativity or to feel like they have the space to do something and so any time I can do work that celebrates this community or gives people opportunities to join it, it just feels like something I want to do.”
That is really cool and, yeah, as I’m getting more involved in the Wizrocklopedia I’m starting to see how these supportive and uplifting roles help make the community, help make the spaces for people and illuminate it.
Grace: Yeah. People don’t realize how essential that work is. People look at wizard rock and they think “Oh, it’s these bands, that’s what wizard rock is” but without the websites, like the ‘Pedia or Your Wizard Rock Resources, things like that are so essential for knowing about this music in the first place, understanding what it is, feeling a connection to it. Without show organizers putting these, you know, everything from giant festivals together down to your local house shows, that’s where these local scenes and communities come from. And when people look back and miss the ‘heyday’ of wizard rock or, you know, are nostalgic for those elements, those are the things that they’re really missing. Because the bands and the music have been there throughout but we’ve missed kind of the cultivation of the scenes on a local level. And obviously that’s not all-encompassing there have still been scenes throughout community history, but that sort of work is what keeps everyone connected and everybody going and so it’s so nice to see people like you doing this podcast. Again, there have been so many podcasts through the years and then we just went through a space where there weren’t many. You know, there was The Witching Hour and that was wonderful and then there was kind of a gap again. And so it’s great to have this, it’s great to see the Wizrocklopedia with new content on it again. You can go back two pages and it’s all from this year! It’s wonderful.
Yeah, it is really exciting to have sort of another renaissance of wizard rock. I got into it a little late and I was always worried I’d missed out but it turns out, no, I’m just part of the crest of the new wave.
Grace: Yeah! You are right on the front of the wave; you are surfing hard.
Mhm. My patrons get to suggest questions for the interviewees and almost all of them were for the Sampler because that just came out and is incredible.
Grace: It’s really amazing.
Oh, it’s so good. I’ve been listening to it non-stop. But the first question they wanted to know about it was how did the Sampler first come into being?
Grace: The Wizard Rock Sampler came into being on a idle whim, like most of my projects. When the community first started when I was involved there were a lot of open compilations where someone would just be like “Hey, I’m putting a Christmas compilation together. Anybody who’s got a Christmas song send it in.” And it was such a cool way for people to come together and to feel validated in their creation of music. As Snidget I technically only ever released one EP and then a live album. Everything else was on compilations. I have all these one-off tracks on various compilations and I loved that energy and I missed it. There wasn’t anything like that currently in the community. The people who had been doing it, the Bandon Banshees and then the Slytherin Soundtrack, those bands had moved on from those projects. So I thought it’d be great to have another one like that. And then you put your own spin on it. And instead of doing a theme my theme was “things from the recent year” because I wanted people to recognize all the bands that were still making music and just weren’t being noticed or finding that audience as people continue to list the same four bands when they think of wizard rock, you know. This year we had 34 tracks and I love that people are using it as a way to release first-time music—this is the first-ever wizard rock song someone’s ever written and it gets to be on a compilation with bands that they know and love and that’s so exciting and it’s something to be celebrated. I love putting it together. It brings me a lot of joy.
It is a fantastic staple of the wizard rock community at this point. And I love that, this year, there were so many new performers but also, I think, some older ones that hadn’t performed in a while but are coming back?
Grace: Yeah, absolutely. Some of those have been caught in that revival energy as well. People who are fondly remembering their time in wizard rock and getting to re-engage with it is wonderful to see.
Yeah, and the energy is definitely changing as well as there is a split in the fandom from…the author, mainly.
Grace: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of a reckoning of our own fandom. Shauna Carrick’s question of “Where do we go from here?” is such a perfect one as we all are reconciling that idea and deciding that we want to keep our involvement with this space, that we don’t wanna abandon this community that we’ve built together, that we just want to make it into something better.
Yeah, I think this year’s Sampler is a perfect example of that.
Grace: I made sure to start it with rage. You know, there was such a variety of emotions throughout the Sampler but I really loved Madam Pince’s song, which you played. Ah, well, it’s Ariel Factor Birdoff’s song. She’s from Madam Pince and the Librarians and it’s from Madam Pince’s point of view. And I just loved the idea that we could start with such a strong and powerful statement and it felt like the absolute perfect lead-off for the album.
I love that you’re starting to mention the organization of the Sampler for this year because that is the next question some of my patrons had but first we’re going to take a little break and then come back to that. The next set of songs begins with “Flying Car” by Candle Wix.
“Hi Hermione” was a special request by WZRD patron Autumn who wants everyone to know what a jam that song is, and also how awesome every track on the 2020 Sampler is.
And I’m back with Grace and we were just about to talk about a burning question on the WZRD patrons’ minds which is how you ordered the songs. I know you talked a little bit about it during the release party, but could you expand why which went where?
Grace: Yeah! Why which went where sounds like a great wizard rock song title, by the way. Just throwing that out there. When I get to put the Sampler in order it’s my favorite part because it’s the only part that I get to exercise my creativity over and so… I actually just wrote an article on releasing a compilation for the Wizrocklopedia which you can check out. When I go to put songs in order I try to think about the songs I want to tell and try to find a way that you can keep a good energy flow through all of the different tracks. You’re covering not only a lot of different genres of music but a lot of different production levels, which is why I’m so lucky to have John Pisani this year and a couple other years of the Wizard Rock Sampler—Eddie Mowery did last year. They help bring a really even tone to everything so that it flows well. But when I pick out songs I try and find little moments of narrative. I love putting songs together, often in couplets, where you transition from, like, Shauna’s “Where Do We Go From Here” into Ashley Hamel’s “All Of Our Futures.” Those songs were written in response to each other and so they tell a nice story together. And so that kind of carries you forward through the Sampler. The big challenge with something that has so many songs on it is that you don’t want people to lose interest and you don’t want people to tune out because they didn’t like one song because you have so many different tastes there. So, you know, I’m trying to make sure that not all of the metal songs are lumped together and it’s not all of the high production value songs at the beginning. I really want everyone to be able to be there for the whole journey of it. So it’s fun to put all of that together.
I think you really succeeded at that. The, uh, release party was three hours long and the energy was fully there the entire time.
Grace: It was so much fun to watch the release party this year as, again, the audience part is growing and people staying engaged the whole time. I love watching everyone react to hearing these songs for the first time because, for the most part, other than a couple songs people had released earlier in the year, I get to hear them by myself for two months and then everyone gets to hear them and it’s like a big secret being revealed.
With just enough pre-release hinting to keep everyone super hyped. Artists were like “I released a new song” or “did you hear who’s coming back?” I think this might be like Christmas for wizard rock.
Grace: Yeah! Which is nice. It’s nice to have a rallying point again. You know, we’ve had some of those in the past. People would get really excited for the Jingle Spells compilation or the EP of the Month Club releases and so I’m glad that we have something that we can all come together, and I love that you can rely on it, you can say “Cool, I listened to this year’s Sampler and I’m gonna be on next years” you know? You can plan on it and I love that. My partner is like “Cool, I’m gonna be on the next Sampler” and I really want that to happen and I hope it does. So it’s encouraging to see people who say that and then bam! They’re on the Sampler.
I’m so glad you said that because I will be keeping that in so we can all, as a community, hold Muggle Mike accountable.
Grace: I will tell you he’s got dreams of collaborating with someone so I really—my fingers are crossed.
Oh my gosh, that is very exciting. I am a huge Muggle Mike fan. His Christmas song he promised to get to me before his birthday many years ago, because he hadn’t recorded it yet, and I was in a movie theater waiting for…The Hobbit? One of the Hobbit movies? Midnight release and it showed up in my email at, like, 11:58. One of my patrons noticed that this is the first year that the Sampler has a title, “This is Our Home.” Is that the beginning of a new trend or just to really pull together all of the emotions and experiences that the fandom is feeling right now?
Grace: Yeah, so that actually came directly from the Sampler cover artist. We have different artists volunteer to do the cover art each year and this year was AJ Solomon. They listened to the Sampler while they were putting the cover art together and decided to highlight that as a key theme of the album and it just felt like such a nice, all-encompassing way to sum up all of the content of what we were all feeling and what we were all expressing with the compilation kind of as a community. I don’t know if that’s a trend going forward but it was a perfect instinct for this year and I was so glad they chose to highlight that.
Yeah it was sort of the bow on top. So, as you mentioned, you’ve been part of the bedrock of wizard rock for a while and you’re inspiring all of these new compilations to start coming out, I think. What advice do you have for people who are just now getting involved in the scene.
Grace: Just make stuff. Whether it’s compilations or your own music or podcasts or fan art, just make stuff and contribute. It’s such a vibrant, interesting community and the things that make you different are the things that make you special, so lean into those things. And it’s such a welcoming community for creation. It’s one of the few communities that I’ve been a part of that really wants to celebrate you at every stage of your journey. You know you can release something, a song that you wrote half an hour ago and recorded on your phone and it’s just as celebrated as a fully polished kind of piece. And so there’s so much freedom, I think, in being able to get started that you don’t have to—I mean, obviously there’s still barriers for entry. As a community we’re working on improving those so that it’s more accessible to people. But in general I think just follow your bliss and then make stuff and have fun with it. There’s so much room for collaboration and if there’s ever a community that it’s a cool place to do something scary or risky or weird I think wizard rock is a good one for that, to take your wildest ideas and really run with them.
It’s true. For our music you have everything from Tonks and the Aurors to Mermaids Above Water which is weird performance art of how mermaids would sound out of the water. There’s space for anything.
Grace: Yeah, there really is. And it’s such a joy when you find a concept or something that you haven’t run into as much. I love that, like, there’s a wizard jazz renaissance right now—
Oh, my gosh, yes.
Grace: I don’t know if you can call it a renaissance. Like, I was so delighted and surprised by it. And, again, there’s so much massive talent in this community it’s so inspiring to see.
Yeah, people are involving more genres, more instruments, and getting experimental again.
Grace: Yeah, and you’d be surprised. Like, literally when I started making wizard rock I used a hammer dulcimer and it was part of the reason I was successful because no one knew what this instrument was and no one knew how bad I was at playing it. They were just so impressed that it existed and it was new and interesting. And I did weird things with it, you know, even for hammer dulcimer playing, most people don’t sing and play. And they certainly aren’t using it to play sad singer songwriter stuff. You really can just go for it and I want that personality in this community, you know? Those Own Voices and those personal experiences add so much vibrancy to our community.
Yeah, definitely. And for people that are curious about starting but don’t know where, you have a feature that is perfect for newcomers who are trying things out on the Wizrocklopedia.
Grace: Yeah, my little Kwikspell columns! So if you’re looking for advice in a hurry I have articles. The first one I put out was on songwriting. This month I talked about how to release your own compilation, just walking through the basic steps and next month I’ll be talking about songwriting in character.
I was actually thinking of Bertie Botts.
Grace: Oh really? Well, I got multiple features, y’all, I’m very busy. But yes, Bertie Botts is a great place too, to actually do the thing. I put a theme out every month where you can respond creatively in any way, it doesn’t have to be music. It could be video, art, whatever, just a way for the community to come together. So the first month theme was Starting Over and there were three incredible songs that came out as a result of that, one cover and two wonderful originals. And then this month’s theme is Houses. So whatever that inspires in you, whether you want to talk about Hogwarts houses or The Burrow or what it’s like to feel home in this community, you can make a creative response to that, put it in the comments on the Wizrocklopedia articles and we will publicly raise them up and celebrate them and enjoy them with you.
Yeah, I was thinking Bertie Botts is a good, low-pressure entry point for trying out whatever you think might be too weird.
Grace: Absolutely. And then you can be reassured by all of us celebrating it and telling you how great it is.
Because it undoubtedly will be.
Grace: Of course! Again, it’s wizard rock. That’s what we’re all here for. We’re so excited to see new stuff. And the weirder the better.
Oh, definitely. I hope someone takes that as a challenge; we want the weirdest thing you can do.
Grace: We should put a compilation just for that where it’s just like “how weird can you get?”
Yes, excellent. I know it’s way too soon after the Sampler’s release to even think about, but do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Grace: Well, I’ve long wanted to put the Wizard Rock Sampler on vinyl and so next year I’m really hoping to be able to do, maybe a Kickstarter, to do just highlights from the first five years. I’ve kind of been putting together a list of songs. It’s almost like an editors choice that are my favorites and that I think work really well together so that we can keep that ‘wizard rock on vinyl’ community going strong. I have a tidy little collection and I’d love to see it get bigger and weirder. And I think it’d be cool for some of those artists to have a chance to be on vinyl that might not be able to afford a run of their own albums. So I’m looking forward to putting that together and then I have some dreams of a little online compilation club that I’m in talks with Wizrocklopedia to hopefully get off the ground maybe next year? We’ll see.
I love it. Making wizard rock more accessible in all different angles.
Grace: That’s the, that’s part of the goal.
It’s time for more music, starting with Weatherby and “The Yule Ball (Let’s Make Magic).”
Thank you so much to Grace for being here and talking with me.
Grace: You are so welcome!
Where can WZRD Radio listeners find you online?
Grace: My music is at GraceKendall.BandCamp.com and the Wizard Rock Sampler is, of course, at WizardRock.BandCamp.com. We still can’t believe that wasn’t taken. You can find me on Twitter at Grace_Kendall or talking about wizard rock exclusively over at Wix_Rock.
And that’s the end of this episode! I hope you’re all inspired to try something new.
No one has guessed the last episode’s theme yet, so keep listening and see if you can be the first to figure it out!
If you heard a song today and want to buy it, visit the transcript at WZRDRadioPod.WordPress.com, which has links to every song you heard. It’s important to support our wizard rockers because without them, we wouldn’t be here.
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If you want to guess the eleventh episode’s theme, say hi, or tell me about a music release or upcoming event I should share, you can find me on Twitter at WZRDRadioPod. If you’re not on social media you can email me at WZRDRadioPod@gmail.com.
And now magical friends, Grace Kendall!
Grace: This song is called “Make it Better.” It’s the closing track on Sad songs for Sad Girls in Hogsmeade. This song is from Lily Evans’ point of view, later Lily Potter.
Make it Better plays.