Hello magical friends, especially my WZRD Radio patrons whose support lets me do these episodes! I’m your hostwitch Bess and today, by popular request, my guest is Ashley Hamel! Whether you know her from Bella and Le Strangers, Ashley Trix and the Wzrds, or from her newest muggle music released earlier this year, I think we can all agree she is an incredible performer. I can’t wait to hear what she’s got going on! And if you’re curious who won the House Special candle giveaway, don’t worry, I’ll be announcing that here too.
But you know we can’t start anything without some wizard rock, so here’s our first set of songs, beginning with a special request from Jennifer, who asks all of you magical friends to be kind to yourself. The world could do with a bit more kindness just now.
Here’s “Yuletide” by Kwikspell.
“Love Cannot be Sorted was a special request by Autumn, who sends you all a reminder that “you’re perfect just the way you are, no matter what house!”
And now I’m here with brilliant musician who’s famed all around the globe, Ashley Hamel! Welcome to the show.
Ashley: Hello! Thank you so much, Bess.
I always like to start off with learning a little bit about your history with wizard rock. How did you get started in this magical genre?
Ashley: Oh, the origin stories. Yes. I found Harry and the Potters first and I saw them in 2006 at the New Britain public library in Connecticut in the basement. That library ended up being the first library that I worked at, so the first place I saw wizard rock was my first library job too. I guess I found Harry and the Potters through, like, a serendipitous—I was on Archive.org looking up Jason Mraz live concerts and stuff and I saw “Harry and the Potters” and I was like “What?” And people would upload live concerts to that website and it was like free share. There’s, like, a long history with the Grateful Dead and stuff, people making tapes and stuff. A lot of artists are okay with that.—So I found Harry and the Potters there and then went to their MySpace, two weeks later went to their show in the basement of the library. And then 2007 or so my friend from college, Emma Brice, we were doing a lot of theater stuff together, some student theater at University of Connecticut, and she had seen Draco and the Malfoys and was obsessed, and I had seen Harry and the Potters, of course. She was like “Hey, you play guitar. We should start a band.” And so we did. We had a band called Bella and le Strangers and eventually her parents joined the band and we had a few other players come in. We had a few really big shows here in Connecticut, we got to travel… Those were the first times I played with a band, the few times we had some of my friends come in and play drums, and then bass, of course. So it was really really awesome and, you know, we kind of stopped playing music and I still kept showing up and kept writing music about Harry Potter and we are here today in 2020. Blessings.
Yeah, it’s been quite a journey.
I’ve noticed that a lot of wizard rockers I’ve had on have had a sort of similar journey where they saw or heard about Harry and the Potters and were like “I can do that. Why am I not doing that?”
Ashley: Yeah, and I think that the fact that a lot of us are fans to begin with. Of course, fans of Harry Potter, but fans of wizard rock, you know. I think we’re fans first. I had been writing music before I found wizard rock but, like, I came into it as a fan first and that has never stopped. So even after I stop, if I ever stop writing wizard rock, I’m always still gonna still be a fan of the music, you know?
You bite your tongue! You can’t stop. Especially not with stuff like WZRD out in the world now! Yours, not mine, of course. My patrons want to get the behind-the-scenes details about WZRD. Where did the idea come from to do that radio-style format?
Ashley: Right. If you guys haven’t listened to my album, it came out January 2019, and it’s called also WZRD and also features a great big hat, and also purple, Bess, so I love the branding. The album took a long time to make. Not the process—the process itself was like eight months, eight or nine months—but you know it took me years to get to that point of realizing I needed to go into a studio to do it, you know? There’s so much DIY stuff in this scene, which is so awesome. You know, you don’t need a lot to get started and just go. But I knew for me I wanted to…to reach a different level. And my stuff is different in a way from a lot of other wizard rock. It’s very pop. I have a very ‘pop’ voice. I started singing in cover bands after I got some experience gigging with wizard rock and so that kind of trained my voice even more to just sing pop songs. I love pop music—in addition to a bunch of other genres, of course. But I wanted to bring in that element of “I’m gonna be shamelessly mainstream sounding,” you know? And I only had seven songs. And I have this theater-improv-comedy background. I was like “I have to do some radio skits and just really nail the concept and bring it home.” So that’s kind of where that came about, in an effort to encompass the sound that I have and fit it into its own context before putting it into the larger context of wizard rock. I wanted to kind of create my own ground.
Yeah, I think it’s a really clever and, as you said, totally unique in wizard rock. I think that’s what makes it so popular.
Ashley: Oh cool, thanks. And I have plans to do other ones. Ideas, la, ideas. I want to do a college radio album next, like a WZRD Part 2. And I have a guy who I used to work with in the library who’s a total—he’s not an anarchist but he’s like a socialist diehard. So he’s one of these rebel librarians giving out pamphlets about anti-capitalism and everything, you know?
I love it.
Ashley: He’s had a show on a local radio, for college, here at Wesleyan University and he’s got this voice and he’s like “Welcome to the Mumbo-Jumbo! We’re gonna play some funk mojo sweet sounds.” And I’m like “I gotta get him to be a DJ for college radio.” And I wanna make the music shoegaze-y. Shoegaze-y wizard rock, which is kind of jangly chorus, electric guitar, and girls with, like, reverb. If you know Taylor Swift, on her album, this song that’s, um… “I just wanted you to know, that this is me tryin’.” That’s a very shoegaze-y song.
I don’t know it, but I can picture it pretty solidly and I love that.
Ashley: Yeah. We’ll see. Someday.
You jumped straight to the end of the interview. I think this is the part where I have to wrap it up now. We know what you’re—what you’ve got going on.
Ashley: Well I’m not working on that. There’s, like, an idea. And you know, the idea for WZRD happened years before it actually came to fruition. So some of them are birthed over a long process and some of them just stay ideas and maybe float on to somebody else.
So you take your time with your music creation. It’s not factory or automatic. There’s a lot more time and care.
Ashley: You know, I really want to put out good things that I can be proud of. But sometimes, you know, I’ll get lost in my head and think I should be working faster or just putting things out faster. It’s constantly a process and a conversation within my own self in my creative journey. I’m in my thirties now and I only really started doing music with a seriousness when I was 25. I’d already been making wizard rock for like seven years, dude—this is crazy, the timeline—but it wasn’t until I was 25 that I was like “I wanna do this for real for real.” I just have to trust that my process- it might take longer that other people. And I might need a little more support in certain areas, whether it’s resources or even just emotional support to follow through. It’s tough when you’re juggling a lot of other things in order to survive. We’re making it happen. It’s all good.
Yeah. I think that’s a challenge a lot of creatives have; making something marketable versus making something that’s, not necessarily meaningful, but relevant or important to them.
Ashley: Fortunately I have other streams of income from day jobs where I can do that and then not have to compromise on my art, not have to compromise “Oh let me put out this thing that might be more marketable.” So I still put out things that—I recently put out a music video and a single called “Keluarga,” which means ‘family’ in Indonesian. And it’s not wizard rock, and kind of a folk song, not that much production. Is that a totally marketable song when I have upbeat pop songs that I could’ve put out with beats and things? Eventually I’ll get to those too. Maybe those will be quote “better for people,” I don’t know. But you can only do what you are moved to do. When the spirit calls you gotta answer.
That was a good lead in, because my patrons are curious: you’re not just a wizard rock artist, you also play muggle music like the one you just mentioned. How do the two intersect or interact?
Ashley: Ah, that’s such a good question. Because sometimes it really does feel—I feel like Harry Potter. You know, I am living in two different worlds. The wizarding world used to be my refuge, you know, where you’d go into this space in order to fully breathe and be with people who got you and who liked the same things as you and who saw you in the way that you wanted to be seen. Lately in my adult life I’ve been retreating back into my muggle life and feeling safer there. It’s interesting and it’s nice to be able to have so many worlds to escape to for squirreling away-hibernation safety reasons. And also for the joy. Hey, I’m not having fun here I’ll go somewhere else. So it’s nice to be able to have muggle musician friends locally here in Connecticut, you know, the support of that structure as well. And they’re different from wizard people. They’re still cool! I don’t know, you can’t compare everyone to wizard people, but I really do. Like, “Are these people as cool as wizard people?” You know, not all of your emotions and your stories…I don’t know. I was gonna say “not all of them can be filtered through Harry Potter” but you probably could. You probably could, for sure. There’s so many themes and there’s still stuff that we haven’t explored. There’s so many wizard rock songs but there’s still stories that need to be told. It’s just sometimes I want to write for me as opposed to putting it through a framework.
Yeah, that makes sense. Have you ever played a wizard rock song during one of your muggle performances?
Ashley: Every single time.
Ashley: Every single time I play my wizard—they know me here in Connecticut as The Harry Potter Girl.
Ashley: They do. I don’t keep anything a secret, la. It’s different and I love it because I’m not going to hide that I’m a total nerd. I’m not going to hide these things when I have these songs that are so much fun and that can move you into a different place. And coming from the theater and the improve, that comes through in my songs. And it came through in Bella and Le Strangers’ songs too. We were so theatrical. We would just drop dead in the middle of a performance and leave everybody feeling stunned and so awkward. We loved that power. We were total Slytherins. And I would say to people we weren’t necessarily evil or bad, we were just really bitchy. We were just bitches. So we had that theatricality. So when I play my wizard songs, I’ll play them for every muggle show that I do. Some of them I will introduce, some of them I’ll just launch into, and if they catch that I said “dark marks” then that’s cool. If they catch that I said “Hermione,” that’s cool. If not, then they’ll be like “this is a jam.” I turn ‘em all into wizards and they don’t even know.
I think you said in one of your Lunch Hour Lives that it’s not much of a thing in Malaysia? So do you still sneak in your wizard rock there as well?
Ashley: Oh, that’s a good question, because I have been traveling to Southeast Asia to explore my family’s side and the different ways of being over there. The way that my body fits into those spaces is different and I really relish how it feels. So I have spent some time—my family’s from Indonesia and I have spent some time in Malaysia recently which I didn’t know anything about that country. But it’s really cool because it’s kind of a mix—it’s still a British commonwealth like Canada and Australia and stuff. You know I’m from New England so of all the places in America this is the most British. So the fact that I can come as an Asian person here in New England and connect with the culture in British Malaysia, with the Asians there, is really interesting. So you would think that they would maybe have more—I mean, everyone loves Harry Potter around the world, everyone’s seen those films—but the community around it is very much tied to western culture. And so it hasn’t caught on like it has here, in Asia. So I did play my wizard rock songs there, and I also played them in South Africa once. My sister was studying there so I went to visit her and I actually played a gig in South Africa. I will tell you, the wizard rock song did not go well in Cape Town. Not that they were, like, mean, but they just…empty. I mean like silent.
Ashley: Yeah, they didn’t get it, they didn’t connect with it. In Indonesia the audiences are so gracious. They just give you their whole attention. So yeah they enjoyed the songs. But I did have a few people come up to me after every show that I did. I would do cafes I would do coffee shops, other places that I could book. There’d be at least one or two people who would come up to me and we’d have a little ‘fan’ moment. There’s a kid in Malaysia who goes to cons so he’s my buddy there, he’s like an anime kid. And then there was a kid in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia who came up to me and was like “I love…the books!” And even the kid who came to watch the show in Malaysia, he even came with—he brought his wand, he gave me a Time Turner as a gift. I was like “Oh my God!”
Ashley: I forget how he found out, I think from the marketing of that particular show…it was very “Harry Potter forward.” And he came out and he’s also a musician. Yeah, he was ready. And he had, I think a T-shirt and everything. It’s so nice to see your people in different places around the world. There’s that kinship. I didn’t know that there would be, but there still is, and it was so cool.
What an awesome experience.
Ashley: Oh my gosh, yeah.
So is he writing any wizard rock now, getting in on it?
Ashley: I don’t know. Nero. Nero, you gotta get on it.
Apply for the Yes All Witches! Get in there!
Ashley: Oh, wow! Oh my gosh. That’d be awesome.
It is available internationally, I did check.
Ashley: Oh nice.
Yeah, tell him to apply, record some music and I will play it here. Speaking of music, it’s time for a quick break, then we’ll be right back. First up is Ashley herself, with “All of Our Futures.”
“All of Our Futures” was a special request from Bygonya, who “sends her love and gratitude to wizard and muggle artists who transfigure feelings and thoughts into beautiful art to share. Life in general, but especially right now, would be unthinkable without your creations.”
And we’re back! We have a question from Dave—who says “hi!” and that he misses you—and he wants to know what you love about performing solo versus with a whole band.
Ashley: Ah, I miss you too Dave. I imagine it’s Dave Beaucar, bassist extraordinaire of Hawthorn and Holly and Ashley Trix and the Wzrds. Thank you Dave! I love playing solo because that’s the thing that I’ve been doing the most and it’s the most controllable cuz it’s just you. And so you can kind of go off the fly, you can take up as much time as you want doing stupid jokes in the middle, you can change up the tempo in your song whenever you want… I like the freedom that playing solo gives me as a performer. But I love playing with the band for—honestly, just being able to hang out with my friends. And especially on the day of a gig it can be quite stressful, you know, especially if you’ve had to travel there. So having buddies around you to help out, honestly, with some of the work and also to feel like you’re supported… I mean, you’re supported on stage by these people! Playing with the band is still something I have to close my eyes and concentrate doing. Especially since we’re only a three-piece and I’m playing guitar and singing and, you know, directing the energy of the band and communicating with the audience, like, it’s a lot. And playing in time, I’m still learning how to do that well. So it’s still not, like, second nature to play with a band. I mean I’ve been singing with cover bands and a wedding band for quite a few years but I don’t have to play my instrument. It’s a lot easier to just sing karaoke with a live band. So having to be up there with you guys, it’s such a good challenge, music-wise. But I just, we get to just hang out and go places and you’ll have people to hang out with afterward and drink with and eat with and play music with. And to do that with your friends is, that’s the best thing in the whole world. I love that and I miss it, oh my goodness.
Yeah, I imagine it’s a challenge, right now.
Ashley: Yeah. I mean, we can practice. I think right now we’re still kind of getting used to being around other people. I’m in Connecticut and every area is different in this nation, honestly. But now I think there might just be a mental block where I really would like to practice with Dwayne. He’s up in Hartford, I’m in New Haven, it’s like 40 minutes and I actually do want to work with him more, maybe like once or twice a month, and work on some new stuff. So Dwayne, expect a call from me! I don’t know, he won’t hear this.
No, we can call him out on social media, it’ll be fine. For people like, what was his name, Nero?
Ashley: Yeah, Nero.
Who are maybe wanting to get into wizard rock, what kind of advice do you have?
Ashley: They don’t need any advice from me, to be honest. Everyone seems to be going forward with so much passion and drive and more discipline that I ever had. I see so much good stuff coming out. Ah…advice. Dude, I’m telling you, they really don’t need my help.
What about something technical, like ‘never put an A after a G’ or ‘mic checks should have five syllables’ or something?
Ashley: Maybe it’s because I’m Asian, where you have to do things perfect…I don’t know if that’s a reason why, but honestly the time I’ve spent in Asia, the musicians there are just incredible. And the thing that they have different than American musicians is a level of skill. Just straight up a level of skill. Technical skill. I’ve been trying to adapt that, because my performance is so—again with the discipline. I’m learning discipline as I go. Even listening back and looking back to my earlier performances from a few years ago, from earlier on even, they’re so wild and chaotic and I really didn’t think about controlling my voice, controlling volume, controlling tempo or anything. It was all fluid and flowing and going. And so I had to learn to hold it in a little bit, at least for me, and to increase my skill level and increase the dexterity, increase the range, increase the control vocally. Honestly, there are a lot of musical things that you just need to practice and work hard at. And I’ve taught myself—I’ve not had any teachers. I don’t wanna say that you need to know how to be a good musician or you need to be a good musician to play wizard rock, because I love that you don’t. You don’t! You just need the enthusiasm and we’ll support you and that’s the most beautiful thing about this place, the free creativity, you know, where people aren’t editing themselves and they’re just putting their joy out there. Or whatever emotion they’re in. But I wanna say sprinkle in a little bit of…you know, learn the craft. I think it’s really fun to learn these deep skills. Like I said, they don’t need my advice because I see people doing this and getting better and better and better. Just as I’m getting better everyone’s getting better in wizard rock because we’re putting in more time and learning how to be better musicians. And I really like where that’s going. I wanna hear good stuff. I want to hear good arrangements, good compositions, good vocal takes—ooh! Good production, good arrangements. Hell! I love to hear it.
That’s not advice, that’s just a mandate!
Ashley: Do better! No, no, no, no. But I was! I was nervous back in the day because I was like “Oh my god, I’m trying too hard to be perfect. Maybe I should let things go a little bit more.” Like I said, maybe it’s the Asian-ness. We have to be perfect. But I appreciate that mentality now, at least a little bit. But I still go wild.
A good mix then.
Ashley: Hopefully, yeah.
So what are you going wild on right now? What do you have coming down the pipe?
Ashley: Well, I will be going in the studio later this month to record a muggle song I’m really proud of. I’ve been writing a bit. I wrote “All of Our Futures” earlier this year and I’m glad that that got to go out in the world so fast. I’m so happy for opportunities to do that. And this song…it’s kind of a pandemic song and I just love the composition. I played around with music theory, without really thinking of it. I have been listening to musicians that play around with keys and insert chords that shouldn’t belong to those other chords. Like, in that family it should be a major but you make it a minor. I do that a few times in this song and it works so well. It has a kind of an old-timey, almost jazz sort of feel. So I’m just really impressed with myself, that I wrote a complicated composition and it works and it doesn’t detract from it. It has a vibe. And I think that’s really good for me as a musician. Not that you need to be more complicated. A lot of my songs are quite simple. And I’ll just strum on a G and I’ll go to a C and then I’ll just croon on top of it. And I really love that style. I’m challenging myself in a different way to expand my knowledge of music theory, which is what I’ve been kind of studying on my own, on my piano here during the pandemic. I’ve been playing piano and learning a little bit deeper music theory. So I don’t know when that will be finished because there’s so many directions it could go in and I want to ask some of my friends before I make any real decisions. Inshallah, God willing, I could make a music video for it. But we’re just gonna take this first step and get a good recording first.
Sounds like a plan. And you mentioned you were considering a WZRD Part 2. Do you have any other wizard rock you’re thinking about?
Ashley: I don’t. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sad to say I don’t. And even “All Our Futures,” I wrote it for wizard rock people but there’s not wizard rock in it. I do have some notes in my phone. I’ve got a cool song just talking about witches. Not like Harry Potter, you know, but I come into it from the magic, from the witch side and I want to keep that. That stuff will never die. Even if Harry Potter trends or comes and goes I’m still going to be here for the fantasy and the magic. That’s just lyrics though. But I do have kind of a hip-hop song called “Don’t Talk to Me, I’m Reading” and that will be for wizard folk.
Ashley: Yeah. And that’s really really fun. I want to work on that with Dwayne, actually. Dwayne is my drummer for the WZRD band. I think it’s perfect to work with him on that one. Who knows? Maybe that one will come out sooner. It depends on how that works. But that one will be fun when it comes out. Inshallah! God willing.
It’s time for another music break, starting with The Veelas and “Hogwarts Lullaby.”
“Bring Them Home” was a special request by WZRD patron Moritz.
A huge thank you to you, Ashley, for being here and chatting with me!
Ashley: Yes, thank you so much for having me.
Where can WZRD Radio listeners find you online?
Ashley: You can find me on my website, AshleyHamel.com H-A-M-E-L dot com. You can find my BandCamp as well. It’s a little confusing. When we perform live we perform as Ashley Trix and the Wzrds—the W-Z-R-D-S, of course, la!—but all the music is filed under my muggle name.
Congratulations to Jennifer, who was the first patron to guess Episode Thirteen’s theme of quidditch, and to Autumn, who was the first to guess it on Twitter! No one’s guessed Episode Eleven’s theme yet, so everyone go listen to that one again.
As always, links to all the songs you heard today are included in the transcript at WZRDRadioPod.WordPress.com. If you heard something you like, consider buying it to support the artist. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.
If you want to support WZRD Radio, get early access to each episode, and support the Yes All Witches grant, join the Patreon at Patreon.com/WZRDRadioPod. For just two muggle dollars a month you ensure I can do these interview episodes and you raise funds for a grant that provides support to underrepresented voices in wizard rock.
And I know you’ve all been waiting very patiently to hear who won the Elwell Candles House Special giveaway. Here’s Ashley Hamel with the announcement and a very special performance!
Ashley: Many congratulations to Sept Blackwood. Yay! You have won the special giveaway. Congrats! So this song is called “Hey Dude. (My Sister, tho?)” and it’s on the album “WZRD.”
“Hey Dude” plays.