Hello magical friends, especially my WZRD Radio patrons whose support not only makes these episodes possible, but who have enabled me to make our first donation to the Yes All Witches grant this month!
I’m your hostwitch Bess and today’s special guest is Ariel Factor Birdoff of Madam Pince and the Librarians. In “Rogue Librarian” she overthrew both The Author and Dewey of the decimal system so it’s safe to say she’s got a lot going on.
We’ll dig into that in a minute, but first we’ve got some music to play! First up is “I’m Neville Longbottom” by Luna Wants a Long Bottom.
And now it’s time to welcome Ariel to the show! Thank you so much for being here today.
Ariel: It’s great to be here.
I’d love it if you could share a little with us about your history with wizard rock.
Ariel: Oh wow. As a Harry Potter fan since about 1999, I was kind of a solitary fan. And then the internet happened and I heard of all these conventions and in 2007 I finally decided that I could basically do what I want with my own money and I got on a plane and went to New Orleans. Now, I had heard of Harry and the Potters but I thought “Oh, haha, that’s silly nerd music.” And then I went to my first wizard rock show at Phoenix Rising in New Orleans and I heard Draco and the Malfoys, among others, and I was watching all these people singing along and I thought “I need to be a part of this. This is not just some cute fad; this is incredible. The feeling is incredible.” By the end of that weekend I was obsessed. I had bought a bajillion albums and I was well on my way to attending, like, every con, every concert, every festival I possibly could.
I like that it was the, um, community sensation that got you hooked.
Ariel: For sure
That appeals to me very strongly as well. I like that it’s so festive and engaged. So that’s how you got into the music, how about performing? What shifted you from fan to performer.
Ariel: Well, I have always been a book nerd. I worked, at the time, in publishing and I had a goal of becoming a librarian. In about—actually, in 2007—I had just started getting my masters degree in library science to become a real-life librarian, and in 2008 I went to Wrockstock, which was the greatest wizard rock festival of all time, arguably. I was sitting around playing Apples to Apples with a bunch of my new best friends, as you do, and I had said something like “Oh, I’m studying to be a librarian so if I ever had a wizard rock band it would be Madam Pince and the Librarians.” And one of my friends—I think it was Julia—said “Well why—why don’t you?” And I looked at her and I really had no answer. I was like “I don’t—I don’t know why I don’t.” So when I got home from Wrockstock—I remember I was waiting for the M60 to take me home from LaGuardia to Manhattan—and I called my friend Erich and I said “Hey, you wanna be in a wizard rock band?” and he said “Sure!” And that was the end of that.
So I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to see you perform live, but did you do any of the touring with other groups?
Ariel: We kind of did a bit of touring—not really touring. So I’ve had two bandmates. My first one being Erich who was the genius composer behind the start of my music. And he and I played mostly local shows, although we did travel to New Jersey one night and I felt super cool, going across state lines to play wizard rock. And then soon after that Erich left the band and my friend Kelly, who is now—she’s my family you know, like, if anything happens to me she’s taking my kids. That’s how close we’ve gotten. She and I definitely traveled, but not really so much touring. But we went to Virginia, we went to—we went back to Wrockstock a few years. We played in some other places that we definitely had to travel, like, we played a show in Philly one year. That was so cool. But unfortunately, as I always had a full-time job and pretty soon she became a full-time parent, touring was never really in the cards for us.
As I was prepping for this interview I went back and listened through the complete Madam Pince/Ariel
Ariel: Oh dear.
Music backlist and I noticed that your music has sort of followed the recent shift in wizard rock to more proud…assertive…Like in your latest track from the Wizard Rock Sampler this year, Rogue Librarian, you’ve kicked not only Rowling but Melvil Dewey to the curb. What was the impetus for this change for you?
Ariel: Well, um, before library school I kind of had this idea of librarians which was definitely given to me with media. You know, of—certainly Madam Pince, who’s the worst librarian—but definitely seeing the librarian stereotypes in media and in books and everything, as either the old, cardigan-wearing lady, or young, hot, tattooed cardigan-wearing lady. And then as I went to school I realized some of that is very correct and some of that is not correct at all. And then, after glorifying the Dewey Decimal System, Melvil Dewey is the grandfather of library science, blah blah, you realize that, in fact, he is a completely racist asshole. Basically, if you were not a white, cis, heterosexual, Christian male, he had no time for you. And in his system, it’s completely obvious. He’ll list out “Christianity” and then he’ll list out like “history of Christianity,” and “thoughts about Christianity” and this about Christianity and then, like, “All other religions” that’s a topic. Or like, how “The African-American Experience” is in a different place than “The American Experience.” Or how “Women’s Jobs” were not under “Jobs,” they were a separate thing. So, just horrible. Yeah I’m super glad this whole “librarianism is a science” thing, that’s great but it’s just—I’m done. I’m done. And I’ve been feeling this way for a while but it’s super niche and super nerdy. I’ve had many half-written songs involving this topic but they never came to fruition. But then when JK Rowling came out to be such a transphobic shit and that feeling of betrayal, that something that you love so much and something that is such a big part of your life is, in fact, terrible…I felt like there was a connection there. And I was like “Ah, yes, I am super angry and I’m going to sing about it.” And it kinda like, just kind of came together, those two things that I love and also hate so much.
Hufflepride was sort of similar, a sort of taking a stance against ‘Hufflepuffs are a load of duffers”
Perspective that people have.
Ariel: For sure. I also, as a proud Hufflepuff—although everyone will tell me I’m a Ravenclaw but they can—they can suck it. Pottermore told me I was a Ravenclaw like a bajillion times but then I learned how to hack the algorithm and made myself a Hufflepuff, which everyone argues is a very Ravenclaw thing to do. But either way I am a proud Hufflepuff, mostly because I have tried as hard as I can to embody loyalty and hard work above all else. But whenever I would hear all these songs or see all these videos about being proud to be a Hufflepuff, they always seemed to center around marijuana and Hufflepuffs being close to the, ah, kitchens, which is very funny but that’s just not me. And I really wanted an anthem song that I could sing and be proud to be a Hufflepuff for all the other reasons and not necessarily that they’re probably all high and going to the kitchens.
Reasonable. And you know they say that the Hat does take your choice into account.
Ariel: Yes. I’ll hold onto that.
So we’re talking about how your music draws so heavily on your personal experiences including being a librarian, being Jewish, being a Hufflepuff—despite all evidence to the contrary—how does that happen for you? You know a lot of people take characters, like Harry and the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys and perform as them, but you more draw from real life and bring it into the Potterverse.
Ariel: Yeah, well… I think it also stemmed about the time when I formed Madam Pince and the Librarians. The only other thought that I had had about something that I would like to maybe sort of sing about if I did this was Anthony Goldstein. So this is a thing that I’m pretty sure every Jewish person does, which is if you hear a name that sounds slightly Jewish, you think “Oh I wonder if they’re Jewish” and then you go look it up. You have like a running list in your head of all the famous Jews in your life. So like, my aunt has told me fifty times that Daniel Radcliffe is half Jewish, and obviously I know that Lenny Kravitz is half Jewish. That’s the thing. You know, it’s the Hanukkah Song. We all have to just know who is Jewish at any time. So the minute I saw Anthony Goldstein’s name pop up I was like “Holy shit. That guy’s definitely Jewish.” And then that just became the first song. My first bandmate was not Jewish but as all New Yorkers tend to be I feel like everyone is just a little bit Jewish since it’s such a huge part of our culture. And it was so much fun working with him, finding out how many Yiddish and Hebrew words we could rhyme together. So yeah, like, Madam Pince was certainly at the beginning a librarian band because of that part of my life but also being Jewish was a real part of the beginning. And also because Jews don’t get a lot of media, and when we do it sometimes, you know, hate crimes or antisemetic things, but also as like, the jolly funny person who likes to eat bagels so I wanted to help with that representation. And certainly when Jingle Spells became a thing I knew I had to write another Hanukkah song… Mostly people have misconceptions about Jewish people, people have misconceptions about librarians and I guess I wanted to use my nerdy platform to tell people about it
I love that you mentioned Anthony Goldstein, because it’s time for a music break and the first song we’re playing is Madam Pince and the Librarians with “Anthony Goldstein, Are You a Jew.”
So Ariel, what has been your favorite performance so far, your best memories, the most wonderful crowd…
Ariel: Hm…let’s see, my best performance… I guess it’s an easy thing to remember this one. So my band started at Wrockstock 2008 and then in 2011 I was asked by Brian Ross—who was running Wrockstock that year—to main stage at Wrockstock. It was everything, it was incredible. I’d played for the last few years at Wrockstock but on the second stage and usually just me with the backing track because my bandmates couldn’t make it down. But that year it was me, Kelly, and Stacy from Swish and Flick. [They] always made it down but were doing Swish and Flick things but this year [they] came down and were a drummer for us. And it was a Halloween weekend and obviously when you’re having a Halloween weekend and wizard rock weekend you dress up as who your characters would dress up as if it was Halloween for them too, so we were all Batgirl—if you don’t know, Batgirl is a librarian—so we all dressed up as Batgirl and we sang a set. I don’t even remember singing it. I remember going up there and I remember looking at the crowd and being like “I am now the person that I saw that inspired me in the first place and maybe I’m doing that for someone else.” And then I went outside and we took a whole bunch of photos. I think Grace Kendall took all our photos. We did a photoshoot by the lake in our costumes and then I sat down and cried for, like, a half hour. It was beautiful. I was so overwhelmed. It’s definitely the greatest thing I’ve ever done.
Oh, I love that! Oh it’s such a good—ugh, the Batgirl is fantastic.
What is your best advice for newcomers to wrock, people who are coming in during this new resurgence?
Ariel: Just do it. Literally nothing can stop you. I knew nothing. I mean, I sang in a chorus in high school and I guess I was kind of in musical theater but I was terrible at it. But when confronted with the question “Why don’t you have a band?” I didn’t have an answer. And that’s just it, just do it. If you want to do it, do it. That’s the greatest thing about this community, is that you can just put yourself out there and everyone will support you. And definitely, when you’re putting yourself out there, go ask for it and go get it. Call and ask for interviews, call and ask to be part of a line up. I mean, I got on Jingle Spells because for two years I emailed Andrew Slack as, like, a fellow Jew and also Big Name Fan and was like “You have to help me get on this compilation.” And then I just sent annoying emails until they were like “Fine. We’ll put some Hanukkah songs on here.” Just go for it. And possibly the biggest thing that I can—that I wanna impart, which is something that I still have to remind myself, is “never apologize for your work.” If you are apologizing for your work, if you think you need to before you send it, like “oh, I don’t know if this is good but…” then don’t send it. Rework it. Make it so that you are so proud. Don’t tell other people why they shouldn’t like you. You have to love yourself—I know, that’s so hard. Love yourself and love the work that you put out and just own it. Never apologize. Sure there’ll be people who, like, maybe don’t like it, but that’s their problem. That’s not yours. Go for it, we will build you up, we will support you and…just own it.
I really like that. Trust that the community will catch you and, uh, have faith as much in yourself.
Ariel: For sure.
And we hear, over and over again, the ‘just do it’ advice and I think that’s easier now than ever because we have the Yes All Witches grant for getting materials and advice, the Wizard Rock Sampler to get your music out there, the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Jam on the ‘Pedia for just trying something out.
So yeah. There’s no reason in the world not to.
So I think there was a little bit of a lull in your in your performing and creating, maybe in the mid…2010s?
But you’re kinda coming back now, with Hufflepride and Rogue Librarian, so what’s next? What are you working on?
Ariel: So, Covid is kind of a blessing and a curse in that I’ve had some time to do some things but yet stress is a huge factor. So right now Stacy of Swish and Flick, who also produced and wrote Hufflepride, the music, [they] and I are working together, although with Covid everything is kind of on hold. [They] and I are both parents of two children and everything is kind of up in the air. So we’re slogging through but it’s slow going. We are working on what will hopefully be a hip-hopera EP about Paradise Lost because I’m a—as we’ve discussed—a super nerd and I was an English major in college and I’m also a huge Shel Silverstein. And, I’m gonna ruin all y’all’s childhoods, but Shel Silverstein wrote for Playboy. Um, and one of the things that he published in Playboy was Hamlet as told on the street and it’s basically the story of Hamlet, just super vulgar and super—well, I guess it’s, the original Hamlet is also poetry. But this is just a super vulgar, modern retelling of Hamlet. And since I read that, and since I’ve been 18, I’ve wanted to write my own epic Paradise Lost vulgar poem. Which I’ve written. And it’s not great, cuz I wrote it when I was 18, but Stacy and I are reworking that into a five song hip-hopera EP.
So what is a hip-hopera. Is that, like, Hamilton-y?
Ariel: Yeah, definitely think Hamilton.
Ariel: Definitely Hamilton. Theater nerd, rap, poetry, yeah.
I like this new merging of contemporary music and very classic history.
Ariel: Yeah. It’s a great story. It’s hilarious too. I mean, if you’re into poetry.
So you’re branching out on your nerdom, anything in wizard rock coming up?
Ariel: You know, about five minute before I got on the phone with you, I had this idea—because I’m currently writing a paper for my current grad school work—and I started writing an essay on how librarians should be guides and not gatekeepers and I was like “Oh! Alliteration!” I literally just had the idea, like, a minute ago, but maybe there’s something there in an in-character, Madam Pince something. I don’t know if I’d play it as Madam Pince who we all know and love, who is literally the worst, or a reimagined Madam Pince where she can get rid of that stupid Restricted Section. This is a really, really baby idea and I don’t know where it’s going.
Madam Pince is criminally underexplored–
Ariel: For real
In the community.
Ariel: if she were a decent librarian then there would be no books because Hermione would have found everything and solved it in a second. So basically the books should be “Hermione and Madam Pince Solve the Whole World in Like Five Minutes.”
I would read that fan fic.
It’s time for
It’s time for more music, starting with “The Weasley Polka” by Muggle Snuggle.
And now it’s time to say goodbye to Ariel. Thank you so much for being here.
Ariel: You’re welcome. Thank you!
Where can WZRD Radio listeners find you online?
Ariel: I am everywhere. You can find me on all the social media platforms at Madam_Pince. I also have a Facebook page as Madam Pince as well as me personally. I am all over Wizard Rock Revival. I am also on TikTok now, apparently, so you can use all my songs as your sounds on your TikTok videos. 19 people who are not me have already done that. I also have a website, which is ArielBirdoff.com and a BandCamp which is LibraryWrock.BandCamp.com and I think that’s about it. And you can also find my music on all these major streaming sites, like Spotify.
Ah, and I’ll definitely be sharing some of those TikTok videos as soon as I work out how to do that, because I love that wizard rock is becoming a thing over there!
Ariel: Yeah. Super cool.
Shout out to Susannah, who was the first listener to guess this month’s theme of “instrumental music.” I’ve still got some of those Muggle Snuggle download codes available, so I hope you’re all ready for December.
Links to the songs you heard today are included in the transcript at WZRDRadioPod.WordPress.com. If you heard a song you think a friend would love, buy it for them! It’s important to support our wizard rockers because without them, we wouldn’t be here.
If you want to help us fund our next Yes All Witches grant and suggest my next interviewee, check out the Patreon at Patreon.com/WZRDRadioPod. There’s only one tier, set permanently at two muggle dollars a month, and it gets access to everything as well as raising up queer and BIPoC musicians in the wizard rock world.
If you know an event coming up in December that I should share or just want to keep in touch, you can find me on Twitter at WZRDRadioPod. If you’re not on social media, you can leave comments on the transcript or email me at WZRDRadioPod@gmail.com.
And now, take it away, Ariel!