Hello magical friends, especially Sequoia, the newest member of the WZRD Radio Patreon, whose support lets me do these interviews!
I’m your hostwitch Bess, and today I’m talking to an absolute treasure, Eli of Roonil Wazlib!
I know, I can’t wait either.
But first, let’s get even more amped up with some music. Here’s “The Forbidden Forest” by The Swedish Shortsnouts.
“The Forbidden Forest was a special request from WZRD’s rockstar patron Geoff. He dedicates it to TK “For all the awesome work they did putting together the 2021 Wizard Rock Sampler! Fifty points to Ravenclaw!”
Let’s get to the interview.
Welcome to the show, Eli! I’m so excited you agreed to talk with me today.
Eli: Yeah. I’m excited to be here.
I always like to start with a little history. How did you get into wizard rock?
Eli: Yeah, that’s a, a great question. I was a teenager at the time of MySpace and when I was like 14, I started writing songs and I had a sound… I don’t know if it’s SoundCloud. I had one… of the old platforms to host music. Then my friend came back from visiting Boston with a Harry and the Potters first album, gave it to me as a birthday present. And I was super into it. I loved punk as a teenager and I was a really big Harry Potter fan so it was sort of like some of my interests were all aligning. And then I started seeing on MySpace, Draco and the Malfoys and the Whomping Willows and there was, like, a MySpace group called “wizard rock” that was just like the first half dozen bands. And I found it really fun and exciting and a really welcoming community.
The folks that were on there, like Matt and Brian, Bradley, they were very much like “Everyone should just like, give it a try.” Like, don’t worry about if it’s good. You know, if you have an idea, like share it, this is fun. You know. So I was 16 and I wrote the song “Ode to Lav Lav” and put that up on my SoundCloud or whatever that was. And then shared that on the MySpace group and people were like “Oh, this is great, you should make a MySpace page for it.” So then I had to think of like a name. So I chose “Roonil Wazlib” because at the time most of the bands had, like, one character as their names. So they’re like—at that point there was like Ron and the Weasleys, Harry and the Potters, the Womping Willows, Draco and the Malfoys, the Moaning Myrtles. I think those were the ones that I really knew at that point…
But I didn’t want to choose one character, I wanted to write from whoever’s perspective. And now as, like, an adult trans person, I’m like “Oh, and also maybe I didn’t want to choose, like, a gendered character.” Just give myself free reign to, like, pick anyone’s perspective. So yeah. Uh, I chose Roonil Wazlib because that first song that I wrote, “Ode to Lav Lav,” was like from Ron’s perspective, but there was already the “Ron and the Weasleys” and they were super great. They were, like, two kids. So I chose Roonil Wazlib as like an in joke, so Harry Potter fans were like “Hey hey, I get it.” Yeah, so the rest is sorta… the rest is sorta history. So yeah, I started the MySpace. I put that one up and just based on, like, people’s excitement from it I, uh, decided to write a couple more songs, so… Yeah, during like study hall at school or whatever, I was like writing lyric ideas. And I wrote “My Mirror is my Best Friend” and “Mollywobbles.” Um, and then recorded those three at home and put them up on that MySpace page and yeah, that’s how it all got started.
It’s amazing, all of those early songs you mentioning are so iconic.
Eli: Thank you.
I didn’t get into wizard rock until a little later, but they’re all songs I know I’ve heard.
Eli: That’s awesome.
I think that’s amazing how well they’ve withstood years. God, study hall, that was—threw me back a couple of decades. Terrifying.
Eli: Right? No, I was definitely a goody two shoes so it wasn’t like disciplinary study hall. It was just like…
I spent mine working for the, ah, counselor’s office, so I get it.
Eli: Nice, nice.
Writing music would have been much cooler.
So of all of your music, what is your best work do you reckon?
Eli: I dunno. I think it all is very, like, sentimental for me because it’s all such a, a time capsule of this period of my adolescence. Right now I’m… 32? I had to think about it now. Um, like “how old am I?” but it was like my teenage years, you know? And for me, like, before wizard rock, I had been dipping my toes into songwriting and performing my own, like, stuff with friends or at like school events, but wizard rock opened me up towards, like, a bigger world. And just because everyone was so… so incredibly supportive and so encouraging, it really got me motivated to just like try new things and explore new ideas. So I love listening to my original album because it’s just so like quirky and weird and so very like me as a 16 year old encapsulated in that; with my free music editing software and like experimenting with different styles and all of that.
But I also really, I like the “Putting Fluffy to Sleep” EP that I did cuz I have some great memories of, like, recording that in my friend’s garage. And that one was really exciting because I really idolized Harry and the Potters and some of the first shows that I played were, like, opening up for them because I reached out and I was like “I love what you do” and “I’ve been doing it too, you inspired me” and “can I play with you?” And Paul and Joe are just like really chill people. So they were like “Oh my gosh, that’s great. Totally, let’s—let’s do that.” But yeah, I idolize them so much so that when they had invited me to like the EP of the Month club, I was, I was really excited. Just like as a teenager to have adults think that what you do is like worthwhile.
Yeah. It just, it felt good. So it really motivated me to, like, work really hard and improve the songs. But my last album of, uh “Time Turner?” That one was fun. I did that one in college, so it’s definitely got, like, a different vibe, a different sound. At this point, I think it was like, I’m like, oh, I over edited over, produce it, you know, like over analyze it. But I really do love some of the, the songs from it. I still really enjoy playing, like, those guitar licks or melodies. Like “Shell Cottage” is one that I, I like to, like, noodle around with still.
Did you just say that your best work is all of it?
Eli: I mean, I think my best work is just hard for me cause I’m not impartial. Like it’s so personal for me, it’s so much like… yeah, my own history. So I can’t choose. It’s like the, “can you choose your favorite child” sort of thing. But I think I just like it all in different ways. I don’t, I certainly don’t like all of it. There’s one other that did not age well, some of it that was really funny when I was 16, 17, that I’m like “hm, cringe” now. And then there’s certainly things where I amplified problematic stuff from the books without really realizing that, that wasn’t okay. Like the fatphobia and things like that.
Yeah. That’s something I’ve really admired about wizard rock. We all can look back and go, “Ooh, some of this was not good,” but we still sort of… understand. And I think the music is… growing with our understanding, as a community, of kindness and injustice.
I think that’s really cool though, that you can stand by all of your work just as an ouvre, that’s really neat. A lot of people have, you know, the one favorite or this one’s the best and the fact that it’s all just reflective for you. I think that’s really cool.
Eli: Yeah. I think like my answer to that would be different on different days. That’s why I’m like “I can’t pick one.”
I’m okay with that.
You mentioned in our earlier discussions that you’ve played quidditch.
I desperately want to know what that was like, because I had been to one practice and it kicked my butt hard.
Eli: Oh yeah.
And I also want to know—in fanfiction, there’s this really popular concept “quidditch muscles.” Did you get them?
Eli: Uh…not exactly. So when I went to college in 200…7, 2007, I started college and uh, I started a Harry Potter club. There were like student clubs for different interests and I really wanted a club for, like, Harry Potter geeks and there wasn’t one. So I, uh, started a club and… boy, got a great lesson in, like, bureaucracy in the process of that, but did like make some cool friends and one of my friends was like “Hey, I’ve heard about people playing quidditch. Have you heard about this?” And I was like “oh yeah, I think I saw it like once on MuggleNet or something, but I don’t know much” like, let’s look into it.
And at that point there weren’t that many schools with teams, like maybe half a dozen, maybe a dozen, not that much, but my friend was like, “let’s, let’s just like throw it out there” and so they asked at one of our Harry Potter Society meetings, “anyone want to try quidditch?” And they were like “what?” and so we showed them the things we could find about it, the people that had been trying to play it, some videos of like matches and stuff and… people were stoked about it. And at that point, like the club was a bunch of nerds, like we were all the Harry Potter nerds, you know. But then the place that we ended up practicing and, like, having our first few practices was very central on campus, so a lot of people like walking by saw it. So people who are, like, a lot more casual of Harry Potter fans or not even Harry Potter fans just thought it looked fun. So, uh, we ended up like recruiting a whole bunch of people. And then the team turned into their own, like, club at the school. And the team far eclipsed the Harry Potter Society.
I think like the max, you know, like attendance of Harry Potter Society things were like 12, 15 people versus the quidditch, like, quidditch team, quidditch games, like tons of people would come out for. It was a lot of fun.
I say, I didn’t get that many, like that much quidditch muscles or whatever, because, um… by the time the second year of the team was around, it was like a big deal. The people who were on it were way more athletic. So I didn’t even make the cut. They actually went to, like, the World Cup and I didn’t even get to go. I wasn’t a good enough player. So yeah it’s… it’s a hardcore game.
What team was it?
Eli: Oh, I don’t know. Well, the, the, the regular name is the Tufts Jumbos, but I think it’s like the Tufflepuffs. I think that’s what it is.
That’s adorable I love that.
The practice I went to was with VCU’s Wizengamot and I was not prepared. That is a serious sport.
Eli: Yeah. I love that it was all genders, you know—again, the egg, the person who’s not out as trans yet now I’m like “oh, well, that’s probably why” but I loved just, like, that it was come one, come all, you know, and then people coming from different athletic backgrounds. So like for me, I played soccer before quidditch and [it] translates well in some ways, not in other ways. So there were lots of different people with lots of different, like, interests and skills. And it was really fun.
I have a dream one day of starting, like, a pick up quidditch league local to where I am—
Eli: That’s awesome!
—those of us who would not have made the World Cup, but think it’d be fun.
Eli: Yeah, there’s one in my area. Well, I’m in the Bay Area in California. I say that, I think I went to a practice like 10 years ago, so. I think they’re still around. Yeah. There definitely are places where there’s just, like, pick up quidditch, so.
I did not know that. That is very exciting.
Let’s pause for some music. Here’s Adam WarRock and Mikal kHill with “Wands Out.”
Now let’s get back to the interview!
As one of the very earliest wizard rockers from the first wave, you must have some incredible memories of all the wild events, the wrock world put on.
Eli: Oh man. Yeah… So I’ll preface it by saying, because I was really young. I also didn’t get to go to a lot of the stuff because if I had been like in college or an adult, I probably would have had more independence to go to stuff. So for example, there were times that I planned tours and then didn’t end up going because I didn’t have the money for it or, like, I didn’t have time to work on booking because I was doing, you know, high school. So that said, oh yeah. I have some great memories. My very first show was at the Milpitas Public Library in the Bay Area, opening for Draco and the Malfoys and Harry and the Potters. And I remember, they had a San Francisco show in the two days beforehand and I went to it and was like totally nerding out and got a terrible sunburn.
So the day that I was gonna actually perform, I remember, like, coming straight from my job at summer camp and, like, getting changed into my little cosplay, you know, my little Ravenclaw student outfit. And I was just like, everything hurt. I’m like “oh god!” But again, I was such, like, a fan person, I was so honored to get to, like, open for these people that I idolized. Which is funny because now I’m like “oh, they’re just, like, people, you know?” But they were so supportive of me as adults. and I was just this kid just trying it out. And they were like “yeah, go for it.” They, like, watched my set and cheered and then, like, hung out after the show and I was like “will you sign my things?” They were like “okay, will you sign ours?” You know, like they were—they were just like really seeing me as like, um, an equal. And that meant a lot to me as a kid, you know, just like “wow.” To have adults think that, like my ideas were, like, interesting. It was cool.
And then I did Wrockstock in 2008. That was a ton of fun. It’s just like, wizard rock summer camp. I was in college at that point. So there were certainly some, like, parties and things like that that were fun. But I think for me, it was really fun bonding with the other, like wizard rockers. The folks who toured more, like, I had known better, but Wrockstock was cool cuz I got to meet folks that I hadn’t before, like the Moaning Myrtles.
Um, and then when I was in college in Boston, I went to the Yule Ball every time, every year, it was a great time and I remember seeing the Potter Puppet Pals live in… I think 2007? And that was really exciting too. I was such a fan of that.
I think a lot of my wizard rock, like, memories are that fun combination of being a fan of someone else, but also having them be a fan of you. It was like a mutual love thing, you know? Like it was really cool to show up and have people care about what you do but then also be like, just as equally stoked on what they’re doing.
Another fun wizard rock memory was like, when I was in college, I studied abroad in Sweden for a semester. And uh, there’s a huge wizard rock scene in Sweden so some of the kids there, like, reached out to me and they were like “we saw on your blog that you’re like going to be in Sweden, will you play a show?”
And I was like “uh, okay.” They were like “but here’s the thing. It’s like an eight hour train ride from, uh, Stockholm where you’re staying, will you still come?” And I was like “yeah, that’s awesome.” So, like, their town sponsored my train ticket and I like went to this high school in Northern Sweden and, like, slept over in a gym and played this show and got to hang out with all these other kids. And it was… it was so fun. It was just really lovely to see, like, community. Even if I’m somewhere totally new there were people who like had things in common with me, cared about like the things I was making and yeah, it’s just like really, um, welcoming and affirming and loving and all that.
I would love to hear more about the Swedish show. Were there other performers?
Eli: Tons. Yeah, there’s a lot of bands in Sweden.
Yeah, I had Li of Pussycat Dolores on a while back.
Eli: Awesome, awesome.
Do you remember who any of the bands were? Because it might’ve been Li.
Eli: Yeah. yeah. I know Li. Um, Solitary Snape. Oh gosh. I can’t remember, but I just remember like loving it, but that’s the only one that I remember the name of. Sorry if any of you are listening!
I hear a lot that there’s a big difference between the east coast scene and the west coast scene. I don’t know what the west coast scene is as big anymore, although I think there are still a few bands out there. Did you ever notice a difference?
Eli: I think part of it is just that, like, the west coast is really, really spread out. On the east coast it was just way—like when I was in college, it was way easier because it’s like, everything is within a two to four hour train ride away. So it makes a lot more sense to, like, travel to a show. Whereas like out on the west coast, it… yeah, like going to LA that’s like a seven hour drive from where I am, that’s not like a minor thing, you know? So yeah. In terms of like who was playing shows back then, I’m trying to remember. I definitely played some shows opening for The Remus Lupins—insert asterisks to complicated, problematic stuff—but those were always fun to me. Those shows were fun.
And then I know that there were other bands… I wonder if the Parselmouths were, I think they were in Seattle? I could be wrong about that. But I never ended up playing a show with them cuz that’s like really, really far. It’s like a one-day drive if you’re nuts or two-day drive, if you’re going to be reasonable. So as a high school student and college student, it wasn’t really in my realm. But the east coast, it was just like very tight knit. Because everyone was like literally closer to each other, it was a lot easier to just like go to shows. So for example, my Harry Potter club in college, we threw a wizard rock show on campus and we got the Remus Lupins, Justin Finch-Fletchley and the Sugar Quills, Creevey Crisis, Draco and the Malfoys… like it was just, it was… And then another time we, we put on a Harry and the Potters show… Like it was just easier to book people cuz they’re just closer.
And I think too, because, like, wizard rock was everyone’s like pet project, it was no one’s career. Or for people who it was, it was for a very, very brief period of their youth, it was a career, you know? But I would say west coast and east coast still were very welcoming, very like, just joyful. For me it was always just positivity, encouragement, having a good time and being silly and cheering each other on. It didn’t matter if you were singing out of tune or had just picked up your instrument, like everyone was just down for it.
That, I think, is a pretty good segue—the, uh, ‘just picked up your instrument.’ As someone from the first wave: what is a mistake you made or something you did that newer wizard rockers who were just getting into it today, might be able to learn from, or take something from?
Eli: I mean, I guess I have like the ‘ethical one’ and then, like, the ‘logistical one.’ So I would say, you know, ethically, I look back at some of my earlier songwriting—and I kind of alluded to this earlier—and it was definitely, uh, like my privilege on display. You know, like as a white wizard rocker growing up at like an upper middle class suffer, there are just things that I didn’t think about and privileges that I had that I didn’t realize, but just because my intentions were good, it doesn’t mean my impact was and so there are definitely songs of mine or lyrics of mine that I’m like “oh, I can—now I understand how that could really negatively impact someone.” Like for example, kind of joking around about bisexuality like I did with “My Mirror is my Best Friend.” I’m a queer person and I can certainly see that other queer people might just be like “that’s fine,” but I can also see someone else who’s trying to like come to understand their own identity, finding that being made as a point of humor, like really hurtful. Or like I alluded to earlier, playing off of the fatphobia from the books, like in “Mollywobbles” there’s some lyrics that are about being thinner and just things that, again, like, it doesn’t matter that my intention was positive, if my impact was negative, then I have to own that.
So I would say to anyone who’s currently writing wizard rock, or really any sort of, like, fanfic music, it’s just like: be critical of your source material. Understand that, like, your lens isn’t the only lens and be thoughtful and kind, I guess.
And then I guess like my advice logistically would be like: don’t worry about something being finished. I feel like there were a lot of times where, like, I didn’t share stuff because I didn’t feel like it was finished yet, but I feel like that is a lot of that perfectionist, like white supremacy culture where it’s like, you have to have it perfect. And the thing that makes wizard rock fun is that it’s just like people sharing their… it’s all vulnerability, right? Like all of it is just, “just take a risk! Just show your thing!”
And I think later on when I started getting kinda out—dropping out of wizard rock is when it started getting really produced and really like… not to knock Ministry of Magic, but just like that era where it was all about, like, really good recording equipment, really, really, really good song writing…like those are things that there’s no problem with. But when that sort of like took over, everyone’s like fandom, for me it took away a little of that aspect of, like, safety to take risks.
So I would say to anyone doing wizard rock: make music that makes you happy and share it. And the person you should be writing it for is yourself. And like if other people are enjoying it then like sharing that love with them. But if you’re not, y’know, releasing something because you’re like “oh, maybe this isn’t good enough” or “I need to save up for a better microphone or whatever,” like be—go easy on yourself.
You mentioned over-producing I think—Time Turner, was it?
–when you were in college, was this part of that—
Need to be…
Eli: I think for me it might not have been more about like meeting the, the scene’s, like, interests. For me, it was more like I sat on those songs for like two years. So I just spent two months—like if I, if I just did an at home recording of them, like I’d done with, uh, my first CD, like I think it would have conveyed a little bit more of the heart behind the songs that I wrote, but I really wanted it to sound like… I dunno, I thought it would sound better, but now I’m like “eh, better is so subjective,” you know? I don’t know. Like if I do listen to any of my old wizard rock—which, like, I don’t really. My dad does, but I don’t often—but if I do the ones that I love are the ones that were like one takes, like I did this one-off song called “On the Wings of a Bird” that I just like wrote it and recorded it and put it on MySpace, like all in the same day. And I love it. It has that sound. It’s just an idea recorded, y’know?
Did you say your dad still listens to your music?
Eli: Oh yeah, my dad. Yes he does.
Your biggest fan?
Eli: I mean, everyone, hopefully any musicians parents are like “woohoo! Yeah!” But I remember as a teenager being embarrassed cuz I’d, like, go into my, my dad’s office to, like, ask him something and he’d be, like, blaring some of my recorded songs. I also wrote like really emo music as a teenager, that wasn’t wizard rock and he would be like, just blastin’ that. Yeah, he was definitely at all my shows. He recorded them all. Dad, you’re awesome. Yes, he’s always been my, uh, my cheerleader for sure.
You mentioned that you’ve written other music, what are you working on these days? Anymore nerdy music in the offing?
Eli: No, you know, to be honest, my subject matter of choice is kids. Because like I have a five-year-old and what captures my imagination to write about throughout my life has always been sort of like where I’m at in my life. So as a teenager, it was a lot of unrequited crushes and friendship troubles and just like, yeah, I was exploring my feelings through music. And then wizard rock was fun because I could still explore feelings through music, they were just other people’s feelings. So I could just have that layer like removed a little bit. And I feel like some of my songwriting, a lot of my songwriting skills improved through wizard rock because it, it didn’t feel so vulnerable or important to me. So I took more risks with it… that I then translated into other music. And then in college I wrote a lot about my, my husband and my now husband, but we were doing a long distance relationship, so that sucked, so I wrote a lot about that. And then after college I have barely written music in the last 10 years. I think that it’s just like…I don’t know. It’s always a way for me to express myself.
Anyway, kids! So I’m a teacher, I’ve done a lot of music with kids. I’m usually a kindergarten teacher. So I’m usually like goofing off with kids, with music. And then lately I’ve started a, well, it’s not a non-profit yet, but I’m in the process of making it a nonprofit, but it’s called Galaxy Community Circle. And basically the idea is that queer kids deserve to know each other and have community with each other even if they’re not in the same place so I run, uh, weekly Zoom meetings and kids of all sorts of genders and expressions come and we’re just silly together and… They usually just talk about, uh, Minecraft or you know, animals and stuff, but I’ve written some songs, like, for them. I definitely do, like, I sing with them and stuff. So yeah, anything, anything with kids. And then, like, my kid is five. I’ve, like, written songs for them sing, make up songs with them all the time. So yeah, I haven’t recorded anything in a long time, but I would say like my songwriting now is very much playful with the children in my lives. In my life. I do not have more than one.
It’s time for our final music break, starting with “A Night to Remember” by The Hinky Punks.
Here’s the last of our interview with Roonil Wazlib:
Where can WZRD Radio listeners find you online?
Eli: Musically? I think only in archives. Thank you to folks who’ve done that. But personally? Instagram is usually the platform I’m on these days. So if you want to find out more about Galaxy, it’s just at GalaxyCommunityCircle. And then I have a public Instagram which is at OkayEnby. It’s just my thoughts as a trans person and books I like…
Definitely reach out. I think wizard rock as a community has been really… was a really big part of my adolescence, um, and just giving me confidence. And so when I do run into people who have that shared experience, it’s very sweet to know that like, we, we have this, uh, shared experience of this little world where everyone was cheering for you. No one was negative. Everyone was just like “yeah, you do you! You be you! Do that thing! Express yourself.” However you show up is like “that’s awesome.” That—I wish that energy could be everywhere.
I will note that we do have Roonil Wazlib’s, I think complete, music list on the Wizrocklopedia archive at Wizrocklopedia.BandCamp.com. It’s free to download if anyone wants to check it out.
Eli: Thank you for doing that. Cuz last year I played a show and I didn’t—I couldn’t find any of my music so I got it there. Thank you!
Congratulations to Amanda, the first person to guess last episode’s theme of “songs from the wizard rock sampler!” I hope you enjoy that Cruciatus Curse download code. And don’t worry, magical friends—there are more where those came from for future theme guesses.
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If you heard a song today and thought “that’s kind of a bop,” follow the link in the transcript at WZRDRadioPod.com to pick up a copy for yourself. It’s such a good way to support our wizard rockers and without them, we wouldn’t be here.
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And now, here’s Roonil Wazlib!