`Remus Lupins" sounds like the name of a Latvian Olympic bobsledder from the Soviet days, or maybe even a character from "Song of the South." But the Remus Lupins are actually a band of "wizard rockers" from Los Angeles who are spreading the gospel of Harry Potter around this country this summer at a library near you.
The band unveil its magic on Friday, August 9, on the Albert E. Hinds Community Plaza at the Princeton Public Library, sharing the bill with two other Harry Potter-themed bands – the Whomping Willows and the Moaning Myrtles.
Wizard rock, says Alex Carpenter, the front man for the Remus Lupins, is a combination of indie rock and Harry Potter motifs, song titles, and imagery. "We play music about Harry Potter or music inspired by him. We try to do music that promotes the values that J. K. Rowling puts forward in her books: love, friendship, and working together to defeat evil against impossible odds."
The bands that will perform on August 9 are part of a growing and cresting movement called "wizard rock," which began gaining popularity over the past five years as the Harry Potter books (and the associated movies, websites, and other phenomena) have become wildly popular around the country and world. The first band, Harry and the Potters, started back in 2002, and more than 180 bands have sprouted up since then. Most of the bands’ appearances are at house parties, libraries, and other, more informal gatherings.
For the Remus Lupins, the Princeton gig is part of a summer-long tour of libraries across the country. The main objective of the tour, says Carpenter, 24, who started the band two years ago, is to encourage reading among young people. "We like to get people rockin’ out and excited about reading. We make a special effort to play libraries and bookstores, to take that cool aura of a rock show and make it a really good time."
The Harry Potter series, he says, has made reading attractive to a whole generation of youngsters who have grown up with so many other possible distractions. "The books have done a lot of good culturally. They have gotten people excited about reading in a time when it is much easier to sit back and watch MTV. Kids are reading books again, and that is personally important to me."
Carpenter, who plays guitar and sings, spoke by cell phone from the road, somewhere in Ohio, in a rented van with his two bandmates, Toby Karlin, who plays drums, and Tyler Nicholas, who plays bass. Driving the van was Brandon Nicholas, Tyler’s older brother and the band’s sound man.
Maybe by looking at the Harry Potter character from which the band derives its name, you can infer a bit about him. Remus Lupin is, you guessed it, a werewolf. From Wikipedia: "Lupin is a half-blood, born, according to the series, to a wizard and a Muggle woman on March 10, 1960. He was bitten by the vicious werewolf Fenrir Greyback when he was a small child, and became infected with lycanthropy; the condition being incurable, he was doomed to live the rest of his life as a werewolf."
The Remus Lupin character, according to a few of the many Harry Potter websites, served as a friend, teacher and mentor to Harry Potter. "He was a very important character in Harry’s life," says Carpenter. "He is awesome. I named the band after him because I admire him a lot."
Remus Lupin, and the other Harry Potter characters, are, as far as anyone knows, going to be on somewhat of a hiatus after last month’s release of the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But Carpenter is expecting Remus and Harry, and the rest of the Potter pantheon, to live on. "I thought the last book was really cool," says Carpenter. "There was lots of speculation as to what was going to happen with the characters, and now we know."
So what is going to happen now? "I think it’s going to continue, this won’t go anywhere," Carpenter says. "It’s going to be a lot like Star Wars, which came out 30 years ago, and people are still into it. It’s still a very big franchise. A friend of mine has Yoda paraphernalia, and he wasn’t even around when Yoda first came about. Harry Potter is definitely going to have a place in the cultural canon from now on."
Carpenter comes by his literary activism naturally. His mother owned a comic book store in West Los Angeles and was very active in encouraging literacy efforts in their hometown. His father, says Carpenter, "was in the TV business."
Carpenter grew up near the Pacific Ocean, spending lots of time near and on the beach and, yes, reading. "I was involved in literacy promotion when I was a kid because my mom was on the board of a group that was using comics as a way to promote reading among young people," he says.
He says his parents "put lots of challenging books in front of me" from an early age. He especially remembers reading books by Michael Crichton when he was 10 years old. "I liked reading and visual arts but there was and is just something unique about reading. Reading puts you in the driver’s seat. When you read a sentence, you may come out with a completely different image than what anyone else may come out with. It’s as if you are always making yourself smarter by reading. The challenge is in imagining something."
Carpenter was not particularly musical when he was growing up and, indeed, he considers himself the least musically literate among his bandmates. He did begin playing the guitar at UCLA (he graduated last year with a bachelor’s in English), but Karlin went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Nicholas is studying music at Moore Park College in Los Angeles. "They studied music, so they make me look good," says Carpenter.
Going on the road for the summer is more than just a way to do gigs and make money (not much, Carpenter says). It’s also a way for the three musicians and their roadie/sound man/homeboy to bond with each other and their fans, and see America (and Canada). The tour comprises 55 shows over two months, and the four take turns driving the van for a total of about six hours a day.
At the time of this interview, the quartet had just played in Detroit and was on its way to Cleveland, then Toronto, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. Being on the road, clearly, can be tiresome and just pure drudgery. "It’s a constant battle of rest stops," says Carpenter.
But the guys are making the most of it. "We’re four very, very close friends," he says. "We’re just taking a road trip around the country for the summer. We’re staying at some hotels but lots of times we just crash with some fan or friend who lets us stay at their place. We like that. It makes things really personal for us."
The group does indeed meet up with fans before, during, and after its shows. So, do chicks dig wizard rockers or Harry Potter aficionados? Indications would seem to point toward yes. Carpenter confirms this suspicion. "You have to understand that more than 80 percent of Harry Potter fans are female," he says. "Screaming girls. You can’t argue with that. That makes things kind of nice."
Wizard Rock Concert, Thursday, August 9, 6 p.m. Albert E. Hinds Plaza at Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, The Remus Lupins, the Whomping Willows, and the Moaning Myrtles. 609-924-8822.
Also at the library, Wizard Workshop, Thursday, August 9, 3:30 p.m. "Are You a Magician or a Muggle?" Workshop led by renowned wizard "Basil Throckmorton" will teach the art of magic to potential young wizards. Designed for children ages 8 to 11. Register at 609-924-9529, extension 240.