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‘Harry Potter’ at 20: Artists Reveal Tattoos, Tears, Tour Stories Inspired by the Wizarding World

From Lily Allen to Anthrax, Vic Mensa to Steve Earle – music’s biggest Potterheads on how series changed them, their music and their lives

harry potter artist fans

Led Zeppelin had Tolkien. Metallica had Lovecraft. But Snail Mail, Dua Lipa, Taking Back Sunday, Why Don’t We, Hanson, and countless others have J.K. Rowling, and her story of the boy with a lightning-shaped scar. 

Released in the United States 20 years ago, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone began the seven-book saga with a loud, hairy giant bursting into suburbia — not unlike a certain Twisted Sister video — to rescue a neglected boy from his oppressive relatives, bringing him into a magical new realm. Rowling’s books captivated readers globally and, in doing so, brought together a rather unlikely cross-section of musicians, from British pop stars to Warped Tour veterans to metal heads to country legends. As these artists tour the world, signing autographs and writing hit songs, just know that deep down each one of them knows exactly which Hogwarts House they’d be sorted into — should the occasion arise. [Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

When did you start reading Harry Potter?

Lily Allen: I was going on holiday with my dad in Brazil. We picked up some books from WH Smith at the airport, I chose a book about the California cartel and a crime novel. My younger brother bought the Philosopher’s Stone [the book’s U.K. title]. I took his copy once he’d finished.

Vic Mensa: Yeah, I fuck with Harry Potter. I got them from my sisters, my older sister particularly.

Steve Earle: They have become my go-to when I’m a little down or ill or just need to shut out the big, ugly muggle world.  

Adam Lazzara, Taking Back Sunday: We were on the Project Revolution Tour with Placebo, My Chemical Romance and Linkin Park. I finished nearly the whole series on that tour. The singer from Placebo, Brian [Molko], gave me his British copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Lucy Dacus: My extremely Christian great uncle gave me the first Harry Potter book, I think oblivious to the content. I devoured it. I always wanted to go to boarding school, move things with my mind, and have a mysterious backstory as a kid, so it was hitting all the points for me.

Bryce Vine: My mom and I read the first book together every night before I went to bed when I was, like, 12. It was such a wonderful way for us to bond.

Tanya Donelly, Belly: My strongest memory of the series is reading The Sorcerer’s Stone with my oldest daughter Gracie when she was about six years old, almost 14 years ago, and watching her fall in love with that world and those characters. I dove right into them with her.

Scott Ian, Anthrax: I thought they were for kids, but my friend Jennifer was like, “Yeah, but it’s not. It’s also for adults. You should really check it out. It’s amazing.” So I picked up a paperback, and I must have ripped through it in two days. I was instantly hooked. And then, of course, angry that I had to wait for the next book.

Jeremiah Fraites, The Lumineers: I remember everybody was obsessed with those books. It was kind of annoying.

Ian Axel, A Great Big World: I didn’t read them until my early twenties. I remember crying my eyes out reading it on the subway and not caring that everyone was staring at me.

Chad King, A Great Big World: I remember staring at Ian while he cried.

Sofía Reyes: I was about six years old when I saw the first movie. It reminded me a lot of my grandpa, who was a huge fan, too. 

“I thought ‘the talk’ was going to be [my parents] telling me I got my letter from Hogwarts.” – Joey Armstrong, SWMRS (son of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) showing off his Potter ink.

What is your impression of J.K. Rowling?

Jeremiah Fraites, The Lumineers: J.K. Rowling is almost like a modern-day Bob Dylan. Prolific and profound.

Skylar Grey: J.K. Rowling is a creative storytelling genius, right up there alongside Eminem.

Eric Cannata, Young The Giant: My dad, who taught English for 30 years, said J.K Rowling and Harry Potter are more important to our generation than Shakespeare.

Scott Ian, Anthrax: Well, of course she’s doing the same thing that Tolkien did. Lord of the Rings was written about the great evil coming out of World War I, then going into World War II. Like that, there are similarities between the world Rowling created and our real world. I think anyone who reads the books and thinks the Death Eaters and Voldemort are right — that they should cleanse the Mudbloods out and all that — is misunderstanding the books on a fundamental level.

KT Tunstall : J.K. Rowling’s writing is spectacular.

Jonah Marais, Why Don’t We: I love the life lessons that J.K. Rowling was able to convey. I get a little sentimental every time I go back and read the books.

Lindsey Jordan, a.k.a. Snail Mail, and her manager Rennie Jaffe en route to Hogwarts at King’s Cross Station in London.

Ever go to a midnight book release?

Lindsey Jordan, Snail Mail: Every year. Harry Potter was literally the glue to the family. For the seventh book release, I remember my family getting into a really big fight in the parking lot. I can’t remember why, but someone was crying. My parents were like, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t even go.’ That was a pin drop moment. The idea of not going to the final Harry Potter book release was actual blasphemy. Just preposterous. And I remember my sister tried to ruin the ending for me and all hell broke loose. Yeah [laughs], lots of drama surrounding the seventh.

Steve Earle: My stepdaughter pre-ordered Azkaban when it came out. I took her to a local bookstore when they opened the boxes at midnight and saw kids lined up around the block to buy a book. I had to know what that was all about.

Zac Hanson: The first book was released in the U.S. when I was 12, right around the same time as our band was first having global success. Nearly a decade later in 2007, I was waiting in line with my wife at a bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island, watching the clock count down to midnight so we could pick up a copy of Deathly Hollows. Now a decade later, I am reading the books and watching the movies with my kids, thinking my 10-year-old might be ready for a trip to Hogwarts.

Adam Met, AJR: Our mom took me and [Jack] to the midnight release of the sixth book. It was the Barnes and Noble on Sixth Avenue and West 22nd Street. We waited on a line that was blocks long. Inside, the store was turned into Hogwarts. People were teaching wand classes, there was Harry Potter trivia, some guy was dressed up as Hagrid — but then someone opened the book to the last chapter and said “Dumbledore died!” while everyone was waiting for the book. To find out like that was terrible.

What role has Harry Potter played in your life, career and/or music?

Vic Mensa: In one song — “Dynasty” — I talk about getting your priorities straight like Hermione Granger. People loved it.

“Dynasty,” by Vic Mensa

Andy Biersack, Black Veil Brides: My wife (Juliet Simms) is a huge Harry Potter fan. Our first date was at Harry Potter World in Orlando. We [still] go like twice a year.

Steve Earle: When The Deathly Hallows came out, I was touring in the U.K. and I mentioned in a interview that I was somewhat upset because I would be unable to get to a bookstore at midnight and procure my copy. At least one was waiting for me at every stop on the remainder of the tour: gifts from fans that Harry and I have in common. 

Bryce Vine: I struggled with ADD and mild dyslexia as a kid, so I had trouble visualizing the words I read in books. Harry Potter was the first book I remember being able to imagine in vivid detail.

Tanya Donelly, Belly: To this day, including this very morning, my daughters and I engage in lengthy conversations and debates about the canon and moral complexities of the characters and plot lines.

Christopher Guanlao, Silversun Pickups: I remember secretly crying in the back lounge of our tour bus in Salt Lake City after finishing The Deathly Hallows

A young Rita Ora (right) in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.’

Rita Ora: Little known fact: I was in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as a child actress! I made a cameo appearance in Sybill Trelawney’s Divination class.

Nick Hexum, 311: My only Harry Potter experience is spending too much on magic wands for my kids at Universal Studios!

Joey Armstrong, SWMRS: When my parents gave me the “sex talk,” I guess I looked really disappointed. They asked me what was wrong. I thought “the talk” was going to be them telling me I got my letter from Hogwarts. 

Ryan Met, AJR: Before bed, our mother used to read us the Harry Potter books. And, you know, she’s a Jewish woman from Brooklyn. We grew up in Manhattan. And we made her read us the entire series in a British accent.

Gus Unger-Hamilton, alt-J: It’s a link back to my childhood; something I turn to when I’m having trouble sleeping on the tour bus. It’s like a home-cooked meal from your mom.

Skylar Grey: On tour, I would disappear into my bunk with my book after every show instead of partying. I was actually pretty depressed at the time, and escaping into the world of Harry Potter took my mind off everything. Those magical metaphors taught me some really powerful life lessons — things I needed to learn at that time in my life. 

Dua Lipa performing entire concert set dressed as Harry Potter:

Lindsey Jordan, Snail Mail: On a beach trip, we all went to the Cursed Child book release after partying. This was in Delaware. I had just gotten fired from my frozen yogurt job. We didn’t buy the book because I definitely didn’t have money. None of us had money. So we schooled a bunch of children at the Harry Potter trivia game. And took some free cupcakes. 

Jeremiah Fraites, The Lumineers: [The band] stayed at the Balmoral Hotel [in Edinburgh] and I was on the same floor as the room J.K. Rowling rented to write the last book, Deathly Hollows. So I just stood in front of the door. I even took a picture of it. I think people have a funny idea about what it takes to make something great, like it’s some mystical, almost black magic thing that happens. It was humanizing to remember it was just a person. She rented this room and had a pen and paper or typewriter, or whatever. It’s kind of boring how it happened, but it impacted the world.

Lily Allen: Humble brag coming up: I remember watching an interview about J.K. writing Deathly Hallows in 2007 and she listens to my song “Smile” as she typed the last word and printed it off, which was obviously amazing for me. And magical.

J.K. Rowling on playing Lily Allen’s “Smile” after writing final book, per ABC News:


What Hogwarts House do you belong in?

Steve Earle: Gryffindor — duh!

Tyler Rich: As a huge fan of horror movies, I belong in Slytherin. But, also because of their determination to win. I read that “they live to achieve the goals they most desire.” And I relate to that. 

Bebe Rexha: I truly think that I should be in Slytherin, but I don’t want to be bad so I say Gryffindor.

Vic Mensa: When I was a kid, I always wanted to think that my house would be Gryffindor, but by this point, I’ve accepted that I’d be in Slytherin. You know? I’m dark.

Zac Hanson: Gryffindor.

Sabrina Carpenter: Gryffindor, but one time I got Hufflepuff.

Jeremiah Fraites, The Lumineers: The hard work aspect of Hufflepuff stuck out to me.

Troye Sivan: Hufflepuff. (Made sure by taking an online test.)

KT Tunstall: After visiting the actual Sorting Hat at Universal Studio, I can confirm that I am Hufflepuff, and I am not mad at that. 

Tanya Donelly, Belly: I’ve taken the official Pottermore quiz a few times at the urging of both of my daughters, and am always placed firmly in Hufflepuff.

Ian Axel & Chad King, A Great Big World: Hufflepuff! For both of us. That’s where we would have met.

Bryce Vine: Ravenclaw. I’m not really Gryffindor material.

Lindsey Jordan, Snail Mail: Slytherin. 100-percent. Mostly because I trust J.K. and the validity of the Pottermore test, which I’ve taken on multiple different accounts. The Slytherin House is obviously represented poorly in the movies, because it’s not inherently evil. There’s definitely an emphasis on skills and intelligence. I also love all the Malfoys. They’re super hot.

Rita Ora: I was originally cast in Gryffindor but now, as an adult, I like a bit of Slytherin. I have the heart of a Gryffindor and the determination and leadership of a Slytherin.

Gus Unger-Hamilton, alt-J: I did the online Sorting Hat thing and got Ravenclaw, which is what I wanted.


If you had a Patronus, what would it be?

“First tattoo? Giant patronus. Big deal.” – Adam Lazzara, Taking Back Sunday

Scott Ian, Anthrax: A flying V with lightning shooting out of the end.

Joey Armstrong, SWMRS: A flying squirrel. Smart, spazzy, capable, brave (sometimes) and resourceful. 

Steve Earle: A red-tailed hawk.

Rita Ora: If I was battling a Dementor, my Patronus would either be a hummingbird, [because] they are cheerful and love to sing, or a Phoenix. In my career, I’ve overcome obstacles and I continue to evolve. Also like a Phoenix, loyalty is very important to me, especially when it comes to my family and friends!

Tanya Donelly, Belly: Pottermore says my Patronus is an otter. My youngest daughter, Hattie, sees me with a bobcat.

KT Tunstall: A honey badger. It would be super-useful to have a Patronus that could be an asshole on my behalf.

Jeremiah Fraites, The Lumineers: Golden retriever

Gus Unger-Hamilton, alt-J: Some kind of dog; I’m quite loyal and I need to be walked a few times a day.

Jonah Marais, Why Don’t We: A sting ray. One of my earliest memories is seeing one with my dad when I was little.

Eric Cannata, Young The Giant: A bee, because they see the magic in life.

Adam Met, AJR: An owl.

Jack Met, AJR: A cheetah: slender and fast.

Ryan Met, AJR: My patronus? A turtle.

Chad King, A Great Big World: An octopus, because it would definitely outwit a Dementor.

 

If you could invite two characters to dinner, who would they be?

Lily Allen: Dumbledore and Hagrid and I wouldn’t let either of them leave.

Bebe Rexha: Definitely Dumbledore and Harry Potter.

Bryce Vine: Hagrid and Dumbledore, for sure

Adam Lazzara, Taking Back Sunday: Very British question, I would say Albus Dumbledore, first and foremost, as he was a guiding light throughout those books. That character had a way of helping everyone along to their own conclusions. I’ve talked with other friends of mine that saw that as manipulative but after a second read. I disagree. That reminds me of my grandparents and I appreciate that very much. Also, Sirius Black. Perfect book-to-movie casting.


Which class at Hogwarts would help you the most in your real life?

Steve Earle: Defense Against the Dark Arts. At least until Trump’s out of office. 

Rita Ora: Definitely the Care of Magical Creatures class would be the most helpful in real life, because I love taking care of animals.

Tyler Rich: Care of Magical Creatures. I’m a big animal guy. Plus, Hagrid would be my professor.

Gus Unger-Hamilton, alt-J: Transfiguration.

Eric Cannata, Young The Giant: Transfiguration.

Ian Axel, A Great Big World: Potions. Would love to make a potion that will give me the feeling of a good night’s sleep when I don’t get one.

KT Tunstall: Defense Against the Dark Arts. Deflecting toxic people and situations with a wee wave of a wand would be superb.

Joey Armstrong, SWMRS: If I’m being honest, Herbology. Pomona Sprout is probably the best teacher at Hogwarts. It’s an everyday skill.

Jonah Marais, Why Don’t We: Either Charms or Defense Against the Dark Arts. It’d be helpful if I could get through a locked door by whispering a little alohamora and — boom — I’d be good.

Skylar Grey and her assistant Vanessa’s matching Deathly Hallows symbol tattoos.


How far have you taken your Harry Potter fandom?

Skylar Grey: My assistant and best friend Vanessa and I got matching Deathly Hallows tattoos. They look horrible! But we were in Vegas for a gig, decided to get drunk on margaritas. What do you expect?!

Tanya Donelly, Belly: Gracie and I went into Harvard Square when it was transformed into Hogwarts Square the day the seventh book was released. Everyone was in costume, the buildings were all renamed to mirror the books, several on-theme bands played – Harry & the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys, the Hungarian Horntails. Gracie was dressed as Hermione, as she was for most of her childhood.

Adam Lazzara, Taking Back Sunday: I have a Harry Potter tattoo that takes up the greater part of my left shin. First tattoo? Giant patronus. Big deal.

Gus Unger-Hamilton, alt-J: I sent a fan letter — the only fan letter I’ve ever written — was to Robbie Coltrane, who played Hagrid in the films. I was on some sort of fan website in 2002. He sent me back a signed photo.

Christopher Guanlao, Silversun Pickups: I had a pug named Pig, after Ron Weasley’s owl Pigwidgeon.

Jonah Marais, Why Don’t We: I used to have a fan account for Neville Longbottom on Instagram in 6th grade. I loved the whole Harry Potter fan community. I got my account up to about 13k followers that year. 

KT Tunstall: Once, I sat at the bar on a Virgin Atlantic flight with Daniel Radcliffe who was a right laugh. I had to make my friend – who was a few drinks in – promise not to ask to see his wand.

Lindsey Jordan, Snail Mail: When my sister was 11, she waited for her “letter” [from Hogwarts] to come. So I wrote her a fake one. She got so mad at me. She cried. I was seven-turning-eight. It was really poorly done; I remember burning the paper so it would look old and wrote something like “Oh, you’ve been accepted to Hogwarts. Congratulations.” And she was like, “It’s not funny.” I remember she crumpled it up and threw it at me. It wasn’t funny when I didn’t get one either.

Sofía Reyes: In my house, we used the word “muggle” referring to “normal” all the time.

Sabrina Carpenter: I dressed up as Harry Potter at one of my shows on tour for Halloween and a fan stole my wand, then later brought it back to me at a meet & greet.

Tyler Rich: When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened up in Hollywood, we were all so ecstatic. I went with one of my best friends, comedian Hunter Hill. Due to his weight, he didn’t fit on the rollercoaster. So for a week, he did crazy cardio, ate super clean and went back with his fiancée, who was then [able to] lock him into the seat. Now that is a dedicated fan.

Christopher Guanlao, Silversun Pickups: [The band] snuck into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando before our show at the Hard Rock Live. We had some time to kill before our soundcheck, so we went outside and walked up to the theme park security guard. We quickly flashed and shook our SSPU backstage passes at him — not unlike waving a wand — and, to our surprise, the guard let us in! I like to think Harry, Ron and Hermione would’ve been proud of us.


If you take one thing from the Wizarding World — invisibility cloak, a Remembrall, House Elf, etc. — what would it be? 

Vic Mensa: All of Gringotts [Wizarding Bank]. I’d be ridiculously rich.


Which character do you most identify with?

Lindsey Jordan, Snail Mail: Choosing one of the trio is kind of a cop out but Hermione Granger. All my friends were like Luna Lovegood – insane. But I just never had any connection to her. But Hermione, I liked that she was a nerd. And I was really obnoxious, hand-always-raised in class, a super know-it-all. And fucking Emma Watson going back to Brown? I don’t know, dude. It’s hard for her to not be my hero.

Sofía Reyes: I always wanted to be Hermione.

Eric Cannata, Young The Giant: I did have a crush on Hermione. It was earth-shattering when I heard the proper pronunciation of her name in the first movie.

Vic Mensa: I liked Quirrell – when he had Voldemort on the back of his head. I thought that was pretty sick. I also loved Harry’s uncle, Sirius Black.

Scott Ian, Anthrax: My favorite character was Sirius Black, probably for the same reason I gravitated towards monster movies and misunderstood creatures as a kid. Sirius Black, to me, was the misunderstood guy. He was kind of an antihero. He had that bad guy possibility in him, even though he was definitely on the side of good. You had the feeling that Sirius Black — like a character like Wolverine — was willing to go the extra mile. He does the things the real good guy can’t do to get the job done. He was wrongly accused for crimes he didn’t commit. He was kind of like the Dirty Harry of the series.

Jeremiah Fraites, The Lumineers: Snape is my favorite character. The way Rowling unveiled his selflessness and the complexity his demise is what sticks out the most. [I love] the part where through his tears, he lets Harry see his memories — how he was always in love with Harry’s mom and how Harry’s dad was kind of a dick. And this whole time, Snape was this awesome dude. He wore black and was meant to look like the antagonist, but in fact, he was not. There was a lot of tragic sadness to him. He was more a disappointed optimist than a born cynic.

Lindsey Jordan, Snail Mail: The scene where Harry is saved by his patronus and he looks across the lake and there’s a deer — I think about that all the time. How it was Snape protecting him. The way that part of the book is written, I always cry.

Scott Ian, Anthrax: What’s so great about Rowling is that she had no fear of killing off really important and loved characters. Harry’s connection with Sirius was the closest he had to a parent. He made such a deep connection with him only to lose him. To kill off Dumbledore because it served the story … To find out that Snape has been on the side of good – it’s fucking genius. The fact that Dumbledore knew that Snape was going to have to kill him to save a boy’s soul — to ultimately save the [Malfoy] family — that’s some pretty high-concept shit in what’s supposedly a young adult novel. 


Some people felt that Harry Potter should have died at the end of the series. Where do you stand?

Scott Ian, Anthrax: I don’t agree with that. I’m very happy that he survives. After everything he’s been through, from the time he’s an infant until he defeats Voldemort, I think he absolutely earned the right to live. He earned his right to go forward. He’s never done anything to anybody. He’s just had this fucking asshole trying to kill him for 18 years. Anyone who said he should die — that’s ridiculous.

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