Way back in 2004, Matt Maggiacomo ran a series of house party shows in his apartment in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Although the shows were primarily a showcase for Matt and his friends who made music, a few local and regional indie rock bands made regular appearances. One such band was Boston-based Soltero, who happened to be friendly with a band called Harry and the Potters. He suggested to Matt that the Potters might be a good band to consider for a house party show, and Matt followed through with an invite.

Harry and the Potters made enough of an impression that Matt and his friends Brian and Bradley decided that an all-wizard house party show needed to happen. The only problem: Harry and the Potters were the only active wizard rock band in existence at the time. Brian and Bradley hatched a plan to spoof the Potters with songs from the perspective of Harry Potter’s literary foil: Draco Malfoy. Over the next few months, Draco and the Malfoys took shape and Matt realized how much fun Brian and Bradley were having with it. Matt decided to join the fun with his own wizard rock band: The Whomping Willow (singular).

However, Matt failed to write any songs in time for the show, so he came up with a ridiculous concept: The Whomping Willow as music critic/interpretive dancer. Matt’s first-ever performance as The Whomping Willow featured a scathing critique of Harry and the Potters, followed by a declaration that Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas represents the pinnacle of rock music’s potential. Matt took it one step further by playing Wayward Son on a boombox and swaying back and forth for the duration of the song. This performance was initially met with scattered laughter, followed by five or six minutes of uncomfortable silence.

(photo courtesy of Alicya Tebo)

Several months later, Paul from Harry and the Potters informed Brian, Bradley, and Matt that he was putting together a holiday compilation called Magical Christmas of Magic. Matt had a difficult decision to make: should he expand on the initial concept and turn The Whomping Willow into a real band? He waffled for a couple weeks until finally the deadline was imminent. Matt decided to go for it, and he wrote a Bright Eyes style-parody called Seasonal Depression, decided that The Whomping Willows (plural) would be the official band name, and sent the track to Paul at the last possible minute.

The track was amusing enough that Paul invited The Whomping Willows to perform it at the first annual Yule Ball in Boston. Matt was extremely nervous about this show, because 1) He wasn’t accustomed to performing in front of more than 25 people, and the first annual Yule Ball attracted a crowd of about 500, and 2) He really wasn’t sure how he felt about wizard rock at the time, as he’d been writing music from his own perspective for about a decade and was fairly anti-gimmick (oddly enough, Matt started his songwriting career writing silly novelty songs about fictional characters that he invented, but something about being an English major made him all serious and he eventually developed the mindset that novelty music was less than legitimate and not worthy of his attention — he feels embarrassed about this nowadays, but at least he got it out of his system and avoided modeling his adulthood after John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, which was his general trajectory in his mid-20s).

Anyway, a very nervous Matt played his first wizard rock show in front of 500 Harry and the Potters fans, and the response was exactly what he’d expected: polite and mostly tolerant. As he was walking back to the merch area (where he was selling homemade buttons), he felt something land on his shoulder. He briefly considered that he’d been struck with a rotten vegetable, but it turned out that a couple fans had made a homemade Whomping Willows t-shirt based on Your Flying Car, a song Matt had recently posted on Myspace. After over a decade of writing and performing music with almost no response beyond his friends and family, Matt was amazed that a fan would ever do something so nice for a band. His perspective changed within an instant, and a few weeks later the first full-length Whomping Willows album was released.

Eight years later, Matt has played around 700 shows as The Whomping Willows and has sold nearly 10,000 albums.