Wizard People, Dear Reader is the sort of obscure digital artifact you'd expect to discover late at night the day before a big deadline. Created by internet age auteur Brad Neely, Wizard People is an alternative soundtrack that's meant to be played over a muted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Its premise is simple—a narrator who's never seen the movie or read the book guides the listener through a play-by-play of each scene. The result is bizarre, disconcerting and hilariously absurd.
Neely's project has long been lurking in the consciousness of Portland avant-garde veterans Human Ottoman, which was founded in 2013 by drummer Susan Lucia and vibraphonist Grayson Fiske. "We've watched it I don't know how many times," Fiske tells WW on a dark, wintry evening in a coffee shop off Northeast Sandy Boulevard. "I don't remember not knowing about this."
Last year, Human Ottoman performed their own version of Wizard People in Bellingham, Wash., with eccentric folk trio Three for Silver. For the show, the two bands collaborated on their own alternative soundtrack, and Three for Silver's Lucas Warford took on the role of narrator. This week, the Human Ottoman and Three for Silver will perform Wizard People, Dear Portland at Mississippi Pizza Pub. If all goes well, it will become an annual event.
Adding an element of performance to their concerts seems natural for Human Ottoman. "We've always been a performance band," Lucia says. "There's definitely some absurdist comedy happening as part of our stage show."
Recently, however, the band's usually active performance schedule slowed so they could work on their most ambitious album yet. The band recorded Rampage, their upcoming third album, at the Hallowed Halls studios in deep Southeast with engineer Justin Phelps, who has worked with some of rock's most ambitious weirdos.
Albums that Phelps had previously worked on, like Mr. Bungle's California, emboldened Human Ottoman to lean into their insatiable appetite for weirdness. "We're definitely odd eggs," Fiske admits. "We didn't completely fit in at school and we don't exactly 100 percent fit into the rock scene either."
It's for precisely that reason that Rampage feels like a huge evolution. While keeping the same brooding, genre-transcending tendencies, the band's sound has pushed into fuller, richer territory. With the help of over 100 percussion instruments and some cello pedals, Rampage swirls and surges with strange magic. The band hopes to release the album on vinyl this coming spring.
Human Ottoman's unusual aesthetic is, at least in part, a pushback against the ultra-coolness of most music scenes. For Human Ottoman, dropping the artifice of cool is essential to forming a more intimate connection.
"Everybody already thinks bands are cool," says Fiske. "[Musicians] just need to show people we're also just normal. I think it's more inspiring to somebody who wants to get into music to realize, 'Oh, they're real people.'"
SEE IT: Human Ottoman and Three for Silver play Wizard People, Dear Reader at Mississippi Pizza Pub, 3552 N Mississippi Ave., mississippipizza.com, on Saturday, Dec. 8. 9 pm. $5. 21+.