Two years ago, one of the original shoegaze bands of San Francisco, Film School, reunited for a special one-off performance at Bottom of the Hill for drummer Donny Newenhouse’s birthday. The performance ignited an enchanting moment for that specific lineup; the original members whom contributed to the acclaimed self-titled record, Film School, released on Beggars Banquet Records, which fans have now dubbed the original “Beggars” lineup. Emerging with a new EP, June, Film School will take the stage at Bottom of the Hill once again — this time with a special Noise Pop Festival performance on Saturday, February 27, presented by SF Station and Noise Pop.
Film School is the brainchild of Greg Bertens, aka Krayg Burton, who started Film School in 1998 as a two-piece band. “It was two people, me and a drummer,” explains Greg, who didn’t quite recognize his musical prudence, yet. “We weren’t playing shoegaze stuff then… It was more folky with some pop elements, and we dissolved pretty quickly. I continued to play some shows and in 2001 I record Brilliant Career, when Nyles (Lannon) and Jason (Ruck) joined the band.” While this was a step towards some lineup continuity, Film School was still searching for their identity. “There was some shoegazey stuff on that record. And in 2003 we came out with an EP called alwaysnever with a different drummer.” This spawned the entrance of drummer, Donny Newenhouse, and symbolized the formation of the “Beggars” lineup.
In 2003, the shoegaze scene hadn’t really developed. Grunge rock was on the outskirts while still holding on to bands like Audioslave and Staind, while Lincoln Park and Trapt fore fronted the rap/metal scene that was also disintegrating. Garage rock had taken over the airwaves, with bands like The White Stripes, The Strokes and Jet influencing most relevant music in the mainstream and indie scenes. “We got into this lo-fi shoegaze kind of sound,” Greg recalls. “A lot of music was more like garage rock.”
“I always felt like the music we were writing was never popular at that time.”
So how did people perceive the music they were playing? “It was awkward because people didn’t know what to make of it. There was a fan base developing, people were interested so it was fun, but we definitely felt out of the mainstream indie scene at the time.”
In 2006, their self-titled record dropped with the lineup that has currently resurrected themselves. At this point, there had already been several lineup changes and musical evolutions. So why did Greg decide to keep releasing music through the name Film School? “I remember reading an article from Kim Deal and it asked her one of her biggest mistakes of her career. This was when she Had Kim Deal and the Amps, and her answer was not continuing with all of her music under the name of the Breeders. It struck me as something interesting, and I thought, what was the point of changing the name when a lot of the music is my writing?”
There’s something to be said about the success of musicians after reinventing themselves, just look at the careers of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page after Led Zeppelin, or David Lee Roth after Van Halen, even John Lennon and Paul McCartney never achieved the success they had with the Beatles. “There’s this freedom you get with a new band name and a fresh identity, which is appealing, but it’s also feels like you have to start over again. Even fans of Film School, when they hear other music I’m working on, they always ask when Film School music is coming out, even if it’s similar. Somehow the name helps identify what the music is and helps place it for them.”
Through even more lineup changes, the band released Hideout in 2007, also released on Beggars Banquet Records, and then released Fission in 2010. After constant touring, Greg’s passion for Film School fizzled out. “I was totally done with it, just burnt out. Touring had taken its toll on my personally, physically and spiritually. I just felt sapped of any kind of joy from writing and playing music. And there had been different occasions over the years that had been difficult situations.”
“The breakup of the ‘beggars’ lineup was emotionally challenging, and felt like after releasing Fission things were plateauing. At some point you look to feel inspired by people’s reactions to your music, or a new sound or vibe that keeps you going. Nothing was happening. I just felt done.” Bertens refocused his life on things that didn’t’ involve music; his person relationships, upstarting a stable career, and having a baby in 2013 with his wife (who he met at a Film School show). And then, in 2014, he received a phone call from his old drummer, Donny.
“Donny was having his 40th birthday and wanted to have a show at Bottom of the Hill with all of his old bands. He wanted Film School as the third band. He kind of approached everyone individually asking how they felt about coming together for that show. Half the band wasn’t talking to one another; it was a difficult breakup. Everyone was cautiously optimistic. When we got into a room and started practicing, I felt like a lot of the issues we had with each other weren’t there any more, like maybe everyone was a little more mature.” From there, the process evolved naturally. “We practiced for the show and it went really well. We had a great time and scheduled a session to get together and jam. The first day we wrote a lot of cool stuff and sort of whittled down what ended up being the first song on the new ep called ‘City Lights.’”
Bertens currently lives in Los Angeles while the other members live in different cities, respectively. With time and distance, things are gelling for Film School, who’s now playing in an age where shoegaze is a respectably known genre. So what’s next? “One step at at time,” preaches Greg. “We’re gonna put this Ep out and see how it goes. The album will be out later this year. The biggest thing is to enjoy the process, and enjoy each others company and write cool songs together.” And aside from playing another show at Bottom of the Hill, Berten has another priority on his list of San Francisco staples — “the burritos.”