New: We've just partnered with LMG to offer you a national gig guide. Check it out!

Film School: The Long Road Back

Greg Bertens chats about the new EP, songwriting, and whether it’s beneficial to age in the world of indie music.

17 May 2016 / Interview / written by Marike Watson

Film School has returned to the indie scene following a hiatus of sorts with the release of “June,” an EP consisting of four short tracks. This album serves as a surprising follow-up to the “Fission” LP, formed on the back of a once-off show which brought certain members together that hadn’t jammed with one another in almost ten years.

Through rekindling with each other musically they’ve crafted an album, albeit small, in which Film School’s key atmospheric and sombre nuances are successfully retained. Unfortunately they’ve also retained an arguably underrated status for well over a decade now, which structured less anticipation for new music, apart from the keen desires of their established cult-following.

In every Film School release you’ll find wallowing synthesizer effects, delayed guitar manipulations, and distorted textures accompanied by the delicate and obscurely sung vocal melodies of Greg Bertens, echoing slowly towards and away from the listening foreground of each track. But this Californian outfit’s skill in effortlessly gliding within and amongst parameters of the shoegazing mould never really pushed their reputation beyond the depths of an undervalued current.

I came across Film School back in 2010 when an ex gave me a mix CD as a birthday gift that happened to place ‘Activated’ (a track off the “Alwaysnever” EP) between Tom Waits’ ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’ and Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’. Situating a contemporary indie tune amidst two relatively iconic and classic artists was assuredly an odd placement, but for some reason it worked and I instantly became attached to a band that was practically unheard of at the time. In the same year that Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ and Black Eyed Peas’ ‘I Gotta Feeling’ was still dominating popular charts, Film School’s escapist form of music captured my attention with a languid-listening spell completely separate from any music that received airplay during that time. Perhaps it was the sentimental aspect of the mix CD form, but Film School markedly helped fuel an even greater appreciation for the psychedelic reverb and distorted sounds I hold dear today.

Even as a band technically still considered somewhat underground, Film School has evolved past the definitive construct of unfamiliarity to a sound and place within music Bertens describes as one in which the group finally feels comfortable. “June” thus appears to be for both the fans and the band itself as a happy collaboration that required some time away from the industry before it could properly flourish. Bertens very kindly agreed to speak to me about the formation of “June,” the current line-up, and a few personal musings concerning the band’s growth and maturity over time.

 Marike Watson: Firstly, thanks for finally treating the fans to some new material! Six years after “Fission” and “June” has entered the catalogue – how does it feel?

Greg Bertens: Thanks, it’s great to be back! And with this line-up. I didn’t really think this line-up would ever write together again. It’s been a long road back.

MW: Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind this EP? And does the name “June” bear any significance?

GB: These songs came about from a few different recording sessions we did in the studio in 2015. This line-up has always “jammed” well together so we decided to try and record the jams in a studio as they happened, then edit and arrange them later to become actual songs. We’ve written songs before based on jams, but never recorded the original jam at its inception and then crafted that jam into the final song. There’s a certain energy and nuance in a live jam dynamic and we wanted to capture that. ‘City Lights’ was actually cobbled together from our first jam back together in eight years.

The name of the EP references the track ‘June,’ which is about feeling overwhelmed and in that desperation summoning something bigger, like a season, to get you through.

MW: Could fans assume then that “June” is a product of a few jam sessions that were almost in a sense cathartic for you all?

GB: Definitely. Some of us hadn’t talked to one another in years. Connecting again musically and hearing the results helped us all realise that we had something special.

MW: This album is considered by some as reflective of a more mature Film School where some of you may have experienced the ups and downs of life a bit more, subsequently making you a little wiser, older, and perhaps more vulnerable. Would you agree with this sentiment, especially as something that has affected you all musically as well?

GB: I do. We certainly don’t take the music we write together nor our friendships for granted as we might have on our first go around. Our approach to one another seems more respectful compared to how we used to interact. And I think our songwriting has improved due to the other projects we’ve all been involved in. I don’t know about the wiser part, seems like there’s still some room for improvement there.

MW: I’ve always thought of wisdom as something that gradually develops over time along with age, but there is a maturity to this EP that definitely attests to your growth as a group. I think you’re aware of it as well, especially with the seasoned theme of growth attached to the EP’s title.

GB: There aren’t many benefits to aging in the world of indie music, you’d hope you at least get some wisdom! But thanks, lyrically it’s a reflection of where I was at personally, and not being afraid to write about it. I was recently reading that when John Cale left The Velvet Underground it freed up the band from their experimental leanings and allowed Lou Reed to write from a more vulnerable place, the result is songs like ‘Candy Says’ and ‘Jesus’ on their third album. I think partly it was Cale leaving, but of equal importance was Reed being humbled by life at the time.

I think as a band we’re just comfortable with our sound and place in music, which hasn’t always been the case. When we released our self-titled album for the Beggars label the world was looking for dance/garage rock ala The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, etc. We liked what we were writing at the time, but it felt like an uphill battle. The musical climate feels a little different now.

MW: And within this different climate, although you’ve mentioned how you’re all involved in other projects, is there space or an interest to work on a full-length album next? 

GB: Yep, it’s in the works. Hoping to have something by late 2016!

Follow Marike on Twitter.

Listen to “Pulsar” below on Deezer.