Interview: Greg Bertens of Film School

words by Matthew Wright | photo by Drew Reynolds
| Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Film School to me has always been like this awesome sweater I bought in Scotland. In that weather it was something I wore everyday, as ubiquitous as Linus’s little blue blanket while I was over there. But in my Northeast environment the weather is only “Scottish” a month or two out of the year. And that reminds me of Film School? Yes.

With both it’s this constant “Oh yeah!” experience provided when I pick them up and am taken aback by the inexplicable atmosphere they have. A track from any of Film School’s albums coming up on shuffle is never unwelcome, but there are ideal conditions in which “Pitfalls” or “Capitalized” are just as cozy and perfect as Highland wool. A state of mind where it’s like you’re listening to Hideout for the first time again.

Maybe it’s the history. Greg Bertens got the School up and running with members of Pavement. Which gave the band instant credibility while still counting its core members as sorta newbies on the scene.

Maybe it’s the rotating cast of support surrounding that core. Each album has been very distinct from the last. An experience that clearly nods to influences, but is also hard to put a finger on. The albums all remind you of something, but not in a derivative way. It’s that sweater again and its strange weather. It’s not heavy enough for a driving snow and it’s too toasty to wear with shorts. You’ll never understand a Film School album like a good pair of jeans.

“I didn’t plan Film School to be this way, but ever since the first recordings people have come in and out of the band,” says Bertens. “Jason and I have been the only constant over the years.”

It’s not a bad thing.

Jason Ruck is credited as a third of the songwriting engine in the band’s current configuration. A lot of the atmosphere is made up on his contributions on keyboard. As Bertens puts it, “I like music to have some ethereal quality to it. Even songs like ‘Sunny Day’ has some ethereal qualities to it. This is accomplished more in the production that the songwriting.”

If that’s not a track that looks familiar to you, it’s because it’s on the recent release, Fission. If you haven’t heard it yet it is as strong as any Film School release, but a pretty dramatic shift in sound.

Fission is all about trying some new things. On Hideout I had several songs with female vocals and wanted more of that. When we first started writing material for the new album I asked people to bring in songs and Lorelei [Plotczyk] came in with a bunch.”

He goes on to explain that Plotczyk was expecting him to be singing lead, which had been the standard on previous releases. But this time around, it’s Plotczyk’s voice up front — on more tracks than Greg by far.

“There was some resistance at first, and our manager at the time wasn’t happy about it,” explains Bertens. “But I could hear how her vocals and songs would be produced, and I was sure our fans would be into it.”

It definitely makes you more aware of what the rest of the band has going on. On my first drive I was sitting upright by the third track, “Time To Listen.” I could hear what it would sound like if Greg was at his usual spot singing, but with him off-center, all I could think about was the guitar. It made me revisit “Sick Of The Shame” from the self-titled album, its longest track and one without a lot of vocals getting in the way of Greg’s playing. And then, of course, I came back to Fission all over again. It’s the same work that Bertens was doing in 2006, but without his voice it just seems different — is different, with Lorelei. You’re more aware of her sound as you’re more aware of everyone else’s.  Of Lorelei’s singing, Greg commented, “[It] takes some of the pressure off me! On the songs she sings lead I get to go off to the corner and shred — [it’s] every guitarist’s dream.”

The end result is nice for us, too. I knew enough to snag their previous releases, but it was really this album that made me a fan — one of those great experiences where you go back and listen to the old stuff and get into it like you hadn’t before. Fission made me finally curious enough about the early Brilliant Career to ask about a possible second coming of their out-of-print debut.

“I guess it’s coming up on that 10-year mark when most bands re-release their first album,” said Bertens. “It’s crazy to think about that. If fans are interested, I’ll put something together.”

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