Out of hiding

After a tough year, Film School regroups—and rediscovers its resolve

Film School got skooled by life when their van full of instruments was stolen.

Film School got skooled by life when their van full of instruments was stolen.

Film School with Red Host; Friday October 12; Blue Lamp, 1400 Alhambra Boulevard at N Street; 8pm.

It took eight years, but Greg Bertens’ band Film School had finally reached the summit. With swirling atmospheric pop recalling the textured roar of early ’90s shoegazers, Bertens and Co. climbed the underground ladder. After a number of releases for smaller labels, the San Francisco fuzz-pop quintet signed to respected indie Beggars Banquet, who put out the eponymous full-length in 2006.

“You get signed to a label whose records you’ve been listening to for years. You think this is that next step you’ve been waiting to make,” says Bertens from his Bay Area home. “It was the next step, though not necessarily the next step that I was thinking.”

As they kicked off the U.S. leg of the tour, things went awry. First, Bertens got jumped outside of a Columbus, Ohio, bar. Then, the van he and his bandmates had bought a few days earlier—filled with equipment—got stolen from a Philadelphia Comfort Inn parking lot.

The bold thief broke into the fenced-in parking lot, sawed through the Club-locked steering wheel and drove through a gate, past the 24-hour attendant. The band canceled a couple shows and borrowed equipment for the rest, including its SXSW showcase. Spirits sank and tensions flared. When Bertens returned home, he wondered if he’d made a terrible vocational mistake.

“I took a couple months off and just kind of asked ‘Is this really working? Is this really what I want to do? Is this still an interest, because it’s going to take a lot to get things onto the right track,’” Bertens recalls. “The first thing that made me think it was worth it was the over 170 people that donated to our band. People we didn’t know. Bands we didn’t know.”

The money not only allowed the band to replace stolen instruments, but also renewed Bertens’ faith. “It really confirmed this sense of community that I had in my mind, but never really had tangible evidence of,” he says.

Yet Bertens knew Film School couldn’t continue as it was. So he cleared away the rhythm section and said goodbye to fellow guitarist Nyles Lannon, who left to spend more time on his solo project, N. Lannon. They remain friends, and Lannon even contributed a track to the new Film School album, Hideout.

Retaining only keyboardist Jason Ruck, Bertens rebuilt the band, starting with onetime soundman Dave Dupuis and his friend, drummer James Smith. Bertens knew not only that Dupuis was a great guitarist (Lannon even suggested Dupuis as his own replacement) but, having toured with him, that he also was a good guy.

“It’s possibly even more important than the music at this point,” Bertens says. “If you’re going to be playing shows and traveling together, it’s all about having the right energy in the band.”

With two of the three open slots filled, Bertens used the opportunity to add a female voice to the mix, something he felt had been missing since the band’s initial conception as a boy-girl duo in the late ’90s. Taking a page from the Pixies playbook, Bertens posted for a female bassist on Craigslist, “Looking for someone into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul & Mary,” the same line reportedly used to entice Kim Deal.

The addition of bassist Lorelei Plotczyk is felt throughout Hideout, not just as a wonderful vocal foil to Bertens’ airy croon, but also in the propulsive bottom-end that grounds the billowing plumes of distortion and guitar shimmer within the driving arrangements. The result is an earthier, more resolutely rocking album, which comes on at times like a ship enduring an onslaught.

“One thing about writing an album is that it really focuses you, and I think when all this was going on, I really retreated into the songs, kind of hid out in the songs,” says Bertens of his inspiration for the album’s title. “I never set out to write any kind of concept album. But after writing all the songs … it seemed really obvious right away that the title worked.”