L.A.’s second wave dreampop greats Film School return with We Weren’t Here
Starting with their 2001 debut album, Brilliant Career, Film School have been lauded as one of the leading bands in the so-called “second wave” shoegaze/dream pop scene.
Across six studio albums and three EPs, they’ve consistently released mesmerizingly atmospheric, lyrically cryptic songs that have earned them a reputation as one of the most original acts in the genre. Calling from his Los Angeles home, frontman Greg Bertens explains how they’re continuing this highly creative and innovative approach with the vinyl release of their latest album, We Weren’t Here, as well as two stunning new videos.
We Weren’t Here was released across digital platforms last September, but the vinyl version took longer due to pandemic-related production delays. But, Bertens says, it was worth the wait, as the lavish final physical product is a work of art in itself. Featuring elaborate cutouts, it allows for different effects depending on how the sleeve and record are inserted. Conceived with visual artist Brett Cody Rogers, “it was a collaborative brainstorm that worked out really cool,” Bertens says. “I’m really proud of that artwork.”
Film School also clearly understand how creative visuals can enhance their music, as their videos prove. When it came time to make two new ones recently, they approached Kelly Sears, an Associate Professor in the Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts department at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Sears recommended two of her students as directors: Christin Turner for “Superperfection” and Laura Conway for “Take What You Need.”
“They both pitched an idea, and we thought they sounded good, so I said, ‘Yeah, run with it,’” Bertens says. “They’re wildly different videos, but they’re both creative and interesting. When I saw the final product, I was blown away.”
Blending their music with visuals has always been an important aspect of the Film School experience. “It’s a really big part of our shows,” Bertens says. “We’ve been doing video projections almost since the beginning of when we started out live. Our projectionist, Adam Marks, codes his own video algorithms, so it’s kind of like an analog projection experience. It’s really amazing stuff. Every performance is in real time and live – we’re not projecting canned video. He’s creating the video as we’re performing the music.”
VIDEO: Film School “Superperfection”
Seamlessly blending sonic and visual elements is fitting for a band named Film School: in keeping with their name, their distinctively cinematic vibe lends itself well to this kind of all-encompassing experience. “It immediately felt to me kind of swirly and sonic – we would have songs that would blend into one another, and I think the visuals made a lot of sense,” Bertens says of the band’s early days two decades ago. “It was at a time when there weren’t really visuals being done. It was more of a dance scene in the mid-2000s – just a band performing with some flashing lights. When we were doing these projections, I think people didn’t quite know what to make of it.”
Throughout the ensuing twenty years, though, the band steadily amassed a loyal fanbase, and Bertens believes that’s because their music allows for intense and individualized introspection. “I think maybe people connect with it in their own emotional way,” he says. “Our music is, for a lot of people, a very personal experience. Maybe that’s why it lends itself to kind of solitary listens or drives or zone out moments.”
This, Bertens says, mirrors the way he connected with music when he was growing up in Danville, a town just outside of San Francisco, Calif. “I think the music that I listened to lent itself to personal listening experiences,” he says. “As a kid, I was really into Depeche Mode and The Cure. Even Nirvana, I had this emotional connection to – some of the louder bands, as well. Music that you understood yourself better after listening to it. That’s the kind of music that I felt I wanted to write, that I wanted to share and connect with others over.
VIDEO: Film School “Take What You Need”
“When somebody connects to our music, I know where they’re coming from,” Bertens continues. “I know that they’re feeling some kind of personal catharsis when they hear our music, because we are not trying to appeal to mass audiences. We have a specific genre that we feel comfortable in, and a specific sound that might not ever be commercialized. Even though shoegaze is a bigger genre now, most people you talk to don’t know what that is if they’re not active music listeners.”
Shoegaze may not be the most prominent musical genre, but there are enough fans of it that Film School was invited to play the prestigious SXSW festival in Austin, Texas in mid-March. They’ve also recently done a successful run of West Coast concerts, with more Pacific Northwest dates set for the end of April. Bertens says they’re also working on setting up East Coast gigs for later this year.
“I’ve been really lucky that it’s actually worked out for as long as it has,” Bertens says of his career with Film School. “I never started off thinking that we would be a band still playing twenty years later. I feel very fortunate that we still connect with people.”