Sunday, March 2, 2008

Film School in Focus

I met Greg Bertens in 1996, when I was an assistant at Wired magazine in San Francisco and he was a Web coder at its online offshoot, Hotwired, as it was known at the time. Greg had started a band called Film School, which at its inception was just him on guitar, keyboard, and vocals and his friend Paige on drums. They played understated pop songs that were sad and pretty, and I loved it instantly. Since then, through various lineups and collaborations that have included members of Pavement, Fuck, and others, Film School’s sound evolved into lushly layered atmospheric rock, catching the attention of Beggars Banquet in 2005. Hideout, the band’s latest album and second for Beggars, is full of rich textures and shimmering melodies and features guest appearances by members of My Bloody Valentine, Snow Patrol, and Timonium. The following is compiled from various interviews conducted over the past few years with Greg, who now lives in Los Angeles.

Ooh La La: What do you miss most about LA when you’re on tour?
Greg: When we’re in the Midwest, I miss the warm weather. Last night [in Chicago] it was in the 30s. I’m such a wimp. I get so cold. Everybody [in the band] always makes fun of me anyway, ’cause everyone else is from either Seattle or the Northeast. If it drops below 60, I start whining. I also miss some of the vegan food. There’s a lot of good vegan and vegetarian restaurants in LA.

Is eating on the road tough for you as a vegetarian?
In New York it wasn’t a problem, but you know, it’s still kind of a problem. Like last night in Chicago I got this veggie burrito — the only thing on the menu that was vegetarian.

Getting any kind of burrito in the Midwest is probably not a good idea in general.
It was wrong in so many ways. But it’s like my mom would say about our cats, when we’d try to feed the cats new food and they wouldn’t eat it, she’d say, “Well, when they get hungry enough, they’ll eat it.”

On your last tour, someone stole your van by driving it through the gate of a parking lot. What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on the road this time?
This tour has not had as many crazy tragic incidences as the last one, thank God.

Then what’s this I hear about the Mounties?
Oh... The cops were sent to look for some people some of our band members were out with after the show [in Toronto]. They kinda were banging on the door at 7 in the morning looking for someone that was “possibly lost or kidnapped.”

What? Was this person underage or something?
The mother called the cops and said she was underage, but she wasn’t. Supposedly she showed proof of age to the cops and they left. It was a group of people — not just like one of our bandmates and some 14-year-old girl. After our show, a bunch of people went out and partied and woke up to cops pounding on the door searching for a “lost or kidnapped teen.” I think she was like 19, but she wasn’t underage!

You’ve been sober for the past year and a half. What’s that like being on tour and in the whole indie rock environment in general?
I always had assumed — for some reason I bought into this idea of like this “fucked-up artist” idea, like drinking or drugs or whatever it is. I feel that like, being clear, I have a lot more energy and I feel way more connected to the music and the art of it all than when I was, like...

... a fucked-up artist?
Yeah, when I was partying and stuff like that. It’s such a more potent experience being clearheaded and experiencing all the feelings that go along with performing songs and the live environment. I feel more passionate about the whole thing. There is a little bit of sort of anxiety sometimes, and drugs take a little bit of that anxiety off, or drinking, you know. That can be a little bit challenging at times, but once you get through it, the experience overall is much more fulfilling.

What is it like having Danzig as a neighbor?
It’s pretty uneventful — the guy is never around. As exciting as it might seem, the house always seems either vacant or abandoned. There’s very little activity, and believe me, I know.

Have you ever actually seen him come out of the house?
Yeah — that was after making a point to go by his house daily and kind of walk slowly. He was in a trenchcoat. It was like 85 degrees and he was in a trenchcoat. He’s an interesting dude, but I don’t see enough of him.

Have you ever worn makeup?
I used to wear a lot of eyeliner in high school. Not a lot. I experimented with eyeliner. It went pretty well with the egg in my hair, the egg I used to make my hair stick up.

Speaking of eyeliner and big hair, I heard you have other things in common with some legendary LA hair metal bands.
We used a kick drum from Poison on most of the record. We didn’t know it until we were halfway through the record. The guy at the studio was like, “That’s a great-sounding kick drum, huh? That was Poison’s kick drum!” Then we moved into the rehearsal space that used to be occupied by LA Guns. I guess psychedelic shoegazey rock is the new hair metal.

Well [guitarist] Dave Dupuis has some pretty amazing hair. Maybe you could do something with that.


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