Should our favorite bands remain stagnant? When you hear that first great album, do you expect them to repeat the formula endlessly throughout their career? The music highway is littered with bands who’ve refused to evolve beyond that first record and have been tossed to the side of the road by music critics and fans alike. Film School had mastered that wall of noise/My Bloody Valentine sound and developed a great following throughout the world. And then, Greg Bertens went to see the re-formed MBV as he prepared to make the new Film School record. The result is Fission, a record that’s stripped of the effects pedals, leaving behind what the band has always excelled at: making great melodies. This is the sound of a band whose confidence in their ability to write a great song pulses from the speakers, drawing you into their new vision of bliss. Greg talked to TDOA writer Amy about the new direction and the future.
Here’s the first single from the new album: Heart Full of Pentagons
Heart Full of Pentagons by Film School
TDOA: You’ve talked about how seeing My Bloody Valentine for the first time had a profound influence on the sound on Fission. Can you talk about that and why you think that “big sonic sound” has reached its end?
GB: I’m not sure it’s reached it’s end, I just found it wasn’t inspiring me in the way it used to. Maybe because we toured for over a year on a big sonic album (Hideout) or maybe because I’ve been a fan of that type of music for years and was just ready for a change. I’m not sure, but when I was standing in the audience I didn’t get the feeling of awe and inspiration that I had hoped for. There were plenty of people at that show who felt something powerful, but I couldn’t for whatever reason. I left the show knowing I was ready to explore new territory for the next Film School record. Ironically, some of the music that inspired the jangley / poppy element of this new direction were early MBV recordings like “Ecstasy” and “Strawberry Wine”.
TDOA: I read one review that called this new album “your most accessible album to date.” What about your old records was “inaccessible”?
GB: Yeah, I’ve been told Fission has more “pop sensibility”. Maybe it’s the upbeat tempos or lighter vibe on some songs or that Lorelei is singing more – maybe it’s all of those pieces. I do feel like it’s not as dark as Hideout, at least not musically. In the end it’s probably just the use of more major chords and traditional song structures. Clarity was a big theme for us on this record – clarity of sound and ideas.
TDOA: Sometimes people read to much into the name of a band (and I may be guilty of it here!), but do you think people automatically assume that you’ll make videos and do you enjoy that prospect?
GB: I don’t even think about what it literally means anymore. Like Radiohead. Do you really picture a guy with a radio for a head, or something to that effect? No, you probably picture Thom Yorke, or at least I do. I think I’ve seen or heard Film School in the context of our band so many times over the years that it could be any name. But yeah, I do think people who are new to the band probably see the name and think about film references. Many times promoters make posters for our shows and use a strip of film or a camera for imagery. It used to kinda bug me, but I’ve totally embraced it now and have a full collection of those types of posters, it’s pretty awesome. What I really want is one of our show promoters to make a poster of a guy with a radio for a head.
TDOA: Now that you’ve left Beggars, what advice would you give to bands who are contemplating signing with a big label?
GB: Beggars did a lot for us – they introduced our music to the world. Major labels can do a lot for a band if they use their influence in the right way, but you can also get lost in the shuffle. I’d say if you go that route make sure not to just hand over your record and assume it’s a done deal. Stay on top of things and stay connected with your fans through Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, your website and emails lists because those are the people that will be there with you in the end.
TDOA: The song “Go Down Together” was featured on 90210. How did that come about? Did you have any trepidation on how your fans perception of the song might change seeing it in the context of that show?
GB: Our sync rep pitched the song and the 90210 music supervisor liked it and put it in the episode.
Nah, plenty of bands license their songs nowadays to a variety of shows/commercials, it’s just the nature of trying to make a living doing music in a world where people don’t buy music like they used to. “Go Down Together” was written for our album first and foremost. The way I look at it if any song gets picked up for TV or film it’s just more people that get exposed to the music.
TDOA: You guys are touring – a LOT. What venues and cities are you looking forward to?
GB: New York is always fun, how can it not be? We’re playing Pop Montreal this time around, that should be fun. I’m actually looking forward to a lot of the dates because we have friends and fans we haven’t seen for a while since we haven’t been out in a couple years. I just wish we had more time to spend in each city.
TDOA: I really loved the Dear Me video – can you tell me about that creative process?
GB: That was done by James Sumner. He directed a Deerhunter video that I really liked so I wrote him and asked if he’d do one for us. He’s awesome – pure creativity and out there. He was sorta going for a low-fi tron vibe. He originally wanted to do it in front of a green screen in order to do effects in post production, but because we didn’t have much of a budget we had to settle for his warehouse in Portland with a black background. It was tough to block out all the sunlight – we used garbage bags over the windows and had a black curtain over the white wall behind us. In the hallway outside he had a couple of assistants sewing long reflective strips on to our clothing. Those poor girls were sewing all day long – it took a lot longer that we thought it would to get everything prepared. We finally shot the video at the end of the day and it went fairly quickly, but we didn’t see the video for a few months. The rendering of the effects actually melted down his computer, I think he had to start over at one point. It was a real effort to get that done, glad you liked it.
TDOA: One of the most interesting things about the band (and the component I’ve seen commented on most) is the interplay between you and Lorelei. What quality do you think that lends to your music?
GB: I think harmonies add a richness to songs you can’t get with one voice. How good are some of those Fleet Foxes harmonies? Or those on Yo La Tengo’s Moby Octopad? I wanted more of that richness and dynamic on Fission, but to be done in our own way. Hopefully that translates to the album.
TDOA: What do YOU think is the best track on Fission? Why?
GB: “Sunny Day” is probably my favorite. Lorelei brought it in as mainly just bass and vocals, and at a slower tempo. She was learning how to use a new recording program at the time so the original demo has all kinds of weird pops and cut off instruments, it’s pretty great. But I knew there was a great song in there and that an edgier production would be a nice balance to the sweetness of the song. It just makes me feel good every time I hear it/ play it. Maybe some day we’ll release the original.
TDOA: To what extent do you think social media is important in helping to promote the band being on an indie label?
GB: It’s pretty huge. Several years ago all you had were email lists and a wonky website. And most of the email addresses people would write down at shows were illegible. So, all you really had was a wonky website. The best thing about social media though is the ability to connect with fans regardless if you’re on a label or not.
Film School is giving their fans an opportunity to help design their merchandise! Visit http://www.animalsoffission.com. If you’re an artist, submit your designs. If not, take you get to vote on the designs you like the best. 10% of proceeds from any Animals of Fission merchandise product will be donated to Tony LaRussa’s organization, ARF. ARF saves dogs and cats who have run out of time at public shelters and brings people and animals together to enrich each others lives.
To purchase the music of Film School via iTunes
Pre-order FISSON at http://www.hispeedsoul.com now to get your copy signed by the band & a digital copy emailed to you immediately.
See the band live:
Sep 19 2010 The Casbah San Diego, CA
Sep 20 2010 Plush Tucson, AZ
Sep 22 2010 The Nighmare Dallas, TX
Sep 23 2010 The Parish Austin, TX
Sep 25 2010 The Masquerade Atlanta, GA
Sep 25 2010 Spanish Moon Baton Rouge, LA
Sep 27 2010 Local 506 Chapel Hill, NC
Sep 28 2010 DC9 Washington, DC
Sep 29 2010 Johnny Brenda’s Philadelphia, PA
Sep 30 2010 GLASSLAND Brooklyn, NY, NY
Oct 1 2010 Mercury Lounge New York City, NY
Oct 2 2010 TT the Bear’s Cambridge, MA
Oct 3 2010 Casa del Popolo Montréal, QC, CANADA
Oct 4 2010 El Mocambo Toronto, ON, CANADA
Oct 6 2010 Firebird St Louis, MO
Oct 7 2010 Southgate House Newport, KY
Oct 8 2010 Schubas Tavern Chicago, Illinois
Oct 9 2010 The Cactus Club Milwaukee, WI
Oct 10 2010 7th Street Entry Minneapolis, MN
Oct 11 2010 The Waiting Room Omaha, NE
Oct 12 2010 HI DIVE Denver, Colorado
Oct 13 2010 Urban Lounge Salt Lake City, UT
Oct 15 2010 Sunset Tavern Seattle, WA
Oct 16 2010 Mississippi Studios Portland, OR
Oct 19 2010 The Independent San Francisco, CA
Oct 20 2010 The Crepe Place Santa Cruz, CA
Oct 21 2010 The Echo Los Angeles, CA