SONIC REDUCER Roll over and let MF Doom give you the news: even during the soporific, sunlit waning days of summer, you needn't wander far before tumbling headlong into a deep ditch of gloom. And is it any surprise, when even the top 10 is capped with hand-wringing, ditsy throwback-pop ditties like Sean Kingston's suicide-dappled "Beautiful Girls" just a few skittish dance steps away from Amy Winehouse's anxious revamps of sweet soul music?
So when Danville-raised Film School headmaster Greg Bertens made the move away from the Bay to Los Angeles last September to be with his girlfriend and get some distance from 2006, his splintered group's annus horribilis, it doubtless seemed like dour poetry that he ended up living just a few doors down from punk's crown prince of dread, Glenn Danzig.
"Oh yeah, Glenn and I go way back!" Bertens said drolly from LA, describing Danzig's lair as ivy covered and encircled by a gate topped with an iron fleur-de-lis. "Once in a while I see him walk by in a big, black trench coat. LA in general is a big amusement park, and Glenn Danzig happens to be an attraction close to my house."
That new home was where Bertens rediscovered his will to make music and lost the old, jokey misspelling of his first name, Krayg. There he wrote and recorded Film School's forthcoming album, Hideout (Beggars Banquet), alone at home with only a guitar, a keyboard, and a computer equipped with Pro Tools, Logic, and assorted plug-ins, while listening to old Seefeel, Bardo Pond, and Sonic Youth LPs. Guest contributions by My Bloody Valentine vet Colm O'Ciosoig, who also lived in the Bay Area before recently moving to LA, and Snow Patrol bassist Paul Wilson filled out the lush, proudly shoegaze songs that Bertens eventually took to Seattle for a mix with Phil Ek (Built to Spill, the Shins).
The recording is "the closest so far to what I've been trying to get to since Film School began," Bertens told me later, but it came at a price, following the release of the San Francisco group's much-anticipated, self-titled debut on Beggars Banquet. Poised to become one of the first indie rock acts of their late '90s generation to break internationally, after opening tours with the National and the Rogers Sisters, Film School instead found misfortune when Bertens was jumped outside a Columbus, Ohio, club.
Then the group's instruments and gear were lost in Philadelphia when thieves stole their van, audaciously driving over the security gate of a motel parking lot. Despite benefits and aid from groups like Music Cares, the loss magnified band member differences, leading to the departure of guitarist Nyles Lannon (who also has a solo CD, Pressure, out in September), bassist Justin Labo, and drummer Donny Newenhouse, though longtime keyboardist Jason Ruck remains.
"Understandably, it kind of compounded any difficulties we might have had," Bertens recalled, still sounding a little tongue tied. After such events, he continued, "you definitely tend to reevaluate what is important in your life setup."
The loss of certain key pedals was particularly felt, although, he added, "ironically, after a year or so, one of the instruments showed up on eBay, and it was traced back to a pawnshop in Philly." The entire lot of gear had apparently come in three weeks after it was stolen, but though the store claimed it had checked with the local police department, and the band and Beggars had furnished the police with serial numbers and descriptions, no one made the connection.