Role Change

For every music critic, there’s a tried and true comeback hurled his or her way every time said critic tosses someone’s favorite band out with last night’s table scraps.

It goes something like this: How many records have you sold, big time? Where’s your band? How many Friday nights have you spent sweating it out at Rick’s Booze Hut?

And on and on it goes.

To which, we all have a pretty standard response: Look, you don’t have to be a garbage man to know trash when you see it, and likewise, you don’t have to have played in a crappy band to be able to identify one as such.

But Film School frontman Greg Bertens has done all us hacks one better.

As a former creative writing major turned music journalist, Bertens eventually traded the laptop for the guitar.

“I just kind of figured I was going to be an author,” Bertens says of his career outlook when he was younger. “I actually worked at Wired magazine, that was my first job. I wanted to go to some shows for free, I could write, and I said, ‘Hey, how about I do a review of these shows and such?’ I think that’s where the shift happened, when I said, ‘You know, I’d like to actually try to play this.’ “

Bertens had taken a few piano lessons as a kid, but that was about it. When he picked up a guitar and started teaching himself a few chords, it was a whole new experience.

That sense of wide-eyed abandon is palpable in his band’s dusky, enveloping repertoire, which is flush with oceans of haunting, reverbed guitar and dreamy melodies that flash through the haze like lightning across a dark sky.

Exhibiting traces of everything from the spine-tingling stoner bliss of Bardo Pond to the saccharine pop of The Lilys to the distortion-pedal blues of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the band pens the kind of tunes that sound best beneath a black light or while tucked away in some shadowy bar, with songs about stalking the streets late at night, searching for that elusive lover.

Film School’s latest disc, “Hideaway,” the band’s third overall, is a forest-dense pastiche of buzzing guitars and purring keys, yet it still floats by as the band’s most fleet-footed, uninhibited effort.

“I wasn’t afraid to experiment a little more on this album, because it was kind of primarily me,” Bertens says, noting that lineup changes led him to write much of the album himself. “I felt like I had a lot more freedom to do it as I saw it, whereas when you’re collaborating, there’s a lot of compromising going on. On this one, I really wanted to focus more on the ethereal and the sonic tones, while still keeping strong, driving rhythms and strong melodies.”

The band’s swelling, melodramatic tunes take on an added forcefulness live, where they engulf the crowd like some thick fog that’s just rolled in.

But hitting the road these days poses its own challenges for an indie rock band such as Film School, as precipitously high gas prices make it tough to tour without going broke.

“There’ve been bands that have canceled their tours this summer because of that,” Bertens says. “We’re a little lucky because we’re playing festivals, so we’re kind of using the festival money to help us get in between cities and such.

“But it’s going to cost at least $1,000 or $1,500 more. We’re just trying to do as many shows as possible, so every city has a date. Normally we’d do maybe four nights on, one night off. Now it’s crazy. We’ve got shows every single night except for a couple of nights.”

Still, the band plays on, figuring things out along the way, which is the way Bertens always has done it, slowly evolving from the critic to the show.

“When I first started, I was very uncomfortable,” Bertens says. “I think my first show, any time I wasn’t singing, I played with my back to the audience, which I still kinda do. I think what happened was I kinda decided that if I was going to do it, I was going to start having fun. I think that’s one of the things about rock, even the band’s that are heavier and more serious, the only way you can really continue to do what you do night after night is to find a way to enjoy yourself.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476.

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