Their shoegazing sheets of atmospheric Indie Rock may be broadly cinematic, but there is no film school in the individual résumés of the members of Film School.
"It's just a name," says Film School frontman Krayg Burton. "I always knew I would be in some creative field, and I think it was just (a) play on the idea of the proscribed ideas of what you can do to be creative. You can go to film school, you can go to art school or you can start a band. So I started a band called Film School."
Film School began life in the late '90s as a duo with Burton and a drummer who released a three track 7-inch together. Burton then went off on his own, wrote songs and assembled a collection of guest musicians (including eventual full-time members Nyles Lannon on guitar and Jason Ruck on keyboards, as well as former Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg) to record the "band's" full-length debut, Brilliant Career, released in 2001.
"We needed to tour around the record so we went out with Nyles and Jason and myself and a different bassist and drummer," says Burton. "It was a very short trip but when we came back, we needed to do more touring because there was some more interest. Nyles brought in Justin (LaBo), our current bassist; he was working with him at the time.
Then two years ago, (drummer) Donny (Newenhouse) came into the band."
Given the fact that Film School has generally been Burton's solo outlet and that Lannon has had a hyperactive creative life (recording under various solo banners and playing with an Electronica group called Technicolor with LaBo), it seems odd that either would wind up in a traditional band structure.
"I think I always wanted to be in a full band," says Burton. "I enjoy writing songs and stuff, but I think the collaborative effort brings elements to it that make it more than the sum of its parts. I just found that when we started writing together that there were things happening that I couldn't have done on my own. Plus it gets old trying to write everything yourself. It's nice to have people that have ideas. Besides, I get tired of hearing myself."
Burton and the touring Film School membership did a collaborative EP in 2003 that set the stage for the next phase of the band. Local support around the band's San Francisco base was fervent and spread all the way up to Seattle where they amassed a following that assured them capacity crowds on every visit. As industry buzz began to swirl, Film School did several British tours, building interest over there as well. The band came to the attention of the Beggar's Banquet label when they opened for TV on the Radio at the Garage in London. TV's 4AD reps were in the crowd and gave them more than a cursory glance.
"I went back to the merch table, and (TV on the Radio's) merch people said, 'You guys didn't suck ... that was great,' " says Burton. "I guess they'd had a bunch of crappy openers in Europe. It was a good show for us and, little did we know, we were liked by a really cool label. We had been talking to a bunch of labels that weren't right for us; they wanted to change our sound and the time of the songs. Then about a half year went by and we went to South By Southwest and we had some weird buzz going on, and we ended up playing this show that was really big. The National was on that show too, and they said, 'You should really think about going with Beggars, they're a really good label.' "
With the gelling of the group into their current line-up in 2004, Film School's sound has become more solid and less ephemeral.
"I think it's got a bigger Rock sound," says Burton. "I think it was always there. I've heard this description of us from people who'd seen us before Donny came in that we were a little more contained on the stage, and maybe a little softer. Then Donny came in, and he used to play in a Metal band so he brought this element that I don't think we were even aware of. It's just a bigger, more powerful Rock experience now."
Although critics have noted Film School's similarities to any number of '80s outfits with like-minded sonic ambitions — The Cure, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division — Burton doesn't claim any of them as actual influences, regardless of the resemblance.
"No '80s bands. None of those that I've seen have been things that we've been consciously aware of as an influence," says Burton. "None of that was on our minds when we were writing songs. Growing up, a few of us were listening to more of the '90s Psych/Brit Pop, shoegazey stuff, like Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine. There are even elements of Nirvana in our music, a little more on the aggressive side, but also lots of bands that are a little more obscure: Flying Saucer Attack and Seefeel. Those are bands that I feel really influenced my guitar tones and my sense of song structure. Flying Saucer Attack has this amazing control over reverb and they taught me a lot about delay and reverb and how to use it well. It's like watercolors ... that stuff can go everywhere if you don't know what you're doing."
So far, Film School has enjoyed a good deal of critical success for their eponymous debut album, released earlier this year. The kind of praise that the band has received could turn a young man's head, but Burton endeavors to stay grounded.
"It's been interesting dealing with all that stuff," he says. "At first when you get a review, it means a lot, and if it's a bad or a good one, it kind of swings you one way or the other in a big way. But the more you get, the more you feel like it's all a composite, and you get a sense of what you feel it is at the end of it all. The majority of (reviews) have been good though, so we feel like we're doing something that's on track."
FILM SCHOOL (filmschoolmusic.com) plays alchemize Friday.