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Sunday, January 22, 2006


Story in Sunday's Pink Pages of the San Francisco Chronicle


By Reyhan Harmanci

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Film School is about to go from being one of the most talked-about Bay Area bands to emerging as an international player. Signed in the fall to Beggars Banquet, a well-respected indie label, the band just finished a European tour with label mates the National. After its self-titled, full-length album comes out Tuesday, the group plans to tour the United States and Europe this year.

The band members stand firmly behind their bid for a wider audience. All five of them have quit their day jobs.

"It's been an unspoken thing since I joined -- the feeling that we don't want to be a local band, don't want to just play shows at the Rickshaw Stop or Bottom of the Hill for our friends," says bassist Justin LaBo, sitting in a Mission District living room. "We always wanted to be on tour, have some sort of, I don't know ..." He pauses, smiling, looking at his bandmates. "Career."

"Well, we never wanted to be working in an office," he finishes. Everyone nods.

"Not that there's anything wrong with being a local band," puts in drummer Donny Newenhouse. "I don't want to put, say, playing at the Rickshaw Stop in a negative light. I just think that all of us, individually, would prefer just to play music. All the time, if we could."

"The catch-22," says guitarist Nyles Lannon, "is that we want to be able to support ourselves, not just do this for art's sake, but we're not making sell-out pop either. We're in the middle, which is why Beggars Banquet is perfect for us, as a major indie label."

Lead singer and guitarist Krayg Burton put Film School together in 1998, with a rotating cast of guest musicians. Keyboardist Jason Ruck and Lannon, who was working at local music Web site Epitonic.com with LaBo, joined Burton on the 2001 release "My Brilliant Career." A number of other musicians joined Film School at various times -- including Scott Kannberg (Pavement, Preston School of Industry), Mauri Skinfill (Elephone) and Tim Mitchell (the Decoration) -- but the current lineup was solidified in 2003 with the addition of Newenhouse on drums.

The Film School sound is, well, cinematic, with sweeping melodies, earnest lyrics, intricately plotted song structures and a tendency to veer from a three-minute pop song into psychedelia.

An early and enthusiastic fan was Live 105's DJ Aaron Axelsen.

"I have such a personal affinity for their kind of music," says Axelsen, a local kingmaker who also hosts the popular Popscene club night at 330 Ritch Street. "I love bands like Mogwai, Slowdive, Ride. What's great about Film School is their accessibility -- they are musically pushing the envelope but not getting too esoteric for the masses. They make very palliative, dreamy, atmospheric music. And then, damn, when you see them live, it takes it to a new level."

Good buzz at Austin's influential South by Southwest conference, the music industry's coming-out party for young bands, got them the attention of the labels and the press After a 2004 British tour with the popular band TV on the Radio, another good showing at South by Southwest last spring sealed the deal with Beggars Banquet.

All of the bandmates have been players on the local scene, going in and out of other projects while still in Film School. And Lannon has found success as a solo artist, recording and performing under the name n.lannon; his impressive album "Chemical Friends," released by Badman Recording Co., earned him the "Best Folktronica Artist" title from SF Weekly last year.

Though Burton seems to be the quiet center of the band, all insist that power and influence is shared equally.

"We usually spend time spontaneously playing and recording, and when we get something that's good, we make it into songs," Lannon says, deadpanning. "Some people call it 'jamming.' "

While Film School's ambitions seem about to move them out of the local league, they say they don't plan to relocate to, for instance, New York or Los Angeles. Each member of the band sings praises about the current Bay Area music scene: "Really, really great now," "I'm so glad we didn't move," "I found myself talking up San Francisco when we were in Europe."

"There are enough vital clubs and studios to create just enough of an industry that's not completely insular," Burton says of the hometown scene. "But it's also not so obsessed with itself that you can't stand it."

FILM SCHOOL performs at 6 p.m. Thurs. at Amoeba Records, 1855 Haight St., San Francisco. Free. (415) 831-1200, www.amoebamusic.com. The band plays at 9 p.m. Thurs. at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco. $10. (415) 621-4455, www.bottomofthehill.com, www.filmschoolmusic.com

E-mail Reyhan Harmanci at rharmanci@sfchronicle.com.


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