Giving up the dream of rock stardom might seem the logical end to any band, but for one of the metro's most cerebral indie acts, Student Film, that realization marked a new beginning.
"It's been easier " way easier," said multi-instrumentalist Zac Davis. "Once you get over these grandiose ideas and delusions of being a rock star, you are free to do whatever you want. It's a liberating idea, just making music to make music, then give it away as cheaply as you can."
That newfound freedom is expressed on several levels with the group's forthcoming "Generator, Operator, Destroyer," a challenging concept album rooted in philosophy and presented via richly nuanced, exploratory melodies.
Vocalist Justin Rice readily admitted that Student Film is not the act it was a few years ago.
"Night and day difference. For one, we sound good," Rice said with a smirk, before cataloging the eight recent additions to the band's lineup, including Chris Harris of Subatomic Pieces, Josh Jones of Evangelicals and Cheyenne's Josh Harper.
OFF-KILTER BRAND OF ROCK
Student Film fans will take issue with Rice's assertion that the Oklahoma City group's analytical, experimental and off-kilter brand of rock didn't sound good before, but Davis said beefing up the lineup to 12 members will finally allow the complex soundscapes forged at several recording projects to be re-created live.
"What happens when you go into a studio to make an album, you do whatever you wanna do, but then after you finish, you have no idea how to do this live," he said. "You then realize, 'We need more people.'"
"Our shows will sound fuller now, we can also turn it down so we won't sound so much like a rock band. This album is not a rock album, and we'll be able to get that idea across better, because we can turn the amps down and fill everything out."
The biggest change for the new album is the presentation. It won't be sold in a physical format, like a CD or vinyl record, but rather through a downloadable code found on a double-sided poster sold at shows and record stores.
"It's the world's largest drop card to date," Rice said. "We are pretty good friends with the guys at Guestroom (Records), and when we told Travis (Searle, co-owner) he said, 'I don't know if I like that.' So I said, 'No, no, like real artwork and a package that people will still buy.'"
The slick packaging is the first from Student Film to contain lyrics. The flip side of the poster displays a dreamy utopia where the human and animal worlds seem to mingle peacefully. Rice said the illusionary universe illustrates the album's concept of interdependence.
"We didn't want to be pretentious and heavy handed, saying, 'Our record is about life and what it's like to be alive,'" he said. "But we wanted to explore different ideas and see how they worked out, so this idea of interdependence that pulls the album together seems to be self-defeating, because it is too hard to determine."
The hearty subject matter is directly related to the band's changing condition. Rice said that once the members determined they didn't want to live on the road or spend the entirety of their 20s fighting for the attention of record labels, they started pursuing other interests. Rice is working on a master's in philosophy; Davis is studying music.
When Student Film does tour, the extra members will also give the group more freedom, since the full unit doesn't even have to go. There is even a backup lead vocalist just in case Rice can't shake away. Despite busier lives, the boys still make time to get together to play, write and record new music (with 40 as-yet-unreleased songs and counting, the members said), and discuss abstract ideas. "Generator, Operator, Destroyer" will even have a companion piece released lnext year " a concept project Rice said will focus on ethics.
"We are a close-knit group. I know we've had some revolving doors, but there is a core four of us who are very close. These are the things we talk about. You don't want to drink with us, because we will end up talking about this stuff," Rice said. "I haven't been this excited about music since 2003."
Student Film, The D. Whitfield Ensemble, Pretty Black Chains, Mayola and Cameron Buchholtz perform at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at VZD's Restaurant & Club, 4200 N. Western. "Charles Martin