The guys in Transfer are standing on a beach near the boardwalk in Venice, Calif. It’s a slightly overcast Wednesday afternoon, and the wind whips their faces as they gaze into a camera positioned on a tripod and set to a timer. A photographer tosses pieces of breadcrumbs behind the musicians and dozens of hungry pigeons alight on the sand as the camera snaps away.
Matt Molarius, the band’s guitarist and lead singer, feels something wet fall on his shoulder. “I just got shit on,” he declares. His bandmates break into laughter. “I got shit on!”
Soon, they get serious again. The photographer, Austin Hargrave, tries out different poses—they try standing in a straight line and walking toward the camera; they take their sunglasses off and put them back on. Near the end of the shoot, they huddle around Hargrave to look at the thumbnails on his camera’s LCD screen. Even at such a tiny size, the images are stirring: Four handsome men bedecked in black, a flock of white and grey birds fluttering in the background, whitecaps crashing off in the distance.
Transfer have been building a following in San Diego for years. They’ve toured the U.K. and Europe during the past year. But in a few weeks, these photos will serve as the local band’s proper introduction to much of the world. Later this month, the shots will be used in a press push for the band’s first headlining tour of the U.K. They’ll also be used to hype the advance release of “Losing Composure,” the expected lead single from Transfer’s album Future Selves, set to be released worldwide in September on Mascot Label Group, a large record label based in the Netherlands whose eclectic roster includes funk bassist Bootsy Collins and hard-rockers Masters of Reality.
Transfer signed a deal with Mascot in April; it’s a major step for the band. In the seven years they’ve been together, they’ve done almost everything themselves—self-releasing two full-lengths and two EPs, booking tours, managing their finances and publicizing their shows. Now, somebody else will take care of all that for them.
“You kind of get distracted from being a band when you’re worried about booking your own shows, the tours, developing your website, printing your merch and all that kind of shit,” Molarius tells CityBeat in an interview at the bar in Bankers Hill’s Imperial House restaurant. “And I think because we’ve done it like that for so long, we’ll probably always have a heavy hand in that side of it, kind of the art of what we do. But I’m excited to not have to worry about that so much.”
But more importantly, the deal gives Transfer the opportunity to put out their music out on a global scale. When Future Selves comes out on Cool Green Recordings, a Mascot imprint, it will be distributed through MCI / Sony Red, a group that works with sales and marketing behemoth RED Distribution.
“You don’t get iTunes Single of the Week by just being a good band. You need to be a good band, but you have a machine behind you at that point,” drummer Andy Ridley says. “And, finally, now we can have those opportunities, or at least be in the mix for those kinds of opportunities that every band wants. There’s a lot of great bands out there that don’t have the resources to do that.”
Still, though it appears that they’ve made it, Transfer have no illusions about what the future holds. When Future Selves comes out, they expect to spend plenty of time on the road. Judging from their experiences over the past eight months, the next year is bound to be full of surprises.
Transfer (transferband.com) spent two months traversing the U.K. and Europe with The Bravery, White Lies and Crocodiles earlier this year, surviving many of the hardships the continent had to offer.
In Scandinavia, their toes went numb from the freezing temperatures as they traveled the highway in a beaten-up tour van that didn’t have heating in the back.
“We were like, ‘This is the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’m cold to my fucking bone marrow right now,’” Molarius said.
In Germany, an intimidating police squad led by a Liam Neeson look-alike searched every crevice of their van. In Prague, the van got broken into. Luckily, thieves walked away with only a GPS navigator and some other sundries, but then the van broke down and couldn’t be fixed. They probably would’ve had to cancel the tour, they said, but White Lies’ crew graciously offered to shuttle their equipment to the next venue.
So, all things considered, the trip to Los Angeles last week was a cakewalk.
As Ridley steered their 15-seat van north on Interstate 5 last Tuesday, they sipped Starbucks coffee, played on their iPhones and joked around, unleashing an arsenal of inside humor that could only have been cultivated while spending endless hours on the road. (“The things you do to maintain sanity,” Molarius sighs.)
At the Troubadour, a venue in West Hollywood, they blasted through a half-hour opening set.
On Wednesday, they spent the afternoon driving around the city to various settings for an exhaustive photo shoot. They posed for shots at a cave in Bronson Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. They did some portraits in front of a white backdrop set up in Hargrave’s garage. They closed out the day at Venice Beach. Guitarist Jason Cardenas felt a little awkward the whole time, but he made the best of it.
“I’m not huge on this shit, but I think it’s fun,” he said as he walked back to the van. “Would shooting at the beach be my first choice? Yeah, no, probably not. But the way that it was done, it was like, ‘Oh, this is really cool.’ I’m stoked, man. I’ll be curious to see the outcome.”
Transfer have always been an ambitious band. Their crushing riffs, epic hooks and loud-soft dynamics call to mind Led Zeppelin and The Flaming Lips. They like to dress dapper onstage, in the hopes of giving the impression that they’re working together. Molarius and Cardenas, Transfer’s two original members, have been touring relentlessly since the early ’00s, when they played in the roots-rock band Ten Pound Brown.
But the band set its sights higher when it began work on Future Selves, which was originally self-released in 2009. (At the time, Mike Cooper was Transfer’s drummer; he later left the band to focus on his project Hyena.) For previous records, they’d record their songs as fast as they could to save money. For this one, they spent weeks in bassist Shaun cornell’s San Marcos studio, carving the album like it was a piece of marble. They recorded rough demos and reworked parts, putting songs aside and picking them back up weeks later. They brought in members of the San Diego Symphony to provide dramatic orchestral arrangements. When they released the album, they hired a publicist to push it.
“We decided to kind of, I guess, dip our feet in the water in the industry side of things and see what a real label would do with it, rather than just, like, have our CDrelease party at The Casbah and do a couple runs up the fuckin’ West Coast and then, you know, do it again,” Molarius says. “I think we saw a little more potential with the record, so we thought, Why not try it out and see what a press company or a radio plugger would do with it?”
At first, they thought they’d just flushed their money down the toilet. But their flirtation with the music industry eventually paid off. Late last year, they started working with their current manager, Jeremy Bates, a music-industry veteran who runs the management company TeenAgeRiot Music. In November, they went on U.S. and U.K. tours with Brandon Flowers of The Killers, whose 2010 solo album Flamingo peaked at No. 1 on the U.K. charts. They performed sold-out shows at venues that held as many as 5,000 people, garnering followers from Flowers’ fanatical fan base.
On their tour with White Lies, tons of people turned out to see their opening set, and they often sold CDs at a brisk clip. Meanwhile, a small cadre of dedicated fans set up Transfer street teams in France, Spain, Germany and the U.K., hyping the band online and following them across the continent. One French fan even saved the wrapper from a Twix bar the band bought her at a café, keeping it along with an array of signed set lists.
“You can’t not appreciate that,” Ridley says.
One evening at their cavernous rehearsal space in Kearny Mesa, Transfer ran through a new song called “Pall Bearer.” It’s characteristically vast, opening up with a bright guitar hook before transitioning into a stormy bridge with a hard-driving beat. The song is far from finished—“It doesn’t have a chorus yet,” cornell says—but they’re not feeling too rushed. For the next year, they’ll focus on promoting Future Selves.Things could’ve turned out differently for the band. Late last year, a record deal with a major label in England fell through at the last minute. (The band declined to name the label.) But they’re happier with the contract they’ve signed. Mascot might not have brand-name recognition or a blockbuster roster, but the band doesn’t have to worry about being a low priority and they aren’t contractually obligated to give up rights for merchandise and live profits, as would’ve been the case with the deal they planned to sign with the other label.
“Today, labels are offering less but asking for more. Unfortunately, some bands have no option but to accept it,” Bates, Transfer’s manager, says via email. “The further we explored our options, the more exciting and attractive [Mascot] became.”
They’re not stressed about their upcoming U.K. tour, but they’re looking forward to a year of hard work.
“We’re all realistic,” Ridley says. “I don’t think anyone’s thinking this album’s gonna go quadruple platinum.”
“Maybe double platinum,” Molarius says, with a smirk.