It was 2:30 in the morning as the warm air of New Mexico breezed through the tour van’s windows and we barreled down the highway en-route to SXSW. A myriad of shows from here to Austin by way of San Diego. Matthew Molarius, renaissance frontman of the band Transfer, and I were in the rear seat of the Econoline rambling on an alcohol fueled post-gig fury about taking over the world one fan at a time. It was manic, inspired and proof that art ignites passion. Art forms communities around shared interests. Those that commit to the craft forego comforts of the working class in favor of moments of true greatness that most of us will never experience. Artists by nature need and thrive in communities. They band together to collaborate, form friendships and key support systems. Matt and his network of talented musicians and collaborators are an example of just that.
I first met the tall and talented Matt in North Park (San Diego), a neighborhood in the grips of a cultural shift. It’s the town where my strongest friendships and creative support systems were forged. The creative community is vibrant, which-so-happens to be the main reason for the upheaval. Struggling with the formation of a staunch opinion on the matter, the fact is that these days the true dive bars that I knew and loved have given way to the highest per capita craft beer bar network this side of the Mississippi. Some of the old haunts harken to their former self, but for the most part the weird is eroding, artists are moving out and young families are moving in. It’s the cycle, I just have an older perspective on it now.
Standing in the current of change is a group of musicians from the ever evolving and incestuous side projects of a few select creators that have merged into what is now known as The Redwoods. “I began in San Diego with Transfer and out of that band came the need to own and license our own music. That brought about Obscure Magpie which I still operate for licensing our band’s as well as many other bands’ music. It’s hard to believe that Obscure Magpie is ten years old this year.” Matt’s recent collaborations with Josh Rice and Al Howard have led to the formation of The Redwoods, a select group of players that cross a bevy of musical genres – new soul, rock, indie, psych, folk – you name it and they can play it. Matt describes it as, “reminiscent of older models like Muscle Shoal’s Swampers or The Wrecking Crew. Same players crossing over to different albums, projects and live shows.” The Redwoods is an acknowledgment of an industry that decreasingly supports the traditional album. It’s a modern take on a classic approach. One that sees opportunity for artists to make a living through burgeoning new online and content distribution channels. Matt’s goal is to elevate the level of music they license to their clients by pairing the unique roster of musicians and provide for fair financial support in return to the players involved. His background as a career musician lends itself to the subject matter expertise perfect for this role.
Matt and I, through several conversations, emails, IM’s, and Facebook Messages discussed some of our favorite new and old spots in San Diego. Matt also provided a pairing of music tracks by local groups/players that would go perfectly with each stop. North Park and the mid-city areas will be our backdrop as we explore places to grab a coffee, have a drink, or catch a show and discuss the nature of being a working musician in a changing industry and a changing community.
Young Hickory is an idea so simple you wish you thought of it. Neighborhood spot that features Bird Rock Coffee and canned craft beer. It’s a freelancer’s dream with a multitude of electrical plugs and the ability to stay wired. There’s also a healthy chance that happy hour will come well before 5pm. For a creative professional like Matt, it’s a perfect spot to put the headphones on and get work done. “Being in a band is not just about writing and playing the songs. There’s just so much to it. You’re part artist, manager, graphic designer, programmer, therapist, hustler, PR, you name it. It’s hard work,” Matt tells me as we discuss the longest project of his career, the band Transfer. Having performed and toured with Transfer, I know first hand what Matt is talking about. The tour route is well-worn and layered with years of friendships crafted on the road. End up in Bellingham, Washington and you’ll have a hot meal and place to sleep any day of the week if you are with Transfer. Same can be said for many towns across the pond. Transfer has been Matt’s passport to travel all across the United States and Europe where they opened for Brandon Flowers (The Killers), and The Bravery.
Matt Recommends – TRANSFER – “We Don’t Have to be Nice Anymore”
30th Street has become the capital of San Diego’s craft beer scene. A multitude of brewery tasting rooms and bars have opened along or near the corner of University and 30th. Places like Tornado, Belching Beaver and Ritual have all opened to cater to the ever-growing beer drinking crowd. Bottlecraft, a tasting room/craft beer retailer, has a boutique shop here for those who want to take it home. In fact, one of the few places that is not totally beer focused is Bar Pink. Founded by John “Swami” Reis of Rocket From the Crypt fame, Bar Pink has become firmly cemented in North Park by supporting the creative scene via DJ nights and a small stage for bands to perform. Bands like Matt’s pairing, Shake Before Us. The band is a noisy, rocking, trash, garage, mayhem, 60’s punk, sci-fi dance music blend and is produced by Reis himself. “Shake Before Us is high energy man. They create an intense and super trashy pace. Like a super-charged car. They blast through their sets while always dressing in matching and themed uniforms. They are the same thing all over the place. Super fun band,” Matt tells me before talking about their recording setup which consists of playing live directly onto vintage 8 and 16-track reel-to-reel machines. If you had Shake Before Us as your bar crawl music, you wouldn’t make it 2-hours. In a good way.
Matt Recommends – Shake Before Us – “All Day and Night”
Make a right on University Ave. from 30th and you meet the North Park Theatre. Various bands and projects of Matt’s have performed on this stage over the years. Built in 1928 as a single screen movie theater, it operated until 1989 when it was closed. During my time in North Park the theatre was home to various church functions and non-theater related events. Run down to say the least. Since, it’s been reborn into an anchor of the North Park community and vibrant space for both national and local acts.
Now, on the verge of it’s second renaissance, the theatre is set to start hosting some industry heavy hitters. If there was one band in particular Matt would like to see on this stage it would be Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact. Architected by Al Howard (The Heavy Guilt, The Midnight Pine), the band features a packed roster of San Diego’s most talented players. Tim Felton (keyboards), Sean Martin (guitar), Dillon Casey (guitar) and Jake Najor (drums) turn the designs into reality as Jade, who Al refers to as “…truly the star” of the band, provides a commanding soulful voice behind his lyrics.
“They were like, one of the first incarnations of The Redwoods before I even joined up with these guys. Al and the crew had teamed on various projects like The Black Sands, The Heavy Guilt, and now a project I’m in called the Midnight Pine. Pairing Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact with the North Park Theater just makes sense to me. You have this theater that was founded as one thing, it changes genre every few years and is reborn. It’s filled with history and yet it’s so relevant today. That’s how I see Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact.”
Matt Recommends – Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact – “Tints”
Makers Quarter marks the evolution of San Diego’s East Village (downtown). It’s got a DTLA Art’s District vibe with countless new pop-up shops and destinations with Makers Quarter at the heart of it. It’s centered on community and is focused on changing the face of a what many know as San Diego’s Skid Row. Embracing it’s past while looking forward. When I first drove by the event space, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to find some reason to bring a festival together. Matt would add Creature and the Woods to that lineup. Featuring The Midnight Pine vocalist Shelbi Bennet and former Noise Ratchet member Roger Molina (who were recently engaged), Creature in the Woods creates a sound that echoes a deep howl and a powerful groove. “Their voices are meant to be together,” says Matt. “They have grown into such a collaboration. What started as a folk duo has grown into a larger thing with the addition of Chad Lee (Silent Comedy) and Dan Cervantes of Howlin rain They continue to find their voice, their community. Kind of like the East Village.”
Matt Recommends – Creature and the Woods – “Widow’s Waltz”
Seven Grand features a wall of international whiskeys and blends both vintage and contemporary. Packing recipes to keep patrons well smoothed. It’s a throwback formula that’s been well copied, but Seven Grand, which was founded in Los Angeles, were on the front end of the craft cocktail revival. Every Wednesday they host a featured jazz night with local jazz legend Gilbert Gastellanos. “We played with Gilbert on one of these Wednesday shows,” says Matt “He composed the horn parts for some of our songs. The guy’s mind is so stealth. He explores new places I would never think to go. He is so respected, I mean he played on Willie Nelson’s last couple records. It’s an honor to play with this guy. He’s classic and yet completely relevant. Kind of like the cocktails they serve at Seven Grand.”
Matt Recommends – Gilbert Castellanos – “Solamente una Vez”
The Whistle Stop Bar in South Park is a classic. It was the first bar I ever went to when I moved to North Park (well, outside of a mistaken appearance at Wolfs). It was on a then sleepy corner of Juniper and Fern and became the go-to. During my time with The Visual Underground – a film, rock and art monthly showcase and creative crew – we used to host shows here and Matt’s band Transfer was a repeat offender of our stage. Another of The Redwoods connected projects is The Midnight Pine, who play what can only be described as a hypnotic soundscape that is sparse, eerie and beautiful. Lead vocalist Shelbi Bennett is a gypsy coal miner’s daughter with the a voice so powerful it commands the room. Captivating, volatile, gorgeous and pummeling. Matt describes the The Whistle Stop as intimate. “We’ve (The Midnight Pine), played there a few times. It’s always felt like family and South Park has such an organic vibe. The Midnight Pine is organic in its nature. Analog by nature. Al Howard, plays junk percussion instruments and it just fits. It’s all the right ingredients. Simple and yet solid, just like the Whistle Stop.”
Matt Recommends – The Midnight Pine – “Caution”
I struggled to write this piece. Why? Because there was no clear vision of the ending. No obvious personal stance or perspective. North Park and the mid-city areas of San Diego will always hold sacred memories for me, but the fact is that the brick-and-mortar of my youth is being rebuilt, repainted and washed over in a sea of pork belly and craft beer… But I like pork belly and craft beer. In moderation. “It’s definitely a trend, the whole ‘Iron & [insert whatever]’ cocktail and restaurant thing that’s happening down here,” Matt says as I desperately try to pull out how he feels about the change. “I don’t want to shit on it though. I like to grab a drink every once in a while. It’s awesome that people are doing their own thing. I mean, I’m busy now. Lot’s in production and working with people who are perpetually creating. There are a lot of new projects. Our established ones will keep growing. I see more for The Redwoods. More music, more video, more content. A podcast, blog and writings. We’re organizing a community of players. It’s like building a house with people you’ve been camping with for a long time. Structure. Same circles and same shapes. It’s exciting.”
From the time I met Matt, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look back, always forward. Maybe that’s the trick. Keep your head up and the eyes forward. Keep creating and meeting new people to collaborate with. Keep forming new communities as older ones either solidify or erode and fade away. Realize that life will always change. Always cycle. Always evolve. North Park will never be the North Park I grew up in again. That’s ok. I heard Barrio Logan is the new North Park anyway…
Cover Photo: Christian Thomas
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