Interview: Q+A with FOLIAGE We chat to bedroom pop's most prolific maestro Manuel Joseph Walker about life in San Bernardino, California, thoughts on the music industry and his future plans.
Posted: 6 December 2018 Words: Bianca Eddleston
We chat to bedroom pop's most prolific maestro, Manuel Joseph Walker aka Foliage about life in San Bernardino, California, his thoughts on the music industry and writing a self-help album.
Californian native, Manuel Joseph Walker, aka Foliage has been releasing his own sparkly brand of nostalgic jangle-pop onto Spotify for just over a year vitally bringing him to the forefront, however, Walker's debut album Truths was first released in back 2015 via the uber-cool Brooklyn based Spirit Goth label - home to other lo-fi acts such as CASTLEBEAT and Vansire. At just 20 years old, Walker is proving to be quite the indie force, taking a DIY approach and gaining love and support from the global music blogosphere as well as being featured on various tastemaking playlists - most recently Spotify's own coveted New Music Friday.
GigList first featured Foliage back in May as part of our Lo-Fi listens playlist, with stand out single, 'Other Day' taken from his recent third LP III.Walker has alsojust shared a jubilant split release with Andrew Younker titled 'Be Transparent' and is underway with recording his upcoming fourth album.
Think you can keep up? Catch the Foliage live show this month in Los Angeles at three scheduled dates: 15th December - w/ Harmless @ The Factory, 27th December - w/ Seahaven @ The Glasshouse and 29th December - Fox Theater Rooftop.
Foliage is for fans of Craft Spells, Harmless and CASTLEBEAT. Read our chat below.
Giglist:Hey! Introduce Foliage…Foliage: Hi, my name is Manuel. I am 20 years old and live in San Bernardino, CA. I play all of the instruments and make music/produce it all at home in my room.
GL: Describe your sound...Foliage: Haha, I’d say it falls under “jangle”. I’m a huge Smiths fan obviously (who isn’t?) Johnny Marr is easily my musical hero, right next to the king J Dilla of course. I also really love more 80’s jangle music like Another Sunny Day & The Field Mice, all that stuff is very influential to me and way ahead of its time. I just wanted to make a mesh of all of my influences and the shit I have always loved. I’m also a really big Indie-head. Two Door Cinema Club, Bloc Party, and Phoenix were definitely very important bands to me when I started to pick up an instrument and really fall in love with music. Wanted to bring the dance vibe, with J Dilla’s soul/style, to dreamy, lush music but minus the reverb and more intent on the songwriting and melodies.
GL: Do you think location influences music making and the songwriting process? Foliage: I think I’d say so. My friends and I were talking about this recently, but we don’t really notice it since we live in Southern California (a kind of cultural hub for musicians wanting to break through, specifically Los Angeles). We hear new music from other artists we love, and were just thinking “wow this has this California feel”, which sounds stupid since you can’t really “tag a location” to good music. Almost the equivalent of calling all music containing reverb “shoegaze” haha. But I think definitely that “California” sound is catching on even more globally (artists like Boy Pablo come to mind) and bands like Best Coast & Wavves definitely paved the modern way for more “sunny” and “beach” music. Beach Fossils, a New York band, I’d say falls into this same category. Every place has something, Midwest has amazing Emo music of course.
We’re from a rather poor area in SoCal, about an hour from Los Angeles and all the nice shit. I personally find LA to be over-rated, but everyone wants to come here. Personally, I find NorCal to be a lot better/inspiring. Bay Area is amazing, lots of good music from there too, our homies No Vacation and High Sunn to be exact.
GL: You record and write everything for Foliage yourself? Favourite piece of studio equipment?Foliage: Yes, that is correct. Is a tedious task but is very worth the outcome.
My favourite piece of studio gear? I don’t really own anything special or have a favourite piece of gear hahaha. I don’t have a lot of money or anything, or any money at all really to afford anything even remotely high end, but I ALWAYS make it work.
All of my albums were made simply by plugging my guitar straight into my computer via an interface actually haha. I’m a drum machine nerd and just drum nerd in general so I’m always looking for interesting and new drum sounds, J Dilla & Nujabes having the best drum sounds ever in my opinion, Pete Rock too. Questlove is a very, very high tier drummer as well. A legend for sure.
GL: Dream piece of equipment/gear, that you don’t already own?Foliage: Honestly anything! Haha, I’d like a “rack” or whatever you call it, I see lots of people have these “home studios” with hella compressor racks and shit. Nice microphones, which they put on their amplifier to record. I just can’t do that at home haha, I have parents and a nephew who’s always sleepy. I’d really love a drum set as well, don’t mean to brag or anything but I’m quite good and the drums are my favourite instrument, was my first instrument too. I’m always at Guitar Center just to brush up my skills and remain on top of it.
GL: You self-release everything right now, would you like to move to a label in the future to help with all this or are you happy? Foliage: Maybe, is always a possibility. It’s really liberating to do the self-release, but it gets really hard and stressful to not only finish the album/produce it all but to reach out to people to land articles and to feature the new music. It gets discouraging and really hectic, lots of opened emails that you won’t get a response from. It’s funny cause I’ll reach out to said publications/record labels about new music, who take a “pass” on the music, but then show love and attention upon release after they see the numbers it did. It’s really fake to me and I’m not a fan of that. Is very ingenuine.
I wish more people just had faith in good music! I know I do, there are lots of unknown bands I really love and try and share as much as possible. Andrew Younker being a very important one to me, I’m very honoured to be releasing a Split with him next month.
GL: Impressively, Foliage is already three albums in - major themes running through your latest work?Foliage: Well, I’m writing a lot of new music at the moment. I’m currently writing/recording my 4th LP now. It’s coming out realllllllllly amazing and I’m excited to share. I’ve been VERY excited to share the Split with Andrew Younker and I’m really happy the singles have been doing so well. I was nervous about it, but the fans came through. I love them a lot. Keeps me going.
As for major themes? The Split ranges a lot: death, love, appreciation, taking others for granted, and eternal life. Track 1 from the Split “Forever”, is my favourite song I’ve ever written. It’s about my Grandpa who just passed recently. I really admired my Grandma and his’ marriage, very beautiful and I fell in love with the fact that she REALLY went through everything she could to take care of him, even on his deathbed. I miss him a lot, hope he can hear this song.
LP4’s themes are on mental health. Songs of self-help, to those suffering the pain of their own mind. Mental health is very overlooked and not really talked about in music. It hurts when you think you’re alone in this mind of intrusive thoughts, but just know others are suffering too. It inspires me to help, if someone like me, who apparently inspires others (never thought I’d hear that, growing up with low self-esteem and such) can get through this, I hope others can too. There are 3 songs like that on the new album, but I want to write less about it and more songs about GETTING PAST these things and not having to remind myself of it when I inevitably do overcome it. The brain is a pseudo sense of self, your mind is not your actual intent. Your heart and your physical self is your true YOU. Remember that. These are just thoughts after all. A simple part of your body is making you feel bad, you can overcome it just like you would a stomach ache or an injury.
It will be a very meaningful album, that’s for sure. I also have an amazing girl in my life, who I hope to write some new, beautiful songs for. She makes me very happy and I love her.
GL: Who or what most inspired you to make music?Foliage: My Grandpa who I had previously mentioned bought my sister a guitar for her 16th birthday. I remember seeing it and being like “wow, I really want one” just like any kid who saw their sibling with something cool. That guitar was later passed down to me when I got a little older.
I started to be more interested in music, and I actually started to listen to music. Once I heard The Smiths, I was hooked forever. I got goosebumps all over me, hearing the music full blast in my ears. I wanted it to be louder! Haha, maybe that’s why I love shoegaze so much. I didn’t start making music until I was about 16, I got my first real guitar for my 16th birthday. I put out “The Things I Do for Love” on my Soundcloud, my first real song, and the rest is history.
GL: What do your parents think of your musical guise?Foliage: Haha, I’m honestly not sure. I know they’re proud of me, I’m not sure if they like my music? I don’t know, maybe I’m insecure. I love them though and I’m just glad they support me. I know they wish I had a real job, but I hope to provide for them one day off of my music. We’ve struggled with poverty honestly, but we’re all in this together. Everyone contributes to the household in one way or another.
GL:Fave place to hang out in San Bernardino?Foliage: There’s nowhere really “cool” to hang out or anything. You’ll probably be shot dead for hanging around somewhere in San Bernardino (I wish I was joking), but yeah violence/hard drugs are very rampant here. I do not shame sex workers, there are plenty here, I feel for them and pray they meet some solidarity in their heart, mind, and financial situation as well as their addiction to said hard drugs. There are lots of evil people out there who wouldn’t think twice about taking somebody’s life, especially somebody they value so little like these women. I’ve seen lots of strange altercations between drugged-out couples, it’s really upsetting to watch...
GL: Is there a music scene there?Foliage: We got our foot in the door by just playing around the Inland Empire (our SoCal region) in people’s backyards actually. Shows would be like $3-5 and it was basically just a place for hipsters and party people to collide and get hammered. Pretty degrading to play your music for drunk crowds that probably aren’t gonna remember it or are just there to “mosh” and push people around. I’m glad Foliage got somewhat popular and we don’t have to do that anymore.
GL: Best music city/town in California?Foliage: Los Angeles of course, but San Francisco, easy. Second, i’I’day Irvine, it’s hella nice out there and I’ve seen many great artists come out of there (Castlebeat, Sundive, Harry Teardrop, Kalm Dog, Dark Tape, Wes Park) though there isn’t really a scene out there. Riverside is really nice too.
GL: Are there any local bands that we should know about?Foliage: Kalm Dog for sure. I play drums in his live band, we make our live debut next month! I’m very excited. I love his music and am excited to be playing with him.
GL: What live acts with a great live show are you enjoying right now?Foliage: I really love Black Marble’s live show, I would like to see them since I haven’t yet.
I got to see My Bloody Valentine this year (who is easily my favourite band of all time, don’t know if I mentioned that prior, oops) and NO CONCERT WILL EVER TOP IT.
I told myself from a very young age that if I ever got the chance to see them, I would risk my ears. Was very happy to do that.
Also, they played “What You Want”, one of my all-time favs, which they never play, and it was flawless. 10/10 show. I talk about seeing them again every single day hahaha.
GL: The Foliage dream support slot?Foliage: Craft Spells for sure, we’ve talked about it already. One day soon hopefully! Also My Bloody Valentine or Johnny Marr.
GL: We’ve been enjoying all your recent releases, what does the near future have in store for Foliage?Foliage: Thank you so much, I appreciate the love and love you too.
Near future: Split with Andrew Younker out 12/14, more live shows and more new music of course, gonna keep on coming with the beautiful music.