THERE is a lot to digest when it comes to Foliage…
and his music. Manuel Joseph Walker is the man behind the moniker. He has been talking about his album, III, and the stories behind the songs; how it differs from his earliest work; whether the U.S. songwriter is planning on coming to the U.K. at all – he talks about the music he was raised on.
I ask what the scene is like around Southern California; what he hopes to achieve this year; if it is daunting releasing a third album by the age of twenty; what his favourite musical memory is – he ends the interview with a cool song!
Hi, Foliage. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, Sam. I'm doing great; my week has been well. I just turned twenty about two weeks ago (April 3rd) and released my third single, The Other Day. It's been doing quite well and I’m really glad about how well it's been received. I've watched a huge jump in Spotify monthly listeners from 2,000 to over 32,000 in a very short time. It's really bizarre and feels really great. I hope these numbers can stick and people will keep listening and enjoy my music for time and time again.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Hi. My name is Manuel Joseph Walker. I am a twenty-year-old from San Bernardino, CA. I currently reside in Rialto, CA, which is about ten minutes away from S.B. I started going to school in Rialto in about 7th grade and met some friends that would later become my best friends today. I started creating music in my sophomore year of high-school at the age of sixteen using nothing but an old Windows XP computer, Ableton and a guitar.
I have two records out; my first I released at age sixteen, called Truths (2015; Human Sounds Records/2017 reissue; Z Tapes) and last year's Silence (2017; Spirit Goth Records). My third record, III, is out this Friday, April 20th and I'm really excited for you all to hear.
It is my favorite record, and I think it is my best. I hope you love it and you think so too. I put my heart and soul into this and I strive to make each record better and better. No filler whatsoever: just great music for you to enjoy endlessly.
The album, III, out now. What sort of ideas influenced the songs? Was it quite an interesting experience recording the record?
Last year's Silence saw me in a naïve, abusive relationship, and trying to escape that. Being my first real girlfriend and all, the amount of love I carried...or thought I had anyway, in my young mind and heart was just a young, naive, seventeen-year-old Manuel. A hopeless romantic longing for the comfort and sweet gestures he watched in shows like How I Met Your Mother (which I sampled dialogue from in the intro for The Other Day - the third single from III).
With this year's III; I feel back on my feet, with my head on my shoulders and a more secure head. I know how to be treated and I've come to hold more value in truer things like friendship and family. I wanted to write a record on that as well as my love life over the past year - up to my now over, sort-of ‘relationship’.
There's probably like two-three girls in here that have songs about them, but most of them are about this one really cool girl. I really cared for this girl and it was awesome getting to know her over the time spent together. We had lots of fun and I'll always cherish the time spent together. I just thought she was really awesome and, as all relationships do inevitably come to an end, valued her friendship over her love; I couldn't bear to potentially hurt her. Track one, It's Time, being the narrative of me standing my ground and remaining independent: "It's time to rehearse our goodbyes for a minute or two/I must take me away from you. Eventually, we'll die and I’ll find another just like you/just like you..."
How Have You Been? is about somebody you miss, that you haven't seen in a while; that you'd love to hear from once again. Take Your Time, I Don't Mind is about having patience in a slow forming relationship, whether that be of love or lust, and not pushing each other's issues onto one another.
Come Over is about the girl you really want to ask out. Overcoming shyness, as well as meeting and telling each other about ourselves. Decision is the first song where the 'really cool girl' I had previously mentioned comes into play, all of, I guess, the more honest songs on this record are about her, so you can guess. This song is about wanting to see each other more often, we can both feel it; we're getting closer. My insecurity gets the best of me: "You go to school/I stay in my room high. Been smoking with my friends to pass the time. You go to work/I've got no goals in mind. I write this song you listen then decide…" Will we become something, who knows? "To take me in your arms/and never let me fall out. To take me in your heart/and show me what you're all about..."
Value is my favorite track from the new record. The track tells the story of a modern romance and not wanting to rush into things. Simply enjoying our time and friendship together as it goes, and not wanting to put any strain on us by enforcing any labels: "Can we skip that part about falling in love with each other? I value you too much as a person to potentially hurt you". It's been a while since I have been in any sort of relationship, as it was for her, and the track acts as a confession of my feelings towards our time spent. "It's too early on to tell you how I feel about you. I know you're nervous too/it's been a while since you've been out too. I know that you really like me, and I would like to, let you know that I’m into you. It's been a long time since I’ve said that before but I mean that, how about you?"
League is about another girl, who I really liked previously, but didn't get the chance to end up seeing due to her insecurities, claiming I was out of her league. "Our time gets only wasted away/when you think this way…that first time we hung out, we didn't get the chance to follow-up to find out our similarities, that could tell me..." Is it something more? I just can't possibly believe when she says I’m out of her league; I truly like her and I'd like her to see that: "Hey girl, can you tell me what you wanted to see in me? Hey girl, can you tell me what you wanted to seek from me? You say I’m out of your league but that's not true, you beautiful fool..."
I'll Miss You returns to the girl most of the songs are about...after we have parted ways. The reason being my lack of commitment and not wanting to jump into a relationship with such strong feelings so soon. I wanted time to take us, as our love had seemed to grow very naturally. I'll cherish the time we spent together and I wish her good luck in her future endeavors of life: "We could've been something if you wanted to stay. We could've been something but you want me to change...I'll miss you and all the days we'd stay up late. I'll miss you,/I'd rather not partake in cliché...I'll wish you all the best in your days..." The Other Day is, probably, the most personal song on the record. This song means a few things, most importantly it's about my trust issues. Falling in love and having a companion has its perks but has many cons that people aren't aware of.
This is me at my most vulnerable self: "When you said you missed me the other day/did you really mean that? You took my heart away..." My last record was about me going through the motions and escaping an abusive relationship I was in. Here, I am; back again with a secure mind and heart, knowing true values and how I should be treated. No matter how bold I may seem to stand my ground whilst being in love, there's a soft side in there: "If you did/it meant a lot to me. Others have said that before but it's never struck a chord within me...” Affection is more than sex: affection is a connection and true friendship: "Oh, I thought I'd let you know for sure/I liked you for who you were/not just cause you took off clothes...”
Though; we may have come to an end and I wasn't ready to be in a relationship; I still cared for her and I wish her the best in her future endeavors - most importantly, not rushing into things and creating false love in her own mind. "Oh, I thought I'd let you know for sure/I liked you for who you were/don't rush into your next lover".
Let's Go Home is the final track and really ties it all together - one of my favorite songs I've ever written. It opens with a sample from Toy Story 2 of Woody saying "Let's go home"; which I often quoted in real life as well as grew up on the movies HEAVILY. I s*it you not, I had so much Toy Story-related gear, I even owned a Woody vest and hat. Haha. This is the truest song of remaining you and having complete focus. Knowing what really matters in life and looking out for your own best interest. Not constantly longing for love and falling into depressive and, in my case, with my O.C.D., compulsive cycles.
Ridding yourself of all form of relationship and valuing true things like family and friendship, living your life to the fullest. This life is short, focus on now: "Let's go home/where you're comfy In chase/and I'll take my pace...I know that you want me to be your man well I say no...Can I live my life for a little while? Do you mind/I've got a long way to go in my life. How far am I? I've got a long way to go in my life...Where am I? Am I? Am I? Let's Go Home..."
Moral of the record: People come and go; keep your feet on the ground and your head on your shoulders and remain YOU.
Is there a song from the album that, to you, stand out from the rest?
Honestly: all of them...
Value is my favorite but ALL of them are amazing. I thoroughly love this record; it's my favorite, it's the most ‘me’ record I've ever done and I promise I’m going to keep getting better and better with each one.
How do you think your latest album differs from your previous two? Have you incorporated new sounds in?
It's the best one - and I think you'll think so too. I've really gone back to my roots here, bringing back the ‘chorus’ sound of my early E.P. that came before Truths, entitled Singles, but with a revamped and polished sound to match the growth in songwriting and production of Foliage. I've always refrained from using too much chorus in my records as there are so many Mac Demarco copycats out there, doing it super-blatantly…I won't say names.
I used chorus in the way I've been known to use for many years since my early recordings and in my live performances, and I wanted to capture that on my newest record. I've always been inspired by Johnny Marr's guitar tone; I was a huge fan of The Smiths growing up.
You are only twenty! Is it quite daunting releasing music at such a young age? When did you first come into music and start recording?
I think it's given me a lot of room to grow and experiment with my sound over the years. Starting at sixteen; I’ve written SO many songs, I've had so many ideas - but only a few turns into songs. I've had a lot of time to gain knowledge and push myself with not only producing in Ableton, but songwriting as well. I like to make J Dilla-esque beats on the side as well as Math-Rock. Will never be released, but I just love to create music and practice new production methods.
I've mainly stuck in the Indie-Rock field; Truths being a bit more Shoegaze-y and reverb-heavy with underlying jangle Pop and Post-Punk roots, whereas Silence being the quintessential clean, yet somehow hazy, modern revival of 1980s' Indie roots, as well as 2010s' Indie-Pop, a la Two Door Cinema Club and Phoenix.
I've come to clean up and just polish the Foliage sound more and more with each record. III is the most well-executed, produced and well-written work I've done so far. It pays true homage to my roots of music and the music I love the most: 1980s Indie/Jangle-Pop. These are my favorite songs I’ve ever written and it's so awesome to see that all the newer songs are gaining more attention than my earlier work, which was already praised through the BandCamp community and small indie D.I.Y. circles.
What sort of music did you grow up around? Did your parents expose you to a lot of different sounds?
I look pretty f*cking pale. Haha. But, we're a Chicano family. We own a lot of Chevrolet Impalas and ‘Low-Riders’; so my dad constantly bumped oldies and Chicano Rap like Lil Rob and MC Magic. He played a bunch of stuff like The Temptations, Dion and the Belmonts and Ritchie Valens. He also introduced me to some amazing s*it like Zapp, Timex Social Club and Cyndi Lauper.
My older sister is the one who introduced me to Indie music. She showed me The Smiths and The Cure when I was in, like, 4th or 5th grade - and that was the first time music gave me goosebumps. I fell in love with music. I just dove deeper into Indie-Rock as I got older, with bands like Bloc Party, Oberhofer; Two Door Cinema Club and Phoenix.
You are based out of Southern California. How important are the people and sounds of the area in regards to your own music?
I wouldn't say it's important at all. I will say this though: I am inspired by the amazing friends I have made as well as the amazing musician friends I have made. There's this band from my town San Bernardino, we're all really close homies; they're called Daise. Amazing musicians and dear friends of mine who deserve to be huge.
Do you have any gigs lined up? Where are you heading?
I have a record release show for III, this Saturday 4/21 at The Moroccan Lounge in Los Angeles, CA. Playing alongside Foliage will be underground favorites: Ruby Haunt, Harmless and TWEN. Tickets are on sale now. Hoping to tour throughout the year.
Anyone reading this and wants me to play in your city? Reach out to: email@example.com Upcoming dates: 4/21: The Moroccan Lounge (Los Angeles, CA); 4/27: Rialto High (Rialto, CA); 5/1: Brick & Mortar Music Hall (San Francisco, CA); 5/27: Weber Rations (Los Angeles, CA).
Will we see you come over to the U.K.?
I'd fuc*ing love that. Trying to make some big things happen this year. Hit me up: firstname.lastname@example.org
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
I hope to have achieved a secure career in music. I hope my record does super-well and my fanbase keeps growing as rapidly as it is. I hope all of my new fans will go back and check out my last two records because they WILL NOT be disappointed whatsoever. I've put a lot of time and care into all of these. I hope you enjoy and have enjoyed my growth throughout the years. I'm not done yet (smiles).
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music - one that sticks to your mind?
Foliage played High Sunn's E.P. Release Show for Hopeless Romantic last year in San Francisco at Bottom of the Hill. Justin and the band are very dear friends of mine. I met Justin in 2016; we toured around California. The release show was so beautiful but, what made the trip memorable, was a car ride with Justin. On our way to dinner, his parents' treat (so fu*king sweet of them), Justin had said: "I can't believe I’m sitting next to Foliage; Manuel Joseph Walker. Hahaha." I was like: "Aw man; I'm nobody special. Haha" - and he says to me: “Dude, you are my hero; I looked up to you for a really long time. I wanted to be you". Those words shattered my heart, coming from someone as amazing as Justin. I told him "thank you" and laughed and blushed...
We had a wonderful dinner with his parents, my band at the time and his band. We bid our goodbyes after dinner that night and it was so heartbreaking. When I got home; I had a High Sunn Hopeless Romantic E.P. to remember to the trip by and I placed it on my shelf in my room. I was listening to High Sunn as soon as I got home. I was explaining to my brother, Anthony, who plays bass in my band for live shows, The Conversation. Upon telling him what Justin said, I burst into tears. I couldn't stop crying for like two or three hours. Hahaha. I messaged Justin some heartwarming messages and texts telling him how much I love him and his family and how grateful I was to have a wonderful friend. Another time that really wowed me was becoming friends with Justin Vallesteros - Craft Spells himself. Super-inspirational to me when I started; loved that he was a lone-producer and musician.
He considers himself more of a producer than a musician, and I feel the same. We both love skateboarding, J Dilla and marijuana. Haha. My kind of guy. Messaging him the night before I released the first single of III, he told me that my guitar work has gotten "really f*cking good" and that I have even inspired him to pick up the guitar again. Huge moment of joy for me. What an awesome guy. We swapped demos and talked about the future and hanging out the next time in S.F.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Honestly; I don't even know. I really fu*k with chocolate chip cookies; so cookies could be one. Skittles are pretty dank too. Hahaha.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
DON'T GIVE UP. BE PATIENT. I've almost given up many times out of discouragement. It may seem a long way to the top but, if the music is good, it's good. Someone's gonna hear, eventually, and your hard work will pay off.
IN THIS PHOTO: BeerBelly Jake
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I tend to spend MOST of my days working on music but, recently, as the music gets more popular, I just find myself on the computer more and more often; talking to people, sending emails - stuff like that. I do give myself a lot of free time, though. I like to unwind by chilling with my homies and smoking many bowls of marijuana. Hahaha.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music, I'll do that)
Not a song, but this is my brother Anthony's debut E.P. - and his first hand at music. It's really good...and I recommend you listen.
Mineman is my favorite track
Thanks, Manuel (Foliage).