Half of Americana, indie pop-rock hybrid Manuel The Band met up with us at Cafe 1909 in Long Beach, CA to discuss their single “Casual Love,” their experience rocking the Music Tastes Good Festival, and the importance of showcasing genuinity to your audience.
Manuel the Band is comprised of:
Manuel Grajeda-Vocals/ Guitar/ Bass
Brandon Charles Worth-Drums
George Madrid- Pedal Steel
Richard Fernandez- Trombone/ Percussions
Matt Kalin – Saxophone
Kevin Nowacki – Bass
So you guys have been riding the highs of the release of your single “Casual Love.” First off, congrats!
All: Thank you!
Also wanted to ask, what inspired the instrumentation and the lyrics?
Manuel Grajeda: So I was in a relationship…
Manuel: Yeah right? Shocking! *all laugh* But it was a relationship that kinda went south. Well, not really because we’re still actually really good friends and she knows the song is about her. Although, I don’t think she knows the point of view of the song, ah, that’s a whole other story! *all laugh* It’s funny though because some songs can take weeks, in some cases months, to get together, but that one kind of just fell out naturally at least in terms of the lyrics and the melody. I played around with it one night and was a little bit hesitant in how the direction was going because I had always thought it would be an acoustic song. But everything fell into place really quickly.
Brandon Charles Worth: Yeah, I don’t remember it being particularly a struggle. Everyone kind of came together and was like, ‘Oh yeah this needs a little something here, a little something there. How do we get from point A to point B?’ It all just kind of worked out from there.
Manuel: The anatomy of how the song came together! *laughs*
George Madrid: Song anatomy! *laughs*
Sounds like it could be a class!
Manuel: You’re right! *laughs* But yeah, that’s pretty much how the song came together. It moved along really quickly and just happened to work out exactly how we wanted to.
Have you considered also releasing an acoustic version of the song later on since you mentioned that you initially thought of it that way?
Manuel: Hmm, maybe.
George: Yeah, maybe like a coffeehouse session.
Brandon: Yeah, I think that artists should do many different versions of their songs, like maybe in instrumental piano or classical guitar, anything that embodies the song in another way.
Hit all of the different music tastes with one song!
Brandon: Yup! All of the genres! *laughs* But as long as it’s true and someone really likes it, whatever that version may be, then I think we succeeded.
George: “Casual Love,” in the style of Yo Yo Ma! *all laugh*
Brandon: That’s what we’re really trying to accomplish with the song. *laughs*
Manuel: Oh man, that would be awesome! *laughs*
Brandon: *turns to Manuel* Make it happen! *all laugh*
If you guys had an infinite amount of money to do for a music video for “Casual Love” right now at this very moment, what kind of video would you do?
Manuel: What’s funny is we actually just finished up the music video, but we unfortunately didn’t have an unlimited budget. *laughs* We used our own money, but we did it!
Brandon: Gosh, an infinite budget? That’s almost too difficult! *all laugh*
It’s like, ‘What do we do with all this money?’ *laughs*
Manuel: Yeah helicopters! And Chuck Norris skydiving! Oooh no, Chuck Norris scuba diving!
Brandon: Chuck Norris scuba diving out of a helicopter! *all laugh*
George: It would just be a weird music video, like, every second will just be a cut to something really expensive. *laughs*
Just because you can!
Manuel: Absolutely! *laughs*
Brandon: Maybe even in Paris or something, that’d be cool! Just some really cool city. I mean, Long Beach is a pretty cool city and that’s where we did it at. *laughs*
Manuel: Yeah, like, a really cool location would be cool. Underwater.
With Chuck Norris.
George: He’s going to be in every scene. Let’s be honest, it’s the story of him!
Manuel: With helicopters flying underwater. *laughs*
Would that be a scubacopter? *all laugh*
Manuel: *in superhero voice* Quick! To the scubacopter! *all laugh*
Now you guys just played the Music Tastes Good Festival in Long Beach, which is freakin’ awesome and I’m bummed that I missed it this year.
Brandon: Oh it was dope!
How did the opportunity come about for you guys and how was this experience different than that of other shows that you’ve done?
Brandon: I think the opportunity came from just being in Long Beach. Music Tastes Good is really cool because they allow the first few acts to be local Long Beach musicians. In terms of how is it different, there’s just a lot more to do in general. We were really able to maximize what to do while we were there. We had a bunch of interviews, we did Jam In The Van which was really great, and there was a lot of emails with like multiple people. *laughs* Generally with shows you’re really only dealing with one of two people, but with Music Tastes Good we were dealing with ten different people. So it was a lot more behind the scenes work than normal, but overall it was a really fun experience.
Manuel: Yeah it was really cool. I would say it was definitely one of the busiest things we’ve put together.
Brandon: There’s a lot of moving parts.
George: Yeah, but it was such an honor being in that celebratory phase in Long Beach to not only celebrate music but to also celebrate the food and the culture. The people there were just awesome.
Manuel: Yeah, you would just look out and see your friends and family in a big crowd of people. It’s just cool to be able to represent your city at the music festival in that city, you know?
George: Yeah, it was really special. And it was cool being able to hang out with some of the other artists that were there.
I can imagine! Especially because it’s a fairly large festival too.
Manuel: Yeah! I mean, it’s still pretty new, but this is the first year that they had some major acts come in. They had James Blake, New Order.
Brandon: Yeah, they were all really nice. We played the first day and they had us come back the second day. It was really fun and relaxing at the same time.
Manuel: Once we got there everything was stress free. Got our gear taken care of. That’s one of the biggest parts too is knowing where your gear is at all times
Brandon: Although we did lose a pedal board for a while there. *laughs*
George: Manuel The Marg was pretty good too!
Manuel: Yeah! We had a margarita named after us. *laughs*
Manuel: I could totally see hashtags of that going viral. *all laugh*
Let’s make this a thing! Everyone make #ManuelTheMarg go viral! *all laugh* Or formulate your own margarita mix.
Manuel: Right! *laughs* Actually, we totally should!
Brandon: That would be kind of fun! Put it on the checklist and we’ll get it done. *all laugh*
What other music festivals do you hope to perform at in the future? Local, large scale, international?
Manuel: Well, my personal dream, and think we’re all stoked about doing this one day is South By Southwest. ACL, Austin City Limits Fest, would be fun too. Man, it sounds like all we want to go to is in Austin, Texas. *all laugh*
Brandon: We could do the Joshua Tree Music Festival!
George: There’s so many of them. Coachella would definitely be one. Lollapalooza.
Manuel: Lightning In A Bottle.
Brandon: I feel like any of those festivals where it’s more than just music where there’s culture and many different parts allows you to be able to see so many cool things.
Manuel: I also feel like music festivals have weird names.
Brandon: Yeah. Like Bonnaroo and Sasquatch. There’s just tons of them. But I think for us, or maybe just for me, playing the Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a huge thing for me. You hear stories about artists crying just playing there and I’m from Colorado so that would be amazing to do one day.
And how important do you think it is to support not only local events and venues but also artists as well?
Brandon: I think in general supporting your community is great, because it brings you closer together with your community and with your neighbors. Long Beach is really good at that because it keeps everything small while also keeping the community alive.
George: Definitely. It really cool that as a community we all kind of know each other and are always willing to go out at support. And if you’re hanging out in the audience you get a little extra point for being there. *laughs*
Manuel: God I would kill for that point. *all laugh*
It’s like ‘Look at me! I’m here I’m here!’ *laughs*
Manuel: But yeah, it’s definitely cool and it’s a small community so if one band is doing something then we’re very supportive of them.
Do you feel like there’s a little bit of a differentiation between the Long Beach community and the L.A. community?
Brandon: Yeah probably, just because although we’re close in distance, we’re not going up to L.A. or they’re not coming down to Long Beach.That’s the whole thing where you have to commit yourself to do that and play for parking and such. So there’s definitely a divide there, but it’s close enough where we’re kind of bridging the gap I think. We get to see a bunch of cool venues down here and get see a lot more people.
Do you feel like there is some sort of unpublicized competition between the local music scene at all?
Manuel: I think it’s like a healthy competition.
George: Yeah, I think we all kind of boost ourselves up in a way. We’re not putting ourselves down for other bands, at least I don’t feel like we are. But I think now more than ever we’re trying to build ourselves up, especially when a lot of us are playing in different bands. We’re co-mingling a little bit more. Someone said it recently where it’s like a new artist Renaissance here in Long Beach and I think there’s something to that.
Manuel: We support mingling! *all laugh* I think Long Beach has definitely got its own music and arts scene going on and it’s really cool to be a part of that at this point in time. I think the bands that are around here see that and in turn there’s support for that. It’s awesome to watch!
Yeah! And you guys take part in your fair share of local music competitions. If you guys could choose to do your own music competition what type of contest would you do?
George: It’s tough, because I think we all have a different love-hate relationship with competitions. On one hand, they’re really cool because they make you focus, like, ‘How are we going to do this one thing really well for 15 minutes?’ But then you have some of us that are really into the competition aspect as opposed to the music, so it’s tough because it’s like, ‘How can you judge one style of music over another?’ If it was up to me, I think it would be who can put the best visual aspect to the music. That would be really cool. You think of the 60s and Pink Floyd where they had the crazy visuals. I don’t know if that necessarily means lights or projection or something, but I would love to see more of the visual side of the show aspect. *turns for Manuel and Brandon* How about you guys?
Manuel: Gosh, I don’t know man!
George: Brandon just wants to see drum-offs and that’s it. *all laugh*
Brandon: Yeah! Just drum solos!
There is a drumming competition with Guitar Center that’s so rad! The entire show is just one big drum solo. *laughs*
Brandon: It’s totally rad!
Manuel: Just 20 hours of drum solos. *all laugh*
Brandon: It’s what the people want man! *laughs*
George: We’re going to re-release our music with just the drums. *all laugh* It would be a B-side, a C-side would be saxophone and a hi-hat.
Brandon: I think for my musical competition though, at least here in Long Beach, it would just be all the locals acts and we’d see, like, who was actually putting on a show and showing their passion on stage. I mean, I know it’s hard to judge passion, but I think that’s what I would be focusing on for the competition.
Manuel: Mine is so subjective. *laughs* I would go with a lyrical competition.
Lyrics are important though!
Manuel: Yes, yes they are. But yeah, that’s what I would want to see which one I would like the best. *laughs* It would probably be the worst competition because it’s all my opinion and I probably shouldn’t be running it.
But isn’t that what lyrics are, just musical opinions?
Manuel: Yeah, but to vote on lyrics is just asking for a fight. *laughs* It would be super emotional.
Like, ‘Why don’t you like my lyrics?’ *all laugh*
George: Exactly! That’s like an 18 year old George saying, ‘You don’t like this?’ about my Philosophy paper. *all laugh*
Brandon: ‘What do you mean it’s a bad argument? I wrote this six hours ago!’ *laughs*
And it’s so funny that you bring up Philosophy because it’s like all opinions.
George: Totally! Everyone has their own thing about something. *laughs*
Manuel: That was your undergrad right?
George: Yup, I got my degree in Philosophy. Just opinions and thinking all day. Everyone’s got a perspective and they’re all different, it’s crazy.
So going back to how you got the chance to do Jam In The Van at Music Tastes Good. I mean, it’s super popular and everyone in music knows about it. How was the production aspect of this type of video different than that of a live recording or a music video?
Manuel: In a way it is a live recording, but in a smaller space. *laughs* Jam In The Van gave us an opportunity to have something that we can promote with and that allowed us to kind of get our shit together. I think bands really do struggle with trying to get all the things they need done because it’s just a lot. Only like 10% of it is actually playing shows and the rest of the time is, ‘Oh we need this, we need that, we need this, we need that…’ So Jam In The Van gave us a really really great opportunity to do a live recording and gave us good quality footage and gave us a chance to expose our music to a whole new audience on their YouTube channel.
Brandon: I mean, it’s pretty easy to do a good video and it’s easy to do good audio, but getting them both in sync is really tough. It was really cool to just let them do their thing and then let us do their thing because in the end we know it’s going to look really cool. Plus they’re really friendly and just really nice people.
George: Yeah. They were there to do their job and they did it well.
Manuel: We also got to invite some homies that we play with from time to time so they came to support us and we got to support them. It was really cool.
So we were all connected via Instagram, another big power player for reaching out to an audience. Do you feel that not only YouTube, but social media and music streaming are play a huge part in how artists are being discovered now?
George: Absolutely. Especially now that Instagram has now connected with Spotify where you can connect the song you’re listening to to your story. It makes me wonder if they would ever do that with YouTube. It would be so helpful.
Manuel: God yes! *all laugh*
Brandon: Yeah I mean, for better or worse those things are staying and it only helps us because we can connect with an audience. Nowadays, music is so niche that maybe someone in Montana can check us out on YouTube. They’re not going to a show, but maybe they can see something live from us.
Plus there’s live streaming now!
Brandon: Yeah there’s live streaming! It just allows you to kind of find your audience even if they’re not right there with you, you know?
George: Or say they couldn’t get a shirt from us at a concert, now they can IM us to something and they’re be able to get a shirt.
Manuel: We’ve got merch!
Brandon: We’ve got merch!
George: We’re in a band! *all laugh*
That’s when you know you’re really doing the music thing, when you have merch. *laughs*
Manuel: I don’t think it is, *laughs* but it is exciting getting your own stuff, like, ‘Oh wow, OK!’
Brandon: Like, ‘What do I do with all this?’ *laughs*
‘Aww shit I’m really doing this!’ *all laugh*
Manuel: It’s just so cool when you get your own tangible thing. It’s definitely a big step in what you would hope would be the right direction.
George: Our first batch of shirts were the ugliest things! *all laugh* We ended up just giving them away.
Brandon: They were blue with yellow writing, but it looked like it was a white sticker that just got placed on top to make it look better or something. *laughs*
Manuel: It was like racer style and I think the font was called ‘Blue Fish’ or something like that. *laughs* That’s not important, but it’s memorable!
And then it’ll be vintage!
Brandon: Target one day is going to re-make it. *laughs*
Manuel: It’s gonna be just as ugly. *all laugh*
Or you’ll be like, ‘Man! That was actually a really good shirt!’ *laughs* Target making things cool again.
Manuel: Target kills everything, like, in a good way. *laughs*
Do you think that social media makes it easier or harder for independent artists to break out?
Manuel: I think social media in itself is an art that artists kind of have to figure out. I mean, I’m still trying to figure this shit out. *laughs*
Once you figure something out then they change it all. *laughs*
Brandon: Always upgrading. *laughs*
Manuel: It’s a lot to keep track of, but I think it definitely helps you out and gives you chance to connect with people that are interested in what you’re doing. I think it keeps it somewhat personal until it doesn’t, like, when some artists hit a certain level then social media is a little bit of a wall. But I think for the time being when an artist is coming up, social media does allow for a personal connection, at least you hope it does.
I mean, that’s why we’re here now! *all laugh*
Manuel: Exactly! Something’s working.
Brandon: I think it depends on the personality of the artist. Some people are more outgoing while some might be a little bit more artistic and likes to show off the stuff that they’ve worked on. And then if you’re a sad little singer-songwriter it could be a little bit tough because it’s not natural for you, you know? But there’s just different types of artists and some things works for some people and some things work for other people. I keep thinking like if Nick Drake had social media, it would all moody and like, ‘The leaves are changing…my guitar broke…’
Manuel: ‘Thoughts?’ *all laugh*
Brandon: Yeah, it wouldn’t be very expressive. *laughs*
And how important do you think it is to have a balance between music related posts and personal posts for your audience?
George: No balance, just put everything out there. *all laugh* I mean, it’s good to have a balance, but we’re all just so busy that we don’t want to overdo it, if that makes sense.
Brandon: We want to be able to be like, ‘Hey! Here’s a show!’ and not have to be like ‘Are you coming? Are you coming? ARE YOU COMING??’ *laughs* We’ll tell them and if they show up cool and if they don’t oh well.
Manuel: I do most of the main posts for the Instagram page, I definitely try to get a little personal with it sometimes. Like, I love watching Star Wars conspiracy theory videos on YouTube *Brandon laughs* I’m just so addicted to them! *laughs*
I think with any fandom it’s like that or hardcore fans.
Brandon: And then you get into the rabbit hole of YouTube and it’s all downhill from there. *laughs*
Manuel: Yeah, I’ve jumped into the rabbit hole willingly. *laughs* One of my most recent posts was like, ‘Can Jedi or Sith blow up the planets using just the force?’ and I put that shit on our story for that day. *laughs* It’s not anywhere music related but I got it up there.
But it’s showing your interests and that you’re a real person. *laughs*
George: Yeah, showing our personalities. *laughs*
Manuel: Yeah, they say to do that. I’m still learning the game.
Brandon: I think if it’s just music all the time you might as well have a business running it. That’s what we’re trying to stay away from.
You’ll have to throw in some philosophical posts in there to get people’s brains hurting. *all laugh*
George: Oh man, the philosophy posts.
Manuel: Just do a ‘Philosophy with George’ series. *laughs*
Brandon: Sunday morning philosophy. *laughs*
Just do YouTube segments. *laughs*
Manuel: That’s actually a really good idea, I gotta right these down. *all laugh*
So a fun question, if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would they be and what would you name your tour? All of you guys could have separate answers if you want.
George: Can we do holograms?
Whatever your little heart desires! You can bring them back from the dead. They can be zombies. They can be fictional singers like from tv shows or something. *all laugh*
George: Aww man! I’ll keep it pretty recent so I’d say Radiohead, Tame Impala, and let’s see a third, Fleet Foxes maybe. I’ve seen them before and they’re really amazing.
Manuel: Who would open that show?
George: Well we’d open that show because we’re the ones on tour.* laughs* So it’ll be us, then Tame Impala, then Fleet Foxes, then Radiohead.
Manuel: That would be a great show.
George: Yeah! Plus I think it’s something a little different.
Brandon: Yeah, it’s a good little indie rock lineup. I like it.
Manuel: Yeah I like it too.
Brandon: So for mine we would start of course. And then I would probably say the Marcus King Band because I’ve been really diggin them lately, like, almost too much. *laughs* I really want the Foo Fighters to end it, but that second one I’m having a really hard time with, but I feel like I should get in a little Snarky Puppy in there. Yeah. That second one is a little if-y but I would be calling it the ‘Hoopla Festival.’ And Foo Fighters can go on for like three hours so it definitely need to be an all day thing.
I think they do that at Cal Jam.
Brandon: Yeah! Aww man and if they did Nirvana songs too…ah it just gets me hot thinking about it! *all laugh*
Manuel: And for mine, like, we would open because it makes sense and we’re warming up the crowd. Then I would say Dispatch would be the next one followed by Young The Giant and then, of course, John Mayer. Do you hear that John?
Brandon: John…John Mayer…please take him with you! *all laugh*
Manuel: And I would call it the ‘Clean Yourself Up’ Tour. *laughs*
George: I like it. I’d go to that tour.
And which bands and artists have influenced you as a band and also as individual musicians?
Manuel: The three I just named are pretty much influencers for me. I think when I started the band it definitely had more of a John Mayer feel. He’s my idol.
George: Yeah, I think John Mayer and Young The Giant are a close combination of sound to ours.
Brandon: Sometimes when we jam it’s a little like Dave Matthews Band, like, that band sound. Individually I’ve been digging some Graham Parson stuff, I’m a big Elliott Smith fan, but I like a lot of jazz people too and I’m trying to incorporate more of that stuff into my playing. But overall I think it just depends on what mood you’re in.
Manuel: Yeah totally. We’ve got sad songs, we’ve got happy songs, we’ve got middle-of-the-road songs.
All the emotions, covering them all! A song for every mood! *laughs*
Manuel: I hope so! Except for ‘grumpy,’ no one like those. *laughs*
George: And birthday songs, no one like those! *all laugh*
Brandon: I haven’t heard him sing it once!
Manuel: Not once! Never heard him sing a birthday song!
You don’t sing happy birthday to anyone?? Are you a human?? *all laugh* What are you??
Brandon: Robot? *all laugh*
Apple sent us a robot! I knew it! *all laugh* And how do you balance your personal lives with your musician lives?
Brandon: You don’t. *all laugh*
The true answer!
Manuel: I mean, it’s hard and it’s a lot of work. I think you’ve just gotta try and hope it goes pretty smoothly. There’s definitely been sometimes where i would send out a text about a show and people will be stoked about it, but then the day of they’ll be like, ‘Shit! I totally forgot about this thing!’ But that doesn’t happen very often.
Brandon: For me, scheduling and calendars are a huge help in making sure I don’t overbook myself. Also taking one of those random days to just do all your housework is always nice.
George: We’re very active through text message as well.
Manuel: Almost too active.
But is it full of memes and gifs? *laughs*
Manuel: Nah, mostly just pictures of our bass player Kevin. *all laugh*
Brandon: The many faces of Kevin!
Manuel: Yeah! I totally save those too! They’re hilarious! *laughs*
George: Aww man, he made this great face *demonstrates facial expression* and I was just dying laughing!
Brandon: I asked him to take a picture of me and he ended up taking a selfie, like, two or three times. It was like, ‘Oh, that’s not you?’ *all laugh*
Just make a calendar, a Kevin of the month calendar. *all laugh*
Manuel: Yeah, Kevin is hilarious and he’s just a sexy human being. We just have so many inside jokes.
As with any good friendship should. And then they come back around after many, many years later. *laughs*
Manuel: Exactly! And that’s what I love about our band is that we have group dynamic that’s just awesome so we just have a bunch jokes flying around everywhere. It’s nice that everyone gets along. There’s a crazy spectrum and all of kind of fall on it in some way. *laughs*
I think everyone has a crazy spectrum, some people just don’t like to embrace it. And then other people embrace it too much. *laughs*
Manuel: This is true. *laughs*
Brandon: That’s where I lie. Just gotta take a step back real quick to take a look at my life. *laughs*
And what do you hope your audience away from your music?
Brandon: I think with anyone who listens to music has those songs that they listen to that just really gets to them. It just takes you back to what you were thinking or feeling the first time you heard it. We want to make a whole bunch of songs like that, so we hope that they’re able to be a part of someone’s life.
George: Yeah, I want them to have a connection when they see a show. I want them to be entertained and satisfied in some way afterwards like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to see them again!’ not even 30 seconds after seeing us. The thing is they’re ready to see us again, and that’s the feeling I want to instill in people.
Brandon: Like, you remember those shows that you go to where you’re like, ‘Damn, that was amazing!’
Manuel: Like, ‘That was nuts!’
George: Yeah exactly, where you’re just high on the drive back from how amazing the show was and when you feel it when you get home still. Those are the things you remember.
Manuel: I feel like I’m in between those two things where I want them to have a sense of nostalgia from the songs and a high from the show.
And apart from new music, what kind of exciting things should we be expecting from you?
Manuel: We’ve got a music video coming out soon. We’ve got some new tunes that we’ll be dropping in 2019 and those will be cool. And then hopefully we’ll have some more festivals on the list as well.
George: We’re looking to branch out a little bit more with where we play. We’ve been doing really well in Long Beach and in the desert like Indio and Palm Springs, but we want to move up to L.A. a little more and be more consistent there. Then hopefully we’ll be able to do some kind of tour. That would be really fun. Although *points to the other members* being in a van with these guys.
Brandon: We’re Manuel The Band and we’re jamming in the van! *all laugh*
About Cafe 1909:
Hidden in the nooks and crannies of Long Beach lies Cafe 1909, a place that you’ve probably passed by and said to yourself, “Oh, I should check that place out.” From the outside, you would think this is a tiny little place that has only three places to sit. However, you would be pleasantly surprised that not only is there multiple tables and couches scattered along its open floorplan, but there is also a conference room perfect for study sessions or business meetings.
Cafe 1909 successfully turned a space that could have easily have been a small commercial office into a place where Long Beach residents (and visitors like myself) are able to relax or work in a relatively peaceful setting. So what are you waiting for? Head over there already!