In the visual age of Instagram, listeners can often tell loosely what a band sounds like based on how they look. With one look at a band, it’s generally easy to tell the heavy metal groups from the synth-pop duos and the punk rockers from the rap collectives. But if the artist in the photo is Long Beach’s Manuel the Band, you’re probably going to be left more perplexed than had you not seen them at all.
From the mountain of curly hair on top of drummer Brandon “Fro Bro” Charlesworth’s head to the fire behind the glasses of veteran jazz saxophonist Matt Kalin, each member of the sextet looks like they belong in an entirely different genre of music. Independently, they all sound just as different as they appear, but somehow the diverse hurricane of music swirls around frontman (and namesake) Manuel Grajeda’s indie rock sensibilities for a very danceable and soulful blend unlike anyone else who ever shares a bill with them.
“We get a lot of people at the shows who come up and tell us that they didn’t know what we were going to sound like because there aren’t too many bands that have two horns and a pedal steel guitar player,” Kalin says. “It’s a really unique sound, and we’re an actual band behind Manuel’s insane voice — which isn’t always the case.”
With multi-instrumentalist George Madrid’s unorthodox approach to the pedal steel guitar and Kalin teaming up with Richard Fernandez to create a horns section that would make most jazz or ska bands jealous, it’s no surprise that Manuel’s picked up steam all over Southern California since finalizing their current lineup about a year ago. But this weekend marks the group’s biggest achievement to date, as they’ve landed a prime spot on the third annual Music Tastes Good lineup in their own backyard.
“For us, Music Tastes Good is a huge thing,” Grajeda says. “This is our city, and we love living here and being here. We want to represent it with our music any way we can, so to have our first music festival appearance be here in Long Beach really hits home.”
After all, the band wouldn’t even exist if Grajeda and Charlesworth hadn’t originally met at Long Beach City College a few years ago. From there, the duo performed together in a couple of other groups that quickly flamed out before deciding to put together their own band almost two years ago. As the drummer recalls, their initial requirement was just to bring in people they enjoyed spending time around whether or not they were actually making music.
“We wanted to be around a bunch of musicians who we liked hanging out with as much as playing with,” Charlesworth says. “George Madrid was the first step, and then we met Matt [Kalin] at the wine bar down the street, and it just kind of came together where we all enjoyed playing together.”
Over the last two years, Manuel the Band has grown both in size and in confidence. Grajeda used to shy away from talking into the microphone between songs — so much so that he’d avoid even announcing the band’s name — but now each of the members has become comfortable enough onstage that it’s not uncommon to see an improvised jam session or an extended solo when someone’s really feeling the groove. For that matter, being able to build off of each other’s freestyles has become a driving force behind the band’s memorable live shows.
“I think there’s a funny selfishness to [performing live] because someone else will do a solo, and you’re like ‘Oooh, alright now what have I got?’” Grajeda says. “We really feed off of not only the energy from the crowd but the energy of each other. That’s something you can’t just replicate anywhere, and it’s a really beautiful chemistry.”
Manuel the band perform at Music Tastes Good Saturday, September 29 at 12:55 (Gold Stage), for tickets and full info, visit the festival’s website.
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.