I first heard the Marshall Law Band's music through a cloud of tear gas in the early hours of June 8, and I last heard it in front of the East Precinct a few days later, after Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered the cops to remove the barricades near 12th and Pine.
The band, led by an apparently permanently sunny frontman, Marshall Hugh, fired up protesters for a few days before taking a step back to let the CHOP play out. The vibrant conversation cafes, makeshift cultural centers, and budding mutual aid tents eventually succumbed to in-fighting and gun violence, and the city swept the protest zone after multiple shootings led to the deaths of two teenagers, Lorenzo Anderson and Antonio Mays Jr.
The band has since condensed their experience at CHOP and funneled it into a new album named for the intersection where it all went down, 12th and Pine, which was released last month.
Hugh's sound juxtaposes his precise, over-pronounced rapping style against the easy rhythms of a more relaxed jam band and the occasional funk banger. The music's mood swings capture the heady hope and the painful tragedies (if not the weird, sort of militant freshmen orientation energy) of that summer.
The record sounds great, thanks in part to producer Jack Endino, a living legend (and self-described "studio rat" over at Soundhouse Recording) who also worked on albums with Nirvana, 7 Year Bitch, Soundgarden, and Mud Honey.
A little over a week ago Hugh called from Los Angeles to catch up and talk about the album. The band had traveled south to play a livestreamed concert at Jam in the Van, to shoot a music video, and to take meetings with people in the music industry.
Though illustrator Pierre Roset designed the album art to look like a newspaper, Hugh said the band didn't seek to document the CHOP days so much as they sought to create "an experience" for listeners that would inspire them in the way parts of the CHOP experience inspired the band.
"It's trying to show people how they can apply their passions and their strong-suits to the movement in order to help the movement get the change we seek," Hugh said.
It's perhaps worth repeating the movement's demands: Defund the Seattle Police Department by 50% at least, invest that money into Black communities, free all protesters, #NoNewYouthJail, and push for Durkan's resignation.
The attempt to use the band as a catalyst for activism (and charity) didn't start with the CHOP. Before the lockdown, Hugh said the MLB would often play benefit shows, such as the Emerald City Gala, to raise money for the homeless. For the last three years they've also partnered with Seattle Cozy Connections to help run a food and clothing drive at Occidental Park. This year they're asking people to fill backpacks or duffle bags with "whatever they believe a person in need would need—socks, gloves, warm jacket, blanket, etc." The band will then pick up the packages outside contributor homes or at pre-arranged drop-off locations, and then "a small group will safely distribute on Christmas Day," Hugh said.
Hugh recognized handing out food and clothing to vulnerable people during a pandemic carries a risk, and said the band plans to wear masks, face shields, and gloves. "The way we see it, people who are houseless don’t have the luxury of going inside and waiting this thing out, so we're coming to them," Hugh said.
To "keep the movement going" on their end while Seattle protesters keep the conversation alive in the streets, the band has also found ways to continue playing shows live despite state orders limiting large gatherings during the ongoing and increasingly deadly pandemic.
A few days before the album dropped earlier in the fall, Hugh called up a few members of the Fremont Arts Council and asked if they "had an extra float lying around." As it turns out, they did. They sold Hugh the float for a dollar and made him, he half-joked, "one of three Black venue owners in the City of Seattle."
Hugh, the band, and some friends decorated the "jellybean," as he calls it, and used the trailer as a portable venue. (That's all above board, permit-wise, he assured me. Freaky white pastors on a mission to profit from the latest surge of Black Lives Matter protests may want to take note.)
Over the last several weeks the band played at Westlake in honor of the 150th straight day of protests in Seattle, at a jam session outside the ferry terminal, and at the impromptu celebration at the Black Lives Matter mural following the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
The MLB has released one music video so far for "Louder (Black & Proud) Feat. Nobi," and they plan to release another one for "Reel News" closer to the inauguration, when they expect "the media to be under intense scrutiny again." The video, directed by Justin Frick, riffs off the Anchorman aesthetic as the song roasts TV news—both Fox News and CNN—for sensationalizing the CHOP. Hugh said the song is "about finding the truth," which isn't always so easy to do in an environment where so many bottom lines depend on easy, flashy narratives.