by M. Anthony Davis
I once read an article by Larry Mizell, Jr. where he quoted some famous guy who said “great music is often sparked by a revolution.” As I listened to “12th and Pine,” the new Marshall Law Band album that was birthed from the summer protests in Seattle, those words reverberated in my head. This album, the latest creation of the band that garnered national media attention during a six-day residency playing the soundtrack to protests outside of the East Precinct in Capitol Hill, was literally conceptualized, written, and recorded during the protests.
I ask Marshall Hugh, lead vocalist of the Marshall Law Band, how much of their album was complete before they played in the CHOP. He tells me bluntly, “Zero songs recorded. We had two concepts. Those two were the only ones that were like, formed. The other 10 were all concepts we had loose floating or we had jammed on the streets [of CHOP]. We went from CHOP to Guemes Island for four days. We wrote 10 new concepts, and then we went directly from there to Ballard with [producer] Jack Endino. With one setup, we played all the music over the first three days, got all the features in the other two days, then they brought in the choir and The Love Spreaders. And that was all within a nine-day span.”
Nine days may seem fast, but this album does not feel rushed. The care and detail in each track amplifies the call for justice and the recurring themes of life and love amidst a struggle for liberation and a reluctant leadership role that placed tremendous weight on the youthful shoulders of the band. This project feels meticulously crafted to punctuate everything the band experienced as they played live — while simultaneously finding themselves being audience members with a front-row seat to revolution.
Responsibility is a theme Hugh has faced for most of his adult life. He comes from a highly educated family that always had the highest of expectations for Hugh and his siblings. His father, a native of South Central Los Angeles, worked for Microsoft. One of Hugh’s sisters went to Stanford University and the other went to the University of Southern California. Hugh, who played high school basketball, football, and ran track at O’Dea in Seattle (and at Jackson High School in his hometown of Mill Creek), studied at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, where he also played basketball and football.
“My family was very persistent with academics and it was just expected that you’re going to get As at my house,” Hugh says. “When I got to Carnegie Mellon and it was like alright, I’m not going to the league. I’m not [playing with] thousands of people in the stands going crazy. We’re not playing for state championships and stuff. I started freestyling at parties with my friends.”
Hugh decided to pursue a career in music and came home from college with a one-way plane ticket after landing an internship at Kube 93. Hugh recalls the conversation where he broke the news to his mother in the song “Reel News,” where he raps, “Dear son I saw you on the big screen, CNN smiling with them big dreams, I hope you don’t lose faith in yourself, I raised you to play the cards you were dealt, I’m sorry momma, Ivy league drop out, yet my peers all proud of me, backpackers crowning me, I’m on like the Justice League.”
Hugh explains to me that Carnegie Mellon University was considered to be one of the “New Ivies” and that his parents took the news of him dropping out pretty hard. His father, who Hugh says was overall supportive, told Hugh if he wanted to follow his dreams he would have to do so while fully supporting himself. This led Hugh on a journey that included over two years of his minimum-wage “summer” internship with Kube 93 and living with a friend who was a student at the University of Washington. Their house was on Greek Row and they had a full cast of characters for roommates including one guy, Marty, who always listened to heavy metal music that would later become the glue for the Marshall Band.
After living on Greek Row and a few experimental releases like “Yoga Pants,” a track that had a video that Hugh has since scrubbed from the internet, Hugh moved out to seek a fresh start and a fresh perspective for crafting music. As soon as he left, he got a call from his old roommate Marty. He was invited to an open mic night. Hugh had lived with Marty for a year without ever seeing him play an instrument. At this open mic night, Marty, now known as saxophonist, Metal Marty, performed with the rest of the members who now make up the Marshall Law Band.
“Are you kidding me!” Hugh says of his conversation with Metal Marty after hearing him play for the first time. “You’ve been seeing me make beats on the computer for a whole year and you been just listening to death metal in your room? You never broke out a saxophone once!”
Metal Marty, who Hugh repeatedly calls the glue that stuck the band together, has some amazing moments on “12th and Pine.” One of my favorites is on “Atlas,” where Marty exchanges riffs with an equally impressive electric guitar. After the final chorus, in which Hugh chants about the weight on his shoulders, the saxophone and guitar take over and deliver a magnificent wave of funk to close out the track.
The album, “12th and Pine,” provides a beautiful mesh of rap, funk, folk, and country music that blends into a politically-charged repertoire of sound. The music feels good, even when the lyrics become pleas for structural accountability and justice for Black lives. “Mercy” is an interesting example of the intersection of genres within the album. On this track, Hugh raps to an instrumental line carried by Chris King playing harmonica. Sonically, the song has a country vibe, but it opens with a rap verse from Hugh depicting his own imperfections in his quest for liberation in the fight against oppressors.
One of the recurring themes in this album is leadership and the responsibility leaders face. The inciting event that led to Hugh being on the front lines of the protest was when he watched Omari Salisbury of Converge Media being gassed at the protest and screaming “Where is the leadership?” directly into the camera. Feeling like a potential leader himself, Hugh answered Salisbury’s call and used music as his contribution to the cause. One of the highlights of “12th and Pine” is a heartfelt monologue from another young person thrust into a leadership position during the protests: Dan Gregory, who was shot while trying to prevent a car from driving into protestors. In “Hometown Hero,” Gregory speaks over a solemn instrumental and calls for our community to love itself and to be caring humans.
Hugh grapples with his own responsibility as a leader throughout the album. On “Poor Man, Rich Soul,” Hugh discusses whether or not he is interested in a record deal. He notes the changes he sees in rappers who sign deals and instantly become unrelatable to the masses. He notes the need for money, but also the struggle for balance and his desire to remain grounded. Hugh demonstrates a great ability to creatively articulate this particular conundrum, but it is easy at times to get lost in the brilliant production with the sensual saxophone of Metal Marty wavering in the background. Asked about his leadership responsibilities, Hugh tells me, “If Summer Taylor’s going to lose their life over this, and Dan Gregory is going to take a bullet over this, then who am I to not pay sacrifices along the way? So yeah, I just know I’m gonna be a voice man. And I know that I have a responsibility to be the right type of voice.”
So far, Hugh is off to a great start. An excellent portrait of the Marshall Law Band’s experience in the CHOP, “12th and Pine” is a poignant expression of the emotional state of young people living through the summer of protest. Here in Seattle, we just passed day 150 of protests and the Marshall Law Band is still going strong, showing up when called upon to play their revolutionary tunes.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
Featured image courtesy of the Marshall Law Band.
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