The Power of Music in a Time of Unrest: A Conversation with Marshall Law Band

Marshall Law Band © James Gerde
Through music, Marshall Law Band is lending their voice for systemic change in Seattle, but their message goes nation-wide, and Atwood Magazine spoke to the band to personally hear from the band how they’ve been doing it.

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A universal truth surrounding music is its innate ability to provide listeners with a sense of peace, uplifting people in the process. The power it possesses is simply nonpareil, and though everyone has their differences on what is listened to, the communities fostered from it are nothing short of miraculous. As the U.S. continues to navigate the turmoil over the unjust practices of law enforcement and deeply rooted systemic issues, community and healing are needed more than ever. For Seattle, Washington, Marshall Law Band has answered that call.

Something to Believe in – Marshall Law Band

A few years ago, Marshall Law Band began their start in the music scene, immediately setting themselves apart with their aroma of positivity and unity, something etched deep into their methodology. With their gorgeous blending of funk and hip-hop, the band never fails to energize a crowd, showing that the love goes both ways. It’s safe to say frontman Marshall Hugh took his joyful personality and translated it into music with ease, creating a sound one can easily be transfixed by.

That positivity is key for, and as protest across the nation began, Seattle took part. The neighborhood of Capitol Hill was an area of intense clashing with police, and during the start of those protests, the members of Marshall Law Band were there, lending their bodies to the cause. Over time, the precinct in the neighborhood had been effectively taken over. With law enforcement out of Capitol Hill, a new system was put in place: CHAZ, or the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

It was an area that focused on community and bringing people together, and one of the strongest ways of this was done by the power of music. Through live performance and volunteering, Marshall Law Band quickly became a leading voice in this movement. CHAZ then became CHOP – Capitol Hill Organized Protest – and with it came a larger presence for not only Hugh, but the band as a whole. Through all of the turbulence, Marshall Law Band stood resolute, providing the community with music to dance to, come together to, and to feel warmed by.

The band is continuing their push forward, still lending their sound to the movement and aiding where they can. When it comes to their mission, Atwood Magazine wanted a deeper understanding, and with many still confused about CHOP, we also wanted to help clear the air on what’s been going on. Dive deep into Marshall Law Band’s advocacy for police reform and systems change and how music is helping them achieve it in our interview!

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Listen: Marshall Law Band


Something to Believe In - Marshall Law Band

Atwood Magazine: Despite the obvious situation, how is everyone doing at the moment?

Marshall Law Band: We’re in the middle of a revolution, right? So it’s kind of one of these things where you sleep when you can, how you can. But we’re out here because we want change. We’re out there because there are clear demands to defund the police, fund the community, and free all protesters until they have their day in court. And until those things are met, it’s honestly like we’re soldiers on a mission, right? And you know, the way that we do that is through music.

That’s our task. That’s what’s been asked of us and that’s what our main goal is, but we here, you know? We’re excited, we wake up excited to come and put our life on the line to be out here with the people to demand that change occurs. And so we’re just happy to be able to bring our energy to this movement and to those demands.

When someone looks up CHOP or CHAZ to try and learn more about this movement, it’s quickly apparent that you have become one of the leading voices behind it, and I think it’s safe to say you and your band’s music have helped in bringing it to this level. When you see the positivity and scale of it all, what goes through your head?

Marshall Law Band: I mean, it’s just really… it’s really exciting. It’s one of these things where that was our intention; to spread love, to spread positivity, to spread joy, and to see other people embody and take on that type of love and joy… it’s just exciting. It’s encouraging, but the work is far from over. So again, it’s one of these things where, “Hey, that’s all fine and dandy, but our demands haven’t been met yet.” And so we have to continue to change the way we approach it.

We have to continue to play harder, play more frequently, find other spaces to play within other communities in order to galvanize, because, you know, this is a global thing. It’s not just here in CHOP. CHOP is amazing and this is cool, but when we were playing, just while people were out here battling it at the precinct, nobody knew people were going to set up shop here and create some sort of community. That’s cool, it’s a daily protest that’s here, but our job and our message is global.

We need the world to change. We’re tired of the police killing people. And, you know, you have to defund the police to fund the communities and to free all protesters, you know? So it’s cool, but we’re not content. We’re not excited about it, you know what I mean? And it’s because we feel that way that this is a real life or death situation and our time for revolution.

So until real change is met, tangible change, where they take the money away from the police and give it to the community… I mean, we’re still here hungry, upset, pushing towards change, so it is no time for a pat on the backs. It’s cool to see people respond well, of course, but you know, this is serious.

Marshall Law Band © James Gerde

It seems you have been involved in this movement since the beginning when the police clashing was at its peak. Did you imagine the end result looking something like this?

Marshall Law Band: No, not at all. I mean, honestly, I remember just being part of the protests and everybody being like, “yo, why do we want to walk past this precinct so much?” I didn’t understand the strategy, but, again, I’m not the strategist. I’m a musician, and I bring my talent and what I have to say on the stage, right? And I stand behind everything I say on the stage. Those are my talents. That’s where I shine. That’s where I’m able to galvanize and unite people.

I can come out here and try to, you know, play a different role, but that’s not my role, right? So as far as the strategy goes, and setting up shop, and those type of things, that was never part of it, as far as my understanding of being a musician and lending that to the movement. It happened, it occurred, and now, like anything else in life, we’re adjusting in real-time. It’s a daily protest that is clearly disrupting not only the city, but throughout the world, so it’s doing its job, right? It’s doing its job and it is bringing a light towards the issues at hand.

And everybody knows, the reason why CHOP started was because of Black Lives Matter and because of us wanting to defund the police and fund the community and free all protesters. That’s why we’re here. And yeah, people can say the message is this or the message is that but no – that is why I personally am here. That’s why we had a big, huge sign in front of our stage that said, “Defund the police, fund the community, and free all protestors.” So it’s one of these things where, “hey, here goes one of what should be 1000 protests happening all over our state.”

When it comes to spreading a message, music is often a strong contender to do so with compared to other vehicles like prose or poetry. What do you feel it is that music provides or elicits that these other formats don’t?

Marshall Law Band: Well, it’s the oldest, most widely spoken language in the world. People have been making music since the beginning of time, right? And so what it does is no matter what you and I think, no matter who you are, no matter our differences, a vibration can hit you and it can change who you are and your soul, it can change what you’re about. And that’s what we’re out here, trying to open up people’s heart toward learning, towards growth, and I….

*At this time, we were interrupted by a group of people chanting Bible verses at us*

Marshall Law Band: Man, those dudes are the same guys from a couple weeks back. They’re dedicated [laughs].

So they’ve been floating around day after day?

Marshall Law Band: Nah, man. More like hour after hour [laughs]. No, I mean, this is what it is, this is what it has become, you know? I mean, like, it’s become something where people of all kinds are here. But what that group doesn’t understand is that by them being here, they’re part of this process. Yeah, literally, no matter what anybody is doing here, the fact that they are here and disrupting society and disrupting people’s lives as a result of the message that we have here, they’re inadvertently, or advertently, helping.

You recently released “Something to Believe In” along with its video, and, to me, it’s such a great release for this point in history. It feels like it has taken on a new meaning with everything now going on. Like the song, do you feel Marshall Law Band has taken on a new identity of sorts?

Marshall Law Band: I mean, absolutely. If you go back and listen to any of our songs, it sounds like we wrote them pretty much today, right? It sounds like it’s… it’s encapsulating this energy in the moment that’s happening right now. And that’s because all of our songs were written with a purpose to uplift and inspire. So, you know, it’s really powerful to have those six songs that are out. I feel like those are resonating with people.

And them being like, “wow, they were about this before they were actually, actually about this” is incredible. Now, we have a new chapter moving forward with any music that we’ve released and a duty and due diligence, you know? We were in the studio last night as a unit, you know, making sure that my vocals match the energy of the times that are going on right now.

So our next release will be this song called “Black Panther.” We’re going to work with some of these outlets that have already been covering us to make it a global message. And that’s our next goal: it is to bring this whole operation, to bring this joy, bring this love that we have here and take it to the next level of a mobile platform to energize people and galvanize people the way we did here but this time to the world. Then, hopefully, you know, while Seattle’s doing their thing, the world is influenced and we converge somewhere in the middle and cities everywhere are changed, you know? And that’s what we’re about.

Another thing I’d like to really just point out is just that this is also simple economics. If you have an investment that is building diminishing returns, it makes sense to divest from that and put those funds elsewhere. Obviously, the investment of the police in this community is not working. It’s not what the people want. We need to divest it and reinvest it so that…

*We were interrupted again by the same group of people chanting Bible verses at us*

Marshall Law Band: People go hard here, man [laughs]. I might not agree with what they have to say, but they go hard and I respect it.

Watch: “Something to Believe in” – Marshall Law Band

Speaking of galvanizing people, your music has become a soundtrack of sorts to the movement, which honestly fits well with how positive your music has always been. What do you feel it is that has gravitated so many people to your funk and hip-hop sound?

Marshall Law Band: To me, it’s a representation of intersectionality, it’s a representation of where we’re trying to go, but we’re not there yet. Black Lives Matter is the heart, the catalyst, of this movement and of any movement that’s happening across the world, right? But Black Lives Matter also represents the systemic issues that affect people that have been disadvantaged of all kinds.

We’re talking about people experiencing homelessness, talking about POCs of any kind, we’re talking about women here, we’re talking about poor white people as well, and we’re talking about even lower-middle-class white people as well. All that is encapsulated in the struggle. And so our band, if you look at us, we have four POCs, you know, we have four white people, we got women that are part of the horn section – we’ve got any and everybody covered in it and a part of this, right?

So it’s just one of those things where it’s like “goodness gracious, we are the change that people want to see.” Our music, that blending of genres, the infusion of hip hop, a black person’s voice being amplified, and pushing, we are that… we are that. And so that’s why our music is relevant because we’re willing to stand up and put ourselves in harm’s way if necessary for this cause on top of us being a representation of intersectionality. That’s why our music is acting like the soundtrack to this revolution.

Compared to the shows you’ve played before, I’d imagine these performances have a different feel than compared to playing at Crocodile (a local Seattle venue). Have you seen a large change in the audience's reaction?

Marshall Law Band: It’s almost like people are hypnotized in the moment, right? They’re hanging onto every single word, every word that I say has so much importance and weight. And I understand that as well. So I’m really just real-time connected, and I’m seeing other people real-time connected. I’m seeing less people on their phones, less people on their cameras, and more people just like, “oh, my goodness, this person is so impassioned, and embodies so much with his speech,” you know what I mean?

So, this is the type of thing that we’re part of; you have to come here and do your job and I need to come here and do my job [laughs]. And, so, it’s a reality of what’s going on at CHOP. Crazy things happening over here, and you and I have to come out and continue to protest in a way that we protest.

At CHOP in Seattle, WA, a memorial for the POC killed © Adrian Vargas

Compared to when the band started a few years back, I’d imagine this was not exactly what you envisioned what it’d look like at this point in time. With that in mind, how do you feel this movement will influence the way Marshall Law Band will continue in the future, if at all?

Marshall Law Band: So you know what really is happening is that we’re called the Marshall Law Band, I dropped out of Carnegie Mellon to influence the world through our music and if anybody that knows me or knows us, no one is surprised. We’re all just like “wow it’s the time for you to show up and do what you do when you do it and how you do it.”

So, you know, for us, it’s business as usual. Our band is called the Marshall Law Band. We’re ready for martial law, we’re ready for the revolution. Our songs are head-on, you know? We talked about, you know, “you got that same dream up in my eye that my daddy had in LA/We watch and watch the riots/ now my city on fire from the latest protest/is weighing down my neck, I found my inner balance then focus on my talents, hothead/ everybody knows I came/I spit a scheme to make them shake up the brain.”

Three years ago, we wrote this. So we in the moment… we in the moment, moving as a unit.

For people still learning about this movement, about CHOP, what do you wish to tell them that many might still be confused by?

Marshall Law Band: We have to reiterate that we are here because they need to defund the police, fund the community, and free all protesters until they have they’re just due in court. That is why we are here, that is why CHOP exists. It is not a zoo, it is not a tourist attraction, it is not any of those things. Those are side effects of why we are here, but we are here for a reason, right?

And so I encourage anybody and everybody to either come see it for themselves or, if they don’t like what’s going on here and they don’t understand what’s going on here, understand the reasons why we’re doing that. Take that sentiment and go elsewhere and disrupt and create the change we wish to see. If someone has a better idea as to how to go about this, hey, we’re all ears.

We’re with every idea, we’re with everything, that’s what they need to understand. This is a protest, and here we are. This is a revolution, so feast your eyes. It’s not clean, it’s not pretty. It’s ugly, it’s confrontational, but this is revolution, and no one here is running from it.

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