Marshall of the Marshall Law Band lighting sage as he played for a crowd in CHOP last week. James Gerde
As the Seattle Police Department and National Guard stood at the intersection of 11th and Pine in the early hours of June 8 facing groups of protestors, the notes of what sounded like The Cranberries’ “Zombie” could be heard over the sound of chants and police announcements.
From my perch inside Stranger World Headquarters where my coworkers and I were still recovering from the tear gas and pepper spray thrown by the police, I remember asking my editor—”Is that live music?” Given the tense situation outside and the dispersal order issued by SPD, it seemed improbable for a band to stick around and riff for hours after.
But as it turns out the Marshall Law Band—who had been playing on the 11th and Pike stage for several days of the protest—stuck the fuck around, acting as either the trio of musicians that played as the Titanic sunk or a military band determined to galvanize the troops, depending on your perspective. And that Cranberries song? It was actually an original of theirs called “Kleos” that uses the riff from “Zombie”‘s chorus. For me, it was a saving grace, a kind of levity to focus on in a moment of fear and uncertainty that night.
For bandleader and Seattle native Marshall, the thought of abandoning the stage on June 8 was not a question. Propelled by the murder of George Floyd and the recent loss of two friends to police violence, the band was determined to play at the Seattle protest no matter what might have come their way.
Marshall Law Band playing in CHOP after SPD left their East Precinct building. JK
“I’m not very good at taking rubber bullets to the chest. I’m not very good at screaming at police,” Marshall told me over the phone recently. “But I am good at saying powerful things on the microphone that can cause people to think and even change their behaviors.”
Music has always had its place in protest—from Bob Marley bringing together two political rivals at the One Love Concert or Mahalia Jackson singing at the March on Washington in 1963—and Marshall believed his band’s presence could provide a similar balm for those that needed it. Marshall said that the band is rooted in revolutionary music, blending hip-hop and rap with a kind of funky, jam-band-y glaze.
Though the members had participated in the Capitol Hill protests as individuals, Marshall was spurred to start performing with the band after watching Converge’s Omari Salisbury get gassed by police on his livestream with 4,000 people watching. Salisbury’s calls for leadership inspired the band to come down and play for however long they felt they were needed.
With the list of three demands written on a board next to their stage—defund the police, fund the community, free all protestors—Marshall Law Band played for nearly a week for more than four hours at a time.
Marshall said they often acted as deescalators and security in addition to playing onstage. Marshall is an indefatigable and charismatic presence on stage that seems particularly apt for playing during a protest. “We really found ourselves building a community amongst people that were there, day in and day out,” he said.
Committed to not repeating any song, their sets turned into jam sessions. Most memorably, for me, was their jam around the “Black Lives Matter” chant, which they played during the June 8 confrontation with police and subbed in different words for “lives”—boys, girls, gays, trans, etc.
“It’s not good enough to get incremental freedom just for the straight black male community,” said Marshall. “We need to address the patriarchy and the homophobia and transphobia within our own sphere, as well.”
During the June 8 police confrontation, Marshall told me the band did get gassed, but “nothing worse than who was on the frontline.” They continued to play into the early morning hours, their voices hoarse and fingers sore from playing nonstop for almost a week straight.
After resting and coming back the next day to the newly christened Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, Marshall remarked that the “battle for the Hill created a convergence zone of hope” and felt energized to see the site of state violence turned into a place of healing for everyone involved.
Though they’ve played a couple of times inside CHOP, Marshall said the band is taking a step back to make space for other young people and artists of color to make their mark and have their work talked about—though they’re always down to come to CHOP and give the area some Marshall Law Band energy if called for.
“What we’re hoping that CHAZ or CHOP or Free Capitol Hill stands for is that each and every person has a role and has a place in this,” said Marshall. “No matter what skin color you are, no matter what beliefs you have.”