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Bands to Watch 2015: Marshall McLean Band 

The Marshall McLean Band plants Inland Northwest Americana roots

click to enlarge KRISTEN BLACK AND CHAD RAMSEY PHOTO
  • Kristen Black and Chad Ramsey photo

Chances are, if you have even a passing familiarity with the Spokane music scene, you've heard of the Marshall McLean Band. This is an act on the cusp of something more — bigger stages, another album, a growing fan base; they were voted best original band in the Inlander's most recent Best Of issue, after all. For years, McLean has been a Spokane fixture, both as a solo act and a member of the folk-rock act Horse Thieves (2011 Band to Watch). While proud of his earlier work, he says he's truly come into his own in the last couple of years.

"I loved [Horse Thieves], and am very proud of what we accomplished, but I feel it was kind of 'early-20s' music," McLean says. "I'm just more comfortable in my skin now, and writing from a more inward-out space."

He's also evolved musically, due in no small part to the players he's surrounded by.

"Hooking up with Jamie really shaped the sound and pushed us in that Americana direction," McLean says. He's referring, of course, to Jamie Frost, the Spokane pedal steel wizard, who also shares the stage with Silver Treason and Cursive Wires. "I mean, it was always going to be me and my guitar, but that could mean a thousand different things. Jamie really opened the door."

For Frost, playing in a less-than-traditional Americana setting — as opposed to more straight-up country work — affords him opportunities to explore his instrument in unexpected ways.

"I run into different situations that I don't see in other bands," Frost explains. "Chords meld into one another in ways that I'm sometimes unfamiliar with and it can be a challenge to keep up with these guys. That's why I'm here though — I love these songs."

Bass player Justin Landis, who calls Sandpoint home, recalls their first meeting with a chuckle.

"I remember asking him to jam, and if you know Marshall, you know that he's not a very 'jammy' guy. But his stuff was like nothing I was listening to, and I immediately connected with the songs," says Landis.

That love of the material is a strong thread running through the band. Everyone seems to agree that the music is there to serve the songwriting. According to drummer Jesse McDonald, a Whitworth grad who joined the group in 2013, "It's fun to let the songs be the center. Marshall, his writing, his playing — that's the anchor with different augmentation around it."

Landis agrees but notes they like to change things up a bit.

"Sometimes when Jamie's not with us, we'll play as a three-piece, sometimes Marshall with play solo and other times we'll have a keyboard player," Landis says. "That being said, from a songwriting standpoint, it's totally Americana, but musically we try to have something else going on."

This combination of traditional instrumentation and Americana approach with more progressive sounds has found the band referred to as "Northwest Americana" in a few publications, something that McLean doesn't necessarily disagree with. But after a short pause, he qualifies that by saying "'Inland Northwest Americana' might be more appropriate."

"We haven't discovered a new sound or anything, but I think there's something to just being indigenous to where the music is born," says McLean. "We've made a kind of stronghold out of the Inland Northwest. It is an identity for us."♦

Marshall McLean Band plays Volume Sat, May 30, at 9 pm at Irv's Outdoor Stage • 415 W. Sprague • 21+

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