Cami Bradley, Marshall McLean and more local musicians look back at the trials and tribulations of 2020

Marshall McLean returned in 2020 with new attitude, and a Christmas song. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Marshall McLean returned in 2020 with new attitude, and a Christmas song.

Now's the time of year when we look backward as well as forward, taking stock of the past and projecting into the future. As for 2020, not everyone wants to think back too far, but we asked some folks from the Spokane music scene to reflect on the last 12 months, as well as the new projects they're releasing in the waning moments of the year.

"The world went on pause"

It was back in March that Cami Bradley was about to unleash a new project called Carmen Jane, introducing a darker, more synth-driven pop sound and starting plans for a tour.

Then lockdowns started happening. And then Bradley's father died after a long illness, and everything came to a halt.

"I was not only grieving, but we were scrambling to try and figure out what we were going to do," Bradley says. "The whole world went on pause, including me, and I would say it took me probably a month or two to kind of climb out of the sadness of it all."

She decided to push the Carmen Jane release date to September, knowing that the prospect of hitting the road was out of the question, anyway. She also reworked several of the songs, which became even heavier to reflect the pangs of loss that came with a turbulent year. It was nice to retreat into the writing process, Bradley says, even without the kind of spontaneity that comes from being in a studio.

"I think that there was like a facade for a lot of people looking at musicians — like, 'You have all this time; you get to write all this music,'" Bradley says. "But we didn't have all of the resources that we normally do, which in some ways was good, because I had to morph my music."

Three Carmen Jane singles — "FUN," "Your Madness" and "Numb" — have dropped this year, and more will follow. It's been a rough year, admittedly, but Bradley says she's encouraged by the local support she's seen, and not just within the music scene.

"Look at our community banding around local music and restaurants and businesses, and just being awesome. Spokane seems to be that, especially in times of crisis," Bradley says.

"What we're made of underneath"

click to enlarge Spokane rapper Jango. |Cristobal Arellano-Camacho photo
Spokane rapper Jango. |Cristobal Arellano-Camacho photo

It's been a long time since the Spokane scene has heard from Marshall McLean. One of the most popular singer-songwriters in town, McLean had taken a break from making music well before venue closures and restrictions of in-person gatherings.

But it wasn't until the reality of the pandemic set in that the overwhelming sense of confinement and loneliness soon followed, McLean says. It was around that same time that a switch flipped: He needed to lighten up a bit.

"In the past, I felt like all the songs had to be this crazy manifesto about my deep longings and pain, and I've mined and explored and ripped up all the diamonds out of it," McLean says. "I think [the pandemic] has really caused a lot of artists to really dismantle themselves and build themselves back up again, kind of figure out what we're made of underneath."

That blithe spirit comes through loud and clear in McLean's newest release, the cheeky holiday song "For Christmas, Just Get Me a Beer," which he performed during Lucky You Lounge's livestream Christmas special. It was born of a jokey jingle he'd sing around the house, but its attitude reflects the general malaise a lot of us are feeling around this time of year.

And now that he's back in writing and recording mode, McLean says his next focus is on his once-defunct Americana band Horse Thieves, which he has reformed in recent months.

"When everything started unfolding and tearing apart, the isolation for me was really tough. And I just found myself reaching out to old friends that I hadn't talked to in a while, calling people on the phone and talking like we used to," McLean says. "The music in my life is really only as good as the friendships in my life."

"Like a time capsule"

As he chats with the Inlander, Spokane hip-hop artist Jango is heading over the pass to Seattle, where he'll be appearing in a music video with Seattle-based artist Macntaj. Of course, video sets don't quite look like they used to.

"Typically, the more people, the merrier," he says. "But we're having to re-strategize and rethink our shoots and our treatments for these videos, because we can't have that many people [on set]."

In the first months of 2020, Jango had planned to put out new music in the summer. That project was pushed back, and what dropped instead was October's Espresso & Soul, recorded during the pandemic. As he describes it, it's about "the experiences, the emotions and the trials and tribulations I was going through during this pandemic, condensed into a three-song tape." It tackles the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and the mental stresses of living in a world that's gone into lockdown, but it's also designed as a testament to Black excellence.

"Each body of work is like a time capsule," Jango says. "I'm taking the time to be like, 'OK, I'm gonna expose this part about myself. I'm gonna get this out.' There are definitely some topics where I might question if I'm being a little too personal, but at the end of the day, I always feel a sense of relief, getting things out."

It's the live performances he really misses, he says, and you need look no further than his energetic appearance on a November Lucky You livestream to know that the guy was made to be on a stage.

"I really want to be able to give my fans that experience again," he says. "I really want to be able to connect to them in a face-to-face way."

"I'm looking at 2025"

One of the busiest figures in the Spokane scene, Ryker is a true multi-hyphenate — a manager-mentor-entrepreneur, if you will. It's not much of a surprise, then, that her focus throughout this pandemic has been on the business side of things, and also on the artists themselves.

"We may lose a few restaurants, and we may lose a few venues. But I don't think people realize we're going to lose artists," Ryker says. "There's going to be bands and artists that do not survive this lack of shows, lack of revenue, lack of ability to move."

Back in March, when it became clear that most of the artists she represents would lose a part of their livelihood, Ryker says she went into hyperdrive — major projects went on the back burner, while side hustles became main focuses.

"I thrive on the idea that there's a next step after this step," she says. "But I've had to really focus on how to keep these artists motivated ... and keep a watchful eye over their mental health. There's a therapy to live performance for them. There's a therapy to being connected to fans. Some of these guys are in it just for that. That's their drive."

That has been exhausting, she admits, but it's sort of standard operating procedure. And it's not enough for her to already be looking ahead to 2021: "I'm looking at 2025," she says.

By then, she hopes that local scenes have built themselves back up again, and have strengthened ties with the artists that keep those scenes moving.

"There's so much more to this than making music and doing a few concerts. And I think 2020 really brought that to light," Ryker says. "These artists have a chance to be great, and for the community to support that greatness."

"I swept away the cobwebs"

The first six months of the pandemic hit Dylan Black pretty hard. The musician, who performs gothic and glittery dance-pop under the moniker Soul Man Black, had lost his server job because of restaurant shutdowns, and he spent most of his time sitting around the apartment, not seeing anyone or doing anything.

But then summer arrived, and a fog lifted. Black decided to go back to school, studying audio engineering at Spokane Falls Community College.

"I swept away the cobwebs and was like, 'I'm going to try and make the most out of this that I can,'" Black says. "When this is over, I want to have a little something to show for it."

He also started making music again. The first new Soul Man Black project was a music video for the song "Better (Than You)," released in September. Now there's a new album in the works, the second installment in a planned trilogy that began with last year's Free Soul. It'll keep the same dreamy, synthy sound, Black says, but it'll be thematically richer and more mature.

And now he's planning for a virtual Soul Man Black show, his first live performance in months. It will livestream through the Soul Man Black Facebook page on Jan. 1, a day before his 26th birthday. He's used to doing things as a one-man band, but in the last few months, Black says he's found that he's been more collaborative than ever — without the spotlight leaving him, of course.

"There's [more] camaraderie, people willing to collaborate and find creative ways to get the same job done in more affordable ways. Everybody's in a pinch," Black says. "The last three months or so have been finding new ways to do the things I love to do. I'm the busiest I've ever been, really." ♦

[Update: The story has been changed since it went to print to more accurately reflect where Soul Man Black's live show is appearing.]

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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.