“(Hi, I’m Azaria! I’m here for the next ten months to help Olivia tell this story!)”
“Inspired by Isadore” is part of a larger work-in-progress called “This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane, 2021-2022.”
With “Inspired by Land Conservancy,” Olivia Brownlee marks the halfway point of her 10-song project dedicated to Spokane. In my last post, about “Inspired by Hello From a Stranger,” I talked a little about how, over the course of the last few months, I learned that it doesn’t take much for Spokane’s various creative communities to meet and meld together.
While watching the “Inspired by Land Conservancy” recording session, I added another lesson to the list: Olivia has a sixth sense when it comes to picking collaborators.
“Inspired by Land Conservancy” features vocals from Heather Montgomery, Pat Robinson and Liz Rognes.
Olivia met Liz while working on Madeline McNeill’s “The Sirens.” As Liz recalls, she walked into the first rehearsal in tears because she was dealing with some tough personal issues and was immediately welcomed by Olivia.
“We were supposed to work on this project together, which we did, but first we had this moment of deep connection, comfort and welcoming,” Liz said. “It was so sweet.”
Olivia and Pat had a similarly instant – though louder – connection. Pat and Olivia happened to be in the same coffee shop in Otis Orchards.
“This gal picks up her cup of coffee at the counter and a Beatles song comes on and she starts singing and I sang the harmony with her and she goes, ‘I need to know you,’ ” Pat said.
The pair talked over coffee and eventually Olivia invited Pat to perform with her at Left Bank Wine Bar. She has since performed at Rockin’ B Ranch at Olivia’s request and continues to step in with her from time to time.
Liz roped Heather, who she sings with in Le Donne, a choir through Spokane Area Youth Choirs, and in Betsy Rogue alongside Jerilynn Harris, into the project, so she and Olivia met for the first time during the “Inspired by Land Conservancy” recording session. According to Olivia, though, it was only a matter of time before they met.
“In Spokane, all of the musical personalities circle each other for a long time sometimes before they ever meet,” she said. “It’s a small enough town that eventually you can end up meeting almost everybody, especially if you get to do collaborative projects like this.”
Neither Liz nor Heather knew Pat before meeting at producer Carey Brazil’s studio, W3B, but the trio quickly fell into a rhythm with one another as they worked through the lyrics and melody with Olivia. After the recording session, Pat succinctly explained how that happened.
“It’s music. It’s a language,” she said. “We’re speaking the same language. That’s all it is. You don’t even have to speak the same verbal language to play music together.”
Later in our conversation, Pat said a song like “Inspired by Land Conservancy” puts a musician on their “pinnacle of awareness,” a sentiment shared by Liz and Heather.
“I feel like that’s where the magic happens,” Liz said. “When we come together not knowing each other, not even knowing the piece super well, but we all have to really quickly all be on the same page.”
“Inspired by Land Conservancy” began to take shape at Spring on the Rim, an event Olivia was invited to as she works at Northwest Mediation Center, which shares a building with Inland Northwest Land Conservancy.
At the event, Olivia noticed a musician was performing and approached Philanthropy and Communications Director Carol Corbin, who was helping guests sign up for memberships. She asked if she could trade a musical service for a membership, a swap to which Carol quickly agreed.
“It was really well-timed…,” Carol said. “I’m always looking for different and creative ways to tell stories about why land and water are important and why they’re meaningful, and I believe that art is one of the most powerful tools to use for that, so I love being able to connect with people who write poetry or who paint or who draw or take pictures. So when she said ‘write a song,’ it’s like ‘Oh yeah, of course.’ That’s a great way to talk about why land is important and how people connect with this place.”
Olivia debated writing about the Spokane River before getting a booklet about the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer and adding words like “colonnade” and “rhythmite” to her vocabulary.
“That’s the joy of writing a song like this because you make it really accessible until this one word, and you’re like, ‘Wait, what is this one word? How am I supposed to feel when this is being used as an analogy?’” she said.
Musically, Olivia has cleverly captured the meandering nature of water, thanks to several rounds of the phrase “Trickle, treacle, tickle, too, I’m falling back in love with you.”
Olivia admitted to Heather, Pat and Liz that the phrase was gibberish, but she wanted to write something that families could listen to and sing together, without children (or adults) having to worry about getting the lyrics exactly right.
Instead, Olivia wanted the song to further what Carol told her was the most important part of the Land Conservancy – helping people fall back in love with nature.
Tying everything together was producer Carey Brazil, who previously worked with Olivia on her song “Don’t Tell the County.”
“It was one of the first songs that I wrote in this idea of ‘I am an artist and it makes sense for me to take inspiration from the things and entities and people and businesses that are around me,’ ” she said. “It’s fun to come full circle around to people that I recorded with four or five years ago but just have this opportunity now to feature in more light.”
Carey has been a recording engineer and producer for 20 years. He is usually drawn to Americana musicians, but he’s especially inspired by any artist who has a story to tell.
He recently worked with a young musician named Sky, the son of a woman he performed with in the ‘80s. Carey said though Sky didn’t have any money, he was talented and needed a break, so he was happy to help record Sky’s CD.
“At a certain point in time, you’re supposed to be giving back what you received after all these years,” he said. “It’s time for me to give back and really empower somebody younger or a friend.”
In exchange for that yearlong membership, Olivia is giving back in the form of a song whose sheet music Carol has highlighted in the Land Conservancy’s November newsletter. Olivia also sang “Inspired by Land Conservancy” for the organization’s employees during a staff meeting recently.
“I think that a good chunk of the team was humming it for most of the afternoon,” Carol recalled. “She mentioned when she was in there that she hoped to put an ear worm in it that would get stuck in your head, and she definitely did that. It was fun. And they were excited about that kind of creative approach. It’s a new storytelling method for the organization. We were excited to hear it.”
The experience inspired Olivia to try and perform each Spokane-inspired song for the person or organization that inspired it.
“Everybody has a board meeting, or staff meeting, or fundraising gala of some kind, you know?” she said. “I’m coming in to say ‘Great work! You’re inspiring local art!’ And not for nothing, but poetry and singalongs make great convocations at serious events. The act of actively listening together draws a body of people under the same thought umbrella. It can be very powerful.’”
While the work on “Inspired by Land Conservancy” recording is over, the work of the Land Conservancy is not.
Carol hopes that people in the Inland Northwest can both appreciate our access to beautiful trails and lakes and fight to protect those places.
“That’s what the work that we do is all about,” she said. “Those special places that give us experiences with nature and that help us fall in love with nature, we’re protecting the places that those happen. My hope is that the community really rallies around the concept of conservation and makes choices in their own lives and in their own homes that help support conservation, become aware of what’s going on in conservation: the nonprofits that are doing work in that space, the elected officials that are supporting conservation, city government, county government, letting the people who are making decisions know about the places that we value and why we value them and how we want our community to keep those places for the future.”