#91 “Inspired by Inland Northwest Land Conservancy,” from This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane, 2022

Illustrated by Amy Jennings

“(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.”

#90 “Inspired by Hello from A Stranger,” from This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired In Spokane

Listen to the track!
Inspired by Hello from A Stranger, Illustrated by Conrad Bagley

“(Hi, I’m Azaria! I’m here until February 2023 to help Olivia tell this story!)”

“Inspired by Hello From a Stranger” marks my fourth month working with Olivia on her “This is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane” project. Over those four months, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much for creative people in Spokane – no matter their method of expression – to connect with one another. 

Sometimes, those connections form through conversations about the highs and lows of creating. Sometimes they happen in performance settings, at a concert, theater or art gallery. And sometimes, artists come together over a hot stove, as is the case for Olivia and photographer Adam Schluter. But I’ll get to that in a minute. 

During his four years in Mexico, Adam lived without a phone, meeting people and maintaining relationships organically. So when he moved to Coeur d’Alene, he, in his words, hit a wall. 

“I was suicidal,” he said. “I was really depressed and I’d just gone through a break up, so I threw everything away and I booked a one-way ticket to Europe.”

In Europe, Adam decided to step out of his introverted comfort zone and speak to strangers in an attempt to “find [his] place in the world and show [himself] that [he] wasn’t as alone as [he] felt.”

Initially, the idea of approaching strangers and asking for a bit of conversation and to take their photo horrified Adam. He wrote a quick script he could open with – “I’m approaching strangers all over the world, but only when I see something beautiful, and in this moment, this is so beautiful. Do you mind if I took your photograph?” – but he quickly found that strangers didn’t respond to it and rejected him more than 95 percent of the time, by his estimate. 

“They could feel my fear and when you approach a stranger in the street, anywhere in the world, you have a millisecond to convey to them that ‘I’m not selling you anything. I don’t want anything from you and also that you can trust me’,” he said. “You have a millisecond and that is conveyed without any words. That is an intuitive conveyance that they can trust you.”

So Adam switched tactics and decided to use his vulnerability to his advantage. He realized people read that openness as authenticity and began to trust him, allowing themselves to be vulnerable too. 

Fourteen countries and two and a half months later, Adam returned to Coeur d’Alene feeling confident in his ability to be vulnerable with strangers and create meaningful relationships. He started saying hello to the people he encountered and invited them to his home for Monday Night Dinner, which brings me back to connecting over a hot stove. 

Olivia attended one of the first Monday Night Dinners and quickly saw that Adam needed a bit of help in the kitchen. 

“I don’t have a fucking clue how to cook for anybody and she saw that and was like ‘Sweetheart, I got it’,” he said. “She came in the kitchen and helped me cook and we’re immediately friends right off the bat. She’s come to almost all the dinners ever since.”

To date, Adam has hosted 58 Monday Night Dinners, with attendance for the most recent one approaching 200 people. He has taken his Hello From a Stranger project to 21 countries and made more than 1,000 portraits. Adam has compiled some of those portraits into a book called “The World I See,” the proceeds from which help support the folks Adam photographs.

Adam gave a talk about the project at TEDxSpokane, and also spoke about it at on of Olivia’s Leadership Spokane classes.

“This whole project is me talking to myself, telling myself ‘You need to let people be closer to you’,” he said. “I found how to connect with strangers all over the world all the time. But the people that were closest to me in my life, I would not let them be close to me… Then the absolutely hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was to come back to Coeur d’Alene and be like, ‘I’m going to let these people actually be close to me. I’m going to actually be close to them.’ All of this was me learning how to do that and it’s still terrifying, but it’s what we have to do.”

Guitarist Garrin Hertel, co-founder of Hot Club of Spokane, calls Adam’s project “compelling and courageous.” Having attended a few of Adam’s Monday Night Dinners, he was happy Olivia brought Hot Club in on the song celebrating his work.

Garrin and saxophonist Robert Folie founded Hot Club of Spokane in 2007 looking to honor guitarist Django Reinhardt, violinist Stéphane Grapelli and the jazz manouche music they popularized as part of their Quintette du Hot Club de France. 

There was a resurgence in jazz manouche music in the ‘90s, thanks to Tacoma’s Pearl Django. Since then, Hot Clubs have popped up around the country, including San Francisco, Detroit and Tucson.

Along with the music of Reinhardt and Grapelli, Hot Club of Spokane also celebrates the work of Spokane jazz greats including Bing Crosby, Mildred Bailey and Al Rinker. 

“Bing recorded, like, 2,000 songs, I think, so it’s actually pretty tough to avoid a Bing Crosby song,” Garrin said. “People don’t necessarily know that, and that’s part of the fun…Then Mildred is definitely way less famous than Bing, although I think that anyone who’s a regular that comes to our shows more than once or twice, they’re like, ‘Yeah, we get it. Stop telling us about Mildred. You tell us every time.’ I think people are really interested. And then Al Rinker, they just have no idea.”

Rinker, Garrin said, attended North Central High School, and wrote, for one, “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” for Disney’s “The Aristocats.” 

“We’re not tribute artists like in Vegas, but we definitely celebrate their legacy and try to educate the audience and bring them in and localize this and create that connection…,” he said. “Spokane was a jazz city for sure.”

With so much attention spent honoring Reinhardt, Grapelli and those Spokane greats, Hot Club of Spokane doesn’t often get to perform original music, which made the band’s time in the studio that much more fun (albeit hot, according to Garrin. He and Robert would later leave the studio and return with ice cream for everyone).

Olivia and Hot Club of Spokane recorded “Inspired by Hello From a Stranger” at the Palimpsest Group with engineer Norman Robbins. Norman also performs in BaLonely, which released “Thank You, I’m Sorry” in June.  

Garrin appreciated that, for the most part, the band was able to record together. 

“I’m more concerned about how we perform together,” he said. “ ‘Let’s play well together in the same room, and if the sound quality isn’t perfect, I don’t care about that. What I want people to hear is how we sound together.”

Hot Club of Spokane features Dr. Steve Bauer, Olivia Brownlee, Mikaella Croskrey, Robert Folie, Olivia Tracy, and Garrin Hertel. The band performs from 7 to 9 p.m. every first Saturday of the month in the basement of Lucky You Lounge, 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. Garrin said the band is always open to performing at weddings, concerts and festivals. 

Garrin (and many of the rest of the members of Hot Club) also performs with Zonky Jazz Band, which is currently working on a Mildred Bailey tribute album. Another spin-off group includes the Rockabilly Space Force, a 1950’s musical fantasia visiting Earth from Mars’ moon, Deimos, in the 2100’s. 

#89 “Inspired by Isadore,” from This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane

Listen to the track!

(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.”

Nearly 50 years later, reminders of Expo ‘74 can still be found in Riverfront Park. The park itself, of course, was home to the exposition, and those enjoying the park can still admire the iconic Great Northern Railway Depot Clocktower, Sister Paula Turnbull’s Garbage Goat and the Pavilion, which was a gift from the U.S. government to the city. 

In 2020, after years in a place of honor at the White Elephant, another piece of Spokane history joined Riverfront Park – Isadore, the elephant.

Isadore’s time in Spokane began in Natatorium Park. The elephant then spent decades representing the White Elephant until both locations closed in July 2020. After the closures, the Conley family, which owned and operated the White Elephant for 74 years, gifted Isadore to Riverfront Park. Isadore is now located near its friends in the Looff Carrousel, which also used to call Natatorium Park home.

It was while touring Riverfront Park with her Leadership Spokane classmates that Olivia Brownlee caught a hint of inspiration. 

Park director Jon Moog told the group that builder Charles I.D. Looff built the carousel as a wedding present for his daughter Emma and her husband Louis Vogel, who owned Natatorium Park. The park closed in 1968, and in 1975, the carousel was relocated to Riverfront Park, where it has delighted riders young and old ever since. 

The carousel’s history, plus the addition of Isadore, piqued Olivia’s interest, though it was only a matter of time before she wrote a song about the fairground favorite. 

“Carousels have always meant a lot to me,” she said. “Both my grandfathers were very patient with me and carousels, so that’s why my grandfathers had to make an appearance in this song.”

Once the storyline – “an elephant who thought that her time in the community was done and then she gets this second chance to be a meaningful part of the community” – was solidified, the songwriting process was only a matter of putting the right words in the right place.

“There are so many words and there are so many great words and there are so many words that are just small and simple, but if you put them in exactly the right place, they’re great,” Olivia said about the song writing process, which she compares to putting together a puzzle. 

When listening to the demo Olivia sent me, I couldn’t get the smile off my face. (I know that may seem biased because I’m writing these blogs for her, but it’s the truth.) The music instantly transports you to a fairground or carnival, so much so that you can practically smell the kettle corn cooking. Lyrics-wise, Olivia pays tribute to Isadore, of course, but also the Looff Carrousel animals, the Garbage Goat and Mobius Discovery Center.

Once “Inspired by Isadore” was written, Olivia set out to find musicians who could make the song “oom-pah.” Thinking back to her time working for a music booking agency in Los Angeles, Olivia figured that most musicians would be up for just about any project, as long as it fit their schedule. 

“If you offer a decent wage, they’re like, ‘Sure, yeah. I don’t know you, but this can be fun,’ ” she said.

But Olivia didn’t have to turn to strangers for “Inspired by Isadore”; she’s known everyone involved in some way or another for years. 

Helen Byrne, assistant principal cello with the Spokane Symphony, who played accordion on this song, and Leonard Byrne, the symphony’s principal tuba player, are longtime family friends. 

Symphony percussionist Rick Westrick played on Olivia’s second studio album, and while Olivia hadn’t personally met the symphony’s principal trumpet player Larry Jess before getting to the studio, she had done theater with his wife Carolyn for years. 

“That’s so Spokane,” Olivia said with a laugh. 

In my short time with Olivia, I’ve learned that the Spokane music community is both incredibly vast and incredibly small. Everyone is a friend of a friend, and everyone is quick to say yes to projects, even if they don’t directly know everyone involved.

Rounding out the group is vocalist Kristina Ploeger-Hekmatpanah, director of the Spokane Symphony Chorale. Kristina was a professor of Olivia’s, and while both admit they haven’t kept in touch as much as they would have liked over the years, they both also say they’ve admired the other’s work from afar.

Like the others, it was easy for Kristina to say yes to helping on “Inspired by Isadore.”

“I was totally excited because she always does cool things,” she said. “And you don’t know what it’s gonna be like, you don’t know what musical genre, it’s just going to be cool. I was like ‘Yes, if you want me, I’m there. Anytime. Whatever I can do for you.’ ”

“Likewise,” Olivia responded.

The “Inspired by Isadore” recording session took place in Liberty Lake at Spokane Productions with studio director Rob Miller. Spokane Productions is set up to accommodate a variety of creative projects including music and audio recording, commercial ad campaigns, independent filmmaking, professional photography and drone cinematography. 

Rob quickly set up microphones and made sure everyone was as comfortable as possible (turns out some chairs are better for tuba players than others). Though recording experience varied amongst the musicians, everyone quickly fell into a rhythm of recording a take, then listening back for things to tweak or errors to fix. 

“You have to listen specifically to the things that you’re doing, but then also how it fits in with everything,” Helen said. 

In a handful of takes, with Olivia conducting/dancing in the center of the group (“I’ve never gotten to shake my booty in a room full of symphony musicians before,” she said), the music was finished to everyone’s satisfaction. 

While packing up their instruments, Helen and Leonard credited performing with the symphony and at church with helping complete the recording so quickly. 

“A standard Symphony Pops concert is you show up Saturday morning, you may or may not have seen the folder before and you play the concert that night,” Leonard said. “One rehearsal and go.”

“I enjoy church work because you don’t have to prepare for something for five months, to practice and practice and practice,” Helen said. “You only have a week and then you go to the next thing.”

With the music finished, it was time for Kristina to add the vocals, a process I missed entirely because I was interviewing Helen in the lobby. Seeing as the interview only took about 10 minutes, it was obvious Kristina is a pro in the studio. 

In fact, in the mid-’90s while living in Seattle, Kristina was often called into recording studios to add background vocals for rock bands. 

“They would say ‘Listen to this twice. Make up some harmony,’ ” she said. “There was an octet of us that would get called in to make the choir sounds. And then they tell us what kind of choir, ‘Make it sound like a gospel choir, or make it sound like a classical choir.’ ”

Kristina actually thought she’d be providing back up vocals to Olivia’s lead on “Inspired by Isadore” until Olivia told her otherwise. 

When looking at the piece at home, Kristina began writing chords for the song as if it were a jazz tune, thinking it would make Olivia smile. She then had to challenge her brain to unhear that melody so it could match the “oom-pah” feel Olivia intended. 

With both vocals and music in place, it was time for Olivia and Rob to fine tune “Inspired by Isadore,” a process which included adding reverb and snippets of audio Olivia recorded at the Looff Carrousel to the beginning and end of the song.

“I think it’s pretty typical, if you’re doing one song, that you’ve got something you can take home,” Rob said about the four-hour session. “Not always, but it depends on the artist and how much work needs to get done. Obviously, if you can get it done and out the door the same day, then everybody’s happy.”

When wrapping up for the evening, Rob called “Inspired by Isadore” one of the “most unique and fun” songs he’d worked on in awhile, which seemed to be the consensus of the whole group. 

“Olivia is so creative, anytime she has an idea, you just want to run with it because you know it’s going to be something fun,” Helen said after the group finished recording. 

As the evening came to an end, the musicians turned their focus on the busy summer ahead. 

Helen, Leonard, Larry and Rick will have their hands full with symphony work. They’ll perform at the symphony’s Patriotic Pops concert on July 4th at the Pavilion in Riverfront Park and at the Festival at Sandpoint finale concert on Aug. 7. 

Helen and Leonard will also be performing in the Laclede, Idaho 4th of July parade.

The quartet will also perform Sept. 4 at Pavillion Park in Liberty Lake and Sept. 6 at the Pavilion in Riverfront Park as part of the symphony’s free Labor Day concerts. The Spokane Symphony’s 2022-2023 season begins in September.

Kristina is busy finishing her doctorate of musical arts at the University of Kentucky and teaching at summer camps. She then plans to do some work for the American Choral Directors Association’s summer institute and at a jazz camp in Boise. She also teaches at Eastern Washington University full time.

As for Olivia, she’s already thinking about song #90. Stay tuned!

#88 “Inspired by Spokane,” from This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane

Inspired by Spokane, by Sally Jablonsky

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(Hi, I’m Azaria! I’m here for the next ten months to help Olivia tell this story!)

“Inspired by Spokane” is part of a larger work-in-progress called “This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane, 2021-2022.”



While performing in the old Iron Goat Brewing building, 2204 E. Mallon Ave., musician/engineer Jay Condiotti couldn’t help but see potential for the space as a recording studio. 

Turns out, he was onto something; the building housed a recording studio before Iron Goat took over. Close to a year after Jay expressed his interest in the building, the brewery decided to move to its current location, 1302 W. Second Ave. He bought the space and set to work creating J Bones Musicland

What followed were three years of renovations completed by Jay and a hired crew. Working against the deadline of his July 2019 wedding, Jay and his team turned the brewery into a studio, complete with a control room, two tracking rooms, three bathrooms, one kitchen, one stage and one bar, the latter two of which are converted storage containers.

“It was a dream come true because I always leased studio space, and this was my opportunity to create the ultimate space for myself,” he said. 

Since opening J Bones Musicland, Jay, who has been in the music business for 35 years and makes music to be licensed for TV, films and commercials, has worked with creatives on rap and country songs, audiobooks, voiceover work, a meditation CD for a massage therapist and much more.

On May 28, he added Olivia’s “Inspired by Spokane” to the list. Having just one day to record a song didn’t faze Jay, as he once recorded a full album in three days with Spokane’s Fat Lady. To make a recording session as productive as possible, Jay arranges the studio ahead of time so both he and the artist can hit the ground running.

“Pre-production is the best form of production,” he said. 

He’s also open to pre-production meetings with artists to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

“It’s been good because, for years it’s been me in studio, and that’s great. You have total control, almost,” Jay said. “But now, I enjoy having someone come in and really helping them achieve their vision. People are leaving super stoked so I’m enjoying it.”

When he’s not working at J Bones Musicland, Jay performs with his wife in Silver Smile, and shares a family YouTube channel with his sons.


Singer and actor Dahveed Bullis needed little convincing when Olivia approached him about singing on “Inspired by Spokane.” As a born-and-raised Spokanite, Dahveed has heard time and time again fellow creatives express their desire to leave Spokane for bigger cities. 

But Dahveed sees things quite differently and is excited by both how Spokane affects its residents and how Spokanites can work to improve the city. The lyric “I always used to think that I made you/and took pride in what I gave you./Now I’m older and I’ve found/it’s the other way around” particularly resonated with him.

“I’m really thrilled that there’s not a lot here because that means there’s a lot to build,” he said. “To be at the ground of that is really exciting. And keeping your ear to the ground of what’s the city saying it wants? What is it and what is it not realizing that it needs and how can we step in and be a part of that?”

A musician in his own right, Dahveed has turned his focus to theater in recent years. He can soon be seen co-starring in Stage Left Theater’s production of Antoinette Nwandu’s “Pass Over,” which opens June 3. Dahveed is also preparing for another season with the Spokane Playwrights Laboratory, which he co-founded with Scott Doughty. The laboratory gives playwrights an opportunity to develop works in progress in a no-frills environment. Auditions for SPL’s second season will be held later this summer. 

“To be a part of a nonprofit organization that is at the ground level and making real efforts and real outputs to give folks an opportunity to not feel like ‘Nobody cares about my work,’ that’s been really thrilling,” he said.


Like Dahveed and Jay, drummer AJ Ramirez had no problem with having just one day in the studio. Growing up in a high-pressure musical environment, AJ said, helped him become comfortable with small time frames and quick turnaround times.

“If there’s something I can claim I’m proficient at, I think it might be high pressure studio work. At least when it comes to drumming,” he added with a laugh.

AJ has had plenty of time to become proficient; he began drumming at the age of 4. He started playing on stages professionally at 10. When he was 13, he picked up the guitar and started singing seriously shortly after.

“Drums were my first love, but singing and playing guitar are a different type of outlet,” he said. “They bring me different kinds of artistic satisfaction.”

AJ gets a similar sense of satisfaction from collaboration, which made it easy to say yes to appearing on “Inspired by Spokane.” AJ admitted it can be difficult to connect to a song if he’s not part of its creation prior to entering the studio, but having a solid scratch track that communicates the song’s basic feel and direction can help. 

“Also, the writer really knowing what kind of sound they’re going after is a huge deal when you have studio musicians just coming in to create the parts,” he said. “Which in this case, Olivia nailed it.”

Once in the studio, AJ is relying on his years of experience performing with other musicians to help get everyone on the same page quickly. The quality of the musicians he works with also helps things run more smoothly.

“The studio can be a very challenging environment and having people who can thrive within that is key to what you end up with at the end, and the overall enjoyment of the process together,” he said.

AJ recently released his first single as a solo artist, “Losing My Mind,” which is available to stream on all major platforms under the name AZARIAH. On June 3, catch AJ at Artfest at the MAC playing drums for Scott Ryan Ingersoll. AJ will also perform some original songs during the set, which runs 6-8 p.m. On June 24th at Lucky You Lounge, AJ will perform with his ‘80s cover band STARCOURT.

You also heard on this track: Eddie Ramirez on bass, and Blake Braley on keys. Eddie is often seen playing with the Blake Braley Band at Zola on Saturdays.


In the same way AJ has had drumsticks in his hands since he was a child, Sally Jablonsky has had crayons, colored pencils and paintbrushes in her hands since she was young.

“I was always drawn to it but my parents helped me do lots of expressive creative things,” Sally said of her artistic beginnings. “That helped a lot.”

Her parents not only encouraged her artistic pursuits but also created art with her. Sally and her father often played a drawing game during which they would pass a piece of paper back and forth, each adding something new to the creation with each pass.

Sally enjoys working in a variety of mediums, though she’s mostly drawn to oil painting, painting with gouache and pen and ink drawing. She also makes small cups, planters and dishes out of clay, many adorned with images of leaves, flowers and moths.

Sally also does illustration work for others and has created album and single art in the past, so creating art for “Inspired by Spokane” was very much in her wheelhouse.

“I really like her idea of celebrating and highlighting Spokane and artists in Spokane,” she said. “Especially because of the pandemic, it doesn’t feel like there’s really a lot going on so it’s nice to have something to bring people together.”

Olivia sent Sally a preliminary recording of “Inspired by Spokane,” and Sally set to work sketching out a few ideas. She resonated with lyrics about being connected to a place while also noticing that things are changing. 

“I really like cubism so I was thinking of doing something inspired by that,” she said. “But who knows? It lends to the feeling of movement and change, and I could work a lot of different imagery in there.”

When she’s not creating art, Sally plays and teaches music, specifically fiddle, banjo, ukulele and guitar.

“I believe in the value of fostering a supportive learning environment in which I model clear, sensitive and constructive communication,” she writes on her website.

Sally said her lessons are open to all ages and skill levels.

“I’m trying to build up the old time traditional fiddle scene in Spokane more,” she said. “I want to make it happen because it’s a really fun community thing to do, like making your own fun.”

#87 “Inspired by Rick Clark,” from This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane

Inspired by Rick Clark, by Miguel Maltos Gonzales

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(Hi, I’m Azaria! I’m here for the next ten months to help Olivia tell this story!)


(This song is part of a larger work-in-progress called “This Is Where You Live – Songs Inspired in Spokane, 2021-2022”)

In March 2020, Rick Clark was thinking about pizza. He wasn’t hungry for dinner, but rather for an opportunity to both help one of the many local restaurants impacted by COVID-19 and feed those supported by a local nonprofit. 

He hopped on Facebook Live with the goal of raising $200 to purchase 20 pizzas from Pizza Rita for the Volunteers of America’s Hope House women’s shelter. With Clark at the helm, that fundraiser soon blossomed into Spokane Quaranteam, a community focused on helping anyone in need.

Olivia learned about Spokane Quaranteam when Rick spoke to her Leadership Spokane class over Zoom last winter. She had her camera off and her guitar in hand and began playing the riff that would become “Inspired by Rick Clark” while listening to his story. 

“He was telling us about his turning point, looking in the mirror and shouting out loud ‘I’m not going out like this!'” Olivia said. “The song basically wrote itself from there.”

Looking at Rick’s story through an artist’s lens, Olivia identified with wanting to be and mean more, not just to the world or your family, but also to yourself.

“I think a lot of us can relate to not wanting to go out quietly, or insignificantly,” she said. 


If you didn’t already know it was there, you’d walk by Lucas Brookbank Brown’s recording studio without a second glance. I almost did. The studio, which Lucas currently calls “the 309 space” because of its address, is small but feels welcoming and comfortably lived in, even though he’s only been there for about six months.

With just under three hours set aside to record, every second counted. But despite the time crunch, Lucas was in his element. Watching him bounce back and forth between the microphone and his computer, where he was piecing bits of various takes together to build the best vocal take possible, was a masterclass in efficiency and skill.

About an hour after he began recording vocals, Lucas began to experiment with bass parts, finding the best fit in about 20 minutes. Experiments with his Silvertone chord organ and acoustic guitar netted similarly fast results and added depth to the song. 

“It comes from repetition of doing that process and also a lot of listening…” Lucas said of his quick work. “There’s definitely an element of practice and experience involved in that, and a little bit of luck.”


Lucas is no stranger to collaboration. As a singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer, he has worked and performed with countless musicians onstage and in recording studios.

So when Olivia reached out about this song, his interest was piqued. Lucas said it wasn’t difficult to connect with the song, even though he hadn’t written it. 

“If it’s not a genre or a vibe that I’m familiar with or I enjoy, that can maybe be more of a challenge… but I’ve been doing cover music for a long time, so I’m not unfamiliar with listening to a recording and then learning the song,” he said.

Lucas praised the song’s chorus and catchy melody, saying the tune was “very clever and well-written.” He also enjoyed Olivia’s finger-picking guitar work. 

For more of Lucas, check out his EP Everything Means Something Out Here. He hosts open mic nights and jam sessions at Red Room Lounge on Mondays and Wednesdays, respectively, and performs with his band at Zola on Tuesdays.

He’s also busy with his Spokane Arts Grant Awards project, which involves producing an album of songs by emerging local artists. He hopes to both provide work for musicians impacted by COVID-19 and showcase the talent in Spokane.


Miguel Maltos Gonzales is a San Antonio-born, Spokane-based artist who combines film photography and illustrations to express his American and Mexican Indigenous heritage. He currently acts as a Spokane Arts commissioner and is a creative cultural economy developer. Miguel is also a Spokane Public Schools Diversity Advisory Committee member and the president of the Hispanic Business Professional Association.

Miguel and Olivia first met via Zoom to chat about the “Arts Mean Business” music video series, which invited area musicians and filmmakers to write a song and film a music video in support of a local business.

Miguel acted as director and cinematographer for the music video for Olivia’s song “No Man’s Land,” which supported Northwest Mediation Center

In the music video, Olivia is seen both working up the courage to visit the mediation center before finally going in and speaking with someone and wandering through a wooded area that Miguel had scouted out.

“He’s really easy to work with, and easy to be friends with,” Olivia said. “He’s truly curious and you can always tell he’s thinking deeply about the subject matter. I think his aesthetic is incredibly bold and has a true identity, and that’s really meaningful to me.”


In their 28-year run, the folks at Rockin’ B Ranch, located at 3912 Spokane Bridge Road in Liberty Lake, brought music, food and fun to audiences young and old. A ticket to a Rockin’ B Ranch Cowboy Supper Show provided four hours of entertainment – two performances (the outdoor shootout show and the main stage musical) and a BBQ dinner of the “eat till you can’t manage another bite” variety. 

Like many local businesses, the Rockin’ B Ranch was hit hard by COVID-19. In 2020, the Rockin’ B team was gearing up to rehearse their latest supper show when they were forced to close. The next year brought many of the same difficulties, so they postponed the 2021 program too, looking forward to performing in 2022. 

But in a statement posted on its Facebook page in March, the team announced that after two years of COVID restrictions, musicians moving away and staff members taking new jobs, they’ve decided to end their supper shows. 

“We have so many fond memories and treasure all of the friendships that developed over the years,” they wrote.

The venue will still be available for weddings and other events. If you’re interested in booking an event at the Rockin’ B, visit the website or call Faith at (509) 230-4966.

Mind the Gap

Now that humanity is a couple of decades into the culture of blogging, I think it’s safe to say that it’s easy to fall off the wagon. But! We’re about to start back up here, and instead of me interviewing the collaborators and inspirers and movers and shakers, allow me to introduce you to my friend, Azaria Podplesky…

uh-zair-Ee-uh pod-pless-key

Azaria, a freelance professional journalist, will be assisting me in the telling of this upcoming story so I can focus on being a songwriter, producer, and musician.

Teaser Alert: I’m beginning the ten-month schedule of writing and releasing ten songs in a row inspired by people, businesses, and history in my hometown. Each monthly recording will be produced in a different local studio with a different local band performing/recording the song, and a different local illustrator creating the monthly song icon. Azaria will feature each of these elements in the forthcoming posts, making it a one-stop shop for a Spokane-based smorgasbord time-capsule of Where We Live. The songs will continue to collect on SoundCloud and Patreon. Enjoy.

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of one of these monthly recordings, please reach out to Olivia directly at OliviaBrownleeMusic [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you for your support!

#43 “I Take It Out On You” at J Bones Music Land

43 I Take It Out On You Icon
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Recorded & Mixed by Jay Condiotti at J Bones Music Land in Spokane, WA
Acoustic Rhythm Guitar, Vocals, Song: Olivia Brownlee
Featuring Dr Steve A. Bauer on Lead Guitar
A Word on the Accompanist:
I recently met Steve in the jazz bands we both play in (Hot Club of Spokane, and the Zonky Jazz Band). He moonlights as an accomplished veterinarian and the rest of the time plays some of the most comfortably ingenious guitar licks on the planet.
A Word on the Studio:
Jay is a local musician and recording engineer with a killer setup in the old industrial Spokane area – take a look!


Thank you for your support!
Thank you for your support!

#40 “Wilin'” at Wonka Sound

40 Wilin' Icon

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Recorded & Mixed by Bob Nash at Wonka Sound, Lowell, MA
Guitar, Vocals, Song: Olivia Brownlee
Trombone: Tim Lewandowski

A Word on the Collaborators:
Qualities I admire and value in musicians include the ability to read music, improvise, dance, listen, and smile. Tim Lewandowski embodies all these and more, most often as a trombonist in the greater Boston/Camberville area. I asked him who he enjoys recording with and he pointed me toward a few folks, Bob Nash among them. Sure enough, Bob knows horns, and with a couple iso booths and a couple hours, we all walked out with a simple, delicious finished product, happy it worked out to collaborate.


Thank you for your support!
Thank you for your support!

#39 “The Jester’s Lament” at The Soundwomb

39 The Jester's Lament Icon

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Recorded & Mixed by Danny Moynahan at The Soundwomb, Long Beach, CA
December, 2017
Guitar, Vocals, Song: Olivia Brownlee
Saw: Danny Moynahan

A Word on the Song:
Every artist needs a coming-of-age song. And every town needs its honest rendering in a songwriter’s canon, especially a hometown. I was born in LA, nor can it much deny me, but this does not a music career make. It’s a bear to pursue an arts career, you reunite with some of your most unpleasant qualities at some of the most inconvenient times with some of the most unwelcome company. These sorts of growth spurts are not singular to career pursuit, or being an artist, or Los Angeles…but they have reminded me that a person can come of age at any age. And if you’re very honest, you’re likely to grow and change no matter how old you get.

A Word on the Collaborator:
I think with playing musical saw comes a tendency to be a particularly kind sort of person. Danny is an accomplished and active saxophonist and purveyor of Celtic music, and happens to bend a saw for anyone who’ll listen. I was so grateful to make his acquaintance and record in his cozy sunroom.


Thank you for your support!
Thank you for your support!

#38 “The Gospel According to Me” with Skip Heller and the Carnival of Soul


Chaka Khan meets Dr Teeth & the Electric Mayhem in a tune that boldly makes a few suggestions on how to show up in the world.

Every now and again someone will approach me in person and request to be a part of the Songography project directly. After my good friend Skip Heller viewed a livestream of “Gospel,” he commented immediately Continue reading “#38 “The Gospel According to Me” with Skip Heller and the Carnival of Soul”