As the co-owner of Seattle’s famed independent Neumos venue on Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple of the Seattle music industry for over 20 years. About 10 years ago he helped found the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together insiders on live events from the region, and for the past 16 years he has helped run Neumos with his sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.
Within the framework of BillboardWith the efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will speak regularly with Severin to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the latest installment here and see the full series here.)
What has changed for you in the past few weeks?
I am unemployed. It was finally erased. I kept telling myself that I was “online”, but I had to wait. It’s been since March, what am I waiting for? They finally sent me something saying I had been approved and a big check because I haven’t received any money for all this time. It’s a March salary backlog. I talked to people and they told me what I can do [to get unemployment sooner] and it didn’t work. Then it finally happened. I wonder how many people still don’t have theirs, because I’m sure there are still some who don’t. Everything is so broken. Although many of my friends say, “The system is not broken. This is exactly how it was set up.
Has something changed for your bar or concert hall?
We had these giant planks and murals on our windows and we’re taking them apart for Life on Mars. It’s almost as much about changing the mindset of people. There’s still all this stuff going on. People still have their windows broken, but it is mostly banks and Starbucks. But this Korean place had the windows smashed the other night and it’s like, ‘Why? They argued for Black Lives Matter, they are really friendly with the community. It’s hard. We all had the conversation that if we take [the boards] down, we could smash our windows again and have to pay $ 1,000 more for the deductible. But it’s worth it. We have to try to make people feel a little different.
It’s a great way to help the community begin to heal.
Yeah. We also made these meals for first responders. We prepared 100 meals for first responders thanks to a group doing this with a bunch of different restaurants. We are also vegans, so we can cover any dietary restrictions. So it was fun to do. Lots of restaurants have done it. I think they do them every week.
Considering the fact that Life On Mars hasn’t been able to make any money in months, it seems incredibly kind of all of you to do something like this.
Yes. We’re losing a lot of money right now, but we’ve done really well before. We will do very well again. It’s part of the whole ecosystem. When you have more, you have to give back a little. Before, I had nothing and people helped me when I was younger. It made all the difference in the world. I had absolutely nothing and one of my best friend’s parents took me in. I had big back problems at the time and couldn’t work. I could barely walk and they took complete care of me. It was the difference that I was homeless. I was able to get help and get physical therapy. I always look back and think whatever happens, I have to pay it forward. Without help, I would have been so far behind that I would never have gotten to where I am. All partners feel it.
Have you made more progress in supporting Neumos?
We have spent a lot of time defending the state. Most of the time I was focusing on the federal government, but we started to focus on the state government and chatting with a group of our state senators and congressional department heads. Having meetings with state senators was huge. We had nothing. We have absolutely no breakthrough in this area. Then you look up their names and it’s like, “Oh, they bought tickets for my room. They go to shows. Oh, their child is in a group. Everyone has a connection with music. You can’t walk away from it, which is our saving grace and the way we’re going to get through this fucking thing.
How are the other businesses around you doing?
I saw an article [on KIRO 7] today, that says the Seattle area has already lost 1,300 businesses [since the pandemic broke out]. I saw that and I was like, “You’re kidding me. ” It is so. The dry cleaner next to the cafe I go to, it’s been there forever and it’s closed. I saw them with their giant machine on a cart pick it up on a truck. It just hit my chest. It was so depressing. I had just read that 1,300 businesses had closed in the greater Seattle area, and then I see that. That’s what these people did – they owned a dry cleaning business for a very long time. And now they don’t. It’s such a hard pill to swallow. I receive emails from NIVA [National Independent Venue Association] and every day clubs close. Everyday. It sucks. Another in Austin closed the other day – Dirty Dog, which was a metal bar. It’s every day. It’s fucking fair.
You work closely with so many of these people, it must be hard to see.
Yes. When all of this is done, I’m going to visit tons of these places because I have befriended a lot of these people. I was on a call the other night with 20 different room owners from across the country to five hours to drink. Amy Madrigali who works at Troubadour [in Los Angeles] is awesome and the fact that I’ve never been to the Troubadour doesn’t make any sense. I have to go see something there. It’s the kind of place where you can feel the energy of all the people who have been there. Not just the musicians, but everyone. I will travel everywhere. I look forward. I’ve never seen a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheater [in Morrison, Colorado]. I have been to the gorges dozens of times. The only place people use the same phrase is Red Rocks. So I have to go. I have never been to Nashville. How have I not been to Nashville and Memphis? There are all these places and all these people that I work with and become close friends with. I don’t talk to anyone for five hours. I want to get to know all these people soon. I hope soon.