As co-owner of Seattle’s popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area’s live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.
As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)
What has changed for you in the past couple weeks?
I got unemployment. It finally got cleared. I kept getting told I was “in line,” but I had to wait. It’s been since March, what am I waiting for? They finally sent me something saying I’d been approved and a big fat check because I haven’t gotten any money for this whole time. It’s back pay from March. I spoke to people and they told me what I could do [to get unemployment sooner] and that didn’t work. Then it finally happened. I wonder how many people still don’t have theirs, because I am sure there still are people who don’t. Everything is so broken. Although, many of my friends are like, “The system’s not broken. It is exactly how it was set up.”
Has anything changed for your bar or the music venue?
We’ve had these giant boards and these murals over our windows and we are taking them down for Life on Mars. It’s almost as much to change the mindset of people. There is still all this stuff going on. People are still having their windows broken, but it is mostly the banks and Starbucks. But this Korean spot got their windows broken the other night and it’s like, “Why?” They have advocated for Black Lives Matter, they are really friendly to the community. It’s tough. We all had the conversation that if we take [the boards] down, we could get our windows broken again and have to pay another $1,000 plus for the deductible. But it is worth it. We need to try to start getting people to feel a little differently.
That’s a nice way to help the community start to heal.
Yeah. We also just did these meals for first responders. We made 100 meals for first responders through a group that is doing this with a bunch of different restaurants. We’re a vegan spot too so we can cover all dietary restrictions. So that was nice to do. A lot of restaurants have done it. I think they do them every week.
Considering the fact that Life On Mars has not been able to make money for months, it seems incredibly kind for you all to do something like this.
Yes. We are losing piles of money right now, but we did really well before. We will do really well again. It is part of the whole ecosystem. When you’ve got more, you have to give back a bit. I used to have nothing and people helped me out 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 was having major back issues at the time and I couldn’t work. I could barely walk and they totally took care of me. It was the difference of me being homeless. I was able to get help and get physical therapy. I always look back to that and think that no matter what happens, I’ve got to pay it forward. Without help, I would have been so far behind that I would have never gotten to where I am at. All the partners feel that way.
Have you made more progress on assistance for Neumos?
We have been spending a lot of time on state advocacy. Most of the time I was focusing on federal government, but we’ve started focusing on state government and talking with a bunch of our state senators and our heads of Congress department. Having meetings with the state senators was huge. We had nothing. We had absolutely no inroads there whatsoever. Then you look up their names and it’s like, “Oh, they bought tickets for my room. They go to shows. Oh, their kid is in a band.” Everybody has a connection to music. You can’t get away from it, which is our saving grace and the way we are going to make it through this fucking thing.
How are other businesses around you faring?
I saw an article [on KIRO 7] today that said the Seattle area has lost 1,300 businesses already [since the pandemic broke out]. I saw that and I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” That’s so many. The dry-cleaner next to the coffee shop I go to, it’s been there forever and it closed. I saw them with their giant machine out on a dolly taking it into a truck. It just kicked my chest in. 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 those people have done — owned a dry cleaning company for a long, long time. And now they don’t. It’s such a hard pill to swallow. I get the emails from NIVA [National Independent Venue Association] and every day there are clubs closing. Every day. It sucks. Another one in Austin closed the other day — Dirty Dog, which was a metal bar. It’s every day. It’s just, fuck.
You work closely with so many of these people, that must be difficult to see.
Yes. When this is all done, I am going to go tour tons of these venues because I have made friends with a lot of these people. I was on a call the other night with 20 different venue owners from around the country for five hours drinking. Amy Madrigali who works at The Troubadour [in Los Angeles] is awesome and the fact that I’ve never been to The Troubadour makes no sense at all. I’ve got to go see something there. That’s the kind of place where you can feel the energy of all of the people that have come through there. Not just the musicians, but all of the people. I am going to be traveling all over the place. I can’t wait. I’ve never seen a show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre [in Morrison, Colorado]. I’ve been to the Gorge dozens of times. The only place people put in the same sentence is Red Rocks. So I got to go. I’ve never been to Nashville. How have I not been to Nashville and Memphis? There are all these places and all these people that I am working with and becoming close friends with. I don’t talk to anybody for five hours. I want to go and get to know all these people soon. I hope soon.