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 since we last talked?
[Our restaurant Life on Mars] just got shut down for indoor dining at our restaurants. We just opened with four tables a few weeks ago and were killing it and now we just got shut down again. We were still working on getting our permits. We live in Seattle. It rains. It’s a little hard to get people to sit outside under an umbrella. Everybody is scrambling to figure out what to do.
Life On Mars will close now for the foreseeable future. We’ve all had the conversation and we gave the heads up to our investors who have all been cool as hell and saying, ‘I’m so sorry. That sucks.’ We just gave our staff insurance. We’re going to keep paying for the insurance. We can’t take people’s insurance from them. Fuck our timing. It was the right thing to do.
Has Washington state offered any additional financial assistance due to the shutdowns?
The state said they were going to come up with $50 million for small businesses. They said a bunch of it will be loans but some of it will be grants. But nobody knows — they don’t even know — how they are going to distribute it. So we are all just sitting and waiting, which is not the place you want to be when you have been sitting and sitting. It’s the not knowing. It’s so tough.
Earlier this week I was so done. I couldn’t handle people or any new info. I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep for a few months. But I don’t get to do that because I employ a lot of people. A lot of people rely on me reopening someday. And you know what, I have rad businesses. My businesses are awesome. As a kid, I would have never dreamed of owning a music venue. I get to do this for a career. That’s crazy. But I am going to be 50 in a month. It’s a different mindset than I have had in the past and COVID has driven that home. My whole career has been hustling. I didn’t start in the music industry until I was 27. I’ve had 23 years to hustle to become a booking agent and take over Neumos. I’ve run festivals, re-opened bars and shut them down. I had the idea that I was going to open a couple more Life On Mars. That would be good and I would be done. Now I have to hustle again. Turning 50 in a pandemic is bullshit.
What are your thoughts on well-respected independent Seattle music venue The Crocodile having to move?
The Crocodile’s lease was up in a few weeks. They were effectively gone. They kept that extremely quiet as they had been trying to find a new space. They found a space. They found a killer space not that far from where they are. They are going from a 500-cap room to 750. It will also have a 300-cap room and a 96-seat venue for comedy shows and stuff. It’s a major upgrade. It’s rad, but that place has been there for 30 fucking years and to have that change… That permanent closure was close. People, and this is across the country too, don’t get how fucked music venues are and they aren’t going to get it either The Croc, Tractors or Neumos closes. If something like that happens, then people are really going to start paying attention. It’s like if the Troubadour [in L.A.] closed or Echoplex [in L.A.] or [promoter] Spaceland or The Independent in San Francisco, people are going to freak in their states. We are trying to tell people that that is a very likely scenario.
What has the Keep Music Live campaign been up to?
We are launching a Keep Music Live beer. There is a local brewery here called Elysian Brewing Company. They started as a bar and they had shows in the room — punk shows, metal shows. They have always been about music. They did a Loser beer for [local record label] Sub-Pop and other cool stuff over the years. I worked for months trying to work with them. Then someone in our ranks ran into the owner and got it done in a day. It came out Thanksgiving weekend. We are going to do a campaign with Elysian featuring music venue employees. They’ll talk about how things are for them right now while drinking the beer. We’re going to do it with artists too. The funny thing is, so many of Washington’s biggest artists don’t drink. Macklemore doesn’t drink. [Guns N’ Roses] Duff McKagan doesn’t drink. Ben Gibbard doesn’t drink. Sir Mix-a-Lot doesn’t drink. [Laughs] Where are our alcoholic rock and roll people? I guess that changes after so many years. You get a little tired of it. It is so rad to have a company like that doing what they can to help out. The visibility is massive.