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?
This week has been killer. Quite a while ago, the city set up the film and music office. We had people who worked for the city that were specifically our liaisons for the music industry. We worked with them on a bunch of different things over the years. It hasn’t been all that great with the most recent Mayor. Some of our past mayors kept us from literally closing our doors, but they just killed the music position because of budgets. They just took it out. So not only a good friend of mine lost his job, but we were the first place in the U.S. to put this type of position in with the city. Now most big cities have them now and nobody else has cut theirs. We cut ours. I’m still not getting why. It is not that much money. But we now have nothing inside the city of Seattle office to help us. It took a long time to get in. Once you lose it, it’s not coming back.
Has Washington Nightlife Music Association been able to get more funds or get the word out more in the area?
We do these things called the Green Room Sessions. They are (virtual) fundraisers for music venues. They are private. You’ve got to get invited by us. We have all these interesting people involved and it is a combination of letting people know what we are doing along with music. It is hosted by Sir Mix-A-Lot, who is awesome and amazing. Allen Stone performed last night. People come on and hear some music, hear what we are working on, where things are at legislatively and fundraising-wise. Then, of course, we ask them for money and support. They are all at 9:30am and this was our first one at night, which is great. It is rock’n’roll and we are nighttime. This is for the Keep Music Live campaign, which is raising money. We will take that and give grants to the music venues.
What is happening with the National Independent Venue Association right now?
NIVA grants went live. NIVA has been raising money from private companies and other fundraising efforts. They are taking this money and are going to award it to all of the independent music venues that are members of NIVA, which is almost 3,000 members. Applications opened up this week.
How are you feeling about the Save Our Stages Act (SOS Act) being incorporated into the Heroes Act stimulus package in congress?
It is a huge deal. The House of Representatives is going to vote on it this week or next and then it is not looking good that the Senate will pass it. What is good news, is the skinny bill that they are talking about pushing through that has the SOS Act in it. I cannot tell you how many backflips I will be doing if that happens. That was us. We did that and when I say we, I mean NIVA. I maybe put my pinky fingernail in there while they had their whole bodies in there. It would be such a huge win for us. Nobody really knows how much that is going to be per venue, how it will be decided or what the criteria is. We don’t know how long that will take care of people, but it is going to get the can further down the road. It may not save us all, but it is going to get us down the road.
Have there been any more venue closures in your area?
A really cool and old venue in Seattle told me the other day that they can’t fight anymore. They are done. I can’t say who it is yet because they asked me not to, but it sucks. They are losing so much money, but they are really tired of the fight. They are tired of the battle. It just wears you down. Venue owners are used to being able to handle a lot, but this is just too much. It is too much for a human to take. We were thinking congress was going to vote before they went on recess [in August]. We got all excited and then it didn’t happen and everyone went into dark holes. The depression was a tidal wave. The stakes are so high. It’s only our livelihoods and the thousands upon thousands of people that it connects to.
How is your initiative to get people to vote going?
We have all these precinct captains for all the states. I sent them all emails and was like, ‘We have this election going in these swing states or these senate seats which are vulnerable. We all have these giant email lists and social media lists as clubs and ways to reach tons and tons of people. Just push out the vote.’ I asked them to push for the vote. Then I worked with a group called Venues for Votes. Originally they were working on getting venues as polling stations and then as places where ballots could be counted. Now, their main focus outside of pushing people to vote is to use the marques to push people to vote. So, I hit up all the different states and a bunch of them responded that they were working on stuff like that. A lot of people want to be non-partisan because they don’t want to piss off their customers. I am not. My business, Life On Mars, if you’re going to vote for Trump don’t come in. I don’t want your money. If that is where your belief system is, then stay away. Not everybody wants to do that and NIVA is a non-partisan organization. But I am personally emailing every venue to encourage people to vote. I am just emailing people to say they should use their list to reach out to people to say we need every vote. I’ve gotten great responses back.