A fire can tear apart a person’s life in an instant, and it’s a devastating reality that a group of musicians and music scene supporters have unfortunately had to learn first-hand.
It’s been a difficult month for the house that contained Andy Bothwell (who performs as Astronautalis), Vicky Seymour (who distributes delectables at hip-hop shows as Dirty Donuts), Jeremy Nutzman (who performs as Spyder Baybie), and Claire Monesterio (who performs as La Manchita) caught fire. All four residents have been displaced from their home, with many of their possessions and a beloved pet cat lost to the blaze.
As Seymour tells it, they are only just beginning to piece their lives back together and get back on solid ground. After being approached from numerous musicians in the community who wanted to help, Seymour worked with DJ and omnipresent hip-hop scene staple Ander Other to organize a benefit in her housemates’ honor. “Burning Down the House” will take place next Friday, March 8, at the Sound Gallery in Minneapolis’s North Loop, and I asked Seymour to tell us more about it.
Local Current: Let’s start with some background information. When was the fire, what happened, and who was involved?
Vicki Seymour: The fire was around 7 p.m. on January 10. I had come home from work earlier than usual to work from home. I noticed the internet had cut out, and went to the back of the house where it was hooked up to find the problem. The room it was in had two sealed outdoor doors, so even as I approached it I still didn’t notice anything unusual. I was navigating the house without any lights on and could still see, but when i opened that door, it was the darkest black I had ever seen. It had obviously started a few hours before because all the oxygen had been burned out of the room, and it was filled with outrageously dense smoke.
Opening the door let a bunch of oxygen into the room, and that was when the house caught a blaze, knocking me back from the door and leaving me incapable of closing it again. Andy was the only roommate home (Claire & Jeremy were out of town) so the first thing I did was run to him to warn him. Then I called 911 while he ran upstairs to tell the neighbors above us to get out and grab a fire extinguisher. We had two dogs and a cat living in the house, so the next thing I did was get both dogs out of the house while Andy tried to put out the fire. He said he knew within 30 seconds of trying that he had no chance. Then my upstairs neighbors and their dog came out, so I went back in to save the cat.
It had only been a matter of a few minutes since I had discovered the fire, but the house was already halfway filled with smoke, so I was crawling. I saw the cat (Freya), but she was scared and ran further into the back of the house where the fire had originated to hide. I could feel myself getting faint, and didn’t know where she went, so I had to get out.
As I got outside again, six fire trucks were pulling up. It was freezing rain that night, and the dogs were shivering, so after we told the firemen where the cat was, I brought them over to a neighbors. When I got back, they were bringing the cat out of the house, and she was still hanging on for life. At this point, Andy and I both performed CPR on her, and then I rushed her to the vet while Andy stayed behind to deal with the authorities. Unfortunately, the cat didn’t make it, there was too much smoke in her lungs. I believe Andy has a post somewhere telling what it was like to watch the firemen put out the fire. He said it was like watching a military assault on the house, the put a fireman through every window of the house and had it put out pretty quickly. The structure of the house was still mostly intact, but the smoke damage was really bad everywhere, and we found out the next morning it would be uninhabitable for the next six months.
I’m just incredibly grateful that no humans or dogs died. If things had gone even a little differently, much more life could have been lost and the house could have burned the ground. We were also pretty upset about the loss of the beautiful cat Freya, and a couple days later we had a funeral service for her.
Most of us can’t even imagine the horror of having our house burn down or going through such an ordeal. What has your life post-fire been like? Were you able to salvage any of your possessions? How are you doing?
We spent the next two days salvaging what we had left with masks on. Andy and I were lucky, because our bedrooms were on the opposite side of the house from the fire, but the fire originated in the part of the house where Jeremy & Claire’s bedrooms were, and they lost nearly EVERYTHING. The laundry room was back there as well, so I also lost about half of my clothes, including my entire band t-shirt collection from the past 15 years (which Minnesota Vice has offered to reprint any of our favorite clothes for all of us). The smoke damage was really bad in the kitchen too, so we lost all of our food, including all my ingredients for Dirty Donuts.
It was an extremely traumatizing event for us all, and returning to normalcy has been really difficult for everyone, especially since we we’ve been displaced for so long. Luckily, we all have had an incredible support system in the city of Minneapolis, and so many people came out of the woodwork to offer us help, so it was really easy for us to find places to stay and store our things temporarily, and we have all found a permanent place to live again. Dozens of people offered to donate replacement furniture and clothes for everyone, there was even a group of people who opened up an account for all of us at B. Resale for clothing. The first few weeks were really difficult for coping, but I’m personally doing a lot better, and it seems to me that my roommates are as well.
Who came up with the idea for the benefit, and what was the response like when you approached people to play?
The week following the fire, I worked with my landlord and insurance to see what we could do, but it became clear pretty quickly that we weren’t going to receive any aid in that manner. The fire report claimed the fire was started by an electrical failure, so we were not put at fault. But I couldn’t sit back and let us all take the hit like that, especially Jeremy and Claire. So I asked Ander if he would help me throw a benefit show, since he and I have been trying to start a local music management/promotion business together anyway. Since all 4 of us living at the house are so involved in the music industry, the majority of people offering us help were musicians. Most of them offered to me to play a benefit show or something before I had even decided to do it. Getting a line-up together has been incredibly easy and I think the general response from the public has made us feel very loved and supported.
What will the money from the benefit go toward, specifically?
The Sound Gallery, the performers, the artists, the people staffing the event have all volunteered their efforts. So all of the money from the show is going to the residents of the house, for lost rent/security deposit, to pay off our remaining utility bills, to replace the things we lost, moving expenses, etc.
What would you like people to know about the show?
This show is going to be SO FUN. I wanted to offer something for everyone, so the bands, of which there are a wide variety of genres, will be performing all night in the large room in the back of the Sound Gallery, while in the front room Ander will be DJing a dance party. There will be concessions and beverages available, including the return of Dirty Donuts to also try to raise money to rebuild. There will also be a silent auction of pieces donated by local artists and Minnesota Vice will be selling apparel.
One other thing i can say about the show is that it’s not just for the money. Putting it together has sort of been my method of coping. Like, the closer we get and the more people that get on the lineup or offer the help throw it, the better I feel. And I think once it happens, and my roommates and I see all the people that have come out to support us, it will be the biggest step in getting over it.