New Boise Nonprofit Puts Mental Health First For Musicians

Oct 23, 2014

Organizers of a new nonprofit want to do more than provide cheap studios for Boise’s growing music scene. They’re helping musicians who are struggling with things like stress, depression and addiction by connecting them with low-cost services.

Gabe Rudow sits at the control board at the Hive. The nonprofit wants to help musicians advance their passion in a supportive community.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

It's part of Gabe Rudow's vision. He’s the executive director of the Boise Hive, a nonprofit that’s made by and for musicians. The Hive offers inexpensive practice and recording space for musicians, modeled after a similar nonprofit in Rudow's hometown of Athens, Georgia.

Recently, Rudow gave a tour of the studios.

“This room needs some work, we still have to paint the walls," says Rudow. "We’re going to put carpet in here and everything but this is the smallest room."

The Hive is in a nondescript looking building on the Boise bench, but it has some solid history in the town's music scene. Thirty years ago it was Custom Recording and Sound where bands like Paul Revere & the Raiders recorded. There's a lot of the vintage instruments and equipment still around, including a mono-tape machine and an electric Rhodes piano. 

Rudow – who most recently played in a Boise rock band called TEENS – says the Hive is a more affordable option over the average practice and recording space.  

“We used to practice in a room this big and we spent $200 a month," Rudow says. "It was really difficult to come up with that. This room’s going to be $6 an hour so a band could come in here and play for a couple hours [for] $12.”

The Hive is connecting musicians to inexpensive mental-health counseling. They’ve also started raising money to help pay for that care.

"A lot of people have to work just to get by as dishwashers or whatever they can find," says Rudow. "And then trying to make music with the time that they have – that can be a real struggle." 

Rudow is personally invested in this cause because he’s dealt with depression himself. During times when he hasn’t had insurance, he’s had a tough time paying for the counseling he needs.

“Being able to afford [therapy] is really challenging if you don’t have insurance," he says. "I think that’s a problem. I think people deserve to have access to resources like that and to be able to talk to someone.”

About a year ago, Rudow met Scott Schmaljohn. Schmaljohn’s roots in the Boise music community go back decades, when he and his brother Pat were in bands together. One of those bands was Treepeople.

Gabe Rudow (left) and Scott Schmaljohn say one of the best things they can do for struggling musicians is provide a place for them to practice their art.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

They got a record contract and played all over the country. Their roster included Doug Martsch, who later left Treepeople to form Built To Spill. Schmaljohn’s brother Pat also moved on to start a different band.

But then in 1999, Pat killed himself. Schmaljohn says his brother struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues, and turned to alcohol and drugs as a way to cope.

“He kind of spiraled out, was in trouble and had too much pride and didn’t see resources for help,” says Schmaljohn.

So when Rudow asked him to help get this new project off the ground – which was already going to be called “the Boise Hive” – Schmaljohn thought of his brother. “Hive” also happened to be the name of the band Pat was in before his suicide.  

"Had [my brother] had these resources, he could have been part of this Hive community," Schmaljohn says. "But also not had the stigma of reaching out and finding out how he could help himself. I definitely think it could have saved his life.”

Had [my brother] had these resources, he could have been part of this Hive community. I definitely think it could have saved his life. -Scott Schmaljohn

Fighting the stigma around mental health might be the Hive’s biggest challenge. Boise musician Tyler Shockey knows a bit about that.

The 25-year-old musician suffers from depression and anxiety, and earlier this year he tried going off his medication.

“I just struggled," says Shockey. "And I tried to tell myself, ‘well maybe it’s just other things in life.’ I just came to a point about five or six months ago where – I probably need to get back on something because I’m not happy right now.”

Shockey’s taking an anti-depressant now, and is doing much better. He released a new album last spring  for his solo electronic project Cloudmover, and he wants to inspire other musicians to not be afraid to get help.

And that’s where Ivy Merrell comes in. Merrell is a social worker and is helping to lead the Hive’s mental health initiative. She’s also a Boise musician, so she’s seen firsthand the kind of struggles musicians go through.

“[It] seems like everybody knows somebody who’s played music and not been able to sustain it because of addiction or depression," Merrell says. "It’s a community that’s been affected by suicide many times.”

According to the Suicide Prevention Action Network, Idaho is consistently ranked as one of the state’s with a high suicide rate. Merrell says that needs to change. She says the stigma around mental health issues is self-defeating, but can be complicated in an individualistic place like Idaho.

“That strong sense of individualism is part of what creates good new innovative music," says Merrell. "But at the same time, makes it a very isolating experience.”

Merrell says musicians – especially young ones – can fall through the cracks when it comes to insurance. If they don’t qualify for Medicaid some still can’t afford coverage, even with a subsidy on the health insurance exchange. So they go without insurance, and any mental health issues they have remain untreated.

Merrell says the Hive will help fill the coverage gap, and teach musicians how to manage the stress that comes with an unsteady income.

But organizers at the Hive are just getting their financial footing. The nonprofit is relying on donations and fundraisers, so far mostly from people within the musical community. The Hive’s grand opening celebration is set for November 15, and will feature local bands (including Shockey's solo project) and an art auction.

Rudow and the rest of his team hope to raise enough money in the coming months to make sure the Hive can be a resource for musicians for a long time.  

Follow reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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