Joe Simpson and Monica Barroga are better known around Seattle by their alter-egos, Eldridge and the Lady Gravy. The funk band they founded 10 years ago, Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme, has developed a cult following with a devoted fan base and gigs at Bumbershoot and the Upstream Festival.
But fame hasn’t brought fortune yet, and they pinch pennies to raise their 7-year-old son, Felix, in Seattle.
“Surviving in Seattle just day by day,” said Barroga.
“We get by with the help of our friends,” said Simpson. “We take shortcuts. Sometimes we’ll go to the food bank if we need to.”
“We get every other benefit we possibly can for Felix,” he said. “We get free and reduced lunch, we send him to summer programs at a pretty good discount, because we qualify for that. But we don’t always, like childcare for example. We don’t qualify, because we’re right above the poverty line with the wage I make, so we don’t qualify for free or subsidized childcare.”
Simpson is a childcare worker, and he supports the family. Barroga nannies for friends on the side, but calls herself a stay-at-home mom. She quit her full-time job to care for Felix because they couldn’t afford childcare. Much of the money they earn from their music typically goes back into paying for their rehearsal space and travel expenses for the band.
They live in a house in Greenwood that they rent from Simpson’s mother. They pay less than $1,300 per month, which is far below market value.
“We’re renting from family, and without that we wouldn’t be here,” Simpson admitted.
“We get a ridiculous mark-down,” Barroga added. “I think of it as controlled rent. It’s probably the only place that has reasonable controlled rent, and it’s thanks to my mother-in-law, and that’s awesome.”
But even with discounted rent, the couple has to make sacrifices.
“In the last year-and-a-half, we got internet in this house,” said Barroga. “We were living in the Stone Age. I had to go to the library to use the internet.”
“We have smartphones which we got three years ago, and we would go to Starbucks to get Wi-Fi,” Simpson added. “We’ve become completely used to living without amenities like that. We haven’t had cable forever, which in a strange roundabout way has helped us raise a really great kid, because he hasn’t had commercial television in his life. It’s really out of necessity; it’s not a choice.”
But Simpson says even with all the corners they cut, “It may still be untenable to live here because of the cost of living continually going up and my wage staying at a continual plateau. So we may end up trying it out in a different state or a different country even.”
They hope they never have to, and their fans would likely agree.
“A lot of artists that I know from Seattle have moved to L.A. or to Southern California, and I think about the way that drains the personality from this city,” said Simpson. “I feel like we as a band are upholding that personality and keeping that quirkiness.
“We’re going to continue to give the gift as long as people are there to receive it. For sure.”