Fight Fire With Metal

Obviously, War On Music’s Charley Justice works a lot faster than I do. When his original retail location at 38-44 Albert Street in downtown Winnipeg went up in flames back on April 19th, he ramped up his usual whirlwind of internalised kinetic energy and went to work at opening another location as quickly as possible. Within two months, he had a new place at 91 Albert and was back to selling records to Winnnipeg metalheads and punk rockers by the time I got in touch with him for an interview on the topic at hand in mid-June.
And if you’re scoring this one, note that it’s now a month later and I’m just getting around to running the ‘net chat I conducted with Charley. This dude is a firebrand, so read about his misfortune, hard work and help him out by dropping by if you’re in the Winnipeg area, or checking WOM online, and speading heartily. Tell ’em that that lazy bastard KSP sent you!

So, what the hell happened? What caught fire and how?
It was circumstantally odd. Probably just an electrical malfunction in an old building. No one was there at the time, so most importantly, there were no animate casualties. They levelled the building within 24 hours, so even fire investigators can only determine where in the building the fire started, but can only guess the cause. Everyone here in Winnipeg wants to get conspiritorial and blame the building owner because he wanted to tear it down and build a parking lot, but I don’t believe that. He wouldn’t have been smiling about it on the news if it were him. Just one of those things.

(the old War On Music shop)

When you first heard about the fire, I’m assuming you were elsewhere. What was your immediate reaction? How about your initial feeling when you first came to the site of the charred store?
We’ll, I work another job a few buildings up. I was there that morning. I actually was scheduled to start at 6:00am, skated by the WOM shop at about 5:50 and looked inside. There was actually Sepultura show the night before, and some of the co-op members/employees were hamming it up with Havok about 12 hours before the blaze (no, it wasn’t a cigarette butt or joint left behind from a drunk thrasher or something like that. Fire investigators ensured us if that were the case it would have been blazing many hours earlier; the timing is all off). I thought, “I should go check sales from yesterday,” but instead I just headed on to my day job up the street. Then, the postal delivery guy, who incidentally is a rad metalhead and we shoot the shit about obscure bands every time he delivers mail, came in at about 9:00am and said “Ummm… I think your shop is on fire…better go check it out.” That’s pretty much it. I quickly went to the scene and fire fighters were already soaking our shop through the kicked in door and burnt out windows. Kind of surreal, but I just went back to work and kept on for the day, nothing I could do at that point!

Did you feel a collective “disturbance in the force” amongst local Winnipeg record collectors when news of the fire hit the streets?
Definitely. The entire Winnipeg music community – well, the punk/metal community, at least – seemed to shudder simultaneously. The smoke was appropriately black, and could be seen halfway across the city. Word was out pretty quick. Actually, a friend in Peru emailed me about the same second the postal guy told me about it – fucking internet! Anyway, people heard the news, expected the worst and figured we were pretty much dead and began to mourn.

(the fire, the gutting, the levelling)

How much damage was done? What damage was done and what happened to the site where the fire was?
The whole building was leveled, mulched into dust and covered in cinderblocks and gravel within about 12 hours. We didn’t even have a chance to scour for remnants. But, to clarify, the War On Music record label stores our inventory elsewhere, so that was unaffected. But, the store lost 100% of our retail inventory, PA system, about 10 arcade machines and a brigade of the useful miscellaneous things you’d expect in a shop our our kind.

I see that you’ve already moved into a new spot and reopened the store there. How did you pull this off so quickly?
Well, it took us a few weeks! Forty-two days, to be exact, between the fire and the new shop launch. But it didn’t feel quick considering the amount of work in between! Basically, we took about a week to decide whether we should open a new shop or just go entirely webstore/wholesale. After making the decision to open another shop, we simply got to the grind, knocked down the pins, you know. Found a location, scoured hundreds of pages of catalogs and hand-selected our new inventory, did a few dozen label trades… A ton of our distributors were infinintely helpful & accommodating, sending us huge boxes on terms, trade, or with greatly appreciated “sympathy” discounts. Massive thanks to Relapse, Century Media, Revelation, Hells Headbangers, Ebullition, all the labels we trade with. You guys made it happen for us.

(the new shop, with Chris from Propaghandi browsing)

As well, we hear there were a couple of benefit shows held in your support. How did those go and how much cash was raised?
There were three benefit shows. They were technically fundraisers – we took a nasty hit, but as long as we survive, fuck it, it’s just money – but more importantly they were being billed as our “official launch” in the new location. Also June 1st marked five years of War On Music, so it was a bunch of things all sardined into one weekend. And the shows were all free cover or by donation, so it was really less about raising money than it was about generating publicity and solidarity and making it known that we are 100% still kicking.

Do you have any special deals or anything going on to commemorate the fire? Like buy one Razor album, get a half-melted Dogs With Jobs record for free?
We gave away over $500 in gift certificates for the shop at the shows , plus our shirt printers donated a 100 shirts we tossed around. If we had managed to salvage some wreckage, I’m sure we’d have some kind of free melted crust grind 7″ with every Razor LP, but it’s all in the sacred vinyl-burial ground that is now a parking lot on Albert Street.