Get To Know Your Local Label: War On Music Records

May 8, 2017 in features
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June 1st will mark the tenth anniversary for Canadian metal reissue label War On Music Records. Originally started back in 2007 as an extension of the War On Music Collective record store in Winnipeg MB, these days War On Music is an online mailorder, indie wholesale distributor and record label now based in scenic Victoria, BC. On the eve of the label’s anniversary, I decided to ask WOM founder Charley Justice some questions about how the label came to be, its biggest accomplishments so far, and what the future has in store.

For those unfamiliar with what you do, how would you describe what exactly War On Music is?

War on Music is a heavy metal record store & vinyl label.

What prompted you to start War On Music? What was your main objective starting out?

Funny enough, what might not be evident to many outside observers, the original intent was to start a cooperative, get another example going of anti-capitalist enterprise. The skillset of the original people envisioning the project fell naturally into music (heavy music, extreme music, metal / punk / hardcore) so ‘Record Store’ was the logical option for a new cooperative.

There is a wealth of Canadian metal from the 80s and 90s, a lot of which was out of print, especially on vinyl. Which were the first bands that you did reissues for, and how did those come to be?

Shortly after starting the shop, the idea came about to start releasing vinyl, and it manifested as the War on Music Label, a separate entity at the time than the coop store. First releases included Toronto’s C’mon, a Personality Crisis Reissue, Winnipeg’s Evil Survives, followed next by legendary Canadian metal acts Razor and Sacrifice. It all came together pretty naturally, mostly from a desire to see certain crucial albums put on wax which had never had a pressing at that point (Sacrifice’s Soldiers of Misfortune and Razor’s Shotgun Justice being two obvious cases!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJuoL1qzbs4

How difficult was it to figure out the licensing for albums? Were you dealing directly with the artists or with the original record labels?

Licensing for any label is a case by case scenario. In some cases we were able to deal directly with the bands who maintained rights to their own material, and in other cases licensing had to go through a 3rd party [label] who own the rights. I’ve always preferred dealing directly with artists wherever possible, for various obvious reasons, not least even just making personal connections with some of the artists making these great albums over the years.

While your early releases seemed to concentrate on more Canadian artists, War on Music soon began reissuing albums by foreign bands as well, such as Hirax, Entrails, Birth AD. What caused the decision to branch out towards non-Canuck metal too?

Like everything in life, it is a combination of followiung a basic vision and making best of the opportunities that present themselves (or are generated). Though Canadian metal does have a distinct special place in metal – and though having an identity as a label is
important – myself, as someone who doesn’t necessarily support the legitimacy of nation states, didn’t want to formally typecast the label as something associated with Canada. Sorry to the nationalists out there, but that’s the story.

There is a great diversity on the label in the Canadian acts you have released albums for – from the 80s thrash of Razor, Sacrifice and Voivod, to the 90s death metal wizardry of Gorguts and Cryptopsy, to newer bands such as Bison BC, Anciients and Black Wizard. What makes for an album to be a War On Music album?

Well, the label is really in a different place currently than it was a few years ago. The ‘Vinyl Resurgence’ has settled, the bigger labels now are handling much of their own vinyl format releases, and so like anything, the label has gone through a reevaluation, reassessment.

Previously, my criteria was a) is it awesome, b) does it fit with the rest of the catalog, c) do I like it personally, and d) will it sell. I was open to any release that fit 3 or 4 of these basic criteria. Currently, I am mostly working on represses of the classics in the catalog, rather than working with newer bands and cutting edge material. As much as I like the idea of doing both, at this point I can’t do everything!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PneRbPrCsZE

Has War on Music always been a label as well as an online distro? What prompted you to start distro-ing other metal labels and bands in Canada?

The online distro was part of the natural progression of both the WOM business and the economy at large. By 2014, online sales had grown and grown and it (sadly…breaks my heart to say) almost had become redundant to even have a physical storefront, at least in Winnipeg, the former location. So going online, focusing on developing the wholesale division & re-envisioning the label became the work of the last few years, and here we are!

There used to be a War On Music retail outlet, located in Winnipeg MB. Tragically, the store was destroyed in a fire. What exactly happened? How detrimental was that fire to the label?

Ugh…long story ripe with difficulties and fallout, as you can imagine. To this day I still deal with some of the leftovers from that. Certainly the fire curtailed many plans that were in the works at the time, and ones that weren’t derailed many but not all were deferred and delayed. It was pretty much a defining moment for the business, separating a first phase from a second phase of operations.

What WOM releases share a special place in your heart, as something that you hold extreme pride for having been able to release? What makes that release and/or working with that band so special?

Well, I can answer this question easily – Sacrifice’s Soldiers of Misfortune and Gorguts’ Obscura both hold a very special place to me, as being the first ever vinyl releases for both, and both are albums that I cherished long before having any part in handling the vinyl formats. But they remain the runners up, as the Sacrifice / Propagandhi 7″ split truely was a special and unique record to be a part of. Having the chance to bring together 2 of my all time favorite artists for a really unique split single, everything from the general idea of it, to the amazing tracks, the bands covered (Rush & Corrosion of Conformity, respectively), to the iconic artwork from Todd (of Propagandhi), it will always be the record that sits above the rest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6UI3aLYA1M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqWXv4AlGLE

If you had a chance to issue one specific album in particular on War On Music what would it be?

If you had have asked me this 10 years ago, I would have probably said Soldiers of Misfortune and Gorguts’ Obscura album, so I guess destiny prevailed in this case! That aside, well, before the store fire, one of my ongoing projects had been dealing with Roadrunner Records to secure licenses to Satan‘s Court In The Act, along with the first two Gorguts LPs. I put that on hold (to be clear I am not certain it ever would have happened), and Listenable Records ended up doing really great work releasing them, so those albums now have their appropriate place back on vinyl. Over the last few years I’ve always had a pipe dream to handle the Noise records catalog – Celtic Frost, Kreator, Voivod, Coroner, etc – but looks like those are finally in motion so the world of metal vinyl fanatics can rest easy soon enough! If I had to pick one today it would be Diamond Head’s Lightning to the Nations – OVER-FUCKING-DUE for a proper vinyl treatment!

With a great catalogue of releases already available, what is the next step forward for WOM as a label? What are your next few pending releases, if you have any that you can talk about?

Next up for War on Music as a label is focusing proper attention on a select handful of bands, and keeping their material in print. Watch for represses of the early Sacrifice coming very soon, and soon after that some others that are currently in the works but I want to refrain from mentioning them in print until the contracts are all dotted and signed.

Thank you Charley for taking the time to answer these questions. Any other closing comments you would like to make about the label?

It’s been a long haul – June 1st 2017 will mark the 10 year anniversary for War on Music. It’s gone through some changes, but the future is looking strong and there will definitely be another 10 years ahead. Thanks!

For more information on War On Music please visit www.waronmusic.com

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By Sean Palmerston

Sean Palmerston is a vinyl loving music nerd who also loves NHL hockey, Godzilla movies and hanging out with his kids. A former contributing writer to a number of publications, including Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs and VICE, Sean also runs the all metal webzine Hellbound.ca

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