Local record store Black Mess Records announced on Facebook that Jan. 31 would be its last day in its Baltimore location. The co-owners are switching coasts and moving Venice Beach, California, to start a store this summer. Since opening in 2012, Black Mess has focused on heavy metal and related genres, specializing in artists you'd be hard-pressed to find at, say, Soundgarden and stocking shirts, patches, and handmade jewelry. Black Mess has also been a stalwart of the scene, releasing music by local artists, such as the first recording by Baltimore metal band Noisem (then known as Necropsy) and booking countless shows. In the wake of the news, I spoke to owner and longtime notable Baltimore metalhead Jo Gonzales over email about the store's history and the reasons behind the move.
City Paper: You are a longtime Baltimore resident—I remember seeing you at shows for years, well before we met. When did you open the store? Can you talk a little bit about its founding?
Jo Gonzales: Yes, I am a Baltimore native. I have enjoyed the cheap lifestyle and the crazy fucking people here for years, and I am proud to count myself amongst the many true Baltimore people that try to make some shit happen from nothing. I started the idea of the shop while traveling abroad in Europe and Scandinavia. I just saw all of these record shops there that focused entirely on heavy metal in its purest form (records, cassettes, patches, and shirts). After visiting a half dozen of these places and realizing I had way too many records, I decided to try and open my own shop.
Around early fall of 2010, I saw a listing for a small storefront on Falls Road. I contacted the landlord and was told the rent would be cheap. After studying the layout, signing the lease, and working nights and weekends, I started transforming the space. Two years had passed and Alex [Camacho, co-owner] entered my life and she was more than willing to help me with the finer points of getting this business off the ground. Shortly after her move here in April of 2012, we were open for business!
CP: What's it like running an independent record store/small business in Baltimore?
JG: Trying and fun. I mean, Baltimore is ripe for anything. The support and friendships we've gained from most of the people we've met through the long hours sitting in the shop have been testament to the fun. The trying times are when there are so many records coming out that we have no budget to purchase them and we have 1,000 other LPs on the shelves, but they always just want that one. But all in all it's something you have to be passionate about in order to succeed in. No way has it been easy, and we both have had to sacrifice a lot in order to keep the shop going. We both work part-time jobs in order to keep everything afloat. In retrospect, it would have been awesome to have partners in this undertaking, but then again nobody would be stupid enough to try something like this. I mean it's 2015, right? Who in the fucking world ever says, "I think I know of a great business idea, OPENING a fucking record shop"?
CP: How did Alex and Acid Queen Jewelry become involved?
JG: Acid Queen Jewelry was something Alex was already cultivating and executing. When she moved here, she saw a perfect opportunity with our record shop to further her jewelry business by creating a home for it in Black Mess' shop. She began taking classes at the then-MICA funded/accredited Baltimore Jewelry Center, just down the street from the record shop off Union Avenue. She's furthered her skills and is learning the finer points of making one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry. She really is taking it to levels beyond what I ever thought was possible.
There are so many opportunities for her jewelry business in Los Angeles. There's already shops carrying her jewelry there, and the demand is really great, so off we go!
CP: So you are moving mainly to pursue opportunities for the jewelry-making side of the business?
JG: No, just for the change of pace, and the new spot in Venice Beach may be able to host live shows and an art gallery. The jewelry business is growing regardless of our move—it's bigger every year with more and more customers because of Acid Queen's Etsy.
CP: Is Venice Beach still like my mental image, which is 100 percent informed by '80s movies? Skate punks on the boardwalk, weightlifters walking around?
JG: Hahaha, yes, the boardwalk is like that, roller-blades and skaters being morons. There's like a million shops there—we are planning to reopen inside of an already established store on Abbott Kinney Boulevard. We have a meeting in April with people who we are working with to facilitate the shop moving there. So who knows? We are open to anything that comes up. If anything, we will continue as a distributor in the Los Angeles area. Regardless, we are excited to move out there!
CP: So there's a sale, and you'll still be selling records locally at shows and festivals?
JG: Yes, during our last week open (Jan. 27-31), we will be hosting a closing sale with vinyl, shirts, and patches 25-50 percent off, as well as a ton of specials to get rid of some old stock and say goodbye to those who have supported us these past couple years. Although the store is closing, we will still be around and have plenty of awesome new stock. We plan to vend as many shows and fests as possible before the move, including Maryland Death Fest, The Father Befouled and Encoffination Mini Tour, and tons of shows around Baltimore.
Black Mess is located at 3853 Falls Road. They are open through Jan. 31. You can find them on the web at facebook.com/BlackMessRecords.