MAKING SHIT HAPPEN: AMBROSE NZAMS @ JOINT CUSTODY RECORDS, WASHINGTON D.C.
Ambrose is one of the Joint Custody family, who I've long admired as a shop and community. Here's a chat to get the scoop on what it takes to run a successful HC themed shop in 2018.
Joint Custody seems very HC community driven, and so much more than 'just' a record store. What's the idea behind the shop? When did you start and why? Yeah, definitely. I mean, everyone who works here knows each other through hardcore, I guess that's our nepotism. I started working at Joint Custody kind of before it opened. I'd known James casually for a while, he'd sang in Lion Of Judah and we'd been around each other a lot. Anyway, I'd recently turned 21 and I was going to college in Philadelphia, summer was about to start, but my summer job working as a camp counselor in the town I'm from didn't start for a month or so and I was pretty desperate for money. I don't know if it's because James always flexed as if he had it made or something, but I randomly asked him to give me a job doing something... and he did. For about a month before my summer camp job, I sat in James' guest room and listed and shipped video games on eBay for an hourly rate. It was pretty cool, I remember being nervous about being in James' house while no one else was there--one time he even called me skittish--but I got used to it. I would listen to the Straight Ahead 12" on repeat on YouTube or the one album James had on his computer: the newest (at the time) Janelle Monae record. One day, I walked downstairs and James and Gene (drummer of Give) were sitting in James' living room and they told me they were gonna open a record and vintage store, then Gene, who I didn't know that well, asked if I'd maybe wanna work there. I said yes.
I can't say exactly why they decided to open the store, but I presume it was an idea that they got on their way to the flea market to fill a gap for cool stuff that was missing in D.C., peddle the wares they'd been amassing at high volume and flex a little bit on competition. Once they get an idea, they just dive right in and try it. I think what drives me to still be involved, beyond loving, learning and engaging with stuff, is the importance of physical space and physical community. That, and never wanting to work a conventional job. I understand in what ways a modern record store attributes to gentrification, but as the powers that be turn D.C. into a young white professional hub of fast casual restaurants and very boring bars, a lot of physical space that develops and maintains subcultures are being lost. I think a physical place where a person can engage with another person about their shared interests is so important. I'm not taking anything away from webspace or want to sound holier than thou or corny or whatever, but I think that shit matters, I don't know. As much as a job is a job and all jobs suck, I learn a lot from being there and although people can be grating, I'm grateful for the opportunity to be involved in something that is within my interests, keeps me and my friends employed and acts as a nucleus for subculture.
What's been your favourite moment in JC's history so far and why? There have been so many great times and some bad ones. I sent this question to the work chat and no one really had an answer. It's 5:29am, so I'm gonna double down on being corny here, but the best times are when everyone's just hanging out and in a good mood, and lately that's been happening a lot.
What is the most fun, and also the hardest part, about running a record store in 2018? Honestly, I couldn't tell you what the hardest part of running a record store is. I think our circumstances are unique though, we've managed to have a full (straight edge) staff of friends and we dabble in a lot of different things.
What's the coolest thing about vinyl and zines - why should people still care? I don't know if all people should or could still care, but I don't think I could ever not. It also is tough for me to imagine being involved in a subculture like punk or hardcore and not engaging with physical media. I really want to say I don't believe in traditions, but I guess I believe in lineage or something; the ephemera are vital parts of the expression of this scene. I guess the suggested luddite nature of this subculture could be in part of what has left it in the dust as a viable force for social change or threat to status quo, but I don't know. What it comes down to is, anyone can engage with anything in anyway that they want, but I believe physical media to be the greatest option, at least when it comes to punk, hardcore or hardcore punk. Plus, in due time computers will betray us.
Check out the zine Ambrose did with fellow Joint Custody squad member, Paula Castro Martinez, called Demystification: https://demystification.bigcartel.com/product/demystification-1 Issue 2 coming very soon!