Light in the Attic's latest release, “The Now Sound Redesigned,” is a compilation of Free Design re-mixes. Participants in this unusual project include Caribou, the High Llamas, Kid Koala and Styrofoam. Free Design was a New York soft-psych band from the 60s and 70s. Prior to the release of “Redesigned,” which began as a series of three 12” EPs, local label Light in the Attic reissued all seven of their full-length recordings. Clearly, this isn’t your average record company... so who or what is Light in the Attic? Matt Sullivan, who founded the label and was recently voted one of Seattle’s best crate diggers (along with Mr Supreme) by readers of “The Seattle Weekly,” was kind enough to—if you’ll pardon the pun—shed some light on the subject.
When was Light in the Attic formed?
In mid-2001. The company started as a Seattle concert production company, promoting local shows for a wide array of artists from Saul Williams and Rˆyksopp to Interpol. In late 2002, the label launched with a double-CD reissue of the first two albums by the Last Poets (the founders of hip hop) with notes by Public Enemy and Saul Williams. I initially started the company and then Josh Wright and Chris Ferraro came on board once the Poets' release was completed.
How do you decide what to put out?
Countless hours combing through message boards, eBay, chatting with great music minds like Mr Supreme, Sureshot, etc. These days our dream reissue list must have over 300 titles on it. Once we find something we like, the next challenge is procuring the rights, which can take anywhere from a single day to three or four years. For contemporary artists, we receive about a dozen demos in the mail each week and friends are always turning us onto new things. Nothing seems to be more powerful than word-of-mouth and surfing around the Web late night.
What are some of the qualities that differentiate Light in the Attic from the pack?
Light in the Attic has a deep focus on combining both the old and the new from literally any genre. If it’s something we love, then it clearly makes sense. Either psychedelic folk, hip hop, ‘60s sunshine pop, funk, etc. We’re obsessed with many of the little things that might seem nutty to most people, such as packaging, art, presentation and sound. Hell, we can fight for days over the specific track order on a comp. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of time we spend on the most anal things. We’ve definitely driven a designer or two to the brink of insanity. But all this makes sense in the end. The packaging must reflect the magic in the grooves.
With “Redesigned,” you’re essentially putting out new music. Do you feel limited when Light in the Attic is described as a reissue label?
The goal all along has been to put the past in the present through not only reissues but also via new bands, while reaching an extremely broad audience. We’re not satisfied until a 65-year-old suburbanite and a 14-year-old hip hop kid purchase the same title. An exhaustive review of new bands and our in-house production team continue to expand our new music catalog, while we remain committed to reissuing forgotten material. This goes for not only reissues, but also breaking new artists. For the past four years, we’ve been managing a group called Young Circle—kinda like the Stones Roses meet Lee Perry and the Beach Boys. In 2006, LITA will be releasing the group’s debut album, which we’re thrilled about.
In Kurt B Reighley’s “Stranger” piece on “Wheedle’s Groove,” he mentions that Robbie Hill (Robbie Hill’s Family Affair, Black On White Affair) is putting together a compilation of Family Affair material. Is this something you might be releasing? He also mentions that Mr Supreme (the Sharpshooters) has enough material for a sequel...
Much of this is still in the works, but Robbie’s got some incredible music up his sleeve. For months, we kicked around the idea for a “Wheedle’s” sequel but it’s just not our style. We finally realized—what sequel ever topped the original... “Star Wars,” “Police Academy,” etc.? Nothing’s finer than the first time. I guess you could say we’re insane, neurotic perfectionists. To improve upon the original release, it’d take us five years. So our sequel is coming in a different form—we’ve decided to push the clock forward to ‘06. The concept: the Emerald City’s ‘60s and ‘70s funk legends meet the city’s current crop of 21st century faithful. Hip hop intertwines with raw funk, while psychedelic gospel tastes modern neo-soul. Produced by world-famous digger and DJ Mr Supreme and Dynomite D (Kid Koala, Modest Mouse, and Beastie Boys). The album is being recorded at Kearney Barton’s Audio Recording (the 73-year old genius who originally recorded the Ventures, the Sonics, Kingsmen and many of the original “Wheedle’s Groove” tracks). The guests include Pat Wright and Patrinell Staten of the Total Experience Gospel Choir, Robbie Hill, Ron Buford, Bernadette Bascom and Overton Berry. We’ve been recording since January 2005. In the end, I hope the listener won’t be able to tell if the album was recorded in 1971 or 2006. Also, I should note, Evil Bunny Films is doing a feature length documentary on Seattle’s golden age of funk and soul. It’s going to be a mind-blower.
You got Ron Jeremy to write the liner notes for “Deep Throat I & II,” any Jeremy stories?
After spending the past three years begging, pleading and scrounging to get folks on the phone from Karen O to Kool Keith to long-lost musicians for such releases as “Wheedle’s Groove” and Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy, I wouldn’t have expected that Ron Jeremy would be such a hard man to pin down. However, Ron was a different story all together. An extremely nice, well-spoken guy, but his life of course lies in a completely different world. Ron has the same agent as Li’l Kim and 2 Live Crew, which meant me on speaker phone listening to how Ron receives $20K to sit on a street corner for an hour. In the end, it worked out and I learned more about the porn biz than I ever wanted to know. As expected, Ron’s stories practically mirrored the entire script of “Boogie Nights” ... one hour that I’ll never forget.
Aside from the great vintage grooves reissued on CD, Light in the Attic has been making much of their releases available on 180-gram LPs with heavy gatefold sleeves. They’ve released over 20 recordings so far. At this year’s Bumbershoot festival (Sunday, September 4, 1:30-3:45pm, Mural Amphitheater) there will be a “Wheedle’s Groove” performance featuring all the prime players from the compilation—Pat Wright/Patrinell Staten, Robbie Hill, Ron Buford, Bernadette Bascom, Overton Berry, plus Dynomite D and Mr Supreme will bust out their million dollar crates for some DJ sets.