Celebrating Independence with… Light in the Attic

In honor of Independence Day, KEXP is saluting some of our favorite indie record labels who’s DIY-spirit helped revolutionize the music industry. As an independent radio station ourselves, KEXP is thrilled to give a 13-gun salute to these pioneers with a series of label spotlights through the Fourth of July.

By Greg Vandy

I got a call from Matt Sullivan while waiting in the doctor’s office back in 2004.

This is before I’d ever heard of Light In The Attic Records, Wheedle’s Groove, Rodriguez, Donnie & Joe Emerson, or Matt Sullivan. He had a pitch for me about a compilation of local 60s & 70s soul records he was reissuing and releasing on his new label and wanted to know if I’d be interested in hearing, and possibly playing it on my radio show. Of course I was intrigued and agreed to hear it (and as it turns out, hosted the subjects of this comp on my show before the first ever Wheedle’s Groove Seattle showcase event — to this day, Sullivan calls it the best day of his life, which is questionable…), but in the back of my mind I thought, “…what 60’s & 70’s soul & funk? In Seattle?” And, “who is this 20-something dude full of ambition and ideas?”

Matt Sullivan and wife Jennifer Mass in The Roadhouse on KEXP

What I didn’t know, and to all of our mutual benefit, is that there was a vibrant scene in Seattle in terms of black music back then, and Matt Sullivan does have ambition and unlimited ideas that manifest themselves in vital re-issues in beautiful packages of love assembled by caring music enthusiasts. Wheedle’s Groove, which is essentially the collection of 45s initially dug up by local legend DJ Supreme and reissued by LITA, was an early whop-up-side-the-head release of pure goodness, only to be followed by so many other amazing projects over the next, almost, 10 years now.

This is an indie label by a local hero. A start-up by a dedicated pair of individuals (Josh Wright is the other partner) who believe that there’s good music and better stories to be heard and told. Each project is hand-crafted with vintage photos, back-stories, liner notes, and printed in elaborate packaging, and vinyl, too. The commitment and dedication on Matt’s part to travel down these roads of licensing, investigating, phone-calling, and the flat-rock brains and resistance of music executives has been something to behold, and the end results are a record buyer’s dream.

Often times the artists themselves have no idea there’s an audience (us!) for what they did 20-30 years ago until Matt & Josh convince them to sign off. And the success of these projects is not only good listening, but validates the artist’s work once and for all, after a near eternity of neglect. The Rodriguez release in 2008 was a bombshell that crushed many brains with a unbelievable story of a forgotten Detroit artist (but BIG in South Africa and Australia!) whom Matt personally escorted back to the stage and the limelight that he deserves (by the way, there’s a new film ready to drop about Rodriguez this month, August in Seattle).

And now comes the latest release of Dreaming Wild by complete unknowns Donnie & Joe Emerson. These two Fruitland, WA (aka middle of nowhere) teenagers were dubbed the “rock ‘n roll farmers” by a Spokane TV station after they recorded a completely home-made LP in 1979 in a studio their father built on their farm (now that’s supportive parenting!). The ridiculous album cover and complete lack of distribution strategy destined the album to the scrap heap of history, until, you guessed it, some collector, at some point finds it, listens to it when nobody else did, and puts the feature track “Baby” on a mix tape. And then after an underground buzz is created for a song born from complete 1970’s rural isolation, Light In The Attic is there to share it with the rest of us.

Thank you Matt Sullivan, and please keep finding the music stories that KEXP listeners crave and value.

Independent music is good for America.

Tune in to Roadhouse radio on the 4th for my annual SOUL FREEDOM special of all vintage soul & funk form 1965-1976. It’s the perfect party soundtrack! Don’t blow off a finger, but let the music blow yer mind!!

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