If you ever get that nagging feeling that the love’s gone out of the music industry, spend a bit of time with Light In The Attic.
The label, founded in 2002 by Matt Sullivan, has forged a reputation for its devotedly put-together reissues.
It digs up unappreciated gems from the past, dusts them down, makes them beautiful – and then seeks out the recognition they so deserve.
Sullivan and his team are not just crate diggers: these records each comes with its own drama, mysteries and folklore attached – every one a window into a time and place somehow different from the listener’s.
This certainly comes across in Sullivan’s 17-track ‘My Life’s Playlist’ for The Independent Echo, which you can listen to below.
[Listen To Matt’s Playlist right now!]
We asked Matt for a list of the songs that had most affected his existence so far – and it’s a rollercoaster genre-bending ride through the ages.
As usual, we also sat down to ask him about five extra special tracks, and discover the personal magic each had brought into his life.
He spends his waking hours foraging for under-savoured genius.
So we weren’t shocked to learn that he speaks about his favourite records with heart, passion and not a little devotion…
NWA, Straight Outta Compton (1988)
I was 12 years old and living near Seattle in a place called Bellevue when Straight Outta Compton came into my life. I was a white, suburban kid – and hip-hop was just exploding into our lives.
I remember a friend had the 2 Live Crew cassette; looking at the cover and thinking: ‘Holy shit, I hope our parents don’t see this.”
“Nwa was A pivotal moment. I felt like someone punched me in the face.”
NWA was a pivotal moment – I felt like someone punched me in the face. It floored me. I’d never experienced or heard anything like it.
I was at an age when I was starting to discover hip-hop. To me, Straight Outta Compton is every bit as punk rock as anything you could name.
It had weight. So much what they were talking about ended up coming into play: the LA riots in particular.
And it still holds up to me as much as it did back then, almost 30 years ago.
Verve, Gravity Grave (1992)
I still feel Verve/The Verve are one of the most underrated bands in the history of music.
Obviously they’ve had their success with Bittersweet Symphony, which is a brilliant single. But to me they were similar to Nirvana for one fact: in high school, Kurt Cobain and Richard Ashcroft really enjoyed spreading the word of their influences.
This being the mid-’90s, people weren’t looking backwards much. I’d be listening to bands that were really pretty lame, like Sleeper. I remember sitting on the floor of Tower Records in 1993 or 1994 and reading NME and Melody Maker, and Richard Ashcroft was saying: ‘Why do you want to listen to Sleeper when you could listen to Miles Davis, Funkadelic, Tim Buckley?’ So that’s what I did.
“Dear Verve. If you’re reading this, let us reissue your early catalogue!”
This was pre-internet, so that was the beginning of my insight into musicians who made masterpieces that didn’t necessarily get pushed to you.
Those early Verve records were psychedelic, but then they started mixing in these epic ballads.
With Gravity Grave, I was living in Tucson, Arizona going to college; it was 1994 or 1995. I’d be sitting in my dorm room stoned out of my mind on bad Mexican weed and listening to this live version recorded at Glastonbury over and over.
It’s never been on vinyl; I’ve been trying to reissue it for about 10 years but I don’t think it will ever happen.
Dear Verve, if you’re reading this, come on, let us reissue your early catalogue! Don’t you want the full on Light In The Attic reissue treatment?!?!
The Alan Milman Sect – Stitches In My Head / I Wanna Kill Somebody (1978)
When I was out of college, around 1998, I was 22 or 23, I’d interned at labels like Sub Pop, Loose Groove and Munster in Spain.
I’d also worked at high school and college radio, and I was coming back to Seattle I knew I wanted to start a record label.
My favorite record store was called Bedazzled Discs, and the owner was this crazy New Yorker who chain smoked and shouted at everybody. His name was Al Milman.
Al’s still with us, and still an amazing, crazy character.
Seattle is very quaint, quiet and introverted. It’s very nice. And Al was like, well… you’d walk in and say: ‘Hey, do you have the new Pretty Things reissue?’ And he’d say: ‘No. Get the fuck out of my store.’If he didn’t have something, you were the asshole!
I ended up working at Bedazzled Discs and Al introduced me to a lot of music. I didn’t know too much about his past life as a punk rock legend, but then when I was starting Light In The Attic, we had a three-way bartering system: I would work at the store for free, Al’s friend, a lawyer, would give me free legal advice – and then Al would pay him with records.
This single came out in 1977 – it’s a classic, amazing punk anthem.
Al was very important to my life. Munster put it out in Spain; they did a really nice comp of Al.
Fela Kuti, Coffin For Head Of State (1980)
Fela Kuti has so many good songs and albums, you can’t go wrong. But this particular record hit me a few years after starting Light In The Attic, around 2003.
I had never really gotten into African music – Fela opened that door to me. It was like NWA again – getting punched in the face!
It was so visceral and genuine in its beliefs. I was a James Brown fan, but this was James Brown times a billion.
“This is classic fela; endlessly powerful.”
The government in Nigeria hated Fela. One day they broke into his compound and threw his mum out of the window. Soon after she died from those injuries.
Fela and his family carried her coffin, and that’s what you see on the album sleeve. It’s insane.
It’s classic Fela; endlessly powerful.
He has a catalogue like Charles Mingus, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone – you can just dig and dig and find something new every time.
Jim Sullivan, U.F.O (1969; reissued in 2010)
Jim Sullivan is a crazy, intriguing story.
I was in the process of moving from Seattle to Los Angeles, around 2009. There’s this great website called Waxidermy – it’s a blog where people can talk about records they’re discovering, with a focus on private press records.
I was on there as a fan, but thinking of possible things to reissue, and I came across this record. The cover is tripped-out, and I liked that, so I started listening.
I was blown away. I dream about those moments – I was mesmerised by the sound. It was like listening to all of my favourites intertwined; a bit of a David Axelrod vibe, with this country rock feel – like a little bit of Gene Clark – with dark, melancholy elements.
His voice, production and the lyrics were so good; I was completely wigging out.
“This was one of my favourite ever projects, but eerie.”
On Waxidermy, there were some comments on the page, so I started reading. The guy who posted didn’t know much about it, but then Jim’s family starts posting.
One guy was Jim Sullivan‘s wife’s old boss at Capitol Records in the late ’60s, early ’70s. He mentioned that Jim disappeared in March, 1975 in New Mexico and he had always wondered what happened.
I freak out and ask the website if there’s any chance of being put in touch with the family. A couple days later I get a call from Chris Sullivan – Jim’s son – and I go into this long explanation of what Light In The Attic is.
He tells me he already has many of our reissues, and that never happens!
From there, we set out to reissue UFO. It was a long, intense process. It’s been one of my favourite ever projects.
The record originally came out in 1969 and was almost an eerie foreshadowing of what happened to Jim six years later.
He headed out to Nashville to become a session player and told his wife and kids: ‘If I make it I’ll send money. If I don’t, I’ll come back.’ But he never did.
Listen To Matt’s
Playlist right now!