What if Your Favorite Bands Were Ones You've Never Heard Of?

Light in the Attic founder Matt Sullivan has made it his mission to track down long-lost records and make sure they get heard—you should be listening.

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It's hard to resist pulling an album of the shelf when the selection is this good.
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Since founding Light in the Attic in 2002, Matt Sullivan's mission has been to search the nooks and crannies of the world to find the albums none of us would ever have discovered otherwise. The label has reissued long-overlooked gems by renegade desert troubadour Lee Hazlewood, lascivious French bard Serge Gainsbourg, and beloved folk singer Karen Dalton—as well as a pair of albums by Rodriguez, the long-lost singer rumored to have died in South Africa who was the subject of the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary, Searching for Sugar Man. And while the label shares its name with the beloved book of poetry by Shel Silverstein, Sullivan says that was merely a happy coincidence. "When I was trying to come up with a name, I was just trying to think of something to do with dusty records. My [then] girlfriend and I were talking about attics, and she just said: 'Light in the attic!' I don't know if she thought of it in terms of Shel Silverstein, but it really works."

Light in the Attic founder Matt Sullivan.
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The moniker is truly indicative of the outfit's chosen purpose: to scour hidden places for records worth a revisit, and to put the material back into the world anew, with an emphasis on deluxe-packaged vinyl. Sullivan's love of the format may seem like a holdover from a bygone era—but, then again, Adele has sold over 20,000 copies of 25 on vinyl to date. "There are a lot of people out there putting more time and care into [vinyl production] than before," says Sullivan, who notes that music lovers are starting to appreciate the extra care labels like his are taking with the album art, liner notes, and remastering. "[The records] have this extra love put into them, so they're going to cost a little more," he says. "I think people now have a better understanding of that," he says, taking a moment before continuing. "I hope."

"The moniker is indicative of the outfit's chosen purpose: to scour hidden places for records worth a revisit, and to put the material back into the world anew."

The label is well on its way to global visibility, but began in the humblest of places: the DJ booth of Sullivan's high school radio station in Bellevue, WA. "That's where it started," Sullivan recalls, a wistful timbre in his voice. "It wasn't like it is in the movies: it was a 10-watt station, it wasn't broadcast in the hallways of the school, and no one cared about it—but it was an amazing program! And, it was on the FM dial." Not only was his love of music born there, so was the label: his business partner Josh Wright was a fellow student.

This batch of records is a good example of how wide a range of music the label covers
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Then, grunge hit. "Nirvana was kind of a life-changer of a band for me," he says. "They opened my eyes up to a lot of things—especially reissues. Kurt Cobain would always talk about his influences, and they weren't the typical influences that most incredibly famous people had: the Stooges, the Raincoats, Leadbelly, the Meat Puppets. It was the first time I'd heard people talk about older music that wasn't mainstream—and this is the early '90s, kind of pre-internet." The local record store quickly became Sullivan's hangout, and he built a rapport with the clerk behind the counter who would offer up recommendations based on what he was buying.

The Light in the Attic office is adorned with all manner of music memorabilia.

Sullivan went on to  internships at indie powerhouse label Sub Pop, as well as Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard's Loose Groove records, before discovering Madrid-based Munster Records while studying abroad. "Their focus is on reissues," he explains, "a lot of American and British psychedelic rock and punk rock like Suicide, Spacemen 3, The Stooges, The New York Dolls. That opened my mind up to the whole reissue world. Those guys were like my older brothers, guiding me to a new world of sound." 

Having a look at some records the label has reissued from French chanteuse Francoise Hardy, and English band This Heat.

Light in the Attic, like Munster, focuses on the discovery of music. "We try to only release things we care about, and that we'd go to the store and be happy buying." How does he find these diamonds in the rough? "Sometimes we find things, quite often people come to us with ideas—like the record store clerk, turning you onto one thing because they know you like another."

Putting out records isn't all fun and games.

"We've been doing this 14 years now," he continues, "and there are certain things we're releasing now I wouldn't have even liked 10 years ago. As a music fan, your tastes evolve and change. That's the beautiful thing about music," Sullivan says, happily. "If you're really into it, it's endless."

To hear two playlists from Light in the Attic, search Spotify for "wearesweet." For more about the label, see lightintheattic.net.

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