When Light in the Attic Records’ Jon Treneff made a sales stop at the no-credit cards, vinyl-only Mississippi Records in Portland, Ore., he felt like he had walked into a “quaint, old-world vision of a record store-fresh apple pie with ice cream on the counter. The clerk was multitasking, making a mixtape of old soul music for a kid and waiting on customers.”
It was the most vivid image Treneff had of his unique Seattle-to-Los-Angeles sales trip made with his boss, label co-owner Josh Wright, in a 15-seat van loaded with more than 3,000 LPs and CDs. Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 1, Wright, Treneff and a few contest winners logged 3,000 miles on the company van, visiting 65 record stores and making it to a concert to celebrate the reissue label’s 10th anniversary.
“That’s where our business is made,” Wright says between stops at Poo-Bah Record Shop in Pasadena, Calif., and L.A. vinyl stores Origami and Vacation. “Relationships get built and you develop direct accounts.”
Wright had five similar road trips prior, but this one had a revelatory element as nearly 15 of the shops were first-timers. “The smaller, niche stores have drastically increased,” he says while flipping though records of music from Africa, South America and cult films that Light in the Attic distributes in addition to its own 100-plus releases. “Five years ago maybe one store was exclusively vinyl and now 50%-60% of them are vinyl-only.”
The visit impressed Origami owner Neil Schield, whose vinyl-only store opened in April 2009 and has only had a few local labels visit on sales calls. “It’s a great idea,” he says after looking through several boxes of LPs. “It probably gets me to spend more, having the stuff in front of me and things I might not know but think I could sell.”
Wright says Portland was the most vibrant scene: 15 stores “and every one had its own vibe. The lack of competition provides a healthy environment.” Grady’s Refuge in Ventura, Calif., had the greatest number of “mind-blowing music heads,” he says.
Light in the Attic has had a significant year, due largely to two of the label’s discoveries, Rodriguez — the subject of the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” — and the duo Donnie & Joe Emerson, whose self-pressed album from 1979 received considerable press in the summer and fall. Rodriguez is the headliner of Light in the Attic’s two 10th-anniversary shows — a second will be held Oct. 12 in Seattle at Showbox at the Market — and both concerts also feature British folkie Michael Chapman. Shin Joong Hyun flew in from South Korea to play in Los Angeles — only his third U.S. show in his 53-year recording career — and the Emerson brothers will play in Seattle for the first time. Poet/lyricist and Beach Boys collaborator Stephen John Kalinich opened the L.A. concert.
“These are some of our favorite artists-an eclectic mix but one we thought would jell,” label co-owner Matt Sullivan says. “It’s such a rarity to have these artists together. We wanted to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
The sold-out show at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theatre marked the first time Rodriguez had played with a full band on his current tour, including a fair number of songs featured prominently in the documentary — “I Wonder,” “I’ll Slip Away” and “Inner City Blues.” Shin, with a film crew documenting his four days in town, gave a 45-minute set that leaned toward Jimi Hendrix-ian hard rock.
Light in the Attic set up a pop-up shop in the rear of the El Rey to offer vinyl, CDs and T-shirts of the artists’ work and to spread the word about recent releases like the Emersons’ “Dreamin’ Wild”, two Lee Hazlewood reissues and a collection from Memphis soul singer Wendy Rene, “After Laughter Comes Tears”.
Next up: the first release of the album Ray Stinnett cut for A&M in 1971, “A Fire Somewhere”; a boxed set of 11 45s from Hazlewood’s LHI label between 1966 and 1971; and a series of 45s featuring new recordings from Iggy Pop, Charles Bradley and Ariel Pink of songs that Light in the Attic has reissued. A double-vinyl version of D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” is also on tap.