Monday, November 14, 2011

Light In The Attic's Matt Sullivan Talks The Louvin Brothers' "Satan Is Real" Deluxe Reissue

Light In The Attic Records has just released the deluxe Satan Is Real / Handpicked Songs 1955-1962 (LITA 075, 2xCD + Audio Commentary Download), which pairs the Louvins’ landmark 1959 album Satan Is Real with a star-studded curatorial “best of” set featuring classic original Louvin Brothers recordings “handpicked” by the likes of Beck, Emmylou Harris, Will Oldham, Kris Kristofferson, Will Oldham, Mark Lanegan, Jim James, Dolly Parton and many more. 

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mark Sullivan of Light In  The Attic about the deluxe set. 

How did the reissue come together?

Mark Sullivan: We've dreamt about re-releasing the Louvin Brothers' albums for a decade. Around 2008, I reached out to Charlie Louvin to see if he'd be interested in being involved in the reissues. It didn't seem right to do it if Charlie wasn't on board. He liked the idea and was excited to work with us on the reissues. The following year we were in Tennessee and met up with Charlie at a Waffle House near his home, and started piecing it together.

Can you talk about the remastering re-issue process?

MS: We owe a lot to John Baldwin ( in Nashville, who spent hours and hours meticulously re-mastering each song, and thankfully restoring the material to its original mono state.

Why was it important to reissue the vinyl format for this release? 

MS: Vinyl is our favorite format, and is something that we obsessive over. There's something transcendent about hearing Ira & Charlie on wax. Most music just sounds better on vinyl, especially vintage country like the Louvins. And the world needs a bigger canvas for that Satan Is Real cover. A CD doesn't give it justice.

The packaging for the double CD is awesome. It really offers a full "album" experience that I know I miss from buying albums before the digital age revamped how most people buy music. Can you discuss the development and story of the packaging, and tell us how it all came together?

MS: That's the genius of designer Strath Shepard at Pacific Standard ( in Seattle, along with Jessica Hundley ( ) who wrote the notes, interviewing Charlie, Chris Hillman, and Jim James.

Our plan was to stay true to the original vision of the album, while bringing as much history and vintage ephemera as we could dig up. We spent months trying to locate the original photographer for the Satan Is Real album cover in hopes of including unseen photos from that iconic album cover shoot. Sadly, we found out that album photographer William Eastabrook passed a few years back, but we did locate his widow who was incredibly sweet. But... no photos in the vaults. They're residing in a landfill somewhere. Fortunately, Capitol Records did have some gorgeous shots, while Mark Linn and the Country Music Hall of Fame assisted with scanning a number of the LP covers that we didn't have in our collections.

What would you say it is about the Louvin Bros music and their legacy, that continues to intrigue, inspire, and maintain their allure today?

MS: Those gorgeous harmonies are hard to beat. After all they were the voices that inspired the Everly's who inspired the Beatles. Only blood can create such harmony.

Along the same lines, for listeners new to the Louvin Brothers, can you describe some of the history behind Satan Is Real?

MS: The album was recorded over three days in Nashville in August '58 and released on Capitol in November '59. While it wasn't Ira & Charlie's most successful record, it certainly has become the brothers' most iconic album years later. The album cover certainly helped. 
The brothers were strong Baptists and felt that the grasp of satan was all around them, especially lurking around Ira, who hit the bottle too hard. Strangely, Ira died in the mid-'60s in an awful car wreck, hit by a drunk driver. The songs on the album dealt with a darkness that's hard to put into words.

What would you say is has been/ is it's influence on other artists and albums?

MS: The harmonies have struck a chord with so many artists who've covered their songs over the years, most notably, the Byrds who recorded "The Christian Life" on their album Sweetheart of the Rodeo when Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons were in the band. They've been covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to My Morning Jacket, and from Merle Haggard to Beck.

What would you say that the album, specifically the reissue, offers to newcomers today?

MS: Our hope is to provide a window into an album that's still relevant today, seven decades later. We tried to present as much of a time capsule feel as possible, through the design, the notes, and Charlie's involvement. I'm grateful for his support on the project and feel lucky to have met with him before he passed earlier this year.

In June 2010, he kindly sat down with Memphis writer Andria Lisle to record a special Satan Is Real Audio Commentary as part of the release. The interview is available as a free download with the purchase of the reissue. In the Audio Commentary, Charlie chats about the album, the songs, and the band's larger than life career. It's one of my favorite parts of the reissue. Hearing Charlie tell the story of the album cover never gets old.

Can you describe your own personal connection to the Louvin Bros' music and what this release means to you?

MS: As a Louvins' fan for years now, it feels too good to be true to be re-releasing their music.

The second disc of the Satan is Real reissue, Handpicked Songs 1955-1962, is filled with Louvin Brothers tunes picked out by some of today's best, and most intriguing artists. How did that come together?

MS: When I first met Charlie I asked if he'd ever be into performing the full Satan Is Real album in concert. He responded that it would be near impossible for one simple reason, no one could fill Ira’s shoes. I couldn't argue there. But later, Charlie did mention one singer that might be able to make Ira proud… Phil Everly. My jaw dropped. We then chatted about Charlie and Phil recording some songs together as a bonus disc with the Satan Is Real reissue. Soon after, Charlie called Phil, who dug the idea, and we started to make a list of possible songs to cover. 

I reached out to some of our favorite artists, many found on this here release, asking if they’d like to pick a song, any song, for Charlie and Phil to record. The spectrum of choices was wide; “Sin City” by the Flying Burrito Brothers, “Before This Time Another Year” by the Chosen Gospel Singers, “Back To Stay” by John Martyn, “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys, “God Is Love” by Marvin Gaye… the list went on and on. Some made more sense than others, but all were interesting to envision.

Then things quickly changed. Charlie was diagnosed with cancer and the project was put on the back burner. That dream recording session never did come to fruition, but we went back to those same artists, asking them to share their favorite Louvin Brothers songs, along with a few memories. And that's what turned into the collection Handpicked Songs 1955-62, the second disc in the Satan Is Real double-CD release. 

How did you get the artists for the Handpicked tracks involved in the project? 

MS: Months and months of pleading phone calls, letters, and emails.

Were there any specific artists that you initially thought of that inspired this concept of handpicking tunes for the second disc?

MS: We've always dug artist-curated comps and a good mix-tape.

Of the artists involved in the project, which were "givens" and which were the biggest "surprises"?

MS: Actually there weren't too many surprises. Ira & Charlie had touched so many folks that their reach was far.  Many of these artists had already covered the Louvins over the years or sung their praises in interviews. We had the opposite problem than usual, there were too many fans to pick from!

Which selected tunes were most surprising to you (artist to their chosen song)?

MS: I wasn't familiar with their recording of "Almost Persuaded" which Mark Lanegan suggested. That song floored me, and quickly became my favorite Louvin Brother's recording.

Along similar lines, were there any tunes that you almost expected artists to pick?

MS: One of Chris Hillman's musical turning points in his life was when his mom bought him a copy of the Louvin Brothers' 1956 album Tragic Songs of Life, so we had a good idea he'd pick something on there. The Black Angels have always been massive fans of Satan Is Real so we had a feeling they'd choose a tune from the LP. 

Can you talk a little bit about the Tragic Songs of Life reissue from Light In The Attic?

MS: TSOL is a pinnacle album in the band's catalog and one that we couldn't resist reissuing.  There's some incredible mandolin playing on the record, as well as some of the band's finest recordings - "Alabama,", "Knoxville Girl," and "In The Pines." Fortunately, Capitol had the original master tapes as well, so John Baldwin spent ages with this record as well.  To my ears, it sounds better than it ever has.  

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