As with many people in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter movement, James Tritten of Fort Lowell Records wanted to get involved but didn’t know how to make a difference at first. Nevertheless, as someone with a following in the Wilmington indie-rock scene, Tritten says he realized his label is his voice; Fort Lowell gives him a platform to shed light on issues like systematic racism and inequality.
“As human beings, it is our responsibility to use [our voice] to promote equality and support the Black Lives Matter movement,” he says. “As a business, and on the most basic level, we are simply making a product available: music.”
Specifically, “GROW: A Compilation in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” a compilation album featuring 12 local veteran and new artists, is set to hit the shelves this fall. Moreover, proceeds will benefit the New Hanover County NAACP chapter.
“On a higher level,” Tritten explains, “‘GROW’ is an outlet for people—from the artists, manufacturers, and sponsors, to all patrons and supporters—to exercise their individual alliance with Black Lives Matter and provide a positive influence towards justice. ‘GROW’ is what we are able to offer our community to help us do just that: grow.”
Originally from Florida, Tritten and his wife Tracy Shedd lived in Tucson, AZ (2006 to 2013), the original birthplace of Fort Lowell Records. This is the second album the label has produced to benefit a cause important to them. “Luz De Vida” was released in January 2011 with profits going towards the victims of the Tucson shooting. Among the victims was Arizona Congresswoman Gabbi Giffords. The album was composed of artists and industry professionals in Tucson and benefited the Tucson Together Fund. Tritten comments that without “Luz de Vida,” “GROW” would not be possible.
“The opportunity [with ‘Luz de Vida’] in itself is what inspired ‘GROW’ and has enabled us to proceed,” he explains. “‘Luz de Vida entirely was a complete lesson learned, one which we are bringing to the table wholeheartedly with ‘GROW.’”
Tritten says “GROW” will mirror “Luz de Vida” in fundraising efforts and has already secured $15k in donations from manufacturers who will make the vinyl. The label intends to press 1,000 records, asking a minimum donation of $30 per record. This means if those copies sell, ILM’s NAACP will receive a minimum of $30k on top of any donations made from all digital downloads and streams of the album … indefinitely.
This is Tritten’s first time working with the local NAACP. He says chapter President Deborah Dicks Maxwell’s leadership is what made them choose to align “GROW” with her vision for New Hanover County.
“It was important to us that the money from ‘GROW’ be used as a resource to help establish equality for Black citizens within our community,” he explains, “and that is the mission in which Ms. Maxwell leads by for her organization.”
The record cover was designed by local visual artist James Williams, appropriately titled “Persistence.” Williams’ style incorporates vibrant acrylics and collages to create an eclectic feel. Trevor Van Meter, local illustrator and animator created the album’s jacket, with artist Chet Childress’s work will be on the B-side of the vinyl. Liner notes will be written by Wilmington’s Third Person Project, which openly discusses Wilmington’s longstanding history regarding racial disparity and discrimination.
While Tritten and Shedd have called Wilmington their home for the past two years, Tritten’s former band Audio Explorations played a gig at the former Wilmington Exchange Fest in 1996. Shedd, too, has had her music featured on local television productions, such as “One Tree Hill” and “Dawson’s Creek.” “GROW” will include a song by Shedd, as well as a blend of seasoned performers like Sean Thomas Gerard (Onward, Soldiers), Summer Set, The Majestic Twelve, Life of Saturdays. Then there are Kicking Bird, Lauds, Pinky Verde, Team Player; and Neon Belly, making their debut with the label. All bands featured have an indie-rock background, a connection to the Port City, and know and support Black Lives Matter, according to Tritten. Neon Belly features newlyweds Lacie Jay and Matt Emmerick, who also are friends of Tritten and Shedd.
“Matt has a great sense of punk-rock rhythm and melody, while Lacie’s honest passion for her beliefs really shines through on her vocal performance,” Tritten says. “There is a grit to Neon Belly that we just adore. We are honored to have the opportunity to debut their music.” Tritten comments.”
Wilmington-based five-piece psychedelic, soul, surf, rock band Kicking Bird will also make an appearance on the album. Kicking Bird’s unique style of “beach music” was what originally led Fort Lowell to select the band to record a song for the album. After being approached by Tritten earlier this year, the band began writing a new single specifically for “GROW.”
“Kicking Bird’s excellent songwriting skills, fun throwback style and overall musical tone is what drove us to ask them to be a part of ‘GROW,’” Tritten adds. “Specifically, we love their guitar tone, which really cuts through on the lead for their song ‘What Would All the Other Girls Say (If They Knew What I Was Doing)’ for GROW.”
Guitarist Robin Cooksley says listeners can expect a fun, upbeat vibe to lighten the mood during these times of uncertainty. His bandmate Shaun Paul (Guitar, vocals) says now is the time to come to support Black Lives Matter and come to terms with their own privilege based on race and gender.
“We have been able to coast through our whole lives unaffected by the systemic racism that runs through every institution in the county today,” Pauls says. “I think this has been a serious reality check that we do not live in an equal society. Whether you’re a woman or a person of color the system is slanted against you and I think we’ve all had to realize our own complicitness by simply being comfortable.”
While the exact drop date for “GROW” is still pending, listeners can follow Fort Lowell Records on Instagram for when they announce a fall release. Once available, folks can pick up a copy at local vinyl stores Gravity Records and Modern Legend, or stream online on Spotify and iTunes.