The bands Sun Hop Fat and Harry and The Hitmen have a few things in common. They merge different genres into creating new sounds. They are eminently danceable (albeit in different ways). They are Oakland-based, and along with other Oakland-based band, Whiskerman, are playing at The Chapel in San Francisco on Friday, August 15. They also share four band members, including Harrison Murphy, whom I caught up with recently to discuss both bands.  

Sun Hop Fat’s music is a fusion that includes Ethiopian jazz, funk, and soul, with some psychedelic. Sun Hop Fat came upon this sound at its inception; or rather its inception came from the sound. The band was started by a member who is no longer in the group. He went through an Ethio-jazz phase, gathered some musicians, and proposed playing this style of music, so the group started playing together at Vulcan Lofts in East Oakland, where they still practice more than six years later.

Murphy hadn’t heard of Ethio-jazz before the band began playing together. “It’s music you don’t really hear around. I hadn’t been exposed to it before.” He’s not so sure about the music categorization, though. “To me it’s not really that jazzy, but kind of space-funk,” Murphy adds, “It’s like they figured out what note sounds good and create an entrancing groove.”

Sun Hop Fat presently has 11 people in the band, and while they play some covers, about 25% of their music is original. I asked Murphy about the band’s songwriting process. Do they jam until the groups find something they like, or do individual people come in with ideas? They answer: a bit of both, but more of the latter.

“Someone will write enough to get the process going and then people will add their bits,” for example, he says, they will see how the drummer reacts to the bass line. With original songs, the creative control is in with the person who’s written the song, Murphy says, but with the covers things might be more complicated. Despite having an audio reference point, people hear things differently.

Overall, the process runs smoothly. “The band has no real leader” Murphy says, “it’s more or less a democratic ideal, for good or bad. The bad being that it might be hard to get things done, but the good being the end result.”

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While Murphy is playing with Sun Hop Fat, he and his bandmates in Harry and the Hitmen are in the process of recording a debut album of original music. The band has primarily been playing covers of classic Motown and soul artists such as Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, and The Jackson 5. The songs they are writing will continue to draw inspiration from the genre. “We tried to write songs that fit with the Motown and soul songs we play, but we definitely add our own flavor.”

It’s imaginable that it could be hard to write songs in the style of such iconic music. “It was easier than we thought. We’ve been immersed heavily in this music for 10 years.” In fact, when Harry and The Hitmen debuted the first batch of their new songs earlier this year at the Bottom of the Hill, after the set, they asked some members of the audience about the original songs. Most people didn’t know which songs weren’t original.

Harry and The Hitmen

Harry and The Hitmen

Both Sun Hop Fat and Harry and the Hitmen include psychedelic sounds from the late 60s and 70s. This is a revival also seen in the garage/indie scene in California. Murphy thinks the experimental sounds, jams, and improvisations, which  he describes as unpredictable and exciting, help explain the appeal of psychedelic music.

“[The listener] feels like they don’t know where it’s going. It stimulates the brain and heart. It’s a kind of surprise, being in the moment.” The band, meanwhile, “is making weird moments together and is inspired by those types of things.”

This combination describes Harry and the Hitmen’s origins, too. They got together by just making sounds and improvising. They didn’t want to let go of that when they started playing Motown, so they merged the two ideas. Taking the “best songs ever written” and “trying to make something unique that would never happen again… it takes risks musically, but creates pleasant surprises.”

Harrison Murphy is not in Whiskerman, the third band of the lineup at The Chapel on Friday, but in the interest of (the tiniest amount of) fairness, I asked him to say something about the band.

Murphy glows about their songwriting and the voice of Graham Patzner, describing it as utterly unique and falsetto. “A phenomenal band. One of my favorite groups.” For a brief look at the band, check out the song and video, “The Town,” that is a love song to Oakland.

Sun Hop Fat, Whiskerman,  and Harry and The Hitmen
Friday, August 15
9 p.m. (doors open at 8 p.m.)
The Chapel
777 Valencia Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door
All ages are welcome

About The Author

Katie is the Music Editor at OL. She's a music geek, culture junkie, massive A's fan, and Oakland native. When she was six, she stood for five minutes with a felt pennant stuck under Chris Mullin’s armpit. Check out her Oakland music listings at www.oakampd.com, follow on twitter/instagram as @craziesthawk, or contact at katies@oaklandlocal.com

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