Host Spotlight: Sitka Sun

Host Spotlight: an opportunity to shine a light on our wonderful radio hosts and wider community, be it a new music release, a brand new music residency or simply to champion them as an individual. This time, we fly to Northern California to chat with bassist, composer, vinyl selector and sound system operator, Sitka Sun! Otherwise known as Patrick Murphy, he has been broadcasting from across the pond for over a year now, encompassing a sound that blends his thirst for roots music from around the globe. We dive into Patrick’s latest album ‘All The Way West’, his musical influences plus the latest scoop on new, exciting project ‘Alkanna’…

Hey Patrick! How did you first get into music?

As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by music. When I would visit friends and family as a kid, my favorite thing was to listen through their music collections. At 11, a friend let me borrow a guitar and it was on from there. I had some great musician friends at an early age and a bass player friend was especially helpful, we learned the instruments in tandem.

In addition to the angsty music a teenager needs, I knew that a big piece of my love for music was in early rock & roll, blues, and soul. At a bar called the Yard Rock in the shipyard of Quincy, Massachusetts, my father would take me over there for the Sunday youth blues jam, providing me with some stage time as well as the connections for how my music life would progress. I realized a bass player was always in demand, and thirsty (if not obsessed) to play, I switched to the bass and felt right at home. I started playing in the Boston blues circuit as a bassist, taking lessons from the old timers, and with a ‘go big or go home’ attitude, continued on to study the upright bass. 

Congratulations on your sophomore release ‘All The Way West’ making Bandcamp Weekly last month! Can you tell us a bit more about the process of making the album?

Many thanks! All the Way West really came together as a chance I had been waiting for. In retrospect, the timing and circumstance of my life and the creative process were really in line. I was recalibrating after a heartbreak, relatively new to my sobriety and relationship with alcohol, and still being relatively new to the California Bay Area, I had been wanting to create a body of work with my favorite local musicians I had met. It was a cathartic time and also very empowering. Having the album to work on really helped me stay steady in my personal and spiritual work and I hope some of that energy reaches people. 

I wrote much of that material at home, sketching out and recording the demos, preparing it to bring to a choice few musician friends. I knew at a certain point I could only write the music so far and then it would be time to bring new people and dimensions into the music. I still feel this way, collaboration can help music really bloom. The album was recorded in various sessions at Santo Studio in Oakland, Bottom Bunk Studios in Oakland, and Black Bear Recording in Ithaca, NY as well as a few more rootsy ways like at my humble home studio, the piano shop I work at, or after hours in a Berkely church that trumpeter Dave Millen would practice at. 

It’s also a fun detail that the two main studios belong to musicians featured on the record – synth player Andy Lambert’s Bottom Bunk Studio and Angelo Paradiso’s Black Bear Recording. The three of us have been friends for almost 15 years, way back to when we lived in Ithaca, NY. Angelo Paradiso co-produced, recorded and mixed the first Sitka Sun record, so it felt very natural to bring him in again to be featured and mix ATWW. 

Who were you listening to a lot whilst recording it? 

It’s hard for me to remember exactly who I was really juiced on! But looking through my vinyl a few have jumped out, including selections from modern artists such as Te’Amir and Kamasi Washington, Saharan desert blues such as Tamikrest and Lelia, and past greats like local Oakland blues artists Lowell Fulsom & Johnny Fuller. Celtic music like DeDannan and Clannad, Brazilian flavored club music like Marcos Valle and Banda Favela, as well as Nigerian Afrobeat and Jamaican soul-jazz such as the Brentford Rockers and Jackie Mitoo. Of course my listening is always tuned into my heroes Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Yuseff Lateef… the list here goes on..

Would you say your sound has evolved since your self-titled debut in 2018? If so, how?

I would definitely say so. Fundamentally I tried to incorporate more harmonic movement as well as bringing in a strong pianist, Andrew Kunz, and more jazz oriented drummer Poh Teng. The first album had much more of Angelo Paradiso at the producer and collaborative level, and with ATWW it was a different time and space. I was now in Oakland CA and not NYC with a number of years in between, and my experience and influence had definitely grown. And it will continue to evolve, I don’t hold the reins too tight with the expression of the music in this band. Even I  look forward to hearing what Sitka Sun sounds like in the future!

Residing in Oakland, California, do your surroundings have much of an impact on the music you make?

Yes, the amazing and beautiful land of California plays a huge role in the sound of Sitka Sun. The reference for the name of the group comes from the Sitka Spruce tree, a coniferous evergreen that is highly desirable in musical instruments for its resonant qualities, so fundamentally its inspiration is earthly and natural. The hidden valleys in the Bay Area trails, the the alpine regions of the Sierra Nevada, the levee roads on Sacramento Delta, the dry and hot desert like Joshua Tree and the glorious Northern Pacific Coast are places I go to recharge, meditate, and feel the energy of these spaces so I can navigate and find them in my creative endeavors.

You’re launching a brand new project, Alkanna! Can you tell us a bit more about this and how it was born? 

Alkanna has been my latest vehicle for creating music. It really has been the main piece of my journey through the pandemic. I had always wanted to have a project that was a little more electronic based and was mainly a small band project. It has been financially difficult in the Bay Area as an artist, with this area being the most expensive cost of living in the United States, and that has always made getting my musicians the money they deserve difficult. When the pandemic hit and I only had a home studio to work with, I started producing music using samplers and drum machines in conjunction with the upright bass, guitar, and piano. It has been a long time vision of mine to bridge acoustic and electronic sounds, and Alkanna definitely leans this way.  

What has been your favourite performance to date? Dream venue to perform at?

I’d say my favorite to date was the initial Sitka Sun release show at Starline Social Club in Oakland. It was put on by the label we work with, Long Road Society, and it was a super packed Saturday night show with so many friends and family in support. During our set, a disorderly patron in the club upstairs rang the fire alarm, so it was pretty wild to have a false alarm go off and then be on the mic and keep the crowd calm. With some fast acting and communication from the club, reassuring our safety to a community already traumatized by the Ghost Ship Fire – a then-recent fire in an artist’s warehouse/venue that took 36 lives – we were able to keep the show rocking. It was pretty intense to have the crowd trust us in something like this, and I think there was an even deeper energy to the show because of it.

It would be a dream to take this ensemble around to NYC and the east coast, as well as performing the music in small intimate listing and dancing spaces across the globe.

What’s coming up next for you?

Next month Sitka Sun are performing at one of our dream venues, SFJazz in San Francisco, as well as the Joe Henderson Lab on the same night (19th February). I am so thrilled to bring the group to such a prestigious performance theatre! Because of all the Covid roadblocks, I am almost considering it the album release show for All The Way West.

Other than that, it’s mainly recording another body of work. I see the band taking on choice performance opportunities when we can, and I have always been open to the idea of having a fluid roster of different musicians performing and interpreting the music. I am excited to see the next incarnation of this music. I will continue producing for Alkanna and plan to begin running my soundsystem, Alkanna’s Hi-Fi, for outdoor events as we slowly and surely work our way back into performing live music.

Catch Sitka Sun’s next show on Melodic Distraction on Saturday 5th February. In the meantime, listen back to the latest episode with Patrick Murphy and Andrew Kunz below: