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Dealing in anthemic guitar music with soaring choruses, brooding romanticism and a sense of euphoric uplift, Sundara Karma are the Reading four-piece who have spent 2016 firmly establishing themselves as the hottest new band around. Picking up a feverishly dedicated cult fan base who have been selling out rammed, sweaty venues up and down the UK, the fervor has been building ahead of their eagerly anticipated debut album ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ (released January 6th 2017 on Chess Club / RCA).
Their songs are built for big crowds and arena sing-alongs: main man Oscar Pollock gravitates towards widescreen, panoramic rock songs with a sense of abandon and euphoria, even when he sits down to write an intimate ballad. No wonder Sundara Karma are receiving flattering comparisons to Arcade Fire and Bruce Springsteen and being seen as UK counterparts to Kings of Leon and Killers. Think bold and bright, powerful and yearning.
Sundara Karma – it means “beautiful karma” in Sanskrit – are Oscar Pollock (vocals, guitar), Haydn Evans (drums), Dom Cordell (bass) and Ally Baty (guitar). They are all still only 20. Oscar and Haydn have been friends since Junior School, when they were in a “really rubbish” outfit called Ricochet. They met Dom and Ally when they were 13 and began Sundara Karma a year later, playing covers of classics by The Doors and Thin Lizzy – Oscar’s father, a sometime DJ, is Irish and loved the rebel rockers; he also had a vinyl collection which he bequeathed to his son when he moved away. Those early Sundara sets featured more modern tracks by the likes of Arctic Monkeys, sprinkled with a few originals.
“Our mission was to play our own songs to an audience that eventually would appreciate our music,” recalls Oscar.
Sundara’s ambitions were grand from the start.
“We were trying to make music that was more exciting than our lives,” explains Oscar. “We know there’s a bigger, more exciting world out there.”
They’re already on their way. Sundara Karma have had regular plays on Radio 1, with two playlisted records under their belt so far this year, and had considerable support from Annie Mac, Greg James, Phil Taggart and especially Huw Stephens. There have been rave write-ups everywhere from NME to The Huffington Post. They even opened the main stage at Reading Festival in August 2016. Quite the accolade for the young four piece who grew up with the festival on their doorsteps.
The band couldn’t be more thrilled – Before Sundara Karma demanded their complete focus they variously worked as a food-runner (Oscar) a chef (Haydn), a nightclub photographer (Ally) and a toy shop worker (Dom). Coming from Reading has been crucial: it’s just far enough from London for the capital to become a beacon of glamour, but near enough for them to believe they can easily reach it.
“That really sums it up,” Oscar agrees, adding that, “Escapism in our lyrics is really important”.
It’s a feeling, he says, that they fully intend to tap into in their music.
“We want to summon up that feeling everyone gets at one time or another,” he says, “of wanting to leave everything behind and start afresh, to let go…”
Sundara Karma have just come back from a trip of sorts – to Berlin, where they have been recording their debut album with Larry Hibbitt, lead guitarist with post-hardcore band Hundred Reasons, who has been manning the controls of Jazzanova Studios for their debut album.
The band have signed to Chess Club / RCA, home of Swim Deep and Mø (and formerly Mumford & Sons and Wolf Alice), and their first release is an EP, comprising material written entirely by Oscar – like Arctic Monkeys and Nirvana before them, Sundara Karma have a lyric- and music-writing frontman.
The songs on their debut album touch on subjects that obsess Oscar. Vivienne is a vision of an idealised love, “like Romeo and Juliet with a modern-day twist and a weird, dark, tragic ending”. The rousing live favourite Run Away exudes positive energy, despite being “about people letting you down who you thought would be there for you”. She Said is already established as an anthem for those hazy nights that begin with the question as to whether to even leave the house in the first place. Loveblood is an explosive sonic barrage that oozes with lust and bruised heart lyrics. Talking about ‘Loveblood’, frontman Oscar Lulu says:
“The song is about fate, love and tragedy. A kind of Romeo and Juliet inspired thing. It’s also inspired by Oscar Wilde’s short story ‘Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime’. Mysteries of the unexplained is something that has a huge appeal for me.”
Never ones to be taken and first appearance, Sundara Karma are more influenced by ideas than they are by other indie bands.
“I read a lot and watch a lot of films,” says Oscar, who is likely to quote Einstein or Plato at any given moment. “Deep thinkers and philosophers inspire me, not just musicians.”
Another Sundara Karma song is Indigo Puff, and if the title sounds druggy, that’s no coincidence.
“It’s about getting high,” admits Oscar. As the band’s name suggests, the attitude more than the pharmacology of the Summer of Love is a primary influence.
“The ethos of the 60’s is very appealing to me,” says Oscar, whose mother is a practising Buddhist. “Our name came from conversations that I’d have with her about spirituality and the metaphysical nature of things.”
Is he a Buddhist, too?
“No – I don’t know enough about it. I’m kind of dipping my toes in at the moment, but I really do love the philosophy of Buddhism and I meditate as much as I can.”
Sundara’s debut album will be dramatic in impact, but not necessarily dark or ponderous – more powerful and serious.
“As though we mean it, not joking around – from the heart,” clarifies Oscar. He’s equally serious when he says that the benchmarks for the kind of album he was inspired by when writing Sundara Karma’s debut – Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Pixies’ Doolittle and Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde.
“We want to make something great, something we can be proud of,” he declares.
It will be a concept of sorts, one that will “take the listener on a journey and allow you to feel as though you’re escaping with it”. It will evince Sundara’s romantic – in the broadest sense of the word – vision.
“It’s important as an artist to see the magic in things,” he decides, neatly expressing Sundara Karma’s ability to evoke the wondrous and summon the mystical via their endlessly captivating, panoramic rock.
Youth is Only Fun in Retrospect is released on January 6th on Chess Club RCA