Photo Credit - RCA Records with permissions to Entercom Buffalo LLC.

#DiscoverAndDownload: Sundara Karma - "She Said"

April 3, 2017
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Oscar Pollock looks through the headlines, joins all the dots, peers to the very core of modern society, politics and social media, and senses crazy hands on the controls. “It’s like there’s this weird creepy clown who’s controlling everything and getting a real kick out of these bizarre things us humans are doing,” he considers. “Like, ‘oh my god, look what I can make them do now!’”

Add in a truckload of solid gold anthems that view classic noughties rock melodies through the modern indie prism of Arcade Fire and The Maccabees, and it’s no wonder Sundara Karma are being hailed as the bright future of alt-rock, a reputation built on a clash of exotic and ordinary that’s embedded deep in their roots. Oscar was originally born in Singapore and lived there until the age of seven, adoring the multi-cultural aspect of the place and recalling the joy of having his mother paint his nails for him. When his father moved the family to Bourne End near Maidenhead for work, Oscar discovered rock music, inspired to write his first song “as soon as I could string three chords together” at the age of eight, inspired by the sight of Jack Black knee-sliding around a classroom like AC/DC’s pet rhino in School Of Rock.

Sundara Karma, Sanskrit for ‘beautiful karma’, was their yell into Berkshire’s abyss. Meeting guitarist Ally Baty and bassist Dom Cordell at his new school, Oscar and Haydn formed the band aged 14 and began sneaking onto bills in “dodgy pubs with three people in the audience, mainly old, bearded, beer-bellied men who were more interested in the beer” from 16, often getting kicked out whenever the proprietors discovered they were underage.

There was a level of pretence to his performance, though. “Getting onstage is such a fraudulent thing to do, and so unnatural, for someone to get up and pretend they’re this confident showman. All our cavemen instincts tell us not to do that. So I quite like the idea of playing on that idea that it’s showmanship, that it is entertainment. So it’s not about ‘this is me from the heart’, even though it is a moment where you can forget about all the shit in your life and be in the moment.”

And how. When Chess Club released their debut ‘EP 1’ in February 2015, streams for the vampiric Arcade Fire epic ‘Loveblood’ hit a million (“I didn’t think it was real, I thought it was probably my mum listening to it loads, but you can get used to shit so quickly, I think that’s one of the tragedies of life”), they found themselves on tour with Wolf Alice and Swim Deep (“it was party central”) and bagged a slot on the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading & Leeds. In November a follow-up ‘EP II’, more commercial and less obsessed with loneliness and isolation than its predecessor, capped a triumphant twelve-month rise in which they’d toured Europe in the same bus as Circa Waves, played a “daunting but fucking wicked” show at Alexandra Palace with The Wombats and saw the crowds turn rabid on their own headline tour.

Having recorded tracks for their EPs and debut album in a number of studios in London and Oxford, there was only one place a bunch of inventive, androgynous budding rock icons could go to finish it. Berlin. Over ten “Groundhog Days” they completed six songs there, with producer Larry Hibbitt (ex-Hundred Reasons) dragging them to heavy metal bars after every session. “It probably did have an influence on the record,” Oscar says, “because it’s not a heavy metal record…”

The title is adroitly self-explanatory; on its surface, this record details the tribulations of youth that age gradually glosses over. Besides a lingering sense of ill-fitting loneliness and classic tales of foiled romance, unrequited yearnings and dysfunctional relationships on ‘Loveblood’ and the vivacious ‘Vivienne’, the issues run deep. ‘A Young Understanding’ tackles Oscar’s struggles with identity, how he attempts to mould himself into whatever the person he’s talking to wants him to be and how his interest in Buddhism and meditation helps him combat that “because it tells you that there is no self, there’s no fundamental thing which we are, it changes every single second, especially in the quantum world.” ‘Happy Family’ is a semi-autobiographical gospel hoedown about the façade of fracturing family life, while ‘Be Nobody’ challenges the expectation that everyone should be a star in their own online echo chamber – “we’re in the age of narcissism, obsessed with appearances, Facebook and putting pictures of your cats up online to get likes, or your dinner,” Oscar considers. “It’s about thinking into yourself and saying ‘at the end of the day I’m gonna die and I’m nothing in this infinite universe’.”

The public myopia portrayed in ‘Flame’ was inspired by Plato’s Allegory Of The Caves, in which a prisoner is shackled in a cave facing a wall full of shadows from a fire behind him, believing the shadows to be reality. It’s only when released from the cave that he sees the full sunlit picture of the world. “Ever since I heard that story I thought it was crazy, especially how old it is and how relevant it still is.” The evocative, Coral-esque ‘Lose The Feeling’ continues the story, imagining the released prisoner “progressing to a more spiritual existence, he’s also making a physical journey through rivers and forests and valleys. It’s about some sort of salvation.”

Elsewhere, ‘Olympia’ is Oscar’s response to the titular Manet painting, ‘Loveblood’ is his attempt to personalise the fate and mysticism of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and ‘The Night’ emerged from his reading of Dracula at school. “I find I hard to go to a gallery or whatever and not walk away thinking ‘fucking hell, that was a really cool piece, that’s inspired me to do such-and-such’,” he says. “If I can’t think of anything else I’ll open a book and think ‘that’s a really inspiring line’ and then draw from tht.”

Sundara Karma’s diary for 2017 is rammed with US tours with Spring King, UK tours with Two Door Cinema Club (including a return to Ally Pally) and their own headline shows including their biggest London gig to date at Shepherd’s Bush Empire but, like all the best restless intellects, Oscar is keen to keep exploring his billowing creativity. “I’d like to do a second album quickly, just to give people more of a picture of what we’re about,” he enthuses. “Even though this is our debut album I still don’t feel it represents us to the fullest. The stuff I’m writing at the moment is really different and better. I’d like to be a bit bolder with the next record.”

Already bold and beautiful, now watch Sundara Karma get big. Very big.

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