Just over a year ago, Sundara Karma were sat in the dressing rooms of Brixton Academy, getting ready to play their biggest headline show to date. That night, they proceeded to rip through a mammoth set that celebrated a 2017 that saw them release their debut album, play across the globe, and then round it all off with a bloody big send-off.
Sitting upstairs, they chatted through about a crazy year, their search for a tattooist to get some ink done before the show and joked about a ‘Marmite’ second album. A year on, and frontman Oscar Pollock laughs when thinking about it.
“No, no, I don’t think this one is Marmite,” he laughs. “We’ll wait till the third one for that!”
After everything Sundara got up to, you’d warrant them a little bit of time to plan out what comes next – and yet, less than a year later and after a summer of big-time festival shows, Oscar is getting ready to lead Reading’s finest back into a whole new chapter.
“We wanted to get the album out this year! We were determined to do that, and then we talked to management, and they were like – that’s probably unrealistic.”
Yet, they could have – this isn’t a band leisurely rolling back into view to see what they could do next, Sundara Karma have always been more than that. Their blend of anthemic indie hooks, modern pop swagger and deep-diving lyrical spotlights all dressed in a glam-soaked sparkle has booted in the door when it comes to being a band in a modern generation.
“I don’t know if we had a very clear picture of what we wanted to do,” recalls Oscar, thinking back to where they were that night and if the future was even glinting in the back of their minds. “Well, I guess we did in a way, but the end result is always a bit different.”
Where Sundara Karma are now as a band compared to where they were at the start of 2017 can be heard ringing out on the mesmerising ‘Illusions’, the opening salvo to a second album that promises to take the infectious heights of their debut and turn it into an adventurous and refreshing new beast.
“We wanted to push ourselves,” notes Oscar. “The desire to do something more fulfilling was the big thing for me for this album, so that naturally meant expanding the corners of what we do.”
On ‘Illusions’ they do that and more. A seductive five-minute taste of the future that sounds as if David Bowie was transported back down to earth with a cosmic-disco swing – fluid and hypnotising in its power, it’s the sound of Sundara Karma stretching their peacock feathers for the world to see. Taking any sense of preconceptions and throwing them well and truly down the street.
“The difference between putting these songs out and the last ones is that these excite us more,” states Oscar. “They’re more honest, and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun getting them all together.”
With quite a few songs written on that last run of touring in 2017, that momentum of playing live and huge nights had Sundara creatively on a roll. As Oscar remembers it, there was no clear planned-out process involved.
“I remember just kinda going through a period of writing for no particular artist – I wasn’t thinking about writing for our next album, it was just something that made me happy and something I could show my friends to gauge their response. Those songs started coming through with no real intention or end goal, and I think that’s why I like them. It was almost like they just appeared.”
The demos followed soon after and suddenly, in the midst of shows scattered across the first half of the year where new cuts were given sly debuts, a second album was already there.
“We had a clear idea when we went into the studio of what the songs were that we had and how we wanted them to sound.”
What followed is a time that Oscar describes as “honestly, one of the best months of our lives,” toiling away after the band relocated to London. Working in the studio with a dream team of producers, they were able to tap into the knowledge of three defiant and creative names – in the form of Alex Robertshaw of Everything Everything, Tom Fuller and The Killers/Scissor Sisters/Madonna producer Stuart Price. It allowed them the freedom to truly explore everything they wanted to achieve, to take things above and beyond what they were able to pull into view on ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’ and evolve into a band gazing at the stars.
“That month, honestly, it was better than Christmas. I don’t know if I’ve said that before – probably have on lots of different things, but it really was,” exclaims Oscar. “We’ll look back on that period of recording in London, getting the train to and from the studios because we’d recently moved there. Just very relaxed. We’ve peaked,” Oscar cracks.
The excitement within camp Sundara Karma zips out on every word Oscar speaks. He readily admits he’s 100% happier now compared to this time last year, and the album sits as a by-product of that happiness – though undeniably much more personal in every sense of the word. ‘Illusions’ is a prime example, a striking take on how the world can cloud and fill people’s minds with the sort of sensory overload we’ve all witnessed lately.
“The next record and ‘Illusions’ in particular is more honest than we’ve ever been,” details Oscar. “A lot of the subject matter is things I’ve been thinking over the year, and stuff I was kinda afraid to mention on the first record. Like a lot of existential crisis bullshit and metaphysical stuff. I kinda didn’t want to go there, but with this record, it just felt really right to talk about things like life and death, and what does it all mean? Why are we always so depressed when y’know, we should be as happy as we deserve to be?
“There’s not really a love song on the album, and that’s definitely a reflection on my own life,” he laughs.
With ‘Illusions’ lighting the starting gates for Sundara Karma’s bold new takeover, it’s clear that this is a band seething with energy. Promising the sort of second album that’ll make you recognise the scope and artistic flair they undeniably have, 2019 looks to be theirs for the taking.
“We just wanted to make something that we were proud of,” Oscar notes. “Our favourite albums are pop albums yet incredibly layered, textured and ambitious. I think we’ve created what we would say is our closest attempt to the stuff that we love and listen to there.
“We did an interview over the summer, and we were asked how we want this album to be perceived, and we were like, oh fuck. People will actually hear it! It’s okay; it’s not like we’ve made a Slipknot album or anything.”
That’ll have to wait, till then Sundara Karma are on the cusp of something pretty dazzling – making that next step into something huge. After soundtracking youth and its ups and downs, their eyes are set on where we go from here.
“You go through the motions of putting out your first album, and it feels you have to tick a lot of boxes and meet certain criteria to be successful, but it’s all kinda rubbish,” points out Oscar. “You just have to be yourselves, and that’s what we’ve realised – that’s the only difference in where we are today.”
Taken from the November issue of Dork, out now. Sundara Karma’s new single ‘Illusions’ is out now.
Words: Jamie Muir