Sundara Karma: “I’d like to enjoy the full spectrum of what’s on offer in life”

Indie’s most resilient and daring band, SUNDARA KARMA are back as they return to their roots with ‘Better Luck Next Time’.

Words: Finlay Holden.

If you’re a Sundara Karma fan in 2023, that can mean one of many things. Maybe you found the indie outfit through their early singles starting in 2014 or latched on to the Reading quartet’s ever-popular debut album, ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’. Perhaps the bouncing alt-rock of 2019’s ‘Ufilas’ Alphabet’ captured your attention, else the hyperactive, poppy energy of subsequent EPs ‘Kill Me’ and ‘Oblivion!’. “I guess, ultimately, it just means that you’re an open-minded person,” frontman Oscar Pollock summarises.

Described by some as indie’s most loyal or resilient fan base, the band’s regular listeners have been on one hell of a rise over the last decade. The genre-hopping four-piece have never stood still for long, constantly mutating their sound into something new and exciting, and fans have been pulled along for the colourful journey. With a first LP that stole the hearts of many, it was a brave decision to move away from a scene-defining project and diversify their discography beyond what anyone could have predicted.

Sundara Karma’s release schedule refused to relent, the outfit consistently diving headfirst into whatever fresh waters sparked their interest next, but it has been almost four years since their last full-length effort. “With EPs, there is a little bit more room to breathe when trying different things out for the first time,” Oscar states, “and that’s what it felt like: different. There were a lot of different choices in tying what might feel like new genres and influences into those songs.”

“It felt like the most exciting thing would be to do what originally brought us the four of us together – good indie music”

Oscar Pollock

Now, though, the time has finally come for a longer-form release in the shape of the short and very sweet nine-tracker, ‘Better Luck Next Time’. Once again, the group are doing the last thing anyone would expect; this time, that means returning to their roots. “When it came down to doing the third record, it felt like the most exciting thing would be to do what originally brought us the four of us together – good indie music,” Oscar explains. “No frills, no over-saturation, careful consideration of what stays in the final product and trying to reduce everything to its bare essentials. That’s when indie music is at its best, I think – when it’s distilled down to its main elements without much else getting in the way.”

That’s exactly what is delivered here – to-the-point, emotionally aware, pure indie that’s not always quite as high of a sugar rush as its cake-themes artwork might suggest. Exploring pain and pleasure, with one track even claiming that exact title, it is an album that tries only to communicate Oscar’s brainwaves but will quickly resonate with others.

The name itself is a first indication of that and could even be interpreted as a message from the band to themselves. “I just like the idea of failure and the loss of hope,” the singer says. “I definitely felt that over the past couple of years, so that’s been present in my mind a lot. It’s like a tongue-in-cheek take on all of that, and there is some resilience in it, too.”

Rich Turvey (“great guitarist, an all-around amazing musician and brilliant producer”) is already known for his work alongside the biggest names in indie – Blossoms and The Wombats, to name just two – but when paired with Sundara Karma, his perspective helped the group return to a familiar sound without retreading old paths too closely. They have returned to familiar territory where much of the landscape looks the same, but they are almost unrecognisable.

“If you want to find new things and have new energy in your life, then you’ve got to consciously choose to actually do new things and be in new places,” Oscar muses. “Surround yourself with new people and experience different things for the first time or in a different way than you have previously. It depends on what the ambition is. For me, I’d like to enjoy the full spectrum of what’s on offer in life.”

For a man of such obvious complexity, it was a surprising move to start the indie comeback with ‘Friends of Mine’. A simple, light-hearted and relatable banger, it seems like an obvious winner – but was Oscar confident this full-circle return would be a winner? “I’m still hesitant, to be honest,” he admits. “I could happily write a song, record it and never put it out. It could exist somewhere on a hard drive forever. Putting out music is a process that I don’t tend to get too involved in. Is it a winner or not? I have no idea. I just think it’s a pretty good song.”

Pretty damn good songs lie across the tracklist, seeming to arrive almost effortlessly with caution on their release but none surrounding their formation. This is a feeling materialised by a free-flowing creative process: “If it’s starting to feel like it’s too much effort, for me, that’s when I stop working on a song and move on to something else for a little bit. Sometimes, that means that I will have an idea for a track for two years and not make any progress on it until one day, it happens, and it all clicks. In a sense, all the songs are kind of effortless in how they come about only because you have to get to a place where you’re not getting in the way of the song coming through.”

Even the tougher, more self-critical tracks didn’t bother Oscar’s conscience, with ‘Wishing Well’ examining regrets about the past and fantasising about the future that was cancelled with a single choice. Heavy stuff. “That was actually a really cathartic song,” he laughs, “it felt like it really captured an emotion that I had been feeling a lot about a past relationship. A lot of it was me wrestling with the idea that, oh, if I did that differently, if things played out in the way in a different way to how they really did, then life would be amazing. It’s like that sliding doors idea of missing out on a reality that you hoped you would be in.”

Instead of pulling himself out of these existential mindsets, indulging in them is seen primarily as an opportunity for growth. “I allow myself to feel what’s there, I definitely don’t push it away,” he confirms, “but I think I’m quite a sensitive person, so sometimes that stuff can really affect my mood and on a day-to-day basis. I try to be good at seeing the positives as well, in life, in general. The good things give you a bit of perspective.”

If it sounds like ‘Better Luck Next Time’ simply fell out of Oscar’s mind, we’re not too far from the truth, but the refinement of that process is something that is still being worked on. “I am learning the skill of communicating to an audience because that’s something I’ve never actually thought about up until recently,” he confesses. “How creative decisions are perceived, how different people respond to those things, how can you explain yourself so that people understand what you’re trying to say, if it does or doesn’t matter – I don’t know! I think at the core of it all, you want people to understand you, and that’s really important. You can be really well-intentioned with what you’re trying to convey but be so confusing that the message is lost.”

Sundara Karma’s third record is perhaps their most direct to date and returns to their first love with fresh ideas in mind. With the list of the group’s passions expanding by the minute, there is no way to tell what will come next, but Oscar asserts that this clear-cut, cohesive attitude is the one thing most likely to endure. “Maybe not all of my interests have to go into one thing. Different projects can look at different facets of things that I would like to explore; that’s something that I’m now learning.”

Taken from the November 2023 edition of Dork. Sundara Karma’s album ‘Better Luck Next Time’ is out 27th October.


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