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Feature

Sundara Karma: Youth in revolt

With their debut album 'Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect' out now, Sundara Karma are riding a wave.
Published: 9:36 am, January 20, 2017
Sundara Karma: Youth in revolt
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]When people say that a band capture youth perfectly, it’s usually the same old story. With Sundara Karma there’s much more behind the story, blending personal memories, raw observations and ancient storytelling. In frontman Oscar Pollock, they may have 2017’s true indie icon.

In ancient Greek philosophy, the Allegory of the Cave is the sort of tale that’s been repeated and told for centuries. It’s not an old-wives tale of herbal medicine or how to cure a cold with a bamboo stick and a jug of sea water - but a foretelling of a world that even though has expanded still hasn’t learnt a thing. In the story, a group of prisoners are born and raised in a shackled cave; their necks fixed in place to look at a wall. Behind them, lies a raging fire and a another wall, behind which, people carry home-made puppets and figures which become the only reflections the prisoners see on the wall directly in front of them. For those prisoners, the reflections are all that they know and in turn, becomes their reality. The idea continues that once released from the shackles, a prisoner would turn and see the fire and be blinded by it, failing to believe what he sees after a lifetime of believing in something else and therefore would retreat to what he knows. It’s only when the prisoner is taken far from the cave and can gaze upon the place that he’s been held that they can truly see the real realities of the world they find themselves in.

“It’s such a mind-fuck, and even now it’s still so relevant to what we’re going through in society,” exclaims Oscar Pollock, who even at 21-years-old could very well have the most refreshing outlook on society, love and growing up than any band have distilled together up to this point. Sundara Karma aren’t just gazing into the shadows; they’re bursting out of the shackles and staring straight into the realities of life in 2017, of everything that makes us the people we are today - and that makes them quite bloody important.

It’s lead them to this point, to ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’. It’s the sort of album that examines a moment in time with the sort of precision that nails the exact emotion you’d be feeling at any given point and won’t sugar coat every up and down that life chucks at you. It’s a record about growing up, of not understanding what may be happening and that exact feeling being okay.

“I don’t know how people will feel at the end of the record” explains Oscar. “It’s weird, but it’s a privilege to have these memories captured on a coherent body of tracks. It’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get because it’s a real documentation of where we’ve come from 14 years old to now.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="9351" img_size="full
[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
"pull" text="There's something special here.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s been a ride that has seen Sundara Karma go from band practice in Reading to the world, complete with the sort of universal spirit of an Arcade Fire in full groove, yet dripping with the grit and wounds of Bruce Springsteen. It’s written in every lyric, heard on every blistering high and now ready to stamp itself down onto 2017 and beyond. In the space of twelve tracks, Sundara Karma are about to inspire so much more than many ever thought possible.

As Oscar sips away in his label’s offices, looking back on the path that led him here - the album’s importance and relevance rings through. Each track is pivotal; each track is personal, and each track is a part of a much wider scrapbook that doesn’t just belong to him but all of us who have grown up and seen what the world is really about.

“For me, you listen to it, and it takes you on that journey, you can listen to it and feel all of the emotions that you felt at certain points when you were young - and that’s condensed into however long the record is. You end up feeling, like, maybe it’s changed your perspective on it all.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link="
[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The story of ‘Youth...’ begins in Singapore. 1995 to be precise. A place Oscar was born and spent his formative years in - soaking in a vibrancy that seeps through the bright lights and even brighter mornings. It’s a world he remembers fondly, one that without him even knowing it - set him on a path that he continues to step forward into even now.

“What’s cool about Singapore is that it’s so multi-cultural,” gazes Oscar. “One of the biggest things that I took away from that place was how everyone gets on with everyone like there’s no reason not to.” That rainbow-soaked introduction to the world, gave Oscar a glimpse of what a warm and welcoming society could offer, one fuelled by an acceptance of one another. A look into the world for what it could be, rather than what it was.

“It was also this sunshine-laden hot place, like a paradise really - and I was there until I was seven, and then we moved back as a family with my Dad getting a job back here. Moving to Maidenhead was such a culture shock. My world was completely turned around on itself, and then my parents got divorced when I was 13 and what followed was a series of really just unfortunate events which meant I had to grow up, and grow up quick - at least quicker than my friends at the time. I think it all contributed and came together as this feeling of alienation which has stayed with me ever since and stems from that exact period of my life.”

It’s in those struggles where ‘Youth...’ really was born. Examining those dark corridors of being young and struggling to understand or come to terms with what’s happening around you, it’s a personal history which has been shared and experienced through thousands around the country and world. It’s from those moments where songwriting and music acted as a beacon to express every emotion and feeling flowing through him, of taking those moments and turning them into something greater. There’s hope in every second of Oscar’s words, whether it’s talking to him face to face or listening to him on record and it helped him navigate the world going on around him.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="9332" img_size="full[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]He looks at songwriting now as such as necessary part of his life, one that shaped him ever since he picked up a guitar at eight years old and began to strum away at the same three chords. “Luckily I had that because if I didn’t, I probably would have ended up a lot more mixed up individual than I am, so it was there as my therapy - to channel all the angst and how I was feeling at the time into music. That’s what I’ve always used it for, to express everything inside me and get it out.

“I also think, school and that mid-teen era was tricky for me, and a lot of inspiration lyrically, which I’ve drawn upon for this album has come from those days. Like especially in ‘She Said’ where I’m talking about a night out between two people, and it was a night-out that summed up the feelings I had or the ones I wished I could have expressed when I was that age. When I’m sitting down to write, the emotions I’m addressing aren’t necessarily the emotions I’m feeling at the time. It’s emotions that I know I’ve felt and can talk about honestly, with a clarity after looking back on them.”

At a stage where music was firmly set in the forefront of everything he wanted to dream of, Oscar glimpsed at the iconic figures of bands such as Thin Lizzy and The Doors - with Jim Morrison’s distinctive aura of approaching the stage and performance as an inspiring touch point towards where he belonged. Reading a biography of the man himself, in Oscar’s words it “made me want to share the singer path in a similar way to how he had done early on. It was clear that being in a band was such an important thing to him, so it was inspiring for me to learn about that.”

Growing up in Maidenhead, with a lifetime of experiences, snapshots and emotions already in his mind - it was the foundations for what was to come, and a coming together of four friends that could only have formed Sundara Karma.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link="
[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Reading is a town with musical history streaming through its streets, so a natural home for Oscar, Haydn Evans, Ally Baty and Dom Cordell to be drawn together. After meeting Haydn in school after first moving to Maidenhead, Oscar’s teenage years lead him to move into Reading and another new town, new environment and new school. This time, he met Ally and Dom - and the world of Sundara Karma began piecing itself together.

“Yeah, we were all into music, so the three of us - me, Ally and Dom - formed a band,” remembers Oscar. “We needed a drummer, and I remembered Haydn. It was actually like that moment where it all clicked together, that first rehearsal as the four of us. We were getting ready to play a track, and it just went ‘whoosh’, y’know? We were all looking around at each other and thinking, fucking hell. This is amazing. This is real. We’re a proper band; there’s something special here.

“At the time, the main goal was to play at the school’s Battle Of The Bands, so we ended up playing it for two years in a row and slowly realised that there may be something more than just that! But it still feels like those same 14-year-olds, playing in that first session who are playing now.”

Since that point, there’s been no turning back. Finding any opportunity they could to practice or play, Sundara Karma spent most of the next few years sneaking onto pub bills (and often getting booted out as they were underage), writing song after song of triumphant indie-pop grooves and becoming the band they are today. The learning blocks for how to be a band in the 21st century. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="9346" img_size="full[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
"pull" text="We owe everything to our fanbase.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s a time full of joyful memories and, in turn, the untouchable highs of being young. It’s in those moments that ‘Youth...’ lives and thrives in blistering choruses and hands in the air gleams, the sort that gets you up in the morning and sends butterflies racing around your stomach. The memory-filled days to the deafening nights that click perfectly throughout the record. It’s the fuel to the engine of the record, and the fuel behind Oscar each and every day.

“Fuck yeah, there are some amazing parts of being young,” he bursts, “Going out and getting shit-faced, wasted and blacked-out drunk - those things are amazing but, at least for me, there’s always been a kind of... like... I haven’t appreciated it. I haven’t appreciated the moment enough.

“Like now, I look back on those memories and think, ‘Fuck, it was so good then - why didn’t I realise that and appreciate how fucking amazing it was then?’ And I’m sure in a few months time I’ll look back to now and think the same. It’s about really appreciating the moment, which is probably one of the hardest things for anyone to do - people spend a lot of money trying to figure out exactly how to do it.

“There’s that saying by George Bernard Shaw which I think is ‘youth is wasted on the young’, which is really cool. There’s a nostalgia that naturally comes from that, which I have all the time but it’s silly because you’re never going to get that back. When I catch myself doing it, I think ‘ahh don’t be so silly’, but it’s an easy trap to fall into.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="9334" img_size="full[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Within those times of youthful abandon, of living in the moment before nostalgia is even a word in their vocabulary, Sundara Karma began to establish themselves as a serious prospect, with lead track ‘Freshbloom’ gathering interest and turning heads. For Oscar, that step up to the stage as a frontman, as the centre of attention with his songs and band in tow was a daunting one - and one packed full of questions and contradictions. Up on that stage, there’s a manner of classic already written about the way he moves, like a unique blend of Marc Bolan’s glam pull, the soul-bearing chest of Brett Anderson and the choir-master modern figure of Gerard Way. With those on the surface, the very essence of standing out from the pack is against human nature, right?

“It’s a real weird thing man, because people try and focus on the frontman thing and...” trails Oscar. “Like, getting up on stage and playing in front of people is probably the most fraudulent thing a person can do. Every primitive and innate human instinct tells you not to do that. It’s that idea of upsetting the tribe, and if you fuck up then you’re out of the tribe forever if you get what I mean?

“From that mindset, you have to trick it into thinking it’s okay by embracing the fraudulence and creating a persona. So I like getting up on stage and just taking the piss out of myself and making feign movements because it is a bit of a joke, it’s fun, and it’s entertainment. I always say that the person on stage is the most honest version of myself because that fraudulence creates the vehicle where I can be more myself, if that makes sense?”

Honesty is such an integral word when it comes to Sundara Karma. Honesty has seen them tour around the world multiple times in the past two years, without a debut album to their name. It’s seen them sell out dates around the country and headline venues most bands would only dream of playing. It’s seen an ever-growing legion of fans turn up at their shows, send them messages online and dive into everything the band believe in. That honesty is what makes Sundara Karma more than just an indie band with some big songs, but one that means something to so many young people. It’s why they were your Best New Act In Waiting in last month’s readers’ poll, and that sort of connection is something not lost on Oscar.

“Genuinely, we owe absolutely everything to our fan base, because people would have given up on us a long time ago if it wasn’t for the dedication and pure passion of these kids and how they feel towards us,” implores Oscar. “They’ve really pushed us over the line; there were moments where people may not have wanted to give us that chance. Our fans are the powerhouse; it’s cool, and it’s a relationship which is now at a point where we can put out music and do things, and they’ll react in an incredibly loving way and keep it all moving in this amazing reciprocal cycle.

“From that bond, those large shows for us have become really poignant. We’ve never really been a hyped band, we’ve never really been a press-loved band and we’ve never been the cool band that other bands want to say they love - so where I think we excel is in the fact that we have fans, and I still don’t fully understand why we have this crazy amount of fans, but that’s our strongest point. I’m really happy about it because it’s the most organic way for it all to happen. It wasn’t planned it just happened.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link="
[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Within those times of youthful abandon, of living in the moment before nostalgia is even a word in their vocabulary, Sundara Karma began to establish themselves as a serious prospect, with lead track ‘Freshbloom’ gathering interest and turning heads. For Oscar, that step up to the stage as a frontman, as the centre of attention with his songs and band in tow was a daunting one - and one packed full of questions and contradictions. Up on that stage, there’s a manner of classic already written about the way he moves, like a unique blend of Marc Bolan’s glam pull, the soul-bearing chest of Brett Anderson and the choir-master modern figure of Gerard Way. With those on the surface, the very essence of standing out from the pack is against human nature, right?

“It’s a real weird thing man, because people try and focus on the frontman thing and...” trails Oscar. “Like, getting up on stage and playing in front of people is probably the most fraudulent thing a person can do. Every primitive and innate human instinct tells you not to do that. It’s that idea of upsetting the tribe, and if you fuck up then you’re out of the tribe forever if you get what I mean?

“From that mindset, you have to trick it into thinking it’s okay by embracing the fraudulence and creating a persona. So I like getting up on stage and just taking the piss out of myself and making feign movements because it is a bit of a joke, it’s fun, and it’s entertainment. I always say that the person on stage is the most honest version of myself because that fraudulence creates the vehicle where I can be more myself, if that makes sense?”

Honesty is such an integral word when it comes to Sundara Karma. Honesty has seen them tour around the world multiple times in the past two years, without a debut album to their name. It’s seen them sell out dates around the country and headline venues most bands would only dream of playing. It’s seen an ever-growing legion of fans turn up at their shows, send them messages online and dive into everything the band believe in. That honesty is what makes Sundara Karma more than just an indie band with some big songs, but one that means something to so many young people. It’s why they were your Best New Act In Waiting in last month’s readers’ poll, and that sort of connection is something not lost on Oscar.

“Genuinely, we owe absolutely everything to our fan base, because people would have given up on us a long time ago if it wasn’t for the dedication and pure passion of these kids and how they feel towards us,” implores Oscar. “They’ve really pushed us over the line; there were moments where people may not have wanted to give us that chance. Our fans are the powerhouse; it’s cool, and it’s a relationship which is now at a point where we can put out music and do things, and they’ll react in an incredibly loving way and keep it all moving in this amazing reciprocal cycle.

“From that bond, those large shows for us have become really poignant. We’ve never really been a hyped band, we’ve never really been a press-loved band and we’ve never been the cool band that other bands want to say they love - so where I think we excel is in the fact that we have fans, and I still don’t fully understand why we have this crazy amount of fans, but that’s our strongest point. I’m really happy about it because it’s the most organic way for it all to happen. It wasn’t planned it just happened.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="9333" img_size="full[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]After numerous EPs, ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’ is the culmination of everything the band mean to so many, and in turn, has the hallmarks of a record that won’t just soundtrack lives, but change them. Packed with the tales and shades of young life, it’s a record that truly reached its vision when the band decamped to Berlin - recording the album surrounded by one of the most inspiring cities in the world, following in the footsteps of many of their heroes and writing their own history in the city.

“That history man,” exhales Oscar. “That creative history and the people it attracts is something else. I wanted to go there and soak it up a bit, that kind of minimalism to the Berlin art scene which you can really hear in those Bowie records - they’re massive, but there’s nothing in there that doesn’t need to be, which I liked. It’s exactly what I like about the city itself. I wanted the record to be this apocalyptic, sci-fi, Blade Runner thing but it couldn’t be further from that! It came together when we decided to name it ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’, that was the moment where everything clicked, and the whole concept of the record emerged - it’s that feeling and that phrase.”

That phrase sums it all up. It’s an album full of raw memories, whether that’s a head over heels runaway romance (‘Vivienne’), a plea to hold on to that other-worldly reaction of a certain moment in time (‘Lose The Feeling’)’ or the countless nights spent wide awake dreaming, over-thinking and wishing the sun will never come up (‘The Night’) - it’s an album that takes those life-affirming cornerstones in growing up and stares right at them, whether they’re happy or terrifying. That freedom to explore and tackle it all came from a studio time where the pressure was well and truly off, and an opportunity laid out before them was seized with both hands running.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link="
[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Oscar looks back at the recording sessions as one of the most enjoyable of his life, and one that he’s incredibly fortunate that the band were able to do. “There was no pressure on us, no deadlines that we had to meet or anything so we really could take our time. Plus it’s the first time we’ve ever done this, I mean we’re just kids at the end of the day, getting to do this in Berlin too - so we were just having a fucking amazing time, y’know? Jumping around, trying shit out, it wasn’t difficult at all.”

That time lead to them dreaming big and looking higher than they’ve ever done before. ‘Youth...’ fizzes with the sort of urgency and energy that blistered through iconic records such as The Killers’ ‘Hot Fuss’ or The Maccabees’ ‘Colour It In’. It’s an album that brings you closer and closer until that point reaches where the record is effortlessly entwined with every listener’s story. When Oscar opens himself up with the spiralling close-to-the-bone tale of family heartache and separation in ‘Happy Family’, you feel every word - and it’s that what makes ‘Youth...’ a record many will be coming back to for years to come. It has that confidence to examine the exact ways we live our lives in such a broad way that it becomes incredibly personal.

Take ‘Be Nobody’, an ethereal choir-like reaction to the online world of self-culture and self-importance. “The thing is with social media and the many traps in modern day society,” elaborates Oscar, “is that we’re told we have to be a somebody. We have to be of a certain importance otherwise nobody will take you seriously, nobody will spend time on us - when actually, you don’t have to be anyone. You really don’t. Get up early, obviously look to have something for a living, have some discipline to your life but besides that you don’t have to be anything.

“Like, I’m happiest when I’m not thinking about myself at all but when I’m thinking of others. When I’m writing about music, and totally in the zone there, you kind of escape yourself and become quite selfless, and that’s really where you’ve got to be - people should be putting their energies into getting there. To that point of just selflessness.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="9350" img_size="full[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The importance of what Oscar says, how he says it and the lessons he’s learnt behind it have come from a life that’s born witness to it all. It’s come together in ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’, standing as a definitive tapestry of youth - stronger because of the shadows it finds itself in. Its brightest moments shine even brighter because of it, and its importance and timing is something that can’t be ignored. After all, there’s a generation of young people still trying to navigate that toughest of moments in life, of having to grow up and step away from the abandon of teenage dreaming. For that ‘Youth...’ bears all the hallmarks of that future blueprint, a motion picture for a generation attempting to understand what 2017 is and how to live with it. It’s why so many fans wait, eagerly anticipating an opening salvo that’ll pave a path for Sundara Karma to become a key band of an entire era, giving comfort to those feeling alienated and afraid.

“If we can do that,” comments Oscar, “then that’ll be really fucking cool. It wasn’t the key ambition, or what I necessarily wanted to do with the record, but I would be so happy if somebody could listen to the record and find some comfort in it - that’s quite an important thing. I’ve listened to a lot of records that’ve given me that comfort, and made me think ‘oh, maybe I’m not so weird after all’, so if someone gets that feeling, it’ll be amazing.”

In that measure of success, Sundara Karma are only set to fly. They’ve already headlined landmark venues like Heaven in London and The Ritz in Manchester, and played the main stage at Reading, cementing their hometown rise - so that grand stage is well and truly set. What that success looks like is something Oscar doesn’t quite know yet, but the vision for Sundara Karma is clear in his mind.

“For me, success is being able to put out great records and be consistent,” he notes. “The best example is Mystery Jets, one of the greatest bands doing it at the moment and so consistent with the music they put out. I’d love to be a band like that.

“Last time we played Manchester, which I think was at The Ritz - walking out on stage and seeing more people there than we’d ever played to before was a great feeling. It was the same when playing Heaven, and there’s a greater feeling there playing live to more and more people. If we get to play larger and larger venues then we’re definitely going to get that feeling more, getting that energy off from the fans and that’s wicked.

“I mean, I don’t care about playing stadiums, it’d be cool, but I’d rather focus on putting out good music and making sure that’s the best that it can be. It kinda terrifies me the idea of being a big band; I don’t know if I’d like that.”

It’s a result that Sundara Karma may have to grow to love, because with ‘Youth...’ out in the world and a community of fans that are taking in new members each and every day, Sundara Karma are now a premier league proposition. It’s a story woven through youth, from the band they are to the moments of life that change who we are - the good and the bad that shape us for better or for worse. This is a band that a generation have been waiting for, and one desperately needed in a year of profuse change and uncertainty.

“It’s going to be alright,” assures Oscar, finishing the last drops of his drink and preparing himself for another whistle stop day in the world of Sundara Karma. “I’m an optimist, there’s some beautiful shit happening.”

Youth may only be fun in retrospect, but by looking back, Sundara Karma have pointed a direction that we can get into right now. The moment is here; let’s live it.
"stopper


Sundara Karma’s debut album ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’ is out 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