Sundara Karma formed five years ago while still at school in Reading. Since then they’ve released an EP and completed several support tours, most recently with Circa Waves and The Wombats.
Reviewers often lump them in with Chess Club Records label-mates Swim Deep, and while the band themselves acknowledge that there are similarities, they say they’re more stylistic than musical.
Still in their teens, the band have just finished their first headline tour and are due to release a second EP, the literally-named EPII, this month.
We caught up with them before their show at Glasgow’s King Tuts and talked spirituality, Bruce Springsteen, and the inspirational effect of School of Rock.
Sundara Karma are: Oscar LuLu (vocals, guitar), Haydn Evans (drums), Ally Batty (guitar), and Dom Cordell (bass).
Why the name Sundara Karma? Is it a spiritual thing? (Sundara is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘beautiful’ or ‘noble’)
Oscar: “I suppose it kind of is, though it’s more a philosophical thing really. I think we all believe in karma; what you put out you will receive. I think if you had to cut that down to a core it’s just about being a nice person. So, Sundara Karma, I think it just seemed to fit in with how we try to live our lives most of the time. It’s tricky though, people can wind you up.”
Does spirituality influence your music in any way?
Oscar: “Yeah big time. I listen to other musicians and other bands to inspire the music but just as much, or perhaps more so, spirituality and certain philosophies inspire the lyrics and help me know what to write about.”
If you go back to the beginning, what inspired each of you to actually pick up instruments and begin playing music?
Oscar: “For me, personally, again it just felt like the right thing to do. I think I watched School of Rock and I thought ‘fuck, I’ve got to do something with an instrument’, but then my mum told me stories about me crawling over to pianos when I was a baby so I think there was always that attraction there.”
Dom: “I got given a drum kit as my first instrument when I was like six or seven and ever since then music was just always something I wanted to do.”
Haydn: “School of Rock for me too, actually. I mean it’s always been in the family, like everyone’s been a music lover in my family.”
Ally: “Um, I don’t really know. I started playing the violin when I was young and enjoyed that but then you don’t really get any girls if you play the violin so I took up the guitar.”
Since you’re all pretty young, did you ever even have time to aspire to be anything else? Do you know what you’d be if you weren’t in a band?
Oscar: “Homeless, probably.”
Oscar: “For me, there was no alternative. I think maybe when I was like two I wanted to be an F1 racer but very quickly I realised that my musical ability outweighed my driving ability. That still stands, as I’m sure the rest of them can vouch.”
NME once called you ‘Swim Deep’s little brothers’ – are they a band that inspire you?
Oscar: “Yeah, I mean they’ve just smashed their second album. We’re really big fans. We supported them when we were 17 and they were so nice and kind to us. Musically, I don’t know if we are similar to them, but I think there’s a certain style and stuff that you can compare.”
What others bands inspire you? Maybe bands you grew up going to see play live?
Oscar: “Arcade Fire’s a huge one. The Killers, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys (you can’t not like them, unless you’re bitter about them). The Maccabees; they’re one of my favourite bands of all time maybe. There’s a really new band called INHEAVEN, they’re my favourite ‘new new’ band.”
I noticed that some of your newer songs, like ‘Vivienne’ and ‘Flame’, are a bit more full on – maybe a bit more poppy. Is that something you’ve been consciously working on?
Oscar: “It seems to be a natural progression. I mean, we’re not like sitting in a room saying we’ve gotta release a ridiculously poppy tune and smash it. It’s more like, what’s the right next step? What feels right? And those songs just felt like the right songs to go with. I think, when we put ‘Loveblood’ out, it felt…that was the first time we had a really incredible response, and since then we’ve wanted to better it each time, so that’s why we want the songs to maybe sound a bit more full on.”
You’ve just come off tour with Circa Waves, how did that go?
Oscar: “It was good. The crowds seemed up for it, didn’t they? (the rest of the band agree; “couple of mosh pits”). That’s nice to see. I mean, this is our first headline tour, starting tonight in Glasgow, and we’ve no idea how it’s going to go. It’s a different performance you have to do, when you headline, because people come to see you and you’re not playing to another band’s audience so, um…I’m not answering the question at all am I?”
That’s OK! Do you think some Circa Waves fans might have been won over enough to come to your headline shows?
Oscar: “Yeah, I think so, the response has been wicked. Twitter’s kind of exploded. So hopefully, I think we might see a rise in ticket sales from these support slots, that’s kind of the whole point of doing it. The only negative is tonight is 18+ and Circa Waves have a lot of younger fans. It’s hard to find smaller venues that allow 14+.”
Have you learned much from supporting other bands?
Oscar: “Umm, what have we learned from the Circa Waves lads? Probably just how to drink and still perform well. And, for me, Kieran was very good at giving me tips on how to look after my voice.”
You mentioned before that this is your first headline tour. Are you excited ? What are your expectations?
Oscar: “We’re looking for quite a feral vibe at these shows, moshpits maybe, and just good laughs really. Good vibes. People smiling and cracking jokes…not at us, though. Just having fun and joking about.”
Ally: “We’re not expecting like huge crowds or everyone going crazy and singing the words back.”
Oscar: “It’s like a lad’s holiday tour really.”
The word ‘escapism’ seems to be used quite a lot, both by yourselves and in reviews; do you think that has something to do with being from Reading as opposed to London or another big city?
Oscar: “Definitely. It’s funny you mention that because that word is coming up a lot and I’m using it, which I wasn’t doing before. I’d say the main theme of the album, which is coming out next year, is escapism. Not like a sort of light-hearted, indie type of dreamy escapism, more of like an escaping to find the truth, or a better reality, kind of thing. Not escaping in the way watching a film is escapism.”
You’ve said that ‘Flame’, both the song and the video, is about Plato’s allegory of The Cave. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Oscar: “Um, I just like the story a lot. I think that, for a story so old, it’s still pretty relevant today so I thought yeah, why not just write a song about it. It was actually a song we had when we were 15 called ‘The Holy Wayfarer’, and then I took the narrative of that and made it ‘Flame’. ‘The Holy Wayfarer’ is now a different song, which is going to be on the album. With the video, this guy called Bruno Chiecco, which is a fucking great name, put the treatment together for us after he heard the song and we thought it was incredible. Plus, it was the only treatment that didn’t involve fire.”
What’s coming up next? You’ve mentioned an album a couple of times…
Oscar: “Yeah, an album, that’s what we’re working towards – our debut. We’re putting all our energy into that. It’s coming together really well, to be honest, we’re really excited. We can’t wait to show people.”
Sundara Karma have another UK tour lined up for 2016. Go to www.sundara-karma.co.uk for full dates.