In Conversation With: Sundara Karma

We caught up with Sundara Karma vocalist Oscar Pollock, in a tiny East London cafe, local to the singer’s apartment. With festival season soon to be among us, we chatted all things festival and the reaction their sophomore album received.

Firstly, how is Ulfilas’ Alphabet actually pronounced? 
To be honest, I don’t really know. It changes each time, we say “Ulfillers Alphabet”, we’ve slipped into that way of pronouncing it but I don’t think anybody actually knows. I’m sure there’s some scholar somewhere, hiding away, who knows the exact pronunciation but I don’t know. The apostrophe adds added complexity so just say whatever you feel is right.

Your second album was released a few months ago now, what has the reaction to it been like?
It’s been overwhelming and positive. On the whole I think people have reacted to it and have been quite accommodating to it. A lot of people have said its a departure from the first album but I don’t know, it’s difficult to gauge these things. It has a different vibe to it, it feels different, we were in a different headspace when we were making it. I think that’s what you have to be like.

How did fans react to the new songs on the album tour?
Good, I think. From everyone we’ve talked to about it, people have only got kind words to say, more or less. Some people feel it lacks energy from the first record, there’s no “Loveblood” on it, but who wants another Loveblood, I don’t. There’s songs like “Higher States” that’s pretty much a rave song, so if that doesn’t do you for energy then maybe you should buy drugs. 

What was the song writing process like? Did it differ majorly from the debut?
I think it was just a continuation from the debut. I just knew a little bit more about the craft of it and was broadening my horizons in terms of what I was listening to.

Were any of the songs for UA written before Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect was released or were they all written after the debut was done and dusted? 
No, not really. Pretty much, apart from really bad songs and scraps of ideas, the debut album is pretty much all we had. As soon as the album was out, the line had been drawn in the sand for the first album. I was still writing stuff but it wasn’t for that record, it was for something else.

How do you feel the albums compare?
I think they reflect different points in my life. A friend of mine made an interesting observation, and said that there’s themes of looking back on life. The first one is pretty self explanatory with the title ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’ and the second one is more about looking back on life and how precious it is. The message and the sentiment is that now is really the most important time to be aware of death and that there is an end. Life isn’t endless and we’re not immortal. A lot of it is where my head was at. I was writing these things picturing it as if I was at the end of my life and was looking back on things and playing with the ideas that I would be feeling. What comes to mind is that a lot of people have remorse and most importantly regretting not being able to love people enough and telling people that you love them. I think that’s what is really inspiring. 

Are there any artists in particular that helped to inspire the musical change in direction on the new album?
Tears For Fears and The Flaming Lips were probably the two biggest inspirations. Their ambition and the pallet and the playfulness.

Has your style and appearance been influenced by the development in your music?
I’m sure it’s related in some sort of Freudian subconscious, but it’s not something I’ve thought about actually. I don’t know, on the surface level they seem quite separate but I couldn’t tell you what my sub-conscience is up to. 

What inspired the album artwork? Do you feel it reflects the mood of the album? It’s such a different vibe to that of the debut.
The artwork was done by our friend Josie Ride (?), who is a super talented artist and painter. I just went to her with some ideas. I had this image of the Tibetan skeleton dance, that was an old painting, almost a mandala looking thing and it had the two skeletons dancing together in the foreground. I showed it to her and said it would be cool to do a more contemporary version of this, perhaps in the vein of David Shrigley or Martin Creed. I was really nice and simplified and we did one version and then added more colour for the second one and it resembled the songs more.

There’s a clear difference between some songs on the album, for example Higher States and Greenhands, what made you want to experiment with different tones on the one album?
I listen to lots and lots of different styles of music and I write lots of different genres, a lot of it is not playable at all. It’s just what I’m drawn to. I get bored so easily that if I’ve just got 10 soft acoustic songs I’d get really bored, the same as if I had 10 full and compact sonic landscape type things, I’d get bored of that. I like to have variety.

How was your set at Live At Leeds on Saturday?
It was good. We didn’t cover Leeds on the headline tour earlier this year, nor Newcastle so it was nice to see those two places again. 

You’ll be back in August for Reading and Leeds fest. Are you looking forward to it?
Yeah definitely. We’re really excited.

You’ve played the festival multiple times, do you have a personal connection to playing there?
I think it’s always been there. It was always just the festival that was on our doorstep growing up so we’ve always had a connection to it.

Have you got any stand out memories from R&L from over the years? As a performer or festival go-er?
There’s been a lot. Unfortunately most of the interesting ones I can’t probably say (laughs). The last time we played was the NME/BBC Radio 1 stage. That was very special for us. We tend to have a good show about once a month and then all the others are kinda ok but occasionally we get the really special one and that’s just in terms of us performing, that’s nothing to do with the audience. Luckily it happened for Reading which was good.

What’s it like playing such a big slot in your hometown?
It feels really special. It doesn’t feel too daunting. It feels like you’ve just walked out of your house, got in a car and then you’re at the festival. It does a huge deal for the headspace you’re in when you go to play. It doesn’t feel too far away from home.

Your festival season seems to be pretty chilled compared to that of the past. Are there any other festivals you’re yet to announce or are you intentionally taking some time out?
We enjoy having the chill space right now. I think it’s what’s really needed.

What festivals stand out as your personal favourites?
Billbao BBK festival was really good, we played there in 2017, it’s a really nice festival and Depeche Mode were headlining. I love Depeche Mode but the weather was great as well, so it was the perfect combination. Glastonbury is always great. We’ve done that a few times and have got some really good memories of that, and we’re playing again this year so that has got to be up there. I mean, it is the best. 

Are there any songs, new or old, that you’re most excited to perform during festival season?
Really enjoying playing A Song For My Future Self and Changeover, I like playing the new ones. She Said is always great fun though. 

Finally, how do you wind down after a manic festival season?
I tend to go into isolation mode and be a bit, some would say reclusive, but if I’m by myself for too long then I just get depressed. So it’s a balance of giving yourself time to reenergise and recharge and then go back into the world. 

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