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13th June 2016

Interview: Sundara Karma

Elizabeth Rushton speaks to Sundara Karma frontman Oscar Lulu about the band’s new music, escapism, and glitter

My interview with Sundara Karma’s frontman Oscar Lulu takes place backstage at Manchester Cathedral after their set at Dot to Dot Festival—a fitting setting in which to put the psychedelic four-piece’s rise to prominence over the last year into perspective. Having played to a small crowd at Mint Lounge at last year’s festival, they’ve now gained not just an increase in the font size of their name on this year’s bill, but also a dedicated army of fans who never fail to make the band’s gigs a raucous occasion complete with stage invasions. Their Dot to Dot appearance, as well as their headline show at Gorilla in March, were no exceptions, something Oscar says the band are still trying to process. “It’s weird—we watch videos back and we don’t feel like we’re watching ourselves, it’s really nuts in that sense.”

Their position on the Dot to Dot line-up saw them playing ahead of co-headliners Mystery Jets, a band whose upbeat indie rock sound has clearly had an influence on Sundara Karma; Oscar cites their 2012 album Radlands as one of his all-time favourites. “Did you know Mystery Jets watched us?” he says excitedly to guitarist Ally when he discovers that frontman Blaine Harrison had been spotted by the side of the stage during their set. “We’re definitely going to watch Mystery Jets. I fucking love Mystery Jets. Get that in print.”

The band will be rounding off a year of non-stop touring with the release of their debut album. Recording has been going on for a while, but the band are now adding the finishing touches. “It’s going to be coming out later this year, I can’t put a precise date on it yet, but it’ll be after summer and the festivals.” Oscar tells me. “We’ve got more shit to add to it, but it’s going to make it sound so good. We just can’t wait for people to hear it.”

In the meantime, the band have been teasing fans with unreleased songs from the album, including ‘Olympia’, which went down so well during their Dot to Dot set that the barrier in front of the stage was broken by the crowd, forcing the band to take a short break mid-set. They’ve also re-released ‘Loveblood’, from their first EP, as a single accompanied by a red-hued video directed by Michael Holyk. “The video was something we’re really proud about,” Oscar says. “It was exactly what we thought it would be, and it’s really rare that kind of thing happens. And it’s quite important to make sure that happens.”

Part of the recording process was spent in Berlin, where the band lived what Oscar refers to as a Groundhog Day experience, living between the studio, their apartment and hanging out at a heavy metal bar in the evenings. “Berlin’s wicked, we had a great time. It’s got quite a strong creative hub at the moment, so we wanted to go out there and soak that vibe up.” Besides this fertile atmosphere, the band drew inspiration in other ways. “We’re huge fans of the Brian Eno and Bowie stuff especially… and it’s a free holiday, so that was the most important thing actually!” Oscar laughs.

The band’s delving into Berlin’s artistic underbelly reflects the themes of escapism and aspiration found frequently in their lyrics. I wonder to Oscar if this has something to with the band’s origins in Reading, a town simultaneously near to and also removed from the bigger fish that is London. “A lot of people would say it does. I haven’t lived in Reading my whole life, I’ve lived there for quite a long time but that kind of feeling, that kind of craving—I think that’s always been there for me, and it doesn’t matter where you are, you either have that “I want to go and search for things more” or you don’t.”

The band’s appearance is also notable, riding the crest of a wave of indie bands indulging in androgynous, glamorous Bowie-style weirdness. The band can frequently be seen on stage sporting glitter, painted nails, and a certain pair of pink shoes belonging to bassist Dom, which were the cause of a confrontation with a curious man in a Birmingham pub when the band played there earlier this year. (“I think he was secretly a pink shoe fan and wasn’t man enough to admit it,” Oscar suggests.) Yet Oscar thinks it’s encouraging their audience to be true to themselves, rather than defying rock’n’roll masculine stereotypes, that’s central to the band’s ethos. “All that’s important is self-expression, whatever form it is, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re comfortable in doing what you want to do, wearing what you want to wear, then that’s good, that’s literally it.”

The band are now looking forward to appearances at festivals including Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds, followed by the release of their aforementioned album. With any luck, they’ll have time to take a well-earned break and replenish their glitter stocks—if the events of the last year are anything to go by, the arrival of their much anticipated debut will surely usher in an exciting new chapter for Sundara Karma.

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