Jesse Harrison Lowe and Rowena Field-Carter had the pleasure of interviewing band Sundara Karma, before their headline show in London last month.
Sundara Karma are a self-proclaimed “average rock band” from Reading.
Formed of Oscar, Ally, Hayden and Dom, the fourpiece are coming off the back of their first headline tour across the country and the release of their debut album Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect. Having been tipped as ones to watch by BBC Radio 1’s In New Music We Trust, and receiving praise across the board for their debut album, Sundara Karma have enjoyed something of a meteoric rise in the last year. The lads have just finished playing eight shows in four days at SXSW, and Rebel got the chance to sit down with them before their headline show at the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
After enjoying a tour of the backstage area of the venue, which included the minor issue of breaking the bar of the after party room, we sat down to ask them about conspiracy theories, the feeling of playing in front of thousands and their bond as a band over their rise to the public eye.
We asked the band to introduce themselves, so those who might not have heard of the group have an idea of what to expect. Having established that the typical uni student is normally tired and has just eaten, Oscar suggested that, check out their track “‘Watching from great heights’. Let’s do that, that ones a nice one.” Having had questions over the band’s choice of name before, it was explained to us that the name Sundara Karma “means beautiful karma, and er, I don’t know why we went with it, I think um, we went through a string of unfortunate names and this was the best one we could come up with. We liked the idea of the name, and what it means.” Unfortunately, we weren’t treated to the “dark box” of names which went before.
Sundara Karma “means beautiful karma”
The group met at school and explained how being in a band during those turbulent teenage years affected them and their music: “We grew up together. We did all the stupid stuff you do when you’re teenagers, and experienced that all together as a group.” Hayden furthered this and told us that “If anything it brought us closer, because you go through shit together. The good, the bad. You know, we’ve been through it and fell out the other side. And now we’re here as ‘Young adults’ ”.
Between painting his nails, Oscar was able to discuss how it felt to perform in front of ten thousand people at Alexandra Palace, where the group supported Two Door Cinema Club, “I think if it had been our first show we would have fucked it up big time, but we’ve done so many now you kind of adjust to different venues of different sizes. You get accustomed to it.”
We further pushed this, and asked what it really felt like to perform. Oscar described how “you definitely have to caricature yourself a bit. I like to dress up on stage because it gives me something to hide behind, it’s more like a role to play. Like I don’t think a human being should really get up on a stage and sell themselves… kind of like sex in a way. It’s a weird thing. I think you do have to embrace that.”
Describing the experience the band performing on the main stage at Reading Festival last year, Oscar admitted that he “[didn’t] remember the show too much, and I don’t think I would have been able to get through it if I wasn’t in the zone where something else seemed to take over. You’ve really got to be in the zone to do some things, especially when you’re really apprehensive about it.”
Pic by Anna Maria Lopez pic.twitter.com/b6AeCkAoOQ
— sundara karma (@sundarakarma) January 18, 2017
As we approached the venue, there was a small group of fans lining up for when the doors opened at 7pm. It was 2.30pm. Perhaps then we should have realised how much of an excited, supportive fan base Sundara Karma have. We should have taken this as hint for what was in store for us.
“We’ve had mosh pits almost every night”… maybe we should have realised earlier on in the day, before the gig later that night, just how powerful Sundara Karma’s presence and effect on a crowd is. The show wasn’t short of action; the crowd lapped up every guitar filled track.
‘Flame’, ‘Vivienne’ and ‘Olympia’, to name but a few tracks, confidently filled the 02 and whipped the audience into a frenzy. For the first time, I saw the entire standing section turn into a colourful, bouncing mosh pit. For a group of lads who are just 21 years of age, it’s fair to say they have a defining presence, and so much potential.
It should be mentioned that even the support acts had members of the crowd dancing and getting on each other’s shoulders, from the outset, we knew we were in for a treat.
We asked Sundara Karma if they have any songs which they specifically enjoy playing over any others. Hayden explained how “I’d say it changes every day really. Some of them we haven’t even played live yet. ‘Flame’ is a good one, ‘Loveblood’ is fun because everyone gets really into it.”
It’s easy to view Sundara Karma as an established act with a bright future ahead of them, which is definitely the case, however the guys were keen to point out how they’ve had their fair share of tough gigs. Ally told us how they got used to “playing to the one drunk guy in the corner who’s only there because he can’t walk home.”
Upon asking how they have changed as a band since those gigs, Oscar voiced “we’ve just improved. We still have that special something. But I think everything had just matured” with Hayden adding “oh yeah, we’ve had a lot of them. A lot. All the shit gigs we did when we were younger. They’d drive us there, help with the kit, and take us home. Big up to mums and dads!” Some of the band’s family members were in the audience later that night, and evidentially and gleefully showed their support and appreciation.
“We grew up together. We did all the stupid stuff you do when you’re teenagers, and experienced that all together as a group.”
Having turned down the offer of an afternoon beer in the small backstage room, we moved on to talk about the very distinctive fashion sense the group style. Dom joked “We don’t really have that many clothes, we just rotate. We probably only have about five outfits each”. Hayden explained how they once “went to a thrift shop and they told us a that whatever we could get in a bag, was ten pounds. Me and Al were walking round trying to get as much stuff as possible into these bags, they ended up so stretched.” Oscar added “Yeah that’s exactly it man, like go to charity shops. Cruise round both the male and the female sections, it doesn’t matter which end you are.”
We wanted to know if the band listened back to their album, once it was finally all done. Dom told us, he “listened to it when it was finished, before it was released.” Before Hayden explained how “you definitely have to ration how much you listen to it. You look like a dick if you’re playing your own album all the time” and Ally adding “We’ve never like put our own album on at a house party or anything like that. Like, ‘have you heard our new single?’”
When the conversation naturally moved to aliens and conspiracy theories, interest peaked. At that point all conventional interview format went out of the window… Pointing at Dom, Hayden told us we had come to the right man. Confidently, Dom told us how “NASA have a machine which can create clouds” as Hayden added “yeah, and the cloud like actually rains. It’s like a proper cloud, its mad.” Oscar jokingly mentioned “I think these clouds are going to start brainwashing people soon”.
He continued “But how about these people that think the Earth is flat?! That’s come around again now… And the hollow Earth.” Which Hayden explained “Hitler was apparently looking for”. They shared also how they all wholeheartedly agreed that aliens exist somewhere, in some form. (and we love them for this)
Looking as if they were a living museum of suits through the ages, the guys took to the stage later that night, with consummate ease as they settled in to their home for two hours. Throughout that time, we were treated to a vibrant show, filled with power and positivity. Oscar, Ally, Dom and Hayden couldn’t have looked any more comfortable (and cool) than on stage, performing to their people.
The show was electric from beginning to end, and we can assure you, it was far from average.
Thanks to Sundara Karma for allowing us to steal an afternoon with them in London, and thank you to Nick for arranging this!