Singer Oscar Pollock on the outlandish positivity of Sundara Karma's new music, unpronounceable album titles and how to get gossip about Madonna
Sundara Karma have unveiled the video for new single ‘One Last Night On Earth’. Check it out below, along with our interview with frontman Oscar Pollock.
The track is taken from the band’s upcoming second album second album ‘Ulfilas’ Alphabet’, which was co-produced by Stuart Price (The Killers, Everything Everything, New Order, Les Rhythm Digitales) and Kaines (Alex from Everything Everything).
“I wanted to make a music video inspired by the Dogme 95 movement – something really slapdash/DIY,” said Pollock of the video. “Something that relied upon the character and the location rather than perfection or meticulous lighting. I shot it all on an old Sony DCR-VX9000E and the batteries for the camera were horrendous so the camera could have cut out at literally any moment, meaning we could only really afford to do one shot of each scene. The benefit was that it that made it feel more like a documentary which was perfect.”
By the end of touring their debut album ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect’, Sundara Karma had become big enough to headline Brixton Academy, while their homecoming show at Reading Festival saw thousands locked out of their show at the NME Stage tent.
They achieved that with barely any hype – but the two singles previewing March’s new album ‘Ufilas Alphabet’ have proved too huge for anyone to ignore. Produced by Madonna/The Killers overlord Stuart Price, Tom Fuller and Everything Everything guitarist Alex Robertshaw, on ‘Illusions’ and ‘One Last Night On This Earth’ Sundara Karma have kept their indie attitude but doused it with huge pop positivity.
With a huge April tour just announced, NME asked singer Oscar Pollock what’s brought on their positivity, working with the hottest tour designer around, just how ‘Ufilas Alphabet’ is pronounced and whether Stuart Price gave the band any gossip on Madonna.
Were you nervous about what fans would make of the poppier sound?
“Not at the time. We didn’t really think about it until our first interview. We all looked at each other, and we were all thinking, ‘Oh fuck, people are actually going to hear this!’ The reaction isn’t something we consciously thought of. It’s different, for sure, but I think it’s just a better record. The headspace we were in when we were recording was very positive. To celebrate, you’ve got to be positive, and that’s how we were feeling.”
Was there anything that changed about the band’s personal circumstances to make you so joyful in these songs?
“I don’t think anything really did. You have peaks and dips, and for this album, when we writing and recording everything was in a good place. The moment we were in was a good one, thankfully. That’s the only change.”
How did Alex from Everything Everything come to co-produce the album?
“We’re massive Everything Everything fans. When it came to picking a producer, our manager Peter McGaughrin, who also manages Everything Everything, asked if we’d consider Alex. At first we thought “That’d be insane! Great!” but we were also wary of wanting the album to be our own thing and not be influenced by another artist’s vision. But after the first few days in the studio, we realised Alex is so perfect. He’s brought so much to the album, with his musical knowledge.”
How did a big pop titan like Stuart Price come on board?
“That was part of the same conversation with our manager about producers. We decided we wanted to make a really ambitious pop record, and Stuart Price is the man to do that. Also, he’s from Reading like us, so there was a tie-in there straight away. We talked about Thornbury Park and all the hi-jinx you get up to there. There’s nothing else to do in Reading.”
Apart from making fabulous pop records…
“Apart from making fabulous pop records, exactly. It was pretty cool hanging out with Stuart in LA for a few days. It was a stranger process of recording, as we were recording all the band members in England with Alex, with the musical stems then sent over to Stuart in LA to add his filter. I was able to join him for some of that process. It’s quite an unconventional way to make an album, but it was a lot of fun.”
Did you ask Stuart for gossip about Madonna or The Killers?
“I asked him how ‘Hung Up’ came about with Madonna, and he told me a very heartwarming story about how Madonna sang it. There’s nothing sinister to the story, but I don’t want to get a reputation as a pop gossip, so I’ll keep it to me and Stuart.”
You tease… So, who or what is Ufilas?
“Sorry, who? Ophelia?”
Ufilas? As in ‘Ufilas Alphabet’?
“Oh, yeah, OK, Ufilas. (Oscar pronounces it as, there’s no other way of putting this, “Oh, feel ass”.) He was a Christian missionary who created the Gothic alphabet. There’s a whole backstory to Ufilas, which ties in to the album’s themes of lack of faith, knowing what not to believe in. But also, we really liked the words ‘Ufilas Alphabet’ together. The aesthetic of those words is very appealing.”
Aren’t you worried that, as I’ve regrettably demonstrated, a lot of fans won’t be able to pronounce the album title?
“That’s definitely going to happen, but I don’t really mind. Everything is written down now, so it’s not much of a hindrance. But, look, we’re called Sundara Karma, remember? We’re used to not making it easy for ourselves.”
You’ve said you were writing songs without thinking of them as Sundara Karma songs. Would you be interested in writing for other artists?
“It wasn’t that so much, it was because writing songs without thinking what they’re for is a fun exercise. I wasn’t thinking of writing them for any specific other people, it was stepping outside of the limitations of writing just for yourself. You suddenly think about different lives, people who aren’t real. It’s good for creativity. I’ve written a few songs that don’t work for Sundara Karma. Who knows if they’ll ever see the light of day. I sit there thinking “Hmm, either these need work or they’re totally not right.” I’m not sure why they’re not right, really – it could be a case they’re not right for the band now, but they could be in the future.”
In a dream world, who would you love to write for?
“David Byrne or Wayne Coyne would be insane. I don’t know what kind of music we’d make, I think I’d spend the whole time crying with joy, so probably not much would get done. I saw David Byrne at the O2, and I think it’s the best show I’ve ever seen. Visually, without a doubt. He’s a genius.”
Have you thought about how Sundara Karma’s next tour should look?
“It’s too early to say for sure how it will work, but it’ll reflect the positivity of the record, its outlandishness. There’ll be a sensory bombardment of some sort. The right idea for that presentation tends to just happen, and until then I’ll be praying that it does happen. We’re actually working with Rob Sinclair, who staged the David Byrne shows, so it should be really special.”
You headlined Brixton Academy by stealth, it seemed. Nobody was really talking or writing about you, and yet the music slowly became unignorable. Are you happy it happened that way? Or do you want everyone to know about you?
“It’s a good question, I’m happy you’ve picked up that we haven’t been shoved down people’s throats. I’m happy with our growth being organic, and that we were never a press darlings’ band. The fact we did it is testament to our fans, they’re the people who have pushed for us to get where we have. That means so much more than doing it any other way. Every fan we’ve come into contact with is so genuinely kind and giving. Our fanbase gives back as much as we give to them.”
There’s a song on ‘Ufillas Alphabet’ called ‘The Changeover’. Your voice is very deep and dark on it, like latter-period David Bowie. How did that come about in the studio?
“That was Alex. He got me to sing it 14 times, just me and an acoustic guitar, as a rehearsal before doing an actual take. We then proceeded to do an actual take, and what you hear is pretty much the first take. We only did three proper takes, I think.
Also on the album, ‘Little Smart Houses’ is suburban disco worthy of Pulp. Have you got your own little smart house yet?
“(Laughs) In a few years, hopefully. Fucking house prices, though, come on. We’re a way off, and you’d be surprised at the prices of property in Reading. I definitely haven’t found a place yet. Who knows? That’s something to aim for on the third album.”
Sundara Karma release ‘‘Ulfilas’ Alphabet’ on March 1, before touring in April. Dates are below. You can buy tickets for the tour here.
April 2: Barrowlands, Glasgow
April 4: Rock City, Nottingham
April 6: Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
April 8: Academy, Bristol
April 9: Academy, Sheffield
April 10: Institute, Birmingham
April 12: Guildhall, Southampton
April 14: Academy, Brixton