Fresh off the release of their debut EP, we caught up with Karma Sheen for a chat

Since releasing their debut EP Alif in December, we’ve been completely hooked on the wonderfully woozy sounds of London-based outfit Karma Sheen.

As far as debut releases go, Alif is about as good as it gets. So fresh of its release, we caught up with the band to chat their songwriting processes, the meaning of psychedelia, and weaving together a wide range of genres to craft something unique.

Fresh off the release of their debut EP Alif, we caught up with London band Karma Sheen to chat influences, songwriting processes, and psychedelia.

HAPPY: Hey guys, how’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?

KARMA SHEEN: It’s going absolutely wonderful thanks for asking. I’m currently on my way to Berlin to check out some venues and have some wonderful family time away with my mum and brother (also, check out record stores).

HAPPY: We’re loving the new EP! Could you tell us a bit about the process behind writing the tracks?

KARMA SHEEN: Thanks so much. That feels great to hear that there are influential people diggin’ the sound. My songwriting process is so sporadic. It can be a number of things that influence a sound or a riff or even a melody. All of these songs had different processes though. For example, in Through the Night, I had a
strong case of writer’s block and I thought to myself the best way to get out of it is, to write just one line a day (without looking at the previous line beforehand). After 3 or 4 days, I looked at what I’d written and compiled the first verse and the rest started to flow after that.

The Magician was written on the spot. I was sitting with an old girlfriend of mine and we were talking whilst in an elevated kind of state and at some point she “flew away a bit too far” (she wasn’t feeling very comfortable). So I grabbed my beloved guitar, Betty Love and just soothed a melody and simple chords. I worked some stuff out later on, but the main skeleton of it all was done as a sort of antidote to feeling ‘elevated’.

Chandni is new. Since the dawn of time! (The beginnings of Karma Sheen) I was always attracted to my cultural heritage, Pakistani, and was always surrounded by the music. In particularly Hindustani classical. I strongly believe that when you’re playing music for an audience, one of the biggest compliments that you can give to your audience is to explore a part of your music live in front of them as a direct reflection of your appreciation for them begin there listening! The idea has always been, that Karma Sheen is a jam band, so during every show, we would improvise a jam live and explore the semi-classical Hindustani element. Everything stays organic and fresh, kind of like a blueprint of the Karma Sheen sound being constructed in front of your eyes (AND EARS!)

For the EP it was always in the plan to have an instrumental, sonic soundscape-like track that would build up into the song Winter Again; an improvisation live in the studio to capture the pure essence that is Karma Sheen.

Finally, Winter Again. That took such a long time to write for me. I think I took almost a year to write the skeleton of it. It literally went from one winter to another hence why I
felt it fitting to name it Winter again. One minute I was walking through the snow-covered fields near my mum’s house and the next minute I was walking through the fields again and realised that this entire year had passed me by. Come to think of it that’s a little depressing, a 22 years young man wallowing so deeply that an entire year passes by. Good thing a song came out of it, otherwise that would’ve been a waste!

HAPPY: Now that the EP has been out for a little bit, are there any particular tracks that you’re really proud of?

KARMA SHEEN: I’m genuinely so proud of all of the songs I’ve written and how they came out. The entire record is a perfect personification of my own self and the music I’ve loved and the music that influences me and of course my clash of cultures that I live every day. The identity fight of “just how British am I?” vs. “how much do I feel my heritage?” The truth is, I am both 100%. Pakistan in the Cricket and England in the football, Kerrang! On guitar and “Sa Re Ga Ma” in my voice, EMI distribution in Hayes and True Brew records in Lahore.

HAPPY: Alif is a very impressive debut release. How long had Karma Sheen been in the works for before you released this EP?

KARMA SHEEN: Well the idea was conceived in 2012. But the band itself has been around since 2014. It’s taken a while to get everything together because of line up changes, commitment issues, personal circumstances. Sometimes I wonder (not!) where are all the musicians are, but where the hell are all the guys and gals who want to make music for their scene, the risk, the road, the rejuvenation.

Luckily I had two stints with amazing friends in where we added finishing touches to a lot of songs and recorded this mega EP. The sound wasn’t developing so to speak, but it was reaching THAT destination which I’d planned for a long time ago. The sounds that were in the head and how I heard the band.

HAPPY: Have you always been set on a psychedelic sound? Or did it take a bit of experimentation to land on your current sound?

KARMA SHEEN: What exactly is Psychedelic sound anyway? Personally, I always felt that after a few months around the circuit, we were one of the only ‘fill in the genre blank’ bands doing this kind of sound. I always tried to find that psyche scene but by the time I had found it, something had already given itself the ‘psych’ identity. There were hundreds of bands that had exploded onto the scene. To the point that psych-rock had just become purely ‘psych’ that even the promoters wouldn’t book you with bands unless you had reverby vocal and a fuzz pedal sound to you. Or, it went the other way where everyone said everything was psych and you would get singer-songwriting jazz pianists at the same gig we’re playing (that happened once at the Roadtrip in Od Street). I’m not sure how much of being on a bill is a band’s responsibility yet, you just focus on the sound that you like and hope it all comes together, maybe that is how it is in the beginning?

HAPPY: What do you want your audience to experience when they’re listening to your music?

KARMA SHEEN: Wow, That’s guileful haha! I don’t want to be vague or very specific either. I’m not sure how to answer it. From a purely listening sense, I would want everyone’s faith to be restored in guitar music. To not feel, but to confirm that guitar music is still alive. The guitar is no longer not an accessory, but a bouquet for some awesome shredding! From a spiritual sense, I want the melodies, the riffs, the lyrics, all aspects of the music to reach out to the listeners. Make them feel that they are not alone in feeling what they do. That Karma Sheen is there for you, to be listened to, felt and experienced for you, to hear you too. Or just think it’s cool I guess.

HAPPY: You meld together a lot of different genres… are there any particular artists that you seek inspiration from?

KARMA SHEEN: Without a shadow of a doubt. The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding really blew me away. I’d have to admit that it was because of them I initially wanted to make that ‘brand/branch’ of psych rock. (Also I am willing to debate anybody who denies that The Jimi Hendrix Experience wasn’t psychedelic rock. I mean c’mon he’s the godfather of it!)

There’s also a lot of Ravi Shankar in there too. Not so much sonically, despite the fact that I do use a Tanpura (drone instrument) in two of the songs, but the style of how he plays. I apply ragas on guitar and play them in a way that it gives a vague feeling of the sound of a sitar. Sensorial of the way ragas are presented with that emotion. I think that’s really prominent in the first half of the solo in Winter Again. There isn’t any Tupac or Bob Marley in the music but for personal influence, there is a lot of it. To be very meticulous with your craft. Pac and Marley had GREAT chops. They could write about anything and it’s that attention to detail which has influenced me. You can hear those little details throughout the record. A second guitar, a short accompaniment to the main melody. It’s all there.

The Doors’ theatrical prowess and how they transcribed that on to their records. I’ve always been a fan of the Doors, in particular, Ray Manzarek and his way of interpreting Jim Morrison’s attitude and sexual prowess into song always intrigued me and raised the question… how do you channel raw emotion from the live scenario to the recording studio? I believe I got that down in Through the Night.

Nirvana of course, because let’s face it, they wrote ALL the songs you wish you had written. I’m a 90’s child… although I essentially really started to grow up in 2000’s, I know that Nirvana was always THAT localised band that struck chords in your heart. And finally my gurus. My teachers. My Ustaads from Shaam Chaurasi Gharana, or Shaam86 School of
Thought. Their heritage spreads back over 600 years of Hindustani classical music in Pakistan. They have taught me almost everything I know about how to perform, to hold yourself and that work ethic required to put into your craft. I continue to learn a lot from Shaam Chaurasi Gharana especially from my teacher, Ustaad Latafat Ali Khan and his younger brother, my guru, Ustaad Shafqat Ali Khan. I want to bring classical music in Pakistan to the studio. Educate people in the essence of what that kind of music really is. It isn’t just joints, yoga and Hare Krishna. It’s more than that.

HAPPY: What’s next for Karma Sheen? Any other exciting plans in the works?

KARMA SHEEN: Well I’ve already begun pre-production on the second EP. I have a strong desire to work with the talented multi-instrumentalist and producer Orel Tamuz. He’s a close personal friend of mine and had produced one of my closest friends’ work; Uri Sade’s Trace of Sound EP. Absolutely fantastic! Of course, goes without saying, I will also continue to expand my knowledge on Hindustani Classical music so that I can continue to build the bridge between east and west and hopefully find an answer to this fight of cultural identity. And if that doesn’t happen, then at least I can guarantee myself I will have a collection of great song (fingers crossed haha).

HAPPY: Cheers for the chat!

KARMA SHEEN: Thank you Happy Mag for all this attention and the wonderful questions. It was really nice to be able to talk about my art from the heart. I also would like to say a quick blessing to all the families of the artists I mentioned above in particularly in my influences, for the work they have given to the world and for helping me realise my dream. I also want to give thanks to Pete Brazier from Vertical Rooms Studios and assistant to the producer Matthew Northcott for helping us build the EP together. Joe Dodgeon and my sister from another mister Masooma for the artwork. My brother Daniyal Khan and my mum for their support and being my number 1 fans. And finally, my wonderful gem of a father for without him this wouldn’t be possible. Bless his resting soul and may he forever live on in the music of Karma Sheen.

(My Dad)

If you want hear for yourself what tunes Karma Sheen are digging at the moment, check out a list of artists below:

Uri Sade
The Pacers
Flare Voyant 
Snap Out
Coke Studios Pakistan

Listen to Karma Sheen’s debut EP Alif here.