Up-and-Coming British Acts to Play BBC Music Presents Showcase at House of Blues

The inaugural BBC Music Presents package tour of the U.S. features an eclectic lineup of bands including Izzy Bizu, Sundara Karma and Spring King [pictured]. The bands all sound quite different from each other and should compliment one another nicely on the tour.

Singer Izzy Bizu channels Amy Winehouse with her vintage sound, indie rockers Sundara Karma deliver righteous post-punk anthems and the Manchester-based Spring King bills itself as “a small-scale, art-pop-punk project.” In separate Transatlantic phone interviews, we spoke to Bizu, Sundara Karma singer-guitarist Oscar Pollock and Spring Kings’ singer-drummer Tarek Musa about the tour. It comes to House of Blues on Nov. 20.

Talk about the BBC Music Presents Tour. It’s a really eclectic group of artists.
I’m really excited because I’m going to be on the road with two different bands who are really indie and rocking. It will be interesting for me. It’s the first time we’ve ever toured America, and I’ve always wanted to go to cities like Detroit and Cleveland. We’re going to tour in support of the new album.
Pollock: We’re very excited about it. We’ve never played any shows in the States. We want to be on the road and meeting loads of really eccentric people. I’m making it very cinematic in my head. I’ll probably just be a hung over drunken mess.
Musa: It’s the first time the BBC has ever done anything like this where they brought three different bands together, which is really cool. The BBC plays us a lot. We’ve been putting out music for over three years and they’ve always been behind us. They have a channel for upcoming bands who want to showcase their music. It’s called “The BBC Introducing.” It brings a bit of exposure to bands who don’t normally get radio airplay.

Talk about your background?
Growing up in London was really cool. When I was 7, I moved out of London with my dad and I came back and I went to music college where I met my guitarist and we started writing music together. When we were in college, you could pick what type of band you went into to do a band performance. We were both quite shy. It was our first year of college and no one knew each other very well. There was one practice session where I told him I liked his guitar licks. He liked the way I sang. For the last exam, we played together and I thought he was a mad good guitarist. We were mates before we started in music. It was just based on jamming and having fun.
Pollock: We all met at school. I’ve known [bassist] Haydn [Evans] since I was 8, and we’ve all been together for about six years now.
Musa: I just finished university and had nothing to do. I always wanted to try my hand at writing music. I’ve always been on the other side of the glass doing the recording and engineering, but I wanted to try to write my own music. It started as a bedroom project. [Guitarist] Pete [Darlington] was living at my house at the time. He kept hearing the demos and convinced me to start a band. It spiraled from there really. Now, we’re a fully fledged four-piece. The lineup we have now has been solid for the past three years. I play drums and sing lead vocals. It’s a Phil Collins things. It’s a full body workout. It’s so hot on stage. My clothes are drenched for three days after the shows. It’s not exaggeration. We put the drum kit a the front of the stage and I get a riser. People are confused when there’s a drummer singing so you have to make it obvious. It works out. A lot of people come to the shows and have never seen us but only heard the albums so they’re surprised. No one sees it as a novelty. It’s not intentional. I used to play the guitar and three or four days before our first-ever show our drummer left. I just picked up the drums, which I already played anyway.

Who do you consider your influences?
I like Amy Winehouse and Ella Fitzgerald and Marvin Gaye. My guitarist inspires me a lot when I start writing music too.
Pollock: They’ve changed a bit. We listen to everything. I couldn’t tell you because we don’t control what comes out in the songs. You could say we could listen to a lot of the Beach Boys but that’s not necessarily going to come out in the songs. When we first met, we listened to a lot of the Doors. We never really got into BritPop, but recently I’ve grown to appreciate Blur.
Musa: We listen to a lot of the Clash. We all agree on the Clash. We grew up on bands like At The Drive-In and Fugazi. Somewhere along the line, the Clash became an obsession. For me personally, I like the Beach Boys. I’m a massive Brian Wilson fan. I’m all about punk energy with pop sensibilities.

Talk a little about your new album. What were your initial songwriting sessions like?
I left school early and I started writing the songs during a confusing time. The songs helped me get through it, and then I fell in love as well and all that happened and about all the consequences of that. It’s funny growing up and having all these new feelings that I wasn’t used to before. Everything just happened all at once. I look back on it now and so much has changed since then. That was two years ago. It’s almost like a diary of what had happened. If I hadn’t written the songs, I wouldn’t remember the things that do now.
Pollock: I think it was a collection of songs we had at the time. It’s the most instant tracks we have on the album. They give a good impression of what we’re about right now. I don’t think the songs have been available in the States prior to the album’s release, though they were out in the UK.
Musa: It’s a mixed bag really. A lot of those songs had been written as demos a long time ago and the other half have been recorded at a studio. We’ve always recorded at my house. Everything we’ve done has been recorded at my house. It proves you don’t need an expensive recording studio. When it came to the album, we were going to do it all at my house and my brother moved home and had a baby and I couldn’t make noise so we went to a professional studio for the first time ever. We did half the album there and half at my house. It was a very inspiring time for us. We just wrote “Rectifier” on the spot in the studio one night.

What about the studio sessions?
We jammed in a room and played instruments and recorded as we went. Another place was essentially in a shed but a really cool shed. He had cool guitars. And some of it was recorded in my bedroom. It’s a mix of stuff.
Pollock: We recorded a lot of the album in Berlin and some of it here near Oxford and in Brixton and some in a boat in London.
Musa: We got to the studio and because I was engineering the record, we didn’t need an assistant. The studio provided on and he must have thought we were crazy. We recorded the drums in the studio but it was a residential studio and we recorded the guitars in the bedroom. We didn’t even use a microphone on the guitars. We had it for three weeks and he couldn’t believe it because there was an amazing studio downstairs. Sometimes, it’s hard to get outside your comfort zone. We had finished one tour and the next day we went to the studio. It was a chaotic time but it was great. The moment we finished the album, we went back on the road.

What do you have next on the horizon?
The rest of the year will be beautiful. At Christmas I’ll get my family together and then there’s a European tour. So far, that’s as much as I know. I’ll have another single out by then. We do things by three months by three months.
Pollock: Hopefully, more touring, to be honest with you. And focusing on album No. 2. We started writing the songs and I’m really excited about it. I think the new songs are just a little more us, if that makes sense, and a little more honest.
Musa: This is the last thing for the year and December is a laid back affair. We want to take some time with our families. We’ve been non-stop since March. It’s going to be a laid back December. I want to make the most of the U.S. tour. There are so many places I’ve never been. I’ve never been to Ohio. All these drives will be interesting. I hear the weather will be freezing cold. I’ve been to Detroit, which is why we wrote a song called “Detroit.” My ex-girlfriend is from there. I’m excited to be in the U.S. because I love it. I love the craft beer there. I’m ready for it.

BBC Music Presents: Spring King, Izzy Bizu, Sundara Karma, 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $15, houseofblues.com.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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