There has always been an individual spark about Cornershop, While Paul Morley, the Observer, has said, ‘as interesting and adventurous as the Beatles’ and fans have described them as ‘instant aural sunshine for a grey day’. In the live arena they have toured extensively in mainland Europe and America with the likes of Beck and Oasis. Man about town, Darius Drewe, caught up with Tjinder Singh of Cornershop for an exclusive interview for NUTSmag.
DD: Why such a massive gap between albums? Five years passed between ‘When I Was Born’ and ‘Handcream’ and then a further seven before ‘Judy’. Are you perfectionists, extremely busy or just lazy?
TS: ‘When I was Born’ and ‘Handcream’ had a Clinton album between them, and between Handcream & Judy I did a film and we released a couple of singles through Rough Trade, and then set up our own ample play label. Also we all had kids except our percussion who bought more congas and became a qualified nurse. In the last three years we have had three albums out. The average is plain to see even if you are not a further maths prog rock tutor. More seriously though, there is no point in pushing albums out unless you play the game, and we are not in it as part of the game.
DD: Back in the day you were photographed burning pictures of Morrissey due to a throwaway comment made and a misinterpretation of a lyric. How do you look back on all that 22 years on?
TS: Here was a person whose music with The Smiths we had all liked, putting out dubious feelers using Skinhead imagery, unqualified lyrics, Union Jack drapery, and like his denial on his sexuality (which is his right) not elaborating on the issue. The unfortunate thing is that not elaborating on the issue of fascism still breeds race crime, from someone whom was very influential at the time. As an Asian at a time when Asians were seeing increased street violence this wasn’t something I, and we could let pass. All these years later, I think we did the correct thing, and our stance on other issues has borne out that we did it with the right intentions.
DD: You were away for a few years, then returned with quite a different style, and a runaway no.1 hit thanks to the remix of ‘Brimful of Asha’. For five minutes, it looked like world superstardom beckoned, but somehow that never quite happened. Why do you think that was?
TS: After the ‘Women’s Gotta Have It’ album we spent a lot of time in America and then the ‘When I Was Born’ album did very well there. We would have been happy as we were to be John Peel’s festive 50 no. 1, but the Brimful Mix change things somewhat. Even the label gave up on things after that, but for us we had started a Clinton album and that needed to be finished, and we continued as we were.
DD: The album ‘When I Was Born for the Seventh Time’ was very influential and innovative in that it took the ‘Britpop/indie pop’ template of the time (and the usual retro trappings thereof), your own Asian influences, and married both to hiphop beats, breakbeats and samples. Do you feel that, in a way, you were paving the path for a lot of the DJ culture that has followed? And prog rock men, the likes of Gruff Rhys and Gary Cobain, bringing guitar tunes to dance sets mining Eastern playback music?
TS: That is a lovely thought.
DD: What do you think of the recent compilations of Bollywood and Lollywood psych that have been doing the rounds? Do you think the compilers are finding the best tunes? And if not, give us the names…
TS: I’ve not heard much of it in comp’ed form, but there is some great stuff out there, as the music makers at the time mimicked western sounds, sometimes to hilarious results, and sometimes with the passing of time proves how great music can be.
DD: The album ‘Disco and the Halfway to Discontent’ came out under the name Clinton rather than Cornershop. Why was that? And will there be another Clinton record?
TS: Clinton was done so we could work with other people and take a fresh approach to what and how things were done. The music was not radically different, but more of the technology test department of what Cornershop did. In fact, the two are so similar that there probably won’t be another Clinton album. We are very pleased though that some say it predates much music by a decade, and even more pleased that not a week goes by without an inquiry about Clinton.
DD: After that came my personal favourite ‘Shop album, ‘Handcream for a Generation’ and the single, ‘Lessons Learned from Rocky I to Rocky III.’ The single itself, and some of the rest of the album, bore the influence of 1970s glam, while other tracks such as ‘Spectral Mornings’ delved further into the trance-like psych rock hinted at on ‘When I Was Born’. Who are the lyrics on that single referring to, the ‘soft rock shit’ and the ‘overgrown supershit’?
TS: Very glad you favour that album, and that’s why I said earlier that the record company gave up on us. A lot of brain cells and effort went into that album. Otis Clay opened it, & by touring with Oasis we had Noel on Spectral Mornings, and Guigsy did the bass on …Rocky I to Rocky III, then we had East London’s Nazerite reggae vocalists on Motion The 11, from USA we asked Rob Swift to help produce a couple if tracks. At the time I think I considered a lot of American groups as being ‘soft rock shit.’ I’m from the Black Country so considered groups like Metallica and Maralyn Mason as ‘soft rock shit’ and overgrown ‘supershit’ but in the fullness of time, I think they’re just shit. They certainly deserve everything that can be chucked at them.
DS: ‘Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast’ seemed to consolidate that same early 70s sound, as if the band had finally reached their ‘happy home’ in an almost retro-rock World. Are you all a bunch of old mods and rockers at heart? And who are your greatest influences throughout? The first thing you tend to notice is a lot of Velvet Underground in the song construction and guitar riffing, and a lot of “soul-chick” backing vocals, which could hint at either the Stones or the Floyd, but how knowledgeable are you on your obscurities?
TS: ‘In terms of production I like the 70s sound, mainly because I lived through the 80s and no musician got out of the 80s unscathed. I liked the rawness of a lot of Indian music, so that always played a part too. In terms of influences, there has never been a strong defining one. I think the Velvets are a big influence…
DD: The promo videos from that period, particularly ‘Who Fingered Rock N Roll’ all seem to be similarly retro as if you’re hankering after a Britain long past. Isn’t that the imperialist, semi-racist and narrow-minded Britain that you once railed against?
TS: The Who Fingered Rock N Roll video used old footage because friends of ours were helping certain London Borough to archive such footage. The line from the song of ‘Who built the city’ seemed to go well with such footage so that was that.
DD: And now to 2012, and ‘Urban Turban’ Where would you say Cornershop stand in relation to the 2012 music scene?
TS: The Urban Turban album only became an album after a series of singles under the banner of ‘The Singles Club’ were released. I had a good few songs that we not related in any way, and it seemed a good way to put them out, and give something different to our supporters. Then, the tracks seemed to work with each other once they were mastered, and so it became the album.
It’s good to be able to do that, to just put things out, and in relation to the music scene of now, we feel that we are happy to continue as we always have done, without much regard for what others are doing. People seem to be slowly catching up with Cornershop, and that’s an even bigger thing we have in common with the Velvets than just their music.
We look forward to hearing their well crafted and unique psychedelic sound of sitars and guitars at Le Beat Bespoke 9 on Thursday 28 March 2013.
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