FOREWORD: Cornershop frontman Tjinder Singh has a natural talent for crafting great cut-and-paste Punjabi-flavored pop kitsch. ‘97s “Brimful Of Asha” boiled down Cornershop’s hybridized sound to its essence. But since then, they’ve remained low profile except for ‘02s handily accessible Handcream For A Generation. Cornershop has promised to release Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast in ‘09. This article originally appeared it HITS magazine.
Cornershop’s Tjinder Singh, a gifted London-based Indian singer-songwriter, uniquely blends Punjabi folk, bhangra, lo-fi post-punk and electronic embellishments on his quartet’s third full-lengthg disc, “When I Was Born For The Seventh Time.”
Wide open to a cultural exchange of ideas, Singh challenges and delights listeners with joyously uplifting songs. More polished, stylistically congealed, and melodically captivating than ‘95s very fine Woman’s Gotta Have It, this follow-up deals with spiritual rebirth, but sidesteps cultural roots exploitation with rebellious world music collages.
Linking intriguingly untrendy, unfashionable, song structures with cut-and-paste arrangements, Cornershop pursues excellence through diversity. An undeniably friendly insouciance abounds on the instantly appealing “Brimful Of Asha” and “Sleep On The Left Side.”
I spoke to Tjinder Singh via phone, Thankgiving eve, 1997.
How has Cornershop grown musically from its early, experimental singles to this most recent long-player?
TJINDER: Our first EP, In The Days Of Ford Cortina, had four songs that were varied. We’ve tried to build on that by making each song different. By the time we did our third EP, we honed in on a sound. Some people say it’s East meets West, but that’s very short-minded. What we do is delve into different types of music and take elements of each. We don’t break our music down so much as keep it open.
Cornershop has succeeded by writing good songs that connect on an emotional level.
TJINDER: We try to put as much effort into each track as possible. But albums are difficult to do these days. We’re aware that with programmable CD’s, people pull only a few tracks off the album. So we were very conscious of trying to keep the listener occupied for the whole duration.
When I Was Born For The Seventh Time seems more joyous and positive than Woman’ Gotta Have It.
TJINDER: You’re right, we preempted Tony Blair’s election victory in England and are celebrating the end of the century. I just think in a small amount of time he’s tried to push some positive ideas. He has opened up to arts and entertainment.
What are your thoughts on the royal family?
TJINDER: I really don’t give a fuck whether the Royals should exist. What I do realize is people in positions of power and influence should use their status positively.
How does your background as a designer correlate with Cornershop’s music?
TJINDER: I worked for William Morris, who was a founder of the arts and craft movement. His poetry was great. He had a forward-thinking policy of learning to do things differently. That’s how we feel about Cornershop – not in terms of big hit records, but by giving every bit of ourselves to achieve success. William Morris even coined the phrase “Born To Be Wild.” That’s where Steppenwolf got it from. They had five years of good rocking. We used to drink at a local pub and put on “Magic Carpet Ride.”
What are some other musical influences?
TJINDER: The first things I heard were Punjabi folk and Sikh devotional music. Bhujangi groups from Birmingham in the late ‘70s were rocking. Then I was into the Spinners. After that, it was a matter of developing a record collection. I went to a Sikh temple and within walking distance was a black Christian Gospel church. I’ve always liked religious music because it puts over a genuine feeling in people very quickly. I’m not that religious. But my influence from religion is based on a lack of self-confidence.
“Funky Days Are Back Again” has a happy, embracing sound that feels pretty spontaneous.
TJINDER: We recorded it on a DAT in a Vermont hotel the same day we bought a keyboard. It was made on the spur of the moment. It’s good that the feeling of “Funky Days” reflects the gap of where we are now after the ‘80s.
Have you made any music videos lately?
TJINDER: The Light Surgeons did a video for “Good Shit.” A friend of ours, Phil Harder, did one for “Brimful Of Asha” – which has been getting quite a bunch of airplay. It’s a very bright, bold-colored video and it absolutely rocks.
The guitar licks on “Brimful Of Asha” reminded me of Lou Reed’s “Dirty Boulevard.”
TJINDER: It’s more Jonathan Richman. We’ve always liked him. The B-side of his “Roadrunner” single was “Angels Watching Over Me,” which was very much in that Gospel vain.
How did you get Allen Ginsberg to add a poem to “When The Light Appears Boy”?
TJINDER: We were using his spoken word pieces, like “Howl,” after gigs. He also got into Woman’s Gotta Have It. He seemed to be into the idea of working with us after we met. So he showed us his modest apartment and then we recorded it. It has references to William Blake’s “Vision Of Death.” Ginsberg was very frail at the time and knew he was going to die, so that made it more poignant. Instead of making it a rock song, we put in Asian elements I recorded in India to reflect where his spoken word influences were from, especially with “Howl.”
What did you learn from touring with the likes of Beck and Los Lobos?
TJINDER: That it’s pretty tough being at the bottom – which is where we are. And that’s where we’ve been for the last few years. We know how hard we’ve tried and I suppose, the more we get into it, the harder it may get for a band like ours. Maybe we’re better left where we are…in obscurity. Three years ago, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore said he didn’t like any new music, but mentioned that Cornershop interested him. That’s remarkable.
As an Asian Brit, do you feel discrimination still exists?
TJINDER: I certainly think so. As Cornershop, how much do we have to do to be taken seriously? It’s quite difficult to move units when you’ve got a black face. We’ve slowly received credit. We continue to make music to prove those people wrong and let them run with their tail between their legs.
What are you up to these days?
TJINDER: I recorded some B-sides recently with more strings. There’s also something I wrote for the multi-artist The God, The Bad & The Ugly album.