In the three and a half years since Cornershop offered their last release, the ‘Sleep on the Left Side’ single, the world has seen nu-metal, garage (then ‘speed garage’) Coldplay, TravisWestlife all creep to the top of the people’s taste chart. In all honesty that’s probably a place not to be inhabited by the Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres. Not for a second time, anyway.
The chart straddling remix of their ‘Brimful of Asha’ single saw hitherto unseen exposure for a eloquent and at times rather fiery combo. Cornershop have returned with a new album, ‘Handcream For a Generation’ to be preceded by the equally brilliantly titled single ‘Lessons Learnt From Rocky I to Rocky III’. The title is as punchy (pun intended) as the song itself, and has already garnered healthy airplay in all the right places, but do Cornershop worry that the best part of four years is a long time away from the outside world?
“Well in England yes, a lot of people remember us only for ‘Brimful of Asha’, but it’s different in other places; In America they don’t see us in that context, they weren’t affected [by that single] in the same way, the same with Europe really, just England. In America we have built things up since ‘Woman’s Gotta Have It’ (their first album release on Wiija), so there’s more of a steady platform.”
Cornershop have actually had more success afforded them in the States that many more-feted British acts. While ‘When I Was Born For the 7th Time’ was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and contributed the lion’s share of the 150,000 Cornershop albums sold in the UK, the album won Spin Magazine’s ‘Album of the Year’ award and America has bought 200,000 Cornershop Albums. Ben credits this to being on Wiija Records
“It’s different to being on a major label, with Wiija, we’ve been allowed to grow and develop. We wouldn’t have been given that much time on a major label. I mean, much of the appalling music today is a result of bands being dangled a carrot by labels.”
I ask Ben if he thinks bands are forced to alter their sound or feel obliged to compromise their vision in order to get signed to a major label, or in some cases, stay on one. Ben agrees
“Definitely, and if you get into that environment, then you get into problems.”
So, with the current musical horizon being dominated by bland and staid (or Staind - you choose) music, where does that leave Cornershop? Do they have a place in 2002?
“Well, we do our own thing, and fit in wherever we can; we have always fought against being pidgeonholed, but at the same time, there’s a certain resignation about things; of course we’ll take an interest in where we chart, but playlists are so controlled…”
Ben points to the domination of XFM by Capital Radio as a good example of the current malaise, ironically, it’s they who have been giving the single a good push. Of the single, Ben says that he’s in no real position to comment on his take on its meaning – words and lyrics by one Tjinder Singh – but knows what his counterpart would say:
“It’s about how poor sequels are, the song obviously points to films and how after Rocky III you can forget it, but its also saying that you have to rise above all the music industry shit and do your best and be original”.
Well lyrics about chicks with dicks on Miami beaches certainly are original in themselves, but the band makes one key mistake: that is Rocky IV is by far the best of the Rocky series, a lapse in judgement that many would find hard to forgive. Fortunately we will afford some sort of critical leniency to the group just this once. Something we can’t afford to do is finish the interview without asking Ben about the collaborator on the ‘Rocky…’ single. Ben, what was it like working with the world famous Oasis legend?
“Well, Guigsy’s been a friend of ours for quite a few years, since we went on tour with Oasis in 1997. He’s actually a massive roots reggae fan."
[shocked silence from interviewer] me: “really?”
“Yeah”, enthuses Ben, “he’s built a studio in his shed at the bottom of the garden, and he’s going to do some producing this year”.
The dark and murky world of post-Oasis then, God only knows what Bonehead is doing – nosebleed techno anyone? Ben mentions his band’s aspiration to play the Isle of White Festival mooted for this summer (he doesn’t know if it is on yet) and with that, the interview is over. Nothing truly shocking revealed, and a rather perfunctory performance in truth, but we can give thanks that they make better music than copy.