Cornershop may be best remembered for “Brimful of Asha,” a sitar-driven dance number that Fatboy Slim remixed and put on the charts, MTV and, eventually, The Love Guru. But that is a perfect example of how the one-hit-wonder formula doesn’t fully describe a band’s career. “Brimful of Asha” is unquestionably the band’s highest point, but rather than rue the fact that none of Cornershop’s singles from When I Was Born for the 7th Time or its follow-up, Handcream for a Generation, had the same impact, band frontman Tjinder Singh is happy to have had at least one moment.
“How can you resent a song that is played every time the sun comes out, and when the sun doesn’t come out it’s played in the hope of bringing the sun out?” said Singh, who leads the band with Benedict Ayres. “America does know us more for ‘Brimful of Asha,’ which we see as a song that represents the group rather thoroughly, it being memorable and political, and praising the vinyl record format and the process of listening to music. And really, we did very well in America, especially compared to other British bands. I don’t think we could have expected to do any better. Our sound is different with every song, so it takes more effort to get into it, but once you’re there, there is more to get into. We played to very different crowds, from Knitting Factory to Lollapalooza to Brooklyn Academy of Music to Coachella. We had to win people over. It was hard work, but that made it the more enjoyable. If it was fed to us, there would be no sense of achievement in it all.”
Even though Cornershop seems to be content with its one-and-done status in the United States, however undeserved, they have worked consistently over the last decade to carve out a place in the pop landscape of Great Britain. When not actively pursuing music, the band’s members pursued families — even if in one case it was a family of bees — and dealt with, if Singh is to be believed, alien abduction.
“We all needed to stop after 2002, and we all have children to look after now, except our percussionist, who keeps bees. I’ve been enjoying bringing up my two boys. They’ve helped bring me up too, baking chapattis, living in France for two years, helping our percussionist overcome his abduction by aliens — he was away for two weeks, but the process weakened him for three years. I’ve been drinking lots of tea, overcoming my own abductions and working damn hard. We have evolved by going back to civilian life, with a view to learn from it and get out of it again.”
Cornershop’s transition back into music sometimes proceeds at a maddeningly slow rate. Granted, Singh asserts at least two band members are getting over alien abductions, but even with that going on, Cornershop isn’t exactly setting the world on fire from a release standpoint. Singh also counters this, and appears to have thought about this subject at least as much as how to come to terms with being pegged as a one-hit wonder.
“I do not think that it has taken so long between albums, just that we took time out after 2002 to establish the best way to put our records out, concentrate on family life,” Singh said. In 2003 I made a film on independent-record making, and this was like, if you will, a concept album. The guitar climate was not right for Cornershop in the past few years. Nowadays, once more people seem to be searching for different ways to boogie down. It’s not that we did not like a lot of the past — in fact, we see a lot of it as similar to our own humble beginnings, being thrown out of venues, and really enjoying it for all it’s worth. But we didn’t want to go back to more basic record production, because it’s our record production that has kept us going, the emphasis on whole and complete albums that has kept younger people listening to us, and allowed clear blue water between us and other bands.”
Cornershop has completed its next “whole and complete” album, Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast, the band’s first proper full-length since Handcream For A Generation, and is preparing to once more attack American shores. Singh and longtime collaborator Ayres are optimistic about their chances for a stateside resurgence, given the album’s tight, retro-inspired grooves. Singh credits his roots for inspiring the album’s sound.
“In the Rolling Stone Pick of the Week, they mentioned the Velvets, the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan, yet summarize with ‘Cornershop really only sound like Cornershop.’ I’m from an industrial part if England called the Black Country, which influenced heavy metal, with the likes of Slade or Black Sabbath. Pretty-boy rock is not the game. For me an album is a complete thing, so I’m proud of it all. But the politics of “Operation Push” and being the first wog to do a Christian track that edits down to 16 minutes are just two of the things I’m most proud of. If there isn’t a few things on each track to be proud of, then it becomes a Kasabian album.”
The band is being considerably more charitable to the iTunes audience than it is to Kasabian. The U.S. edition of Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast comes with two exclusive tracks, including a cover of “The Battle of New Orleans” suggested by John Peel.
“John Peel of Radio 1 contacted us to ask if we would record a Lonnie Donegan track for one of his Christmas/New Year shows, just before he passed away. Lonnie was one of John’s favorite artists. We were immediately struck by ‘The Battle Of New Orleans’ and thought it’d be great to cover. Lonnie didn’t write the song, of course, but he recorded a version that was well known in the U.K., and we were also extra interested to hear that it had topped the Billboard charts for Johnny Horton in 1959 and that it is one of the most popular country songs of all time. What tipped the balance for us though was the fact that Jimmy Driftwood, who put the words to the track, was a teacher who apparently did that to help the children he was teaching learn history.”
In addition, the band collaborated with French songstress Soko on “Something Makes You Feel Like,” which arose from a chance meeting. “We went to see her play when she played in Brighton at the Great Escape a few years ago, and we both loved her show. It was unique, and she carried it off with great style. We then had a chat walking round Brighton with Soko to her next show of the day and talked of perhaps working on a track together when she was next in London. This we then did, at Sassy P studios, and the result was ‘Something Makes You Feel Like.’”
Even if Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast fails to resonate with audiences as much as “Brimful of Asha” did, that it exists at is a minor miracle in itself. Many “one-hit wonders” crack under the pressure of expectations for a follow-up, while others fade slowly and painfully into obscurity, riding their single flirtation with zeitgeist from Madison Square Garden to the county-fair circuit. Far more interesting, however, are bands defined by a single song who still soldier on, evolving as artists even as record executives blankly ask for one more single. Cornershop, if only for persevering in this way, to say nothing about the abductions, deserves a second chance at the ears of America.