Cornershop are one of the most praised bands in the UK loved by critics and musicians. Yet somehow they have been casually ignored by the music-buying public over the course of the last 15 years.
Mistakenly thought of as one-hit wonders thanks to Norman Cook’s remix of Brimful of Asha topping the charts in 1998, they are now onto their sixth album (if you count Disco and the Halfway to Discontent that they recorded under the name Clinton).
It’s been seven years since we last heard from Cornershop the criminally undersold psychedelic wonder of Handcream for a Generation in 2002 being the last offering. They have never been a band to rush or follow trends or, indeed, compromise. With the diverse range of politically charged songs on new album Judy Sucks A Lemon for Breakfast it doesn’t seem they are going to start anytime soon.
How does it feel to be back?
Well, it’s quite nice. The reaction that we’ve had before the album has been rather phenomenal, we weren’t expecting people from NME to be into it but it’s apparently not been off their hi-fi since they got it.
We’ve had very good write-ups and reviews in Mojo and Uncut. Great lead features in the most respected music magazines and we’re very happy about that. When you’re working on something for so long you can lose a bit of perspective and feel that you’re in your own world and you’re a little mad.
I think for four years up, until that blog by John Mulvey (Uncut website), I really did think I was unhinged.
Were you worried that if you released a new album no-one would be listening?
Not really because there have always been people who have got in touch with us somehow and asked when new stuff is coming out, so there wasn’t that.
People who have heard it have liked it but we’re doing it on our own label because we didn’t think we were going to get the support that we needed from other record labels. That, therefore, adds to an arena of uncertainty. Luckily we are over that and it’s going to come out.
Are you looking forward to the upcoming tour?
We’ve just done one gig in Cambridge and we are off to Italy for a date there. It’s a case of building it back up.
Why the seven-year gap since the last album? What have you been up to?
Well I think about it in terms of taste and what has been going on. At the start of this decade it’s been groups that are independent guitar bands and they have stayed in that ilk for a long, long time.
It’s only lately that times have moved on from Babyshambles and bands like that. And I think at the moment people are looking for different and varied sounds rather than just simple guitar music.
What other artists do you admire at the moment?
The thing is I still buy vinyl and that is really my main sort of pool for looking at music that I like. I don’t buy too much new stuff. I like Fleet Foxes, I like the spark of MGMT. I like more off-kilter stuff such as Jeffrey Lewis.
We worked with him a while back. On our last tour he was supporting us, in America and in England. That’s why Ben (Cornershop’s guitarist) is working for Rough Trade because he was pushing Jeffery so much they asked him to come onboard. It’s not as if we don’t have anything to do with new groups. We’ve done the odd collaboration with other artists as well. It’s not as if we are just stuck in our world.
The opening song on the new album is called “Who Fingered Rock and Roll?” What’s the answer?
I think that is a very pertinent question. Well, you know, rock and roll, by its very nature, has always been fingered. It’s not been the artists that have done it and I think that is what the song is saying. It’s bigger than the artists and that’s where the finger needs to be pointed.
Keith Richards said “Everyone talks about rock these days but whatever happened to the roll”?
Well that’s Keith for you. That’s really what I think is a summary of what was going on at the start of this decade in terms of music. I think the business side of it is frightening. What did the League of Gentlemen call it? I think they said it was a shit business.
Are you enjoying their new programme ‘Psychoville’?
Oh I think it’s brilliant. Well you know they are local people aren’t they? Our sitarist, who is now in America, went to college with a couple of them. But what I love about it is that it can’t be copied. The Office is brilliant but it has transferred to America too easily. I think Psychoville has its darkness, and twisted nature, but it also has a storyline that continues every week. I really think it is absolute genius. It really is the comedy of the future. It is better to have that than just to take the piss out of people.
You have a knack for interesting album titles with ‘Handcream for a Generation’ and now ‘Judy Sucked a Lemon for Breakfast’. Do they mean anything or do you just like the way they sound?
Well it was quite interesting this morning listening to the news. People have been advised to wash their hands with hand cream because of the swine-flu epidemic. Music, by its very nature, has a knack of explaining things, even if it was the very last thing that it was meant to explain, and that’s another reason why it’s so exciting.
Handcream for a Generation has become a bit of a cult classic. Does that make it any easier that it didn’t sell very well at the time?
Yeah, it makes it very much easier. I mean the music is still used by theatre and films and it keeps on getting referred back to. But also in the same vein Disco and the Halfway to Discontent (the 2000 album release under the name Clinton) has also done that.
It’s stayed alive. The London nightclub Button Down Disco took its name from a track on that Clinton album. It keeps on getting talked about, it keeps on getting played. I think the internet is great for that.
How has new technology, such as Twitter, changed music? When you released your last album social networking sites like MySpace had not really taken off yet.
No they weren’t. That’s very astute. It has totally flipped it really. The fact you can get a download for 29 pence means, again, the artist suffers from that.
I don’t think it’s just the artist. The internet is changing everyone’s way of living and everyone’s way of purchasing things and it makes sense for other industries to follow. It’s a sea change in everything. It’s interesting but also rather sad.
The album as a piece of art may die out with people able to pick and choose what songs they want to download.
Yeah, that’s why we have done an album like this. All of our albums have been like that. They have a variety and they take people on a sort of journey. They are designed to be listened to as a complete thing because when we listened to stuff it was on tape, and then vinyl, so you would let it play and then turn over.
I think if you can’t smell it then it’s very easy to just lose it and not take it in. It’s very much like a good cup of char in that respect. It has got to be smelt, it has got to be handled. That is what gives you the experience and brings it to your life rather than just hearing it.
The new album has received great reviews, why do you think bands that the critics like are often ignored while middle of the road bands sell millions?
It is because people have put a button on the remote control and unfortunately a lot of people just listen to stuff because they want the acknowledgement of the people around them.
They are doing something that other people are telling them to do because they think it is something to aspire to. I think it is the same thing we’ve said about touching vinyl, smelling it. That is a real experience. Whereas just going on what other people say it pretty lazy, and it has become fast, and unfortunately that is how our world is at the moment.
What do you mean when you sing: “War is just technical plip plop” on the new single The Roll Off Characteristics (Of History In The Making)?
Again it couldn’t be more prevalent with what is happening on the news. The technical stuff being the use of helicopters to fire, to protect, to maim and to kill. If you’ve got that money, and those resources, then you will use them and that’s what is being done.
It might seem that there is not enough technical plip plop being used, which is why a lot of people are saying that the government need more helicopters, more guns and ammunition and more protection. But I think that is what it is, it’s very much like the music industry, if they can get away with it then they will until the point of annihilation. That is what is happening, and that is on both sides, I’m not saying it’s just the Western side or the U.N side.
Finally, what kept you going on some of those dark nights of the soul between your last album in 2002 and your new release seven years later? What stopped you just packing it all in?
That’s a brilliant question. It’s the question I have even asked myself in the last couple of weeks. I’ve said to people around me that I would give it in but it’s because of what I hear that I don’t. I hear the music and I think ‘that is damn good’.
On the one hand, personally, I think it’s too good to let go, or else I would. I would walk because it is a lot of headache and it does constantly change. It changes from half day to half day but I would walk. I would quite happily go to France and live there and that would be me. And I’d be happy with that. But I certainly feel that I can’t let it go because it’s too good to let go. And other people are very much into it and that keeps me going as well. It can’t go on forever, though, it can’t.
Are you planning to stick around a bit longer this time?
Well we’ve got the next album already in the bag so we are looking forward to next year.
Cornershop play the 02 Liverpool Academy
Saturday 1st August
Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast is out on 27 July