A DAY IN THE LIFE
interviewed by Justin Hoenke
Over the past 3 years, I’ve talked to so many different and amazing librarians for this column. As I was preparing my list for this year, it hit me: Why not branch out a bit? This issue, you’ll see that all of the positive themes we’ve come to know and love when talking about librarians are right there with Tjinder Singh, the singer and songwriter for the British band Cornershop.
You may remember Cornershop from its 1997 hit “Brimful of Asha.” If you don’t, cue up your streaming platform of choice and make it the soundtrack to this article. Taken from the album When I Was Born for the 7th Time, described as a “landmark of sonic invention and adventure, a cornucopia of compelling pan-cultural grooves” (cornershop.com/2012/02/cornershop-biography-by-professor-kenneth-fitzgerald), the song and the rest of the album quickly introduced the world to Tjinder and his unique creativity. During the last 20 years, the band has consistently produced record after record of amazing music, all easily identifiable as uniquely Cornershop. The band, like all of the great libraries around the world, found its voice and over the years has continued to refine and grow it and deliver beautiful work to the world.
When I first approached Tjinder to be part of this column, there was a bit of worry inside of me that doing this may completely miss the mark with readers. But once Tjinder started talking about developing and running a record label of his own (Ample Play Records; ampleplay.co.uk)—specifically, doing everything yourself or asking your friends to teach you—my worries were eased. This is a very library-like way to approach things. And then it hit me that there’s a common thread connecting us all: We’re all here trying our best to give back to the world, figuring things out one step at a time.
Hi there, Tjinder, thanks for being part of this column. Can you tell the readers a bit about your creative process? How do you make Cornershop music? How do you start writing the tunes? What’s your recording process like?
Happy and proud to be a part. I usually start with a song idea. This can be musically, or with a song line, or even a melody. The thing is, it won’t always be the same kind of start, and that helps to keep things different. Not having a set procedure means we keep song structure loose. The next step is then to see what the next person can do to augment it. Then to take it to the studio we use in Preston, where we can add more instrumentation. If the lyrics are not finished, this can help land them. There is always a lot of editing to do after this, and then probably a few more musical bits, then mixing.
These days, you’re releasing the music you create as Cornershop through Ample Play Records, which you started with band member Benedict Ayres. How did you two decide to create your own record label? What was it like to start it? What are some things you’ve learned along the way as a totally independent record label?
We started our own record label, as we had been on all types of record labels, from independent to major, and decided they could not offer us much more than we knew, as we have always been in charge of how releases go. Starting the label was easy, but as time went by and the industry changed (e.g., digital sales), it meant we had to brush up on certain new ways of working. Our way of thinking was to treat artists the way we would want to be treated, and we think we managed that. In the smaller of cases, we learnt, like [Kurt] Vonnegut says, everybody wants to build but nobody wants to maintain. But overwhelmingly, it was a pleasure to work with most of our artists, who really put a lot of themselves in their releases.
One of the things that I read on your Ample Play Records website is that this is a 100% independent process and that you’re fulfilling orders and more directly in your office. Librarians are very used to this “get involved with every bit of the process” style of working. Why do you think this approach is so important? Do you think it helps create a connection between you as the artists and the communities listening to your music?
It’s very William Morris—do everything yourself or get your friends to teach you how. Benedict has a great background in vinyl manufacturing and production control, I worked in reception for small labels when moving to London, and we have both been through all of the other areas required for the running of a label. To process deliveries ourselves is important, as we know the process and realize how people will receive items. Plus, there is a sense of satisfaction in the smallest of orders, sometimes more than a few large boxes’ worth.
Another library-esque question: Your song “What Does the Hippie Have in His Bag?” from Cornershop’s 2012 album Urban Turban is paired with a children’s book that can be purchased from your website (ampleplay.co.uk/product/what-did-the-hippie-have-in-his-bag-readsing-along-book-by-cornershop). How did this unlikely and very awesome pairing come together?
I had started writing [based on] the idea at the early start of the century, and we were asked to do something related to childhood for the Manchester International Festival in conjunction with the BBC. So we did a workshop based on the “Hippie” song and video, which was very successful. We then had workshops with our librarian friend, Peter Baxter, who had helped us with workshops at Bolton School, after which some audio was used in the song recording itself. These workshops were loved by adults and children alike, and the song became a single with a booklet of the lyrics set to graphic illustrations by Nick Edwards, a longtime friend and our designer.
The new Cornershop album England Is a Garden came out on Ample Play Records in March 2020. Can you tell readers about how that album came together and what most excites you about it?
England Is a Garden was a very difficult album to finish. It took years. We had moved away from day-to-day band work. Everyone except our percussionist had become fathers. The music industry had moved away from its broader like of different sounds. Myself, I was as burnt out as Alfred’s cakes. Slowly, we pulled things together over a long, long time. The album streamlines our sound to more live instruments, and it, like all of our albums, stayed political as well as gave a pointer sign toward our previous albums. We are very glad we finished it. There were many times over many months that we didn’t think that would come to pass, so we are rather excited to get it released.