"Spectral Mornings," the epic centerpiece of Cornershop's new Handcream for a Generation, clocks in at a wickedly unconventional 14 minutes, but that's nothing considering the song's history.
"The demo of it was 40 minutes," frontman Tjinder Singh said matter-of-factly from his England home. "It would have been longer, but the tape ran out."
And even that 40-minute track is a sliver compared to the remix of the tune Cornershop recently streamed on their Web site. At 24 hours, it made history as the world's longest remix.
One might think Singh was out to prove something (size does matter, perhaps?) with "Spectral Mornings," which features Oasis' Noel Gallagher on guitar, but that's far from the case. Like Forrest Gump, he just kept going.
That's the genius of Cornershop, whose nucleus also includes guitarist Ben Ayres. Rather than stop to configure their unique blend of traditional Indian music and disco pop, they just take their ideas and run. And run. And run.
"I was just thinking of getting a track done," Singh said of the writing session that gave birth to "Spectral Mornings." Gallagher's name came into the picture weeks later. "If you're doing a track and think about someone else coming in, that doesn't work too well. I think you take a track to a level and then realize where it can go from there and then bring people in. [Thinking about a collaborator] would take a little of the shine out of it."
Handcream for a Generation, like 1997's widely acclaimed When I Was Born for the Seventh Time, is an enthusiastically intelligent album disguised in catchy dancefloor ditties with offbeat titles like "Staging the Plaguing of the Raised Platform."
Singh claims even he doesn't know what most of his songs are about. "When you find out, tell me," he quipped. But he did reveal that the first single, "Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III," is more about the humorous elements of the music industry than the actual movies named in the title. ("I don't mind the first three, but the fourth one might as well be 'Rambo,' " he added).
Handcream, which also features guest appearances by former Oasis bassist Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan and soul singer Otis Clay, certainly has Cornershop's signature quirky sound, but also possesses many of the same elements as Singh's 2000 funk side project Clinton. Singh hears the similarities but doesn't know how it happened.
"I wasn't feeling very funky," he said. "It was quite hard in the studio. It wasn't as if it was an atmosphere that was totally happy. There was a lot of weird things going on personally and within the band. It was really just a case of sticking with ideas and carrying them on and not thinking of anything more than getting the tracks done."
Midway through recording the album, Singh's father died. A month later, his wife gave birth. The studio was a few hours' drive from Singh's home, so he spent a lot of time traveling, which he said "is probably why people like [the album] in the car."
What helped Cornershop through recording was the fresh face of the X-ecutioners' Rob Swift, who co-produced two songs, "Wogs Will Walk" and "Slip the Drummer One."
"It's good to have someone else in the studio and break things up a little," Singh said. "He was very simplistic, no messing about, just getting to a groove. Great bloke. Really laid-back."
Although Swift's touch helped give Handcream the feel of a dance album, it was important for Singh to record songs that could be transferred well to the stage. That meant using a real bass guitar to fill out the album's bottom end.
"We haven't done that in the past because we didn't want to sound like anyone, but then after 10 years, there was a realization that no one sounds like us," Singh said. "So we went ahead and did it."
Cornershop will launch a North American tour April 26 in Las Vegas. The group will play the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival the following night.
Cornershop tour dates, according to the band's spokesperson:
- 4/26 - Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint
- 4/27 - Indio, CA @ Coachella festival
- 4/30 - Austin, TX @ The Backyard
- 5/1 - Dallas, TX @ Trees
- 5/3 - New Orleans, LA @ Saenger Theatre
- 5/4 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
- 5/6 - Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
- 5/8 - Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
- 5/9 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
- 5/10 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero
- 5/11 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 5/13 - Montreal, QC @ Cabaret Music Hall
- 5/15 - Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Hall
- 5/17 - Chicago, IL @ Metro
- 5/18 - Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Cafe
- 5/21 - Vancouver, BC @ Richard's On Richards
- 5/22 - Seattle, WA @ Showbox
- 5/23 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
- 5/25 - San Francisco, CA @ Fillmore
- 5/26 - Angels Camp, CA @ Calaveras County Fairground