Waxing lyrical: Tjinder Singh, Cornershop

The Cornershop frontman on Cliff Richard, writing on beermats and how the Rocky films are a metaphor for the music industry

On new album Cornershop and the Double "O" Groove Of, a collaboration with Lancashire singer Bubbley Kaur: "I met her through a mutual friend, who's a taxi driver. We met and I heard some tapes of her doing cover versions of classic songs, mainly Hindi songs. It was a process of listening to songs ourselves and trying to get to a position of her writing her own stuff. I've always hated bhangra music – a bastardisation of Hindi folk and western music, in a crude way, to make money. I wanted to mix western music with Punjabi folk in a way that wasn't crude. It's been something I've wanted to do for more than 20 years. I've always thought of Punjabi folk as a precursor to hip-hop. It's beat-based, storytelling, parochial – what's going on around a village. A lot of it is to do with functions – weddings, meetings. Other bits are more melancholy – what has happened to her relatives, or the relationship break-ups. But it's often light-hearted and upbeat."

The first lyric that caught my ear: "I only listened to Asian music until the age of about nine. I remember Cliff Richard. Hearing Devil Woman was quite a potent thing, because of the themes it conjured up – how unchristian it was."

On writing lyrics: "When I first started writing, it was beermats. Now I tend to do it more on a phone. When I was in Leicester, a friend of mine who I was lodging with was a taxi driver, and someone left a palmtop in his cab. There were only two lines on it, but I'd use that. I like writing stuff on a computer, as sterile as it can be. Stuff comes and you get it down, or you miss it. When I first started writing, I'd get up and write anywhere – even on walls."

On non-musical inspirations: "Pina Bausch, the late choreographer, has been more inspirational than many musicians. I think her work is more political than the whole music scene at the moment, and that's a pretty sad indictment. Also, authors such as Kurt Vonnegut – I got into him at a late stage, because I hate sci-fi. But he's not sci-fi, he's actually rather truthful – it's a brilliant narration on how life was, or is."

On rolling with the punches: "Our songs can be hard to unpick. Lessons Learned From Rocky 1 to Rocky 3 is about the music industry, and turning your experience into a fight scenario. It is a constant battle, and one has to be wary and take pointers from other things. So it's a reference to the Rocky movies. I've seen the first one, or nearly all of it, but I haven't seen the rest. Some people are mad about the series, but they get worse and worse – hence, 'lesson three is to ignore four'"

On the perfect song: "I don't think a song can be perfect, because life is always changing. The test of a song is that it can reflect a mood, and remind one of a mood. But there's a Les McCann song called Desiderata. That's a pretty all-encompassing track. It's laidback music – it's basically someone with the wisdom of what they've gone through, saying how they think things can be. Every line has a certain balance to it. It doesn't preach, it offers parameters. It's a lovely song. You could probably listen to that again and again. Everything changes, and that's the lesson really – as the song goes, 'no doubt the universe is unfolding, as it should'"


Louis Pattison

The GuardianTramp

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