Songwriter Interviews

Chris Corner of Sneaker Pimps

by Dan MacIntosh

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Chris Corner is best known as one of the primary creative forces behind Sneaker Pimps, which gave the world hits like "6 Underground" and "Spin Spin Sugar." These days, Corner is still active with a theatrically performance-oriented project called IAMX. And after relocating from Berlin to sunny Southern California, he's in a much happier state of mind.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): It sounds like there was a kind of release to create the music for IAMX. Was it cathartic to make this music?

Chris Corner: It started as a very private, personal form of therapy. Music is like that, anyway, but this is very specifically about my own psychology and my own psychological status. And it's always been about exploring the very emotional side of myself. It is very cathartic.

On the other hand, sometimes it's also a little bit difficult because you're constantly bringing up things you don't really want to think about in everyday circumstances, but you get this emotional release, this very special feeling that you can't get outside of art. It's definitely therapy for me, and then, I've always been in a place where I can think and explore parts of myself to extremes, rather than in normal life.

Songfacts: I notice you've relocated from Berlin to Los Angeles. And Berlin has a reputation as being a darkly creative place - Iggy Pop and David Bowie made some of their greatest music there. In contrast, California has great weather. Would you say that the relocation has helped your moods?

Chris: Yeah, totally. I mean, it's one of the reasons why I did it. It's a bit of cliché, but when you've lived in Berlin for so long and you've spent a lot of long, dark, hard winters, the romance and the sexiness wears off. It's a great city for a maximum of four years because it's very free, it's very cheap. It's a perfect place for artists. It's the artistic orphanage of the world. You can indulge yourself. You have time to just find yourself.

A lot of people get lost in there, as well. It's very easy to become consumed by that city because it's so cheap and tempting. At some point, after the years of discovering the scene and knowing what it was all about and experiencing the bad weather and getting into a bit of a hole there, I suffered from a strong depression. So, part of my new life, my recovery, was to find a good place where I could find some kind of at least geographical consistency so things could be stable on that end. And then the rest I'd have to work out myself. But it's definitely helped me a lot.

Corner founded Sneaker Pimps in England with keyboard player Liam Howe in 1994. At first, Chris was their singer as well as their guitarist, but they decided to add a female vocalist and poached Kelli Dayton from a band called The Lumieres, which was managed by Runaways impressario Kim Fowley.

Corner, Howe, and their lyricist friend Ian Pickering had already written "6 Underground" (with Chris singing on the demo) when Dayton came on board. It was the breakout hit from their first album, Becoming X (1996), which made a deep impact in the UK with an ambient trip-hop sound that was coming into fashion. This sound caught on in America about a year later, as did the Pimps, but relentless touring strained the band, and Dayton was fired before their second album. With Corner once again on lead vocals, the band released Splinter in 1999 and Bloodsport in 2002.
Songfacts: I'd like to talk about a couple of the biggest Sneaker Pimps songs. The lyrics to "6 Underground" - did Ian Pickering write those lyrics?

Chris: He didn't write all the lyrics. That's sort of been misconstrued. He wrote some of the lyrics. We would definitely come up with the structure and not necessarily always the idea, and then he would sort of hash it out to bring some sort of more specific concept. It was a total collaboration.

Songfacts: With lines like, "Six underground, the ground beneath your feet," is the song "6 Underground" about death?

Chris: Yeah, I think all our songs are about death. [laughter]

It's about death in a small town environment. You grow up in this shit town and you yearn to get out. A lot of artists, we just can't survive in a place like that.

So, the essence of that song is that living in a small town is like dying. For us it was a huge release to get out and to explore the world, to see what everything else is about. We all wanted that. You know, the northern industrial shithole. And that's really what that song's about.

Songfacts: There's the line, "I'm open to falling from grace." Is that about looking to the bright lights, big city. The things a small town might look down upon?

Chris: That's part of it. When you go back to your family, or you go back to your friends and you visit those places, which I try to do very infrequently, it instantly suffocates you. Not only is it depressing for me to go back, but people do feel like you've made a mistake. You left them. What you're doing is not right. What you really need to do is settle down. Have a family. Get a normal job. Be stable and do all those things. What they don't understand is that my life is the only way it could be and it's free and it's different. That's always been a bit of a head-fuck for me when I'm back home. I mean, my family accepts me now, which is fine. They love it. But it's still difficult with some people.

Songfacts: The song "Spin Spin Sugar" is one, honestly, I can't decipher what you're trying to say with it. Maybe you can give me a little insight.

Chris: We wrote that basically as a dance track. It was kind of abstract, and you could interpret it in many ways.

That's a bit of a cop-out - I know that. Our concept was to keep it as free as possible and use words that were kind of like club culture, but were a little bit more progressive or a little bit more intellectual than dance was. It was trying to dip into that market without having it mean that much.

Songfacts: The new project, IAMX is a concept where you speak of becoming X. Do you think a part of that, now that you're doing all the singing, is about being comfortable with your own voice and comfortable in your own skin? Is that part of what the I am X is about?

Chris: Yeah. When I started it, it was a little premature in the sense that I was arrogantly saying, "I am X." I wasn't quite ready because I needed to learn more. So, through this project I've gotten to a state where I'm much more comfortable with myself, and in the end, that's what you're searching for.

You know, you're searching for acceptance. You want people to love you and you want to be able to love yourself. Part of being on stage is about that. And with this project, we've created a niche, I guess. It's actually quite heartwarming that so many people come to the shows and they say, "Not only do I like the music, but I feel like I've overcome my social anxiety. I can connect with other people." And it's a very communal experience.

November 30, 2016
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