Morcheeba are back with their new album Blaze Away and a massive world tour to boot, which will see them play at this year’s Tokyo World festival at Eastville Park on 22 and 23 September.
They return without founding member Paul Godfrey, who departed in 2013, but their trademark mesh of influences from psychedelic rock to downtempo, hip hop, country and blues is most certainly intact and stunningly delivered by Skye Edwards and Ross Godfrey.
Etched firmly into the soundscape of the mid-nineties, Morcheeba first appeared on our sonar with their debut album Who Can you Trust? in 1996
Etched firmly into the soundscape of the mid-nineties, Morcheeba first appeared on our sonar with their debut album Who Can you Trust? in 1996, followed two years later with their seminal platinum-selling Big Calm. Morcheeba was formed after producer Paul and his multi instrumentalist brother Ross met vocalist Skye at a party in Greenwich. Ross and Paul had previously been working with another singer, but after hearing Skye’s magnetic voice, the trio began recording as Morcheeba in a new style adapted to Skye’s quieter, country-influenced vocals, combining a cluster of influences that often sees the band aligned with the South West trip hop movement. While there’s certainly a comparison to be made, Morcheeba’s sound also sits outside of the early trip hop records by the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead.
We wanted the production to sound like Wu-Tang Clan, the songs to sound like Neil Young and the guitars to sound like Jimi Hendrix
‘We wanted the production to sound like Wu-Tang Clan, the songs to sound like Neil Young and the guitars to sound like Jimi Hendrix’ explains Ross. ‘It was a weird mixture. Part of the Process sounds like a country band with a hip hop beat and that felt quite different to the rest of the trip hop acts. I didn’t feel like anyone from the West Country was using country music, so I think we carved our own little niche within it and the songwriting stands out for itself. Wherever we go in the world, it’s quite funny because people always ask if we’re from Bristol.’
I didn’t really like the title of trip hop, as I felt our album was a little bit more than downtempo with hip hop beats and a female vocal (…) the umbrella was much wider than that
Skye agrees: ‘I didn’t really like the title of trip hop, as I felt our album was a little bit more than downtempo with hip hop beats and a female vocal. Certainly on Big Calm we had songs on there that had country and Western influences, psychedelic influences and rock and pop. So I’ve never felt that we really fitted into the trip hop genre, because I felt that the umbrella was much wider than that.’
‘The sound came about naturally’ Ross continues ‘because I was really into acid rock and psychedelic – people like Jimi Hendrix and also old blues music. My brother was really into hip hop – bands like New Kingdom and Wu-Tang. Skye’s voice was very soft and she was into country music and people like Nina Simone and Patsy Cline, so she made us have quite a mellow sound, because we couldn’t play heavy guitars over the top of her, because you wouldn’t be able to hear her.
‘There was a synchronicity, because there were a few other bands at the same time that had similar influences who were trying to do the same sort of thing. British people at the time couldn’t really rap, there was no rap scene, so people started making beats and writing songs over them. The Tricky record and Portishead record came about around the same time we were writing Who Can You Trust?
‘The music that I write with Skye’s voice has a lot to do with how people view the sound. It’s very natural. We don’t try to sound like Morcheeba, that’s just how we sound when we make music together.’
After Paul left the band in 2013, Ross and Skye continued making music together, releasing their Skye | Ross album in 2016. After buying Paul out of his share of the Morcheeba name, they returned to it for 2018’s Blaze Away.
‘We’ve been touring without Paul for about 10 or 15 years, so it’s been a really long transition’ Ross says. ‘Paul is always going to be a massive part of Morcheeba, he’s written into the DNA of our sound. The element that Paul brought that isn’t there is the DJ scratching and a large hip hop element, but we still have that as an influence, it’s just not as prominent as when Paul was working with us.’
Paul is always going to be a massive part of Morcheeba, he’s written into the DNA of our sound
Watching their set at Boomtown last month, they sound as much like Morcheeba as ever, with their new tracks sitting comfortably alongside classics like The Sea and Part of the Process. Skye, having made a slow and steady transition from vocalist to fully-fledged frontwoman since their first record, lit up the stage and seemed to be having as much fun performing as any fresh new act.
‘I don’t feel that we’re dated; our audience is a mix from people in their 70s right down to 17 year olds’ says Skye. ‘We’re still working, we’re still touring – this is the busiest year we’ve had in a long time. We’ve just done 50 shows and have 30 more to do.
they sound as much like Morcheeba as ever, with their new tracks sitting comfortably alongside classics like The Sea and Part of the Process
‘It’s 2018, we’ve got a new album out and it feels good. I’ve always enjoyed singing on stage and my confidence has grown certainly in the last ten years. The first album that we toured in 1996, I was incredibly shy and I didn’t really get dressed up – I’d just wear trainers and a jacket round my waist and hold on to the mic for dear life. Over the years, I’ve got more confident at touring – once I get over my nerves after the first couple of songs. I love performing and I love getting dressed up, I make the clothes that I wear on stage. I think people like to be entertained and I love being able to sing to people live and make that contact. We’ll keep making music as long as people will have us.’
As an album, as with their whole body of work, Blaze Away scales a multitude of genres and influences and delivers some excellent collaborations
As an album, as with their whole body of work, Blaze Away scales a multitude of genres and influences and delivers some excellent collaborations, including Roots Manuva on the title track and French singer Benjamin Biolay on Paris sur Mer. Skye elaborates: ‘We’ve got a pop song called It’s Summertime and a downtempo song called Never Undo. They’re both being played on the radio, though they don’t sound like everything else you hear on Radio One, which I think is a good thing.’
On how the Roots Manuva collaboration came about, Skye explains: ‘We were playing a festival in Moscow and Roots Manuva was on the bill, so we stood by the side of the stage and jumped around watching him play. Afterwards, there was a really lovely smell coming from his dressing room so we went in and joined him. We said “you’re in London, we’re in London, let’s do a track together”. We exchanged numbers and took it from there.’
Roots Manuva brought a lot of mad energy that kicked everything up a gear
‘Roots Manuva brought a lot of mad energy that kicked everything up a gear’ Ross adds. ‘Benjamin is a very classy songwriter so we are lucky to have him on the record’ says Ross. ‘I had the music for a while and wanted a French male singer to duet with Skye in a Gainsbourg/Birkin style fashion. Benjamin was our ideal collaborator and he brought an amazing amount of gravitas to the song and album. Amanda Zamolo, my wife, features on Mezcal Dream. She also sings in French, making it sound like a continental psychedelic classic.’
From its conception, Morcheeba has always been a family affair, beginning with the Godfrey brothers and now including members of Skye’s family too. Skye’s husband, Steve Gordon, who played bass on Fragments of Freedom, is their touring bass player, while their son Jaega plays the drums.
‘It is comfortable having people we love close by, but we also choose to play with them because they are great musicians’ Ross explains.
We take people on a journey from 1996 all the way up to 2018
When Morcheeba bring their live show to Tokyo World at the end of this month, Skye explains what we can expect: We’ve got an amazing lighting designer and we play a mixture of songs from the first album and the new album, plus a David Bowie cover of Let’s Dance. We generally try and get people singing along and dancing and then mellow them out. We take people on a journey from 1996 all the way up to 2018.’