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Interview Sat Feb 19 2011

Morcheeba Speaks, Heads to the House of Blues

morcheeba3.jpg
In the early '90s, in the electronica dominated club scene in England, kids needed something to chill out to after-hours. Born out of down-tempo electronic and hip-hop beats, trip-hop was the sound. Pioneering artists like Massive Attack, DJ Shadow, Tricky, Portishead, and the soulful, smoky, down-tempo sounds of Morcheeba provided many a kid with chilled out 3am soundtracks.

It's now been 15 years since Morcheeba's alluringly dark debut album Who Can You Trust? was released, and 12 years since the release of their platinum follow-up, and critically acclaimed, Big Calm. Since then, the trio, consisting of vocalist Skye Edwards, and sibling DJ's, composers and multi-intrumentalists, Ross and Paul Godfrey, put out two more albums together before deciding to pursue alternate paths. Skye worked on her solo career while Ross and Paul released two more albums as Morcheeba before Ross moved to Hollywood to write film scores and Paul moved to the South of France to tend to his family. Fortuitously, Ross ran into Skye on the streets of London in 2010 and, after a couple of drinks and an intense conversation, the trio decided to give their fans what they wanted: a reunited Morcheeba album.

The rest is history for 2010's release of Blood like Lemonade. The three, including an entourage of phenomenal musicians, are currently on tour in the U.S. and Canada celebrating the release of the anticipated 7th album. Morcheeba will be at Chicago's House of Blues on Tuesday, February 22, 2011. I had the opportunity to talk to Ross about the band, the new album, the future of Morcheeba and music in general.

Gapers Block: So, how does it feel to be back on the road with the original trio together again?

Ross Godfrey: It's going really well. We are very much enjoying touring. We are in Quebec now, have recently played in D.C., New York, Philly.

GB: Obviously, a lot of people have asked you about the Morcheeba split up, and you've spoken to that in many interviews since reuniting, so I want to go a different direction. Tell me how the three of you first started making music together?

RG: Well, my brother [Paul Godfrey] was DJ'ing at a party in Greenwich in south London and we used to get there early to carry his records in. Skye was there, she had a flower bleached into her hair and she had a very particular fashion sense — Paul and I both thought she was stunning. She was shy, a working class girl in East London and I think she was in fashion. She asked me for rolling papers for a joint so right away I knew she was OK. She tried selling Paul a drum kit because she wanted to get rid of it to buy a guitar. I think we looked at it once but didn't buy it. Skye started dating our bassist, Justin and had two kids with him. She was around a lot and we didn't have a singer. We originally had wanted a male singer like Stephen Stills — a folky male voice. We were very into Cat Stevens and Neil Young like that. But we heard Skye. We came round to her apartment with Justin and she sang a song and we were amazed even though she sang so quietly. We thought that was endearing and got studio time and recorded "Trigger Hippie", our first single, in November, 1995. That was after Portishead and all the record companies understood what we were trying to do and it became hip. We started making the first album - which was very successful in nightclubs. It was a whirlwind.

GB: Skye mentioned recently that she feels that your new album, Blood like Lemonade may be the most definitive set of songs Morcheeba has made to date. What are fans going to find familiar and what are they going to find that's new?

RG: When I ran into Skye in London we had been talking on the phone because she was thinking about moving to California. We got drink together, got drunk and talked about making another record. It was the right time to do it. We had to wait for the synchronicity. It took us two months to record Blood like Lemonade. We were all swept along with the enthusiasm of it. And we rediscovered each other and appreciated one another artistically. We didn't decide to go in any particular direction in Blood like Lemonade. We didn't want to be experimental. We wanted to write and record the songs in a way that felt natural. We would have to try hard not to sound like Morcheeba. We also thought it would be lovely to give the fans what they want because they deserve it. When we got back together it was like it was raw and new. It was like when we were making Who Can You Trust?

GB: The themes in Blood like Lemonade are very interesting and theatrical. You write about murder, a vigilante vampire priest in the title track "Blood like Lemonade", a woman killing her married lover in "Crimson" and Vikings in "Easier Said than Done". What was the writing process like and did you find that you were inspired by the last few years you've spent working writing film scores in Hollywood?

RG: The album is about mass murder, violence, retribution and betrayal. We didn't want to write songs that felt personal. It was too soon to express. We wanted to create a fantasy album about characters and we wanted to write songs like a movie and cast characters that did crazy things. Paul came up with most of the lyrics. He is into Japanese movies and stuff. We were influenced by writers like Cormac McCarthy and other dark literature and films.

GB: You've mentioned in interviews that the three of you are going to start writing the next Morcheeba album while on tour. You've experimented with a lot of genres and instruments over the years — most recently the African thumb-piano on Blood like Lemonade — is there anything new we can expect from Morcheeba on future albums, any boundaries you feel need to be explored or instruments or genres you'd like to play with?

RG: I think that the next album will be slightly more up tempo; whatever you did last time you want to do something different. It may be more electronic. I have a ridiculously slow heart rate and I write music that's slow — which is great when you come home at 3am stoned. But sometimes you listen to music in the day and you want to write music for the day.

GB: What about adding a male vocalist again? The 2008 album Deep Dive had a few phenomenal tracks featuring male vocalist, particularly "Run Honey Run". Any thoughts to pursuing more male lead tracks?

RG: Yeah. What's really nice is when we get Skye to do a duet. There is a Skye duet on Charango with Kurt Wagner from Lambchop. It has a Fleetwood Mac feel. It is my favorite Morcheeba track ["What New York Couples Fight About"].

GB: If, "What New York Couples Fight About" is your favorite track, then what was your favorite Morcheeba album to write, record and release?

RG: Big Calm. I was 19 or 20 years old and we were having the time of our lives. Everything was easy and it came free. It didn't take us too long and everything seemed simple. We recorded onto 2-inch tape almost like — looking back on it now mdash; it's almost like looking back to the '70s. We printed on vinyl and it looks almost archaic. We also play a lot of Big Calm songs live so that has to mean something.

GB: On that note, what are your thoughts on the change of atmosphere in recording and releasing music in 2010/2011 versus the mid to late '90s? One of the things I've found interesting in the change in people's valuation of music, or the value of a track in 2011.

RG: The digital age has vastly destroyed the quality of music. People don't think music is worth anything these days. Anyone can access any song they want to at any time. They don't feel any need to own it. It has destroyed recording industry and changed the way bands relate to their audience. For instance, one of our songs on Blood like Lemonade is in a car commercial released in Europe. At our shows everyone knows the lyrics. That would have been uncool in the '90s and now everyone does it. I am nostalgic for the record industry and how people would listen to a whole album but that's just the modern world. It's great to find any music online. I used to look through crates and crates of music in warehouses. So it's great to have so much music online. But it takes some of the mystery away and the thrill of the chase.

GB: That's great because when I listen to a lot of your sampled songs and those that are hip-hop, like Cut the Bass, I picture you digging through crates of music to find these samples. How do you find and choose the samples that you use?

RG: It's weird because they kind of find you generally. My brother and I collect vinyl. We would just buy things and listen to them and if we heard something that sounded like it should already be on a modern record and it happens to be us that discovered it. It's a little like song writing you rack your brain to see if it's someone else has done before you. I don't know whether that is self-deprecating or some kind of universal nature. I think music speaks for itself. Sampling is like a musical collage picture you pick things you like the look of and arrange them in a way that makes sense.

GB: As far as your creative process goes, there was a time that Morcheeba seemed to be going for a more pop/mainstream sound with tracks like "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" and the 2005 album The Antidote. After the four successful trip-hop albums did you feel any pressure to make more mainstream music? Was there any label pressure?

RG: No, we didn't feel pressure to make a more pop album. We were sick of moody music. I wanted to make something that was happy. At that time I had met my girlfriend who is now my wife and I wrote "Rome" about being in love. But people didn't want us to cheer up. It was a bit weird. The Antidote was a strange album. But we didn't feel pressure. If anything we put pressure on record companies to promote us and put our records on the radio. When "Rome" got on the radio that really helped us get to a larger audience it was an interesting time.

With Blood like Lemonade we put that out on our own label [PIAS] and we have a company in London we distribute through. We produced and mastered and did it all. This is the album where we had the most creative control and closest to the first album where we never had anyone telling us what to do. It felt like no one was interested. It was cool to make it in anonymous way.

GB: What can Chicago expect from the live show at the House of Blues on Tuesday?

RG: The live show is going to be far-out. The live show is more lively than the records. It's more psychedelic and it's dynamic. We have great musicians in our drummer, DJ and keyboard player. I pay guitar and Skye's husband plays bass. We are going to play some old classics from Who Can You Trust and Big Calm and new stuff [from Blood like Lemonade].

GB: Any must hit spots while you are in town?

RG: I want to get back to Chess Records museum. I was there last time I was in Chicago. I am obsessed with Chess Records and all the amazing music and I'd like to go back there and soak up the incredible vibe.

Morcheeba plays the House of Blues on Tuesday, February 22nd. Tickets are $28 adv/$301day of show. Doors open at 7:30pm. 17+. 329 N. Dearborn. (312) 923-2000.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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