Rainbow and Flower Talk: An Interview with Morcheeba

Darwin considered evolution to be the changing of an organism to better adapt to its surroundings, a gradual process by which something would shed its former skin, so to speak, to become something stronger and better-suited for the world it faced. As far as music is concerned, however, Ross and Paul Godfrey of Morcheeba as if the evolutionary process more were speed-dating.

Considered among the original architects of the trip-hop movement of the ’90s, Morcheeba parted ways with their longtime singer, Skye Edwards, before recording their most recent album, The Antidote. “Skye really wanted to make a record on her own,” guitarist Ross Godfrey said in an interview with PopMatters. “She was kind of getting pissed that we had all of the creative control in the band.”

Ross said the issue hadn’t come up much in the early goings of the band, mainly because when they started Skye had much less confidence in herself. As her stage presence grew, so did her desire to have more creative input. This combined with nearly ten straight years of touring and the pressures of being under a major record label reached a boiling point with the three cordially parting ways, effectively laying Morcheeba out to dry.

“We needed the time (off),” Ross said, adding that he and his brother “just wanted to do stuff that wasn’t slave labor and such. We wrote records with a lot of different people.” In their time apart, the Godfrey brothers sprinted in different directions, unleashing years of pent-up pressure on the world. Ross traveled across South America, Asia, and Africa, starting a band called the Jukes, which he said was a “cathartic” experience.

Paul took a more personal journey, spending many of his days working out and eating tinned fish and “shamanic truffles” in a log cabin he built at the bottom of his garden. Whether or not this is true, he also took some time off from his shrooming-workout extravaganza to start a hip-hop production team (Capricorn 2) and start his own record label, 27 Records.

When they returned from their respective adventures, the brothers Godfrey decided to start anew. After approaching several singers, they brought in former Noonday Underground songstress Daisy Martey to record with them for The Antidote. “We wanted to do something more live. We needed a different voice to do it — Skye’s voice was so soft,” Ross said. “[Martey] was sort of really loud, it was a whole new thing for us.”

Morcheeba was also able to get out of their record deal with Reprise/WEA, something Ross said had been holding them back for years. “We don’t really give a fuck about what anyone thinks, to be honest. The major label thing forced us to keep our identity, though, and we found that a bit restricting,” Ross said.

With a new deal with Echo Records and a fresh voice to work with, Morcheeba traveled in a whole new direction with The Antidote. “At the moment, Daisy sounded like Grace Slick and we wanted to make a record like Surrealistic Pillow. We just wanted something live and organic,” Ross said.

Morcheeba’s revolving door kept turning, though, and by the time they began supporting their new album in Europe they had a new singer. Martey was out, and Ross’s longtime friend Jody Sternberg took the reigns.

“I’ve known Jody for a long time. She’s got the best voice I’ve heard in a very long time. Paranoid she sounds too much like Skye though. That’s why we got Daisy to sing in the first place,” Ross said with a chuckle.

Sternberg’s musical background brings a new element to the band’s live show and Ross says it admittedly makes working together a lot easier. “She’s an incredible jazz saxophone player. She’ll definitely be singing stuff with us on the next record,” he said. “Its handy that she’s a musician. Sometimes with singers you have to talk to them in flowers and rainbow talk. Ya know, like when the sun comes over the mountain that’s when you come in.”

Ross also said he really enjoys working with a musician that gets engulfed in her work as much as Jody, but he emphasized the stresses and strains that can come along with being a singer. “Singers can have a hard time. They get all of the attention and everything being up front, but they get most of the flak as well,” he said.

After a tumultuous few years, Morcheeba is back on track and forging ahead at a steady, but more importantly a self-regulated pace, something that they haven’t been able to do in a number of years.

“Paul’s working on beats and I’ve been writing,” Ross said. “We can spend as much time as we want, it’s kind of relaxing. We’ve earned the right to do it at our own pace.”

Ross expects that the process will take about a year and that fans can likely expect an album in 2006 sometime. For those shocked by the change of pace the last album brought to their typically downtempo hip-hop-laden style, Ross said that the material Paul and he are working on now will likely be a return to a more familiar style, emphasizing that hip-hop is still a large part of their roots, but made no promises.

“We want the next one to be like MF Doom meets the Black Keys. There you go, that can be your exclusive,” he said laughing. “With our music you either feel it or you don’t. We just want to make music that’s emotional.”

Whatever the outcome, Morcheeba seems to have come out of their brief sail through turbulent waters unscathed, and better for the experience. So much for the gradual change, Darwin. Maybe those tortoises on Galapagos were just behind the curve.