If Tricky was the gritty, grimy edge of late 1990s trip-hop, and Portishead its tortured cousin, then Morcheeba was undoubtedly the genre’s smooth, sweet soul sister.
The London-based trio of Skye Edwards (vocals) and brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey (DJ/producer and multi-instrumentalist respectively) launched their debut album, Who Can You Trust, in 1996 and followed it up two years later with Big Calm. A breakthrough album with a winning combination of honeyed vocals, big beats and psychedelia-tinged soul, it quickly became a late-night bedsit favourite for an entire generation.
Despite the band’s rising popularity and crossover into the pop mainstream via albums such as Fragments of Freedom (2000) and Charango (2002), it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Morcheeba. Creative differences meant Edwards was absent between 2003 and 2009 (the band continued to release albums with a roster of new vocalists). Several years after Edwards rejoined, Paul Godfrey left. Morcheeba was over, but something new would rise from its ashes.
Late last year, Edwards and Ross Godfrey quietly released Skye & Ross, an album reminding everyone of what they loved about Morcheeba in the first place. During the band’s hey-day, Edwards’s smooth, creamy vocals were a soothing contrast to pop singers showing off their prowess by moving up and down the octaves. Paired with Godfrey’s shimmering guitar work, it’s a chilled companion piece to those early Morcheeba albums.
On the eve of a Perth visit to play as part of PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens music program, Edwards is philosophical about her Morcheeba experience.
“It wasn’t as if there were problems all the way through,” she says. “Looking back, I have a lot of fond memories. I had hardly travelled before joining the group, so it was really exciting touring in all these different places for the first time. We were away for three months at a time in America and Europe with the first album, and as our popularity grew with Big Calm and Fragments of Freedom we became a headline act at music festivals across the country. That was pretty special.”
When Morcheeba disbanded, Edwards began writing her own lyrics, a tradition that continues with Skye & Ross. Edwards says she was “very content’’ being the front person for Morcheeba: her lyrical ambitions came later.
“When we were in the final stages of recording Charango, Paul announced that he wanted to take a five-year break from the group,” Edwards says. “I thought to myself, ‘What will I do in that time?’ So I decided I’d make a solo album as a kind of side project. When we split, that side project became more of a solo career.”
Edwards’s son, Jaega, joined Morcheeba as drummer towards the end of the band’s life. Now he tours with Skye & Ross and plays on the album. Her husband plays bass. And Godfrey’s partner, Amanda, provides backing vocals.
“Jaega also has his own band called The Blue Pursuit, but when Ross and I were recording the album, it made sense to get Jaega to play on it, and it also made perfect sense for Amanda to get involved,” Edwards says. “Ross produced the record at home, so it was literally a case of calling out to his wife in the living room and asking her to lay down some vocals for a track. But she doesn’t tour with us. They have two young children and sometimes they’ll join us on the road if it’s an easy location. I’d love it if Amanda could join us on stage every now and then, because she adds so much to the sound.”
Edwards says she and Godfrey were interested in making the Skye & Ross album sound more “live” than the “programmed” Morcheeba songs, which are heavily layered compositions that define the trip-hop and electronica genres.
“There are a few songs on the new album where we recorded live drums to try and capture more of what we do on stage,” she says. “A lot of the drums on the Morcheeba albums are programmed. The set-up is pretty simple: guitar, bass, keys and drums, with a scratch DJ. I think the new songs sit really well with the classic Morcheeba songs.”
Edwards’s vocal influences are not what you might expect. She has a record player in the kitchen at home, and inherited her father’s vinyl after his death several years ago. On the turntable?
“Some country and western greats like Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry, who I love,” she says.
“My dad also loved Elvis and Johnny Cash. But I also love Sade, Bjork, Ray LaMontagne, Neil Young, Bob Marley. The list goes on, really, and it’s quite eclectic.”
Skye & Ross play the Chevron Festival Gardens in Elizabeth Quay on Sunday February 12. Tickets start from $55 and are available online.