It can be described as lethargic, laid-back music injected with dreamy, wistful vocals along lush melodies, rhythms influenced by Seventies soul with a feel of exotic psychedelia in the background, and beats infused with a spirited hip hop groove. However, the sound of Morcheeba, often mistakenly labeled by the press as trip hop, cannot really be categorized in the endless array of musical genres. Their idiosyncrasy as artists and the experimentation in their music-e.g. combining peculiar instruments such as a charango, a 10-string Bolivian guitar, or a bassoon in pop songs, or sampling Bollywood film scores into songs influenced by country and blues tunes-puts them in a category that is very much their own.
Sitting in a small, modish hotel room at the SoHo Grand in New York, singer Skye Edwards, her long, wavy hair dangling over her face, attests modestly that “Paul is the leader of the group and Ross fits somewhere in the middle,” while she is just a mere “follower” in the band. Nonetheless, the group’s sound emanates from the collective effort making up Morcheeba. Paul Godfrey is the band’s beathead and lyricist, writing all the songs. He is responsible for the music’s hip hop vibe and spends his free time as a DJ who spins mostly hip hop. His brother, Ross Godfrey, is the guitarist/multi-instrumentalist and has been influenced by artists such as Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye. The differing musical interests between the brothers as well as Edwards’ soulful croon are what create the genuine sound of Morcheeba.
“It’s a blessing and a curse that, in one way, we don’t sound like anyone else,” explains Skye, “but we can’t exactly fit in any category, especially here in the U.S. where music seems to be quite segregated. I don’t know in what genre our sound can fit.” Paul asserts that their sound carries on from when, he thinks, music found its demise in the seventies.
“With disco, everything went a bit formulaic-like,” he explains, “and rock went terribly cringy and embarrassing.” The group wanted to pick up the pieces, without making a rebellious stand as has been done by punk music, then rejuvenate and replenish the sounds of good rock, country and blues in innovative ways, such as by using hip hop beats. “All the focus is on bringing those classic traditions to our trademark heavy beats,” he says.
Watching the group live reveals that this is a group of dedicated musicians, and not some pretentious trip hop act hiding in the studio-shroud. The stage, presided by Paul on turntables, resembles more of a rock show with a power combo of guitar, drums and bass, unlike a regular DJ show, which is usually only enhanced by enchanting visuals in the background. The group encompasses the force and vitality of a rock power trio, vigorously filling up Irving Plaza with the sounds of their instruments and voices, as Ross entangles the audience with him through inspiring solos and slide guitar movements.
Following the release of their first three albums, Who Can You Trust, Big Calm, and Fragments of Freedom, Morcheeba is coming to terms with its success. “It’s a cliche, but you can become self-conscious about the fact that people know who you are,” says Paul. “So, now the goal is to concentrate on the songwriting and production [instead of trying to make a name for oneself].” The trio has come quite a long way and their matured sound has expanded and incorporates, in the midst of its signature mellow groove, the various, growing tastes of the members.
“I guess we have evolved into an adult sound, but that’s because we have grown into adults,” explains Skye. “It’s easier to do more now because we have better equipment in the studio and Paul and Ross have become really well rooted in their production skills.”
Their newest release, Charango, has the same light, funky feel, but is also garnished with a sexy, tropicalia dress on “Sao Paulo”-resulting from their first trip to Brazil-a nostalgic folk outfit with “Undress Me Now” and “What New York Couples Fight About,” both co-written and the latter performed with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, and a smoldering hip hop rhythm on “Women Lose Weight,” featuring Slick Rick, as well as on “Charango” and “Get Along” with Pacewon of The Outsidaz.
“This isn’t a case of us going out and looking for the exotic,” explains Paul of the album’s direction. “It’s a natural result of what’s been happening to us, and what we’ve been listening to.” Ross adds: “We’ve used the place that we’ve come from-that English beats tradition-and reached to as many things as possible to make this defining sound. Skye, Pacewon, Slick Rick and Kurt Wagner can all sit together comfortably on this record.”
Moreover, their production process has matured and the band faltered from indulging their stardom with drugs and excess, which they did very much before; after all, their name cleverly means “more cheeba,” inspired from rapper Schooly D’s way of referring to weed.
“On the first albums, the guys were pretty out of it most of the time and would work through the night,” notes Skye. “Now, we were all much more clear-headed, obviously having a joint to relax here and there, but we were much more organized to the point of having a white board with a grid, writing each song down and what each song needed; I was coming into the studio almost every day and Paul would show me short sound bytes, asking which ones I preferred.”
The members want to eventually pursue their own solo albums to develop their more personal tastes and Skye avows that the group doesn’t hang out together outside the music, each one being busy with their individual schedules, but the “power trio” of Morcheeba has grown and matured as a collective. The eclecticness of the new album, as well as the way the group wants to outreach a broader audience and tour to new locations such as Australia, Japan and Russia, displays Morcheeba’s musical proliferation. “I just want to attain cities we’ve never been to before,” says Skye, “and I’m hoping that people who have never even heard of us will buy the new album.”
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com