Morcheeba: The revealing extended interview

This week, City Pages talked to Morcheeba frontwoman Skye Edwards about rejoining the band after being dismissed by the popular downtempo trio's founding brothers Godfrey in 2003. Edwards gave Morcheeba its trademark sound with her smoky smooth vocals and longtime fans are psyched to have her back.

Over the phone from her U.S. tour and just days away from her stop in Minneapolis at First Avenue, Edwards wasn't shy about sharing the details of the split and what it feels like to come back after many years away.

It's so good to have you back. How did this Morcheeba reunion really occur?

I bumped into Ross Godfrey in September of 2009 and they asked me to rejoin the band. I was in the middle of writing my Keeping Secrets solo album and was about to go on tour, so my first reaction was no, I don't want to come back to the band. It took a lot of persuasion, particularly from my husband, who thought it was the best thing I could do. Paul came over from France and we met with Ross over a meal and talked about the past and the future. They wanted me to sing a couple of songs and I said well, rather than singing a couple let's do a whole album together.

Wow. Were they surprised at that suggestion since it took so much persuasion?

They were, but it would feel strange to just sing a few songs. Maybe they only asked if I would sing a few because they thought that's all I would do. So while I was on tour, they would send me ideas and I would come up with melodies on the bus. The album was written by the end of 2009 and we recorded the vocals and all the finishing touches in February 2010 and we've been touring since April of last year.

That is a long time to tour.

We had three months off over Christmas, so that was really nice. Back on the horse now, though we're used to it. We started out quite young and with an independent label, and we'd tour for three months in America, come home for a week filled with promo and then we'd go back on the road for another three months in Europe. We were constantly in each other's faces and needed a break but I don't think I would have been brave enough to leave.

How did you end up parting ways, then?

I think things got bad around Charango, back in August of 2003. Via our manager, I was asked to leave the band. I got the phone call that Morcheeba was over. Paul said he wanted to take a five year break and I thought, what am I going to do for five years? A side project? Maybe I'll write a few songs and record them. I think they were uncomfortable with that idea and thought I was going to leave them for good. It was a case of "let's dump Skye before she dumps us", and I think that's the truth. It was a relief, really. I found out they wanted to continue to be Morcheeba but they had more to prove because, well, could they continue without their lead vocalist? At the same time, people didn't really know me as Skye -- I was just "the girl from Morcheeba" -- so this sort of thing allowed me to make a new start.

While the beats are certainly part of it, your voice makes Morcheeba what it is.

That might be true. I remember when we did interviews or TV appearances, I would always say that the band is the three of us, not just me. But we didn't really have a face for the band, we didn't put ourselves on the album. But now that I'm back, I've properly taken hold of the reigns as the frontwoman and I think the guys are happy for me to do that now.

Obviously music has changed immeasurably since you first left the band, from the way it's produced down to the way we acquire it. As someone who came up in an era without MP3s and file sharing and DIY everything, did you feel there was an adjustment period for you or did you embrace all this change?

It didn't really bother me up until I released my second solo record without the help of the label. I wasn't given a big loan by a record company, I paid for it myself and put it out via iTunes. When people were writing to me via Myspace they'd say, "Oh, I just downloaded your album on a bit torrent and it's really good, I might go and buy it!" I thought, Wow, I am not getting paid for this. If I can't pay my musicians I can't go on tour. That's not very cool. I've got a 15 year old and a 13 year old and when I told them it's actually illegal to download it if you don't pay for it, they didn't realize because it's so easy.

A girl that was helping look after my littlest son said something about never stealing anything in her whole life, and I said, "Well, what about all those movies and those albums on your computer?" She didn't see it as stealing because of it was so easy to get hold of. On the other hand, you've got MySpace where you can make a website rather than having to pay loads of money to get somebody to create one for you. There's loads of places where you can upload your music and people can listen to it. Even YouTube has helped with that. We don't have to spend 150K on a music video because it's just going to go up there. A fan made a video for "Self Made Man" and set it to a video of a Tim Burton animation. It's brilliant. So there's loads of positive sides to this as well.

Speaking of videos, let's talk "Blood Like Lemonade," the title track from the new album which features a video of a vengeful priest in the desert.

For Blood Like Lemonade I imagined a guy who has a huge rock on his shoulders, like the weight of the world. Paul took that and said "OK, that could be a priest," and he wrote the story around the priest whose wife had been murdered, killing people to avenge her death. Paul's always been the lyricist in the band.

Morcheeba songs are very often surrounded around characters (like Slick Rick's guested track above). Does it feel disjointed to you to sing lyrics that aren't in some way tied to you?

I don't write songs with Morcheeba, I hum a melody and they write words and music around it. Sometimes Paul might ask for a story idea. "On Easier Said Than Done", I imagined a girl hanging on for dear life on a cliff but when she looks down she realizes she's only a couple of feet off the ground. Paul sent me the lyrics for "Crimson" and said it's about a woman who has been having an affair and when the guy told her the affair had to end, she was so distraught she ran him off the road. It's kind of cool to do it like this rather than sing a love song Paul's perhaps written for his wife. I found "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day" difficult to sing but with characters, I learned to feel emotions behind them. It's actually easier.

When you think back on your career with Morcheeba, is there any particular track that you think really encapsulates the band's vibe and sound?

"Blindfold" and "The Sea". If we're talking new tracks, "Crimson" is the perfect Morcheeba track, just the tempo and the melody. The chords are different though, and I never used to be able to sing like that so I think I've definitely improved as a singer.

When you hear the phrase "Trip Hop" now, 15 years later, what comes to mind?

It's still out there. It's funny I just discovered Last FM, it's like Pandora where you can put in artists and play other related artists. I put in "Martina Topley Bird" [of Massive Attack fame] and it was playing a lot of other trip hop artists from the 90s like Theivery Corporation, Massive Attack, Portishead. Trigger Hippy was definitely in the style of trip hop. Whenever I thought of trip hop and Morcheeba I described it like when you have a CD and rip the label off, it always leaves a little sticky stuff behind. Today when people ask what kind of music we do, I describe it as downtempo. But what I really want to say is, "The name of the band is Morcheeba. Look it up."

MORCHEEBA perform tonight, WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, at FIRST AVENUE. 18+. $20. 7:30 p.m.

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