The idea of both excelling and maintaining a career is enticing for a myriad of reasons, the inherent personal satisfaction being an obvious one. To come across people who've achieved this is rare, which only added to the pleasure of talking with Skye Edwards and Ross Godfrey, who made a massive impact on the music world with Morcheeba. Now, the duo are embarking on a completely new endeavor, creating music under the name Skye and Ross.
It's a major feat to create fresh music, but an even bigger feat to create new music that stands up to your past successes. Thankfully the music of Skye and Ross sounds just as fresh as what they achieved within Morcheeba.
While in New York City, I caught up with Skye and Ross to discuss how their new project came to be, and the importance of music to their existence.
One of the things that has amazed me about your music over the years is how vivid the imagery is when it comes to the lyrics. Is that an element of your music you've heard people echo before, and do you find that to be something you strive for?
Ross: It's kind of cinematic. When your music is of a slower tempo, it allows for more space to be felt. I wrote the music first, and at the time I was into a lot of soundtracks. The thing with film composers is their main aim is to create that dramatic feel with the music, and I found myself wanting to do that. The last thing we wanted to do, was to have a lot of chaotic moments going around, it was important for us to give the listener space to feel what was being put out.
It's really interesting to hear that in your own words, because that aspect of being cinematic is definitely present within the album.
Ross: Definitely. At the time, I was really into '70s film Performance (by Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell), which features James Fox and Mick Jagger. The film is about James Fox's character being on the run and ending up in Jagger's basement, who then proceeds to feed him magic mushrooms [laughs]. It has the most far-out soundtrack, and it's a film that I think was banned for quite a while.
It sounds like a film practically made to be banned...
Ross: Yes [laughs]. So we found ourselves quite inspired by that, as well as loads of other scores and composers.
Skye: Actually, some of the earliest Morcheeba records had ideas taken directly from that soundtrack. Some of the lyrics as well even.
That's amazing. I think one of the biggest surprises people will have when listening to this record is how the both of you can still go into a room, create music, and still have it sound fresh; still have it sound different than what you've done before. And yet, as different as it sounds, it still ultimately sounds like 'you.'
Ross: I think that's more of a natural occurrence than anything else, the way music sounds like us. I see it more as... like when people would go "Oh that sounds like Morcheeba" my response is usually, "Yeah, because that was us...' [laughs].
It's going to sound like us no matter what we do. You'd have to break all my hands with a hammer, let me recover, and maybe then my playing would sound completely different [laughs]. But even then, Skye has such a distinct voice that no matter what we did the traits of would still show through. Having said that, on this record we wanted to do something different, which was mainly introducing a more live element to the fold. There's a lot more live drums, and we did have in mind that we wanted to go into a room and play, like bands did in the ol' days. I didn't want to spend too much time in the studio, editing and programming things because... it's frankly just quite boring.
I mean, normally in a studio, you'll spend one hour recording something and then twelve hours editing that one thing. And it's...
Skye: Some people love doing that though [laughs].
Ross: Not me!
Skye: I'll sing something maybe three times, and I'll listen back and pick one out of the three [laughs]. I'll go, "can we maybe take that line, from that bit there, and..."
Related to that, do you find that when you're in the studio, the way you'll sing a song changes throughout the course of your time there?
Skye: It depends on what I've eaten [luaghs]. To be honest, I tend to stay away from dairy and stuff like that.
Ross: Also, I'd say it changes quite a bit in that if you go to sing a take during the day, you'd sing it one way. But then when you come back after putting the kids to bed, and having a whisky, you might approach it a different way.
Skye: I much prefer recording at night actually. I tend to do some of my own recording at home. And then the next day I'll bring the stuff to his place. It's not like I have a studio at home or anything, I just have a laptop in the living room. There's another room I call my 'soul room' and I take all the clothes out, put my mic through there, and it's become a little sound booth in there [laughs]. Once the kids are in bed, I'll do some of that, and yeah, I'd say I did find myself feeling more relaxed being able to work in that way.
I read that the project started from a conversation you had after you played a festival in Australia. Now conversations among friends/colleagues are one thing, but what was it that kept the desire to make a project happen alive after that initial conversation? What was it that kept the intrigue?
Ross: Mainly it was moving one of the barriers when it came to recording, where we discussed that it'd be ok if things were to get loud, and noisy even. We're allowed to do that now, to be loud if we want to. The biggest thing is in the past we'd go, "we can't do this because...." and we knew going into this we wanted to omit that from our lexicon; we wanted to make sure we couldn't say 'because' again. There is no reason why we can't do something. I partially see it like putting an extension in your house [laughs]. Now we have the loft extension and we can play rock music there.
I haven't had a chance to see Morcheeba live yet, but in the videos I've seen, it looked like you were much more accepting towards being loud; towards making noise.
Ross: Well that right there is exactly what we wanted to bring back to recording. We have so much fun on stage, that we didn't want the recording process to be a clinical process.
I've also found that the poignancy of the lyrics is a key element to your music, Skye. Whether it be Morcheeba or your solo records, the way the lyrics hit is quite distinctive. Do you feel that's a key factor towards your songwriting?
Skye: When it came to Morcheeba lyrically, Paul wrote the lyrics, so he had the dark side. With my solo work, I suppose some of the lyrics were quite dark as well. I'm a big fan of the dichotomy of the hard lyrics and the soft vocals.
What did you find to be the biggest difference between how you recorded in Morcheeba compared to this album? I read how with the making of this album, both of your family members were heavily involved.
Ross: Yeah, it was a very organic experience. We didn't really deliberate over anything, we weren't worrying about amps or where something was placed or whatever. We were very much relaxed, a lot of "that sounds good." If a track didn't sound good, we would just not use it. You can get into this weird situation where you'll overthink things, and get into a rabbit-hole towards music production. It's not a particularly good place to go, and we honestly weren't trying to compete with each other. We just wanted to make a beautiful record that we loved, that had a dark beauty to it.
That's something I quite love about our fans, about Morcheeba fans. They don't want us to think about hits, or thinking about radio, they want us to make a record that they can play at home, listen to, and relax.
How did recording with your family come to be?
Ross: Laziness! [laughs].
Skye: Partially, yes [laughs]. Though Ross has been playing with his family for ages really.
And for you Skye, your husband and son became part of the process here, yes?
Skye: My husband played bass in Morcheeba on one of our tours. He was in a band that was opening for us on the Fragments of Freedom tour. After I came back to the group in 2009, I remember asking, "Hey, hey, can Steve play bass?" [laughs].
Ross: It's like the path of least resistance [laughs].
Skye: So when we were recording this one, it'd be like, "ok, we need to put bass on this track here" and I'd just call out, "Steve! Come and put bass on this track here!"
Ross: We'd also do the odd gig here and there, and during those runs we'd try out the new songs in soundcheck. And being able to do that, just added to the organic feel for the whole thing really. We didn't write the songs ourselves, and give it to them to play, it was very much them being part of the whole process from the start.
One of the amazing things I've found with looking back on your career is how it's never been possible to fully define what Morcheeba is, in regards to a place/time. For example, the musical landscape now is so different than when you first started, and yet the music you made back then could still work today. It's not rooted in a time. Do you feel that's been a good thing?
Ross: Well that kind of goes into what we were saying before, about the homogenization of things, due to the internet. It really isn't important now to be part of a scene, or to be into this band vs that band, or to belong to something the way it did some years ago. Everything's kind of mixed up together, and when people make modern records, they tend to cherry-pick what they want from genres.
And that's kind of nice. It does at times makes everything sound the same, but what's nice is.. .I mean we've been going on for about twenty-odd years and not much has changed really. In the twenty years before we started, it was an amazing difference. Like the changes that music went through between the 1970s to the 1990s was beyond recognition. But between 1995 to 2015... not much has really changed in contrast.
Well some splinters here and there. There've been some prominent scenes and that.
Ross: Yes, but nothing really across the board culturally, nothing that's taken over in such a widespread way. You could argue EDM maybe, but even that's quite niche, even at its height. Hip-hop just carried on and got more boring in my opinion, and electronic music has quite stayed the same as well. People still feel that electronic dance music is 'modern' but it's been going on for the last twenty, even thirty years...
I kind of wish we sounded a bit old hat, that someone would say "wow you sound like a band from twenty years ago" or something.
Ross: Yeah, people still think we sound so modern.
That's very interesting though, because so many artists strive for just that...
Ross: But I think there's almost a plasticity involved in what we do, because when we first started it was us taking old sounds like blues, soul, reggae and melding it together with anything modern, like electronic drums and trip-hop beats. So with that, the very foundation of what we do is the fact we can adapt and grow, and incorporate different stuff. And I've come to realize that that's somewhat... it's future-proofing in a way. If we were to have sounded like your typical guitar-based punk band then we'd always sound like we came from 1992, or whatever.
What's been nice though is we can jump in and out of doing different things. For example, doing some alt-country with a group like Lamb Chop, or a hip-hop track with Slick Rick. So that future-proofing allows us to go anywhere we want to with our music, especially in regards to the songwriting with Skye's voice and my guitar playing. We're quite lucky in that regard.