In the late ‘90s, any group that created ethereal tones over soft hip-hop beats and was fronted by an other-worldly sounding female vocalist was termed “trip-hop.” For a while, it seemed any artist associated with the genre was guaranteed to sell records. Groups like Lamb, Olive, Gus Gus, and Portishead all sold well within this genre. Paul and Ross Godfrey formed Morcheeba with singer Skye Edwards and became trip-hop sensations.
Brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey Edwards at a party in London in late 1994, while all three in their mid-to-late twenties. The two brothers had been fooling around with music together practically all their lives, but once they met Edwards, it gelled. “We never really had the focus to do anything until we met Skye,” Paul Godfrey told Britt Robson of Request in 1996. The Godfrey’s write and play all of Morcheeba’s music, but it’s Edwards’ sweet vocal intonations that fans recognize. In 1998, Rolling Stone’s Kara Manning said “Edwards is a gifted stylist who knows how to elevate the simplest lyric to a ravaged revelation or a wicked kick in the ass.”
The first single off Morcheeba’s debut record Who Can You Trust?, “Trigger Hippie,” is typical of the somewhat cynical tone of many the trio’s songs. “Trigger Hippie” was written about a passive, new-age, Earth-loving friend of Ross’ who got drunk one night, smashed up a bar and beat up a police officer. Some of their other songs—about the dirty side of the music industry and bank robberies gone wrong—come from a mix of group’s jaded sense of things with it’s laid-back attitude.
Despite the fact that they don’t depend on electronic-based instruments—actual guitar and drums can be heard on their songs and they only sample sparingly from other records—Morcheeba still was lumped under the market-savvy trip-hop label. As much as they didn’t feel it was an entirely accurate tag, they did acknowledge that it helped their career. “To begin with, it did help us get a record contract, a recording studio, a world tour, and the press on our side,” guitarist/keyboardist Ross Godfrey told Billboard in 1998. “So, I can’t say that I hate it from the bottom of the heart, because obviously it’s done a lot for us as a band. In that sense, it’s great. We kind of came in through the back door, which helped us out. And now we’re in the position to do whatever we like.” Brother Paul has a less-than-sanguine outlook on the label. “That tag is just total bollocks,” he told Ben Thompson of Spin, “There’s nothing psychedelic about our music whatsoever. It’s just instrumental hip-hop made by middle-class people who can afford all the equipment but don’t know any rappers.”
The credits on their CD sleeves are proof of Morcheeba’s only mild interest in electronica. Musicians’ names—
Members include Skye Edwards, vocals, lyrics, guitar; Paul Godfrey, arrangements, lyrics, drums; and Ross Godfrey, guitar, keyboards.
Formed late 1994 in London, England; released debut, Who Can You Trust?, Warner Brothers’ Discovery Records, 1996; toured with Live and Fiona Apple, 1997; released Big Calm, Sire, 1998; headlined the Lilith Fair second stage, 1998.
Address: Record company —Warner Music International, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
and not sampled songs from other artists—are listed. That’s where they differ from their trip-hop brethren. “I took my hands off and [the music] became more organic,” Paul Godfrey told Michael Gelfand of Musician in 1998. “I let musicians do more of their own thing, rather than just sitting there like a Fascist with a sampler.”
After Who Can You Trust?, Morcheeba was approached by former Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne to do some production work on his next release. The band ended up producing nine tracks for Byrne, six of which ended up on his 1997 release, Feelings. They were thrilled to be working with the music industry legend, and were surprised to find that they got along so well. “We pretty much had an instant spacey rapport with him,” Paul told Raygun in 1997. “We grew up listening to the Talking Heads, so we kind of couldn’t believe this all was happening. It’s just very, very inspiring. He’s been through it all and we’re about to go through it all. It’s a great place for two artists to meet.”
Aside from working with Byrne, touring was pretty much all Morcheeba had time for after the release of Who Can You Trust? But the trio had no interest in trying to recreate their studio sound on a live stage. “The amount of bands that I’ve seen that are just so static onstage because they’re relying on their equipment and the technology more than their ability to actually entertain makes us not want to go anywhere near that road,” Ross told Gelfand. Edwards continued, “If we wanted it to sound the same we could just stick on a DAT [digital audio tape] and then mime to it.” Ross adds: “It’s all about energy, really. And the audience is generally into the visual aspect of things.”
The trio wasted no time and worked to get their second release, Big Calm, out in 1998. Gelfand noted that, unlike other “next big thing” bands, who make a big hit with their debuts and then fizzle with the follow-up release, Morcheeba pushed even farther forward with Big Calm. “Morcheeba backed up all the hype that had been slathered on them by delivering an enticing collection of songs built on ingenious sample loops, trip-hop beats, insidious instrumental hooks and cool-jazz vocals,” wrote Gelfand. With Big Calm, Morcheeba also broke away from the trip-hop pack. “Haunting dub rhythms and vintage spy-movie themes still provide the backdrop for this London trio, but on its second disc Morcheeba sounds remarkably ripe,” wrote the San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle in 1998. “With [the CD’s] mesmeric rhythm-and-blues tracks the group can finally put all those Portishead comparisons to rest.”
During the first four years of Morcheeba’s existence, Edwards gave birth to two children. The first, Jaeger, to whom Who Can You Trust? was dedicated, went with the band on their first U.S. and European tours. Big Calmand its supporting tour was scheduled for March of 1998, pegged to give Edwards one month’s maternity leave after the birth of her second child. Edwards’ status as a mother extended the band’s reach into an even more diverse market than their varied music did. Women’s magazines, for whom a British trip-hop trio would normally have been of little interest, profiled the band using the angle of Edwards as new-age rock mother.
The group had a strong appeal for women. During the summer of 1998, Morcheeba was the must-see second stage headliner of the Lilith Fair, the immensely successful female-based touring festival, led by pop song stress Sarah Mclaughlin. “Mixmaster Paul Godfrey’s strong rhythms combined with his brother Ross’ guitar work to produce a sound that was simultaneously lazy and edgy,” wrote the Washington Times, in a 1997 review of Lilith. “Lead singer Skye Edwards’ soothing voice and swaying stage persona rounded out what was one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival.”
Their sound comes from three very different musicians, three very different personalities. Godfrey, Godfrey and Edwards find a comfortable balance in their divergent musical tastes. “Because the musical differences between us are so big, it’s very easy to collaborate,” Ross told Gelfand. “If we were closer, we’d be stepping on each other’s toes. We’re all completely in our own corners, and the music that comes out isn’t forced and flows along nicely.” There’s a balance of temperaments that the three find, as well. “It’s easy,” Edwards told Thompson. “Paul is a control freak and Ross just wants to lie on the sofa smoking all day—so I just slot in the middle.”
Who Can You Trust?, Discovery, 1996.
Big Calm, Sire, 1998.
Alternative Press, February 1997.
Billboard, October 5, 1996; February 21, 1998; April 4, 1998.
Everybody’s News, September 19, 1997.
Musician, December 1998.
New York Times, December 16, 1996.
Request, December 1996.
Rolling Stone, April 18, 1998.
Time Out NYC, March 19-26, 1998.
USA Today, November 5, 1996.
Venice, January 1997.
Village Voice, April 15, 1997; April 22, 1997; May 12, 1998.
“Morcheeba,” All-Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 5, 1999).
Additional information was provided by Warner Music International publicity materials, 1999.
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