Andrea M. Kurtz
From the lava-like hippie tones of Who Can You Trust? to the swirling, rhythmic groove of Big Calm, this U.K. band has glided onto American shores with a diverse ambience that could only be produced elsewhere. Musicians and brothers, Paul and Ross Godfrey, have pulled off a flavor so vastly expansive that it is distinct. With the infusion of a country twang and hip-hop beat in Big Calm, Morcheeba has transcended to a new dimension while maintaining their underlying sound: psychedelic groove. And the soothingly mellow voice of Skye Edwards continues to put me in a trance.
The following conversation with Ross, the younger Godfrey and keyboard/guitarist, occurred over the phone as he was wandering the streets of Sheffield, England — “the most boring midwest town you could ever imagine” — looking for a restaurant. The hazy corner of a dingy pub is where I imagine him ending up, with a pint or two of strong ale to wash down his plate of grub.
How did you come up with the name Morcheeba?
In Portuguese, “cheeba” means heroin, marijuana, dope, or whatever you want to call it. It’s an improvisation around that, I guess.
Is it meant to be a reflection of the music that you write and the mood it provokes?
No, it doesn’t really mean much. It’s just a silly name and the record company didn’t mind it.
Big Calm just hit the record stores. What can listeners expect from this new recording?
I can’t really describe it. It’s sort of country rock with hip-hop beat and psychedelic blues.
Has your sound been influenced by the success of your previous album, Who Can You Trust?
Yeah, a little bit, because we can do what we like now. Before we thought we had to adhere to some sort of genre so we could get some press and get some record sales. But now we’re just doing whatever we like.
In recording Big Calm, was there pressure to give your fans more of what they wanted, or did you feel you had the license to experiment?
I don’t think we feel pressure. We like it [Big Calm] and we’re happy, so it doesn’t matter to anyone else, but it’s very nice if lots of other people like it and go out and buy it! Our last album did reasonably well, and that was enough to show us that our own musical opinion is the one that counts and not anyone else’s.
In the new album, we’ve flipped through so many styles: country, reggae, blues, hip-hop, jazz, rock, Latin, and some very folky stuff. We try to do as many things as we can do to keep ourselves interested and to keep the listener interested. What you have is an album that almost sounds like a compilation and that’s great for us.
Does spanning such a broad genre of music keep you from being stuck in the “Brit pop” category as a band?
I don’t think we would ever get lumped in with that anyway, because all of our stuff is so “worldly” and most of the English music is very tongue-in-cheek. I really prefer American music, such as hip-hop, or Jamaican reggae or Indian rock — things like that are more real.
How did Morcheeba’s reception in the U.S. compare to that Britain?
I think it was just as bad in some ways and better in some ways. People picked up much more of the country thing in the U.S., which is good because I love country music, but they also felt we were more electronic than we actually are.
Explain Morcheeba’s love for country music.
Skye [the band’s lead vocalist] was always really into country music and grew up listening to artists like Patsy Cline. I think it’s the atmospheric qualities of the music that attracts us more than anything else. Like the blues has soul and feeling, I think country music has an atmosphere – something we can’t reproduce here in Britain.
In listening to your music, I feel like it is almost a spiritual experience. Would you agree?
Yeah, it is spiritual in its own sort of way. But our music is open and not directed toward any particular religion. It’s about individual spirituality, really, and expressing your own desire to achieve what you want to achieve and about how anything else that gets in the way is a bummer. So we write songs about things that get in the way, but we also write happy songs about when things are going well. It’s all individualism. There’s no masks and none of the “let’s all group together and have a good time” thing, because we don’t really feel united with our country, let alone the world.
Do your recording sessions have that same spiritual element?
I think it’s all subconscious. When we write the songs it comes through, and then when we record, that kind of atmosphere just comes across.
Morcheeba has played around with various untraditional instruments and you’ve pulled off some very groovy “sound surgery.” How do you maintain this versatility and what new sounds are on tap for Big Calm?
None of them are new, they’re just mixed with new things. Like we have banjos mixed with guitars and analog synthesizers. We have orchestras mixed with DJ scratching and stuff like that. There’s nothing new there, it’s only new combinations. You only make new food dish by getting a new recipe.
What we are trying to do is get a multicult/folk kind of sound together, combining Eastern influences with Western. Country music and European baroque-sounding orchestras aren’t supposed to get together, but they do sound great together — -which is bizarre. If anyone can work that out, they can please explain it to me
Outside of Morcheeba and your music, what hobbies do you enjoy?
I like swimming with fish — snorkeling or scuba diving or whatever — and skiing. But I really don’t get to do those except for about once a year. All I do is music and tour and promote our records and record more and play and tour more and promote them more and then record and play them more – it sort of goes in an endless cycle! Any time off we just go to the pub and get tremendously drunk.
So what’s in the future for Morcheeba?
We’re going to be touring for the rest of the year; after that we’re going to write an album of love songs, a bit Al Green-ish. We’ll probably also do some film soundtracks and things like that.