Pick a date – any date – in the next nine months and Morcheeba can say where they’ll be. From topping festival bills in Brazil to touring theatres in Australia, from returning to Russia, China and Chile to playing their debut shows in Cape Town, Casablanca and Tel Aviv to criss-crossing Europe and the UK over the summer and North America in the fall, the band has most of 2018 mapped out already.
“20 years in, it’s never taken us longer to tour the world,” says singer Skye Edwards. “We’re still finding fans in places we’ve never played before, who’ve waited all this time to see us, or fans who’ve only recently discovered our music through streaming. It’s amazing.”
Morcheeba’s global success is no surprise. Being one of the first Western acts to tour China, their melting pot sound has been border-hopping ever since the London-based band emerged from the mid-’90s trip hop scene that made them household names at home. Several line-up changes later and the departure of DJ/producer Paul Godfrey in 2014 - Morcheeba have never been busier or more in tune with the times.
Blaze Away, their positivity-packed ninth album, marks both a fresh start in its organic approach and a return to the joyous genre-mashing of their early days. There was no template for its ten, extraordinary, future-facing songs, no self-imposed limits on style, no themes to be adhered to or rules in place to break.
“Touring so much and seeing what works for us on stage, all around the world, gave us the confidence to experiment,” says multi-instrumentalist Ross Godfrey, now also the duo’s producer. “We brought back a lot of the influences of early Morcheeba records - from ‘50s blues, ‘60s psychedelic rock and ‘70s dub reggae to ‘80s electro and ‘90s hip hop. Whatever felt right, we went with.
“At the same time, we wanted to capture the energy and love of our live show, which is such a big part of the band. A lot of Skye’s vocals were recorded live, often in one take. Two of the tracks are in French. None of the guests or collaborators were planned. If we came across someone fun we wanted to work with, we asked them.”
Not long after writing began early last year, Morcheeba met the rapper Roots Manuva at a festival in Moscow.
“We were backstage and all pretty smashed,” recalls Ross. “He is such a great performer and character, I invited him to my studio when we were both back in London. I sent him a beat and a riff for the song Blaze Away and he came up with some lyrics, then lost them.
“Half an hour before the recording, he wrote new lyrics that had such incredible energy that they completely changed the dynamic of the album. Roots said in rap what we had been trying to express more wistfully. He cuts straight to the chase, which inspired us to be more raw and forthright.
“The early Morcheeba records are really mellow and slow, which is nice when you’re chilling out. But right now, we’re plugged in to playing live, which means being more raw and upbeat. We’re not afraid to have big fuzzy guitar riffs or be a bit rough round the edges.”
Another fortuitous turning point was working with the French star Benjamin Biolay, who duets with Skye on the sensual Paris-sur-Mer.
“We have a big fan base in France and we’d talked about including a French language duet on the record,” says Ross. “My wife Amanda, who is French, and I were at home drinking cocktails and listening to music one night I and asked her to name the heir to Serge Gainsbourg. She suggested Benjamin and played me some of his music, which I loved.
“The next day we mailed him, thinking he’d be too busy, but he got straight back and within a week, Skye and I were in Paris. Benjamin turned up at the studio, rolled a joint, wrote the lyrics in under an hour and taught Skye how to sing them in French.”
“The words are nuts,” laughs Skye. “It’s a stream-of-consciousness fantasy about Paris being a magical place on the beach and in the mountains. It brilliantly captures Benjamin’s eccentricity.”
Morcheeba returned to London fired up by the unexpected turns the album was taking.
“We felt like the guests had come in to play with our toy and destroyed it, which was fantastic,” says Ross. “We didn’t know what would happen next and we thrived on that feeling of freedom.”
Between touring commitments, Ross and Skye continued to send songs back and forth to each other, Ross starting them on guitar and synths in his studio, Skye composing the melodies and lyrics and recording guide vocals in her sewing room at home.
“It’s my workshop, or rather my woman cave,” says the singer. “It’s where I make most of my outfits. Did I get a vibe from the sewing machine? Haha, maybe. I feel really relaxed in there. I put my younger kids to bed – they’re 3 and 10 - pour myself a whisky and dim the lights. These days, it’s the best way for me to express my emotions.”
The first song completed was Blaze Away’s hypnotic opener Never Undo, for which Morcheeba worked with the electronic musician Robert Logan, who provided the glitchy beats. Among the last was the sensational It’s Summertime, for which Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner wrote most of the lyrics.
“We had this summery song that we weren’t sure what to do with so we got in touch with our friend Kurt, who was about to step on a plane in Barcelona,” says Ross. “He told us to send him the track straight away so he could write something on the flight. By time he touched down in Nashville, he’d come up with the lyrics. It’s a real happy song, about celebrating positivity and overcoming obstacles that chimes with the rest of the record.”
It’s Summertine features Ross’s trademark psychedelic guitar, as does Blaze Away’s heavy closer Mezcal Dream.
“We almost got to the end of making the album and I realised there were hardly any guitar solos on there, so I went a bit overboard,” admits Ross. “There is a tradition of Morcheeba albums ending with a psychedelic instrumental, but this is more of a cinematic, semi-apocalyptic jam between a synth and an electric guitar, on which my wife Amanda sings in French.”
Ross’ brother Paul may have left to work on other projects, but Morcheeba has never been a more of a family affair. The band’s drummer is now Skye’s 21 year old son Jaega, her husband Steve Gordon has rejoined on bass having toured with Morcheeba in the Noughties and Skye’s model daughter Kiki sings backing vocals on the spectral ballad Sweet L.A., which she inspired with a traumatic trans-Atlantic relationship that her mother knew from the start was doomed.
Adding to the family feel is the brass section from Zion Train, guests on the glorious Love Dub. The band were Morcheeba’s label mates back in the day and they played on their landmark ‘90s album Big Calm, which has it’s 20th anniversary this year.
“Having the boys on brass back was a real blast from the past,” says Ross. “They made the song such fun to record. Morcheeba hasn’t done dub for a while – for some reason, we had a self-imposed ban on playing reggae.
“This time, nothing was off-limits. Love Dub is a good example. It’s a global message of love and healing, a call to unite against the Trumps of this world. Morcheeba has always embraced different cultures. We’re as proud of being global as we are of being British. Just ask our fans.”
- Lisa Verrico, March 2018