|Looking Skyewards - Morcheeba chanteuse Skye Edwards talks about her new project Skye Ross|
It's exactly twenty years since Morcheeba first hit the UK charts with their single, 'Tape Loop,' taken from their debut LP, 'Who Can You Trust,' on China Records. Led by Skye Edwards' velvety haunting vocals, which floated ethereally over a mesmeric trip-hop-style groove played and produced by brothers Ross and Paul Godfrey, the track established a sonic template for the London-based trio, who would go on to make an indelible mark on the UK music scene over the next few years.
Between 1996 and 2003, they racked up twelve single chart entries (the biggest of which was the Top 40 smash, 'Rome Wasn't Built In A Day,' in 2000) and released four notable albums. All of them notched up huge sales with 1998's 'Big Calm' achieving platinum status in the UK. But in 2003, interpersonal tensions ripped the group asunder and Skye Edwards left to pursue a solo career while the Godfrey siblings carried on using a series of different vocalists. The singer returned to the fold in 2010, by which time she had released two albums under her own name ('Mind How You Go' and 'Keeping Secrets'). Reunited, the band issued the LP 'Blood Like Lemonade' in 2010 and three years later kept the momentum going with 'Head Up High.'
More recently, Skye and Ross Godfrey have been touring together, going under the name SKYE ROSS to distinguish their new project from Morcheeba. The duo have an album coming out via Fly Agaric Records/Cooking Vinyl on September 2nd simply titled 'Skye Ross.' It has stylistic facets reminiscent of Morcheeba, certainly, but is more organic in its approach.
"It's slightly different," explains Skye Edwards to SJF's Charles Waring in a refreshingly frank interview. "We started thinking we'd be making an acoustic album and take it away from the Morcheeba sound with the hip-hop beats and rapping. And then it grew from there. We started putting live drums on it rather than programmed beats so I guess that's a different element..."
Was it a conscious decision to do something different from what you've done before?
Yeah, but it just happened naturally really because the missing element of the Morcheeba sound was Paul Godfrey. He was the producer of the Morcheeba records and the lyricist also so just by default it sounds slightly different because Ross is producing it and I'm writing the lyrics this time.
So how does it feel for you having a greater role, perhaps, in the creation of the songs?
It didn't really feel that I had less of a role being the melody maker in the group. I've written lyrics for my solo records so it was just kind of natural. At first, Ross and I spoke about collaborating with other songwriters but in the end it was just him and me. He sent the tunes through on acoustic guitar and I had a long sleepless night one time - I was quite heavily pregnant at the time and couldn't sleep - and these words just came to me. I sent them to Ross the following morning and he really liked them. Then I sent another song through when the words came and we thought, well let's just carry on like this then: we don't actually need anybody else. So that's how it worked.
Are there any songs on the new album that have a special significance for you?
There are two songs actually - there's 'Hold On,' which will probably be our second single, and 'How To Fly.' They were both about my daughter. I've got four children and my youngest, she is now 15 months. She was born three months early, so the lyrics behind that were about her fight for survival in her early days.
What's Ross like to work with? You've worked with them for many years, of course, but what's his strength as a musician and collaborator?
Well, gosh, he's a multi-instrumentalist. He's just an amazing guitarist and knows how to write songs and how to structure a song and is really open to other ideas as well so it flows quite naturally for me.
You've worked on and off together for twenty years - do you know what makes each other tick now or are you still capable of surprising each other?
I think I did surprise him lyrically with some of the new songs and I think it was quite refreshing. We just click. He knows how to write good songs and I know how to come up with a good melody. It just works.
Do you have a tried and tested process when you work together or does it change from album to album?
With this one it started mostly with acoustic guitar or chords on the Rhodes piano whereas before on the last few Morcheeba records like 'Blood Like Lemonade, and 'Head Up High,' they all started from beats and then they grew that way. But on the very early records we were all in the same room at the same time (laughs). Ross and Paul had a flat over in Kilburn in North London and we'd really stay up late at night. Paul would have pages of lyrics and melodies and then it changed with the melodies coming first and then the tune and then the lyrics. Then we had a break when Ross moved to Los Angeles and Paul was living in France. So we collaborated a lot by email on 'Blood Like Lemonade' and 'Head Up High.' On this 'Skye Ross' record, I was pregnant and Ross's wife was also so it felt more comfortable to do it in our own homes because we both have our little studio setups. I've got a mic set up in what I call my sewing room and my husband recorded the vocals and then we'd send them through. So we worked quite quickly that way and didn't have to arrange things like childcare. When we did come together to record live drums and bass, that studio is just round the corner to where Ross lived, and his wife did some background vocals as well and my son plays the drums on it. So it's a bit of a family gathering.
Yes, it sounds like a real family affair. How old's your son who plays the drums?
He's 20 now. I was pregnant with him when we recorded 'Who Can You Trust' (the band's first album in 1996). I was five months pregnant when we signed our record deal with China Records and we were really nervous thinking that they wouldn't want to sign a band with a singer that was pregnant so we kept it a secret and basically avoided any meetings with them or when they came down to the studio we wouldn't be there. I would make myself busy somewhere else and I think it was probably like a week before he was due to be born that our A&R guy came in and saw me and said 'bloody hell, where did that come from?' (laughs). We were young back then and it was a five album deal that we signed and we thought they wouldn't want to sign a band with a singer with a baby. I made a conscious effort so that I didn't let them down. I wouldn't let having a child stop me from touring and luckily Ross and Paul let my children come with us so all of my children have all been on tour up until the age of four when they had to go to school. They all come on tour and take a friend or relative with them just to help look after them.
How does your son regard your music and career because most children seem to think that their parents taste in music is pretty uncool...
(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. Parents are never cool in the eyes of their kids but one time, I think, on the 'Blood Like Lemonade' album, there were some rapping on there. I learned the rap and then performed it when we were playing live. And I saw that look in my son's eyes, like "oh my God, my mum's rapping!" So maybe I was cool in his eyes. (Laughs). But my children have always been fans of the music and always pop their heads round the corner whenever Paul would send beats through. My son would be like: "wow, that's a really cool beat." But I also learn a lot from them. My daughter's eighteen and I always listen to the music that's always coming out of her room. I stand outside and Shazam it to find out what it is she's listening to.
Does your daughter sing or have any musical aspirations at all?
She's got a great voice and I encourage her but she says "mum, nobody wants to be Solange," who is Beyonce's sister. She says "it's like you're Beyonce and I'm Solange and nobody wants to be her." But I tell her, "hey you could be Beyonce. You could go beyond me and do better than me." But she's still finding herself. She's got to try lots of things and find out what it is that she likes.
It's a difficult age, isn't it, when teenagers have got to make big choices and big decisions in life when they're still so very young.
Yeah, that's what I keep saying to her and some of her friends as well. They're all going through the turmoil of "I don't know what I want to do" but I say: "you don't need to know what you want to do but just do something and try lots of things and then you'll know what you won't want to do and then you'll finally find your path."
What's it like performing on stage without Paul Godfrey (pictured left with Morcheeba)? Does it feel strange?
No, because it's been like that for some time. I rejoined in 2010, and Paul didn't tour with us. Even before that, in 2003, and even earlier than that, Paul didn't tour. We had Paul Bruce, who was from the Scratch Perverts and he stood in for Paul for a number of years. Paul just wasn't really happy on the road. He hated sleeping on tour buses and was uncomfortable on flights. He was just never happy and if he wasn't happy then none of us were happy so he stayed away and focused on the studio. So as far as the live shows, it's the same as what it has been for the last fifteen years. Ross and myself have a stand-in scratch DJ but I guess the last year-and-a-half we've removed the DJ and now we're triggering some of the sounds from the drums. We don't really miss it.
You've adapted without a DJ.
Yeah, exactly. Occasionally, you get somebody waiting outside for an autograph and they'll ask, where is Paul? And you say well, Paul hasn't been on tour with us for the last 15 years so it doesn't feel weird at all. I think it's weird for promoters because its Skye and Ross from Morcheeba now. Obviously, the name Morcheeba has huge clout but as long as they have the Morcheeba name in there alongside ours they can still sell tickets. We have a tour booked up until November as Skye and Ross and I think we're doing more than okay.
This new album is a way in which you can build another dimension to your careers, I suppose?
Yeah, exactly. Some of the songs that we're playing as part of the set are 'Light Of Gold,' our first single. That's brilliant and it gets people to sing along with the chorus. We also play 'Hold On,' 'How To Fly' and then depending on the feel and the spirit of the night, we'll play 'Clear My Mind,' which is just an acoustic track with myself and Ross, in the encore. They fit in really brilliantly with all of the Morcheeba songs, so everyone comes away feeling that they've heard Morcheeba but I do say "I'm Skye, he is Ross and together we are Skye Ross but then when you go on to Twitter or Instagram and see #Morcheeba and "oh Morcheeba you were great!" So I think we'll be forever known as Morcheeba, which is not such a bad thing.
How do you look back at what you've done in the past? Are you comfortable with it or do you tend to be critical?
I was always critical of (the band's biggest UK hit) 'Rome Wasn't Built in a Day.' I was so upset with that song because I felt that it was too poppy, too commercial, but then it did wonders as far as developing our career and along with the 'Fragments Of Freedom' album took us to another level as far as being a festival act. It put us in the headline slots and people were dancing for the first time rather than coming in sitting down and getting stoned. With 'Fragments...' there were more up-tempo songs and it really pushed me vocally because I had to sing louder and more powerfully. And then when you see everybody singing along you realise that they love it and because they love it you love it. It's just a lot of fun now but during the 'Fragments...' album it was all falling apart at that point. There was not a lot of love in the band and that's why I think it was hard for me to like 'Rome Wasn't Built In A Day.' I didn't really like the guys that much at that time....
Yes, you left the band in 2003 but what factors persuaded you to rejoin Ross and Paul in 2010? What had changed?
They asked me to come back. At first, I just wasn't ready and wouldn't entertain the idea at all. They asked me to sing 'Enjoy The Ride' (on 2008's 'Dive Deep' album), which Judy Tzuke sang, and they also had Thomas Dybdahl, who was another collaborator on that record, who was emailing me constantly and it was like there was no way; why would I want to go back to a hostile environment? But we share the same manager and he told me that they would like me to come back. I had my husband (bassist Steve Gordon) on my case constantly who was saying: "I think you should go back for the legacy of Morcheeba and for the fans. For your own career, you should go back. At least meet them for a coffee..." It was relentless. (Laughs). We had had a lot of arguments - there was a lot of furniture thrown - and I just got so upset and couldn't understand why they wanted me back but eventually I met them. By that time seven years had passed since I'd left and we had all grown up and become a little more humble, I guess. They asked me to come back and I agreed to it and 'Blood Like Lemonade' was the record that we worked on. A lot of the songs were already composed but I came back and wrote the melodies to those and Paul wrote the lyrics again. It was fine. Ross was a much happier person and we had a chance to reconnect and Paul stayed away from touring and it worked out brilliantly. Actually, it was a lot of fun and it has been a lot of fun since then on tour.
In between, you established yourself as a solo artist, making four albums. Is your solo career just on the backburner temporarily and if so what can we expect to hear from you in the future?
There was 'Mind How You Go' (2006) and then 'Keeping Secrets' (2009) was around the time where I rejoined Morcheeba so I did a tour and then whilst I was on tour I was writing melodies for 'Blood Like Lemonade.' We released that album and then there was a break in between when I put out (her third solo album) 'Back For Now' (2012). After 'Head Up High,' 'In A Low Light' (2015) came out (pictured left). So it's just something that I'd like to continue to do. I don't really make a big song and dance about it. I met up with this guy, Robert Logan, an amazing producer and really creative guy and I'd really love to work with him again. I really enjoyed working with him on 'In A Low Light,' so that's a possibility. It's all depending on timings really. Next year we just want to go head-on in promoting the 'Skye Ross' album and in the down time, if I come up with an idea for a song I'll send it over to Robert and work on it. But there's nothing quite like being in the studio, it's just magical really. Ross really likes Robert also so he may well work on the next Skye Ross record.
Going right back to the beginning, when did you begin singing?
From a young age really. I didn't really know I'd make a career in singing but I really enjoyed singing along to the Hoover. We had one of those round ones that kind of hovered so I remember just humming along to the Hoover, harmonising with it (Laughs). I led a very sheltered life, I think. My parents listened a lot to country music. They had a record player and my mum had this record called 'Friends' and I remember it had songs like 'Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town,' and 'I Never Promised You A Rose Garden,' all those kind of country classics. Every Sunday she listened to that. She also loved the songs from the musical 'Cats' and they loved a lot of black-and-white movies with Deanna Durbin and Doris Day in. They were a lot older. They were in their late forties when they fostered me. I was fostered at the age of six weeks old so it was like being brought up by your grandparents. So I'm very good at knitting (laughs). My mum taught me how to knit and sew...
You mentioned earlier that you recorded your vocals in the 'sewing room' and it crossed my mind that maybe sewing was a secret hobby of yours.
You know how we were talking earlier about being a teenager and not really knowing what to do and what we wanted to do? Well, my mum said to me, "well, you can sew. Why don't you go and do some sewing in college?" So I joined Redbridge Technical College and did a foundation course and then I managed to get into the London College of Fashion and did some pattern cutting and learned how to sew. So, all of the stage clothes I wear, they're all of mine, which I designed and made. So that's good practice. I was too shy really to go out there and be a fashion designer or work for a fashion designer. I just wanted to make clothes. I wasn't very good at writing about clothes; you know you had to write pages and pages like who your favourite designer was and why you came up with these designs, but just give me a manikin and some fabric and I'll make you something. I kind of failed at it in college but it's kind of worked out now. I've made my daughter's prom dress, which she's actually going to get married in when she's older.
What's in the pipeline after this album? You mentioned touring but are there any other projects on the horizon?
We're basically going to be touring up until November. We're off on Thursday to the Czech Republic and then we've got two weeks off. I'm suffering from sciatica at the moment. We did six flights in six days and getting out to Tbilisi in Georgia (where Skye Ross played a festival recently) which was a long, long journey with my 15 month old baby. I think the baby carrier caused it, but anyway, after that we've got an American tour and then a European tour and some UK dates. And next year, I imagine that we'll try and get out to Australia and South America and summer festivals again. And we'll see what comes from there really. There will certainly be another album. Ross and I will continue to work on music and he also has a side project, a band called Little Mountain with this guy called Ste Forshaw, who he met on the South Bank one time. He loved the sound of his voice and they started working together. So yeah, there will be more music for sure, definitely.
SKYE ROSS'S ALBUM 'SKYE ROSS' IS REELASED ON SEPTEMBER 2ND VIA FLY AGARIC/COOKING VINYL
SKYE ROSS TOUR DATES:
30th Oct: Birmingham Elgar Concert Hall
31st Oct: Bristol The Lantern
1st Nov: Brighton The Old Market
2nd Nov: London Electric Brixton
4th Nov: Manchester Band on the Wall
Last Updated on Friday, 05 August 2016 09:33