Spring, 2014, and Skye Edwards and Ross Godfrey are standing at the side of the main stage at an Australian Gold Coast music festival, coming down from their own set there a short while ago. “The headliners were playing a raw, gutsy set,” Ross recalls, “and we both thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be really fun to make a record that had this sort of intensity to it?’” For over a dozen years, he and Skye had been playing across the globe as Morcheeba, but Ross’ brother, Paul – their co-producer, with whom they’d founded the band – had stayed at home. During this time, the inevitable separation between what happened in the studio and what happened live had become increasingly pronounced, and, as they observed the band beside them with delight, the singer and guitarist shared an epiphany. “Why don’t we make our records feel more live?”
The result of this revelation is SKYE | ROSS, an album that pursues its own musical path while returning to the roots of the sound that made Morcheeba a household name back in the late 1990s. It is, Ross explains, “what Skye and I do naturally when you ask us to make music together, and yet not necessarily a continuation of what we’d been doing with Morcheeba. It therefore felt only right to give it a new identity.”
It’s not the first time either of them has stepped outside of the safety of their familiar, long-term musical environment. Last year, Skye released her fourth solo album, In A Low Light, a beautifully subdued collection of luminous, electronic soul, while Ross stepped out with Little Mountain, a Laurel Canyon flavoured trio that also features his wife, Amanda Zamolo. The latter was particularly invigorating for Ross, reminding him of the spontaneity and joy that can exist during the recording process, and this was something he bore in mind when, in 2015, he offered Skye the guitar part for what would become ‘Clear My Mind’. When she sent back her vocals, Ross grins, “We knew we were onto a winner. Part of the skill of producing a record is knowing when to leave it alone, and we didn’t have to edit it, change it, or add anything at all. It was just an acoustic guitar and Skye’s voice. We were pinching ourselves! ‘Why was that so easy?!’”
For a while they toyed with the idea of making an ‘unplugged’ record, but soon realised it would be possible to write something more ambitious. “We merely rejected the more modern recording techniques where you can literally edit the f***ing life out of everything,” Ross elaborates. “That just completely drains the soul.” So they made most of the record at their homes, much as they had before the big budget days of Morcheeba, and when they say that they kept things ‘in the family’, they’re not exaggerating: the only other musicians to play significant roles in the album’s making are Skye’s husband, Steve (bass); Skye’s 19 year old son, Jaega (drums); Ross’s wife, Amanda (backing vocals); and Richard Milner, Morcheeba’s keyboard player for the last five years. “One of us just needs to adopt Richard,” Skye jokes, “and then everybody in the band will be related!”
What emerged recalls the spirit of Morcheeba’s international, platinum selling Big Calm, while boasting a revived spirit and the mature experience that comes with two decades of making music. Some of it, especially the quieter numbers, may be surprising: ‘Clear My Mind’ offers a hint of Brazilian tropicalia, notably Milton Nascimento, while ‘Medicine’ – which features a gospel choir of multi-tracked Skyes, and a Hammond Organ solo from Milner that, Ross argues, could have been played by the E Street Band’s Danny Federici – sounds like an Al Green number. The blissful opener, ‘Repay the Saviour’, even provokes Ross to talk of Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, Mahavishnu guitarist John McLaughlin and Merry Clayton. They approached Skye’s voice in a new light, too, on tracks like ‘Light Of Gold’. “It was all very organic, and I was able to push myself vocally,” Skye confirms. “Everything Ross sent inspired a melody and lyric almost immediately, whether it was a heavy fuzz guitar riff or intricate finger picking on an acoustic. I’ve always got a real buzz from Ross’s playing: it’s an absolute joy performing live, so it was great to be able to capture that energy on record.”
Of course, Ross has long been an outspoken fan of leftfield acts from Dinosaur Jr. to Aphex Twin, and talks about how, in their early days, “we could bring in anything: minimal beats, country music, blues, whatever we wanted. It was a pretty blank canvas, and I feel like this record has gone back to that. Because if it feels right for the song…” And amongst the things that feel right for these songs are big guitar solos, with Ross at last embracing the opportunity to place his fluid skills higher in the mix, just as they are during Morcheeba’s celebrated live shows. Still, that’s hardly surprising given that the baby sitar-soaked ‘Feet First’ was inspired by reading Jimi Hendrix’s diaries from when he trained as a paratrooper.
Ultimately, SKYE | ROSS doesn’t signify the end of Morcheeba, but rather a purge of sorts, an opportunity for the two musicians who have represented the public face of their band to exploit the musical relationship that has developed between them outside of the studio on stages around the world. “Our intentions are really aligned,” Ross concludes, “and once you have that synchronicity with someone everything falls into place.”