Morcheeba’s Ross Godfrey chats Bluesfest, musical soulmates, and future releases

Since 1995, Morcheeba have been redefining trip-hop, releasing album after album of genre-bending brilliance that has garnered them millions of fans across the world.

Following the departure of founding member Paul Godfrey and a five-year hiatus, Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards and Ross Godfrey came back burning brighter than ever with their 2018 LP Blaze Away and now they’re making their way back down under for Bluesfest 2020 and a national tour.

We caught up with the band’s guitarist Ross to discuss their Australian shows, the making of their next album, he and Skye being musical soulmates, touring until they need new knees, and how the blues has impacted him.

Before they hit Byron Bay Bluesfest next April, we caught up with trip-hop legend Ross Godfrey from Morcheeba for a chat.

HAPPY: Morcheeba are heading back down under in 2020 for Bluesfest and a national tour. What’re you most looking forward to?

ROSS: Probably just the sunshine and swimming in the sea because it’s miserable and cold here, wet and raining. The best thing about touring Australia is that you generally do it when it’s Winter here in England. So that’s going to be really great, plus just seeing all the people in Australia, all my friends. Going to Byron is always a real pleasure, it’s like paradise so I’m very excited.

HAPPY: Yeah, it’s beautiful there. I love it too. What is your favourite thing about Aussie crowds?

ROSS: They’re always really enthusiastic, it’s great. The Bluesfest crowds have got quite a lot of choice and some great people to go and see so we’re always touched when we get a big crowd and people sing along and enjoy the show. We really count our blessings, we are very lucky to have such great jobs to be able to go and do that. We have a couple of shows in theatres, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney and the theatre crowds are always really great as well. It’s just really good fun all round.

HAPPY: What’s your favourite song to play live at the moment?

ROSS: I would say The Sea because there’s quite a lot of wah-wah guitar in it and that’s one of my favourite things, to play wah-wah guitar. I should’ve grown up in the sixties, I’m in the wrong time.

HAPPY: I feel you on that! Now, you guys released Blaze Away in 2018 and that was the first record you made without Paul’s involvement, how did that impact the creative process and direction?

ROSS: Paul and I founded the band together so he’ll always be a very big part of the band and a big influence on its sound because we obviously developed it together. He used to write a lot of the lyrics and he was the main producer of the records, his influence was more hip-hop and stuff like that so I guess there’s a bit of that missing from the record. There’s not quite as much hip-hop influence as the previous albums but I guess we kind of made up for it with more guitars and Skye wrote all the lyrics on this record so it’s quite interesting because she gets to sing her own lyrics which I feel makes them sincere or heartfelt because she’s written the songs and she’s saying what she wants to say. So, there are some subtle differences like that but overall it’s a very classic Morcheeba sounding record and we’ve gotten great reactions from fans and critics alike.

HAPPY: Yeah, it’s a brilliant record. Is there a specific song on the album that you’re most proud of?

ROSS: I like the first song Never Undo because it’s interesting, it sounds kind of modern but it’s also classic trip-hop as well. I’d probably say my second favourite song is Sweet LA which is a piano ballad because it’s so simple and touching. We’ve been playing those two songs live quite a lot and the other one we throw in live quite a lot is title track Blaze Away which is a lot of fun, and Skye does the rap which is great.

HAPPY: Awesome. The band’s sounds has evolved quite a lot over the years. Where were you pulling inspiration from most on the last record and now?

ROSS: We’ve always listened to the same kind of music. I think the music you grow up with as a teenager kind of sticks with you. I always loved old blues music and sixties psychedelic rock like Jimi Hendrix and Cream and the Californian sound like Jefferson Airplane and bands like that. Also singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and Cat Stevens, and I mean from a songwriting point of view and a stylistic point of view I’ve always tried to write songs in that vein but we do also listen to a lot of modern music like electronic music and we’re big fans of hip-hop back when it was good in the nineties, I don’t really like modern hip-hop very much. But they’re all influences.

I think music technology is changing so quickly it’s difficult to keep up but we try to stay abreast with everything. We’re starting to make a new record now and we’re working with a few different electronic artists to help us do beats and synths and stuff, and the reason why we want to do that is because when we finished Blaze Away, I produced it all and I found it to be a little bit too much responsibility and it kind of took the joy out of playing the guitar and enjoying the actual performing of the songs.

We got a remix, deluxe version of the album done and we got a load of DJs and electronic artists to remix our songs for us and we really enjoyed what they did so we were thinking on the next record we would delegate a little bit and get some people to help out on the music and beats side. So, that’s how we’ve developed recently but we will always stay true to ourselves because we know that our fans will only really like it if we like it ourselves so we try to make records for ourselves, really. But at the same time, it’s always really good to look into the future as well and to try and sound fresh.

HAPPY: Definitely, I mean you’re going to want to enjoy what you write because you’re going to have to play it live a bunch so might as well like it. Can we expect to hear any of these new songs live this time around?

ROSS: Yeah exactly! Well we play four songs from Blaze Away but the new record we’re working on now is still forming so we’re not going to play any of that I don’t think, the songs aren’t quite finished yet, we’re still in the process of putting the music and beats together. Skye’s had some lyrics and melodies going but I don’t think they’ll be quite ready by the time we get to Australia.

HAPPY: For someone who’s never seen the band live how would you describe the show?

ROSS: It’s actually really fun, because of our records, especially the early ones, most people think we’re going to be really moody and that we are going to be kind of shoegazing while we play this dark, trip-hop atmospheric music but actually we like to enjoy the show. We like to have a dance, we do a couple of covers, we mix a lot of old classic Morcheeba songs with newer Morcheeba and we just generally try to make it fun for everybody because if we’re doing this every night we’ve got to enjoy it and if the audience enjoys it then it lets us enjoy it more.

HAPPY: For sure. You guys have been together for literally longer than I’ve been alive. What’s motivated you to keep coming back to this particular project?

ROSS: I’ve been in this band and making music with this band longer than I’ve not been making music. I’m 43 and I’ve been in the band for 25 years so that’s more than half of my life. I feel like it’s the most genuine and true project I can be involved with and it utilizes my talents to the maximum effect, and I think Skye and I are kind of like musical soulmates so it just feels really good, we always really enjoy it so I think it’s something we’ll carry on doing until one or both of us die.

HAPPY: So where do you see the band heading in the next few years? What do you hope for the band?

ROSS: We’ve just spent the last 18 months on the road so we’re looking forward to having a break over Christmas at the moment, then generally what happens after a few months of not being on the road is we get really excited to go back out. Coming to Australia is going to be off the back of a big European tour so hopefully, we’ll sound quite well-rehearsed, and just continue to make the new record really, try to get some new music happening.

We’ll probably finish the new album next year and release it in 2021, and we’re always doing shows anyway but we’ll likely do a world tour after the release of that record but we’re not getting any younger. I’m 43 and I think Skye is 46 and we want to enjoy touring and playing music as much as we can until we need new hips or new knees or whatever it is that happens to old people. So you know, for the next ten years we’re going to enjoy it as much as we can.

HAPPY: Brilliant. Now I have one final question, you mentioned that the blues has had quite an influence on your playing, and since you’re playing Bluesfest I figured this is a fitting question, what do the blues mean to you?

ROSS: I would say the blues has been the foundation of everything to do with my musical sensibility. It’s what I started with and what I always will love. If you put a guitar in my hand I just start playing blues, but not cheesy blues music, I like that really old thirties and forties ragtime blues, I also really love fifties electric Chicago blues. My favourites are John Lee Hooker, I love Muddy Waters, obviously, people like Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, Elmore James. Most of my record collection, and it’s quite a big collection, is made up of blues music so it’s always a real pleasure to come to Australia and play their biggest blues festival.

Bluesfest 2020:
9th April 2020 – 13th April 2020
Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, Byron Bay NSW