Pop music: The calm shall inherit the earth
Skye Edwards sings with Morcheeba, the dreamy, gentle trippy-hippy band. She's just made a single, an album - and a baby.
Sunday 01 March 1998
"Morcheeba" is US slang for "more marijuana", and the presence of the weed makes itself felt throughout the band's work. Their dreamy crossover mix of trip-hop, funk and hip-hop came out of nowhere in December 1995, with the single "Trigger Hippy", which perfectly sums up the space their music inhabits. Emerging into a musical landscape radically altered by bands like Portishead and Tricky, these are urban hippies, flower children with attitude. "We're making sounds for crusties with mobile phones," Edwards laughs. The band refuse the trip-hop label, but acknowledge debts to their trippy forebears.
An appearance on Jools Holland's Later programme in 1996 set the seal on success, as their album, Who Can You Trust?, began to gather sales by word of mouth. On TV, Edwards's arresting baby-face looks, Little House on the Prairie dresses and gentle, lyrical vocals combined perfectly with the thoughtful looping beats and Sixties sitar sounds of the Godfrey brothers.
And more than that, they captured the spirit of a chemical generation starting to come down. Who Can You Trust? was a post-club phenomenon - inventive chill-out music for listening to on the way home from banging techno parties, or in candle-lit sitting rooms over a smoke. Its cover, a paranoid flash of marijuana, captured the mood perfectly. Morcheeba were chilled, alternative, the hippy future for armchair eco-warriors and tired clubbers alike. "We just wanted to make folk music for the 1990s," Edwards says.
SKYE EDWARDS would probably rather be anywhere else in the world at this moment than at home in her flat with a reporter and a photographer. The soft-voiced singer is painfully shy, which is why she usually leaves interviews to the two Godfrey brothers, who make up the rest of the band. She remembers "the Cheebas'" first live performance, at the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town, north London, with a shudder. "It was terrifying," she says. "I just didn't want to be there at all. I still feel like people are out there judging you, and I worry about what they think of me." She took to taking Valerian, a herbal sedative, for comfort. "It worked, but in the end it was bad because I came to depend on it."
The main problem was how to stop giggling nervously: "The more I tried to stop, the more I giggled." She tries to make herself into someone else on stage. "I put my make-up on, get dressed up and tell myself, Now you are `Skye From Morcheeba'. But it's harder to make that change when you're pregnant, because you just keep feeling like you, that girl from east London." Nowadays, she worries less about performing - "I look out at the audience and think it's OK, these are our fans" - and more that she ought to be getting out to glitzy showbiz bashes to promote the band. "The thing is, I would rather just stay in with my kids."
Despite the runaway success of Who Can You Trust?, she still lives in a modest East End tower block. Morcheeba took a decision early on to invest most of their profits in a studio in Clapham, a space in which they could relax and record spontaneously rather than be bound by the strictures of booked time-slots. They have recently added a live room, for impromptu at-home gigs, and Paul Godfrey also lives there. "Paul's in charge of the decor," says Edwards. "He's always off to Ikea."
Edwards grew up in East Ham, where she and her two sisters were fostered after their mother went temporarily into a psychiatric institution. She never really got better, and the sisters ended up staying with their foster parents until they were old enough to leave home. "They brought us up, they were good to us and were parents to us," Edwards says. "I consider them my real family."
Her new family - boyfriend Justin, a 26-year-old musician, and their son, Jaeger, four - accompany her on gigs and tours, and now Kiki will come along too. Jaeger is already able to recognise "Mummy's music" on the stereo. When his mother puts on a track from Who Can You Trust?, he starts leaping chaotically up and down, like a tiny member of the Prodigy. He is named after the clothes chain-store of the same name - "We saw it in the high street and just liked it - it also means `hunter'."
EDWARDS is taking the imminent release of an album - not to mention a new baby - in her stride, but then she is used to life happening all at once. Five years ago she was at a party, minding her own business, when she met both Justin, the father of her children, and the Godfrey brothers, all in one night. She went to the party single, a London College of Fashion graduate who made intricate, sequinned dresses for Japanese ballroom dancers. The friend she was supposed to be meeting was late, and Edwards found herself sitting in a corner, paralysed by shyness. "They sort of rescued me." She began going out with Justin, and the Godfreys, refugees of seaside-town boredom in Hythe, Kent, became part of their close-knit social circle.
Edwards had been moonlighting as a backing singer for Flytrap, a funk band. Saving up money from her dressmaking, she had also bought a guitar, and a teach-yourself guide to playing it. When the Godfrey brothers heard she was a fledgling musician, they asked her to sing with their band. "I'd heard the sort of music they played and I didn't think I would be right for it. I said to them, I haven't got a very loud voice, you know." Her voice is quiet, and caused more than one reviewer to call for "more welly, please" in the band's early days. But the Godfrey brothers have said they both "sort of melted" when they heard it.
Paul, who had been mixing records in his bedroom since the age of 11, had come from five years apprenticeship at a London recording studio, Ross via a Fame-style performing-arts academy. The trio started making music that they liked rather than any particular type, borrowing from a range of different genres, Hendrix and hip-hop, Crosby Stills and Nash and ambient dance. "We didn't know where we would fit into anything anyone else was doing, and we still don't really," says Edwards. She shrugs. "But it seems to be working." Despite this laid-back attitude to making music, however, there was always a mission: "To save songwriting from the rot of trivial abuse." Later Paul Godfrey was to describe their music as "intelligent Britpop".
The band recorded their debut album for pounds 30,000. After a Radio 1 DJ complained that "Trigger Hippy" was too slow, they went back and "pushed all the pedals into the floorboards". They were quickly signed up by a record label called Indochina, and the record leapt into the charts. They accepted the compromise because it was a "carrot on a stick". The revolutionaries were looking to effect change from within - to get into the centre and then run riot. David Byrne was so impressed with their sound that he asked the band to co-produce his next album.
Over half of Big Calm, the follow-up to Who Can You Trust?, was written in "a flash of vodka-fuelled inspiration we had one night". It's exactly what it says on the label - big and calming. But don't be lulled into a false sense of security by the easy-like-Sunday-morning sound. "There's this whole idea that ... bands should get less controversial as they go on," rages a very un-calm Paul Godfrey. "I think about things so differently it makes me fucking furious. The bigger you are, the more risks you should take ... That's what we're trying to do right now, get right into the centre of everything and destroy it from within "
In Morcheeba's revolution, however, it is the meek, the hippies, who will inherit the earth. Asked about the future, Edwards nods her head wisely and says her favourite phrase again, softly: "It's all good."
`Big Calm' (Indochina) is out on 16 Mar.
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