Interview with Ross Godfrey of Morcheeba

An interview with Ross Godfrey of Morcheeba, conducted shortly after their stint on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour. Be sure to also check out our interview with Skye Edwards about the Skye and Ross album as well as Skye discussing her solo debut.

How did Lilith Fair go?

Ross Godfrey: “It went ok, I think, as well as it could, me being a man on a woman’s tour. It’s a bit bizarre.”

Being on the second stage, you had a fairly short set. How did you decide what to play?

Ross Godfrey: “We flipped a dice. We stuck to the same set, we’re not one to really take the time to move sets around. Basically, we do it when we get really bored with the sets. It was only five gigs, so it didn’t get that tedious.”

How does something like Lilith Fair compare to the big music festivals in Europe?

Ross Godfrey: “It was more like just a normal gig, with popcorn and hot dogs. We’ve just done a string of about 25 festivals in Europe. For example, in Glastonbury in England it was knee deep in mud with 7 outdoor stages and nearly half a million people. We played on the jazz stage and there were between 10 and 15 thousand people there to see us and it was pouring down rain the whole time. So that was pretty wild. We’ve played festivals in France and Belgium and Italy, and they were pretty cold. We played the Montreux Jazz Festival, and that was pretty bizarre. Festivals aren’t really my scene unless I go as one of the audience and get really out of my mind! That’s the best way to enjoy festivals, and when you play there’s always a thing in the back of your mind that you can’t get too drunk.”

How would you say your music has changed since the first album?

Ross Godfrey: “The songs got more complex because we’d been listening to a lot of Cat Stevens and Nick Drake and people like that. We were trying to evolve from just having one chord strung all the way through with lyrics written over it to having choruses and middle eighths and things like that. We were trying to arrange in a more dynamic way. It’s still pretty linear, but we’re getting there slowly.”

What’s the creative process like within the band?

Ross Godfrey: “I write all the music, my brother Paul writes the lyrics and the concepts for the subject matter on songs. We get together and just sort of bash things out and then we give Skye the lyrics and a tape of the music and she does the melody. Sometimes Skye comes up with ideas for the string arrangement and stuff like that. Mainly it’s just me and Paul getting really drunk. We wrote most of Big Calm in one night.”

Since you write so quickly, do you find yourself with more ideas than you know what to do with?

Ross Godfrey: “I always have too many ideas that I don’t know what to do with, but generally we just go on the road and get drunk every night and the ideas fade after a while [laughs]. It took us two months to make Big Calm and we’d just come off the road from the first album. We recorded it in two months and went on the road again. It’s just frustrating because it takes so long, to go around the world, to go from being a band that no one knows to a band that people buy records from. It’s a very big jump to make.”

Do you work out the material with a full band before entering the studio?

Ross Godfrey: “When we record. I play all the instruments. So it’s kind of in my head, really. When we play live I just tell the people what to play and they kind of do their own interpretation of it. If I like it, I carry on doing it, and if I don’t like it I tell them to stop. We play songs like “The Sea” and “Blindfold” live before we recorded them, we’d written them and wanted to see how they sounded. We were already on the road and there was no way to get into the studio to record it. Which was frustrating, because we own our own recording studio and usually when we write stuff we record it straight away.”

Are they any songs that don’t adapt to the live setting?

Ross Godfrey: “Yeah, we never play “Shoulder Holster” live because there are samples and we don’t take any technology on the road. We’re a live rock and roll band with a scratch DJ. I think maybe next year we’re going to have to get some MIDI pads for the drums to beef up the drum sounds. “Shoulder Holster” has too many synthesizers squelching all the way through it. It’s hard to do with a guitar and a Fender Rhodes piano.”

Do you enjoy touring?

Ross Godfrey: “I love playing, the time that you spend on stage is fantastic. It’s just the time you spend hanging around dressing rooms all day, every day. I remember reading this thing on the Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts about being in Rock and Roll for 25 years. He said, well it’s been about 5 years of Rock and Roll and 20 years of hanging around.”

You worked with David Byrne – how did that come about?

Ross Godfrey: “We’d just finished our first record and we weren’t sure if anyone was going to like it or not. We got a phone call from David Byrne in New York, saying he loved the record and could we produce his album. Which was very bizarre, since we’d only just produced our own record and never anyone else. And David Byrne was one of our all-time favorite musical heroes, one of the best in the world, and he was asking us to work with him. It was very, very strange at the time. He came over and met us, to see our studio and stuff, just to check that we weren’t completely mad drug addicts [laughs] and when he realized that we were mad drug addicts he decided to have us do the work anyway. We just came over and spent like three weeks working on his record. He’s sent us a DAT with like 30 songs on it, him playing acoustic guitar to a drum machine. That was very bizarre as well, it’s not very often that you get to hear David Byrne’s bedroom demos. Then we recorded 9 songs with him and had a lot of fun doing it. We got to experiment very much, he didn’t seem to be too precious about letting us get wild on it. I was playing the sitar, and we got this guy Pierre La Rue to play Cajun fiddle on it. Paul played some drums and loops, so we had hip-hop beats with Indian sitar and cajun violin and banjos, he was sort of yodling over the top … it’s a really bizarre mixture of music that works reasonably well. I think my favorite track is “Daddy Go Down”

Do you do production work for other artists?

Ross Godfrey: “Sort of. Mainly for bands that haven’t got record deals yet. We’re thinking of starting a production house, because there are so many bands in England that we want to help out. The Record companies are too dumb to work out if the bands are actually good and all they need is some studio time. A lot of bands have gone off to get half a million pound major label record deals. So it would be nice if we could set a company up ourselves and license stuff out. There are 4 or 5 acts we want to work with. Also, we’re producing Jim White, who is an act of David Byrne’s label. We toured for a while with Jim White and we’re hopefully going to produce 3 or 4 of the tracks on his next album. We’ve had a lot of offers from very famous pop stars to do production work, but normally we can kind of foresee that there’s no way it will ever work. We’re very picky and we’re only going to do it if we really love the persons music. Because there’s no use doing something we’re not going to be passionate about because we’re not going to do a very good job.”

What were you doing before Morcheeba?

Ross Godfrey: “I was playing my guitar in bands, before that I was in school. I started playing with bands when I was about 12, and Paul was the same. He had a hip-hop crew and used to release records on his own label, called Compton Capers. Paul got a job as a recording engineer at a local studio, and every weekend during downtime we’d go in and do demos and try producing and writing. We got some record company interest. When I was 15 I moved to London to go to a music college, but it didn’t work out and I convinced Paul to move up with me and we started doing recordings and then we met Skye, our singer. I was about 18 then, and we signed a record contract pretty much straight away. So there wasn’t a really big gap between me leaving school and getting a record deal. Sky had done backing vocals in a funk band called Fly Trap and she also was into the fashion industry, designing dresses for ballroom dancing and things like that.”

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Ross Godfrey: “You can put something about our website. People can leave messages for us. My brother reads them, I don’t normally read them myself. I don’t have a computer. I’ve got a digital watch, though. He normally writes back to people, sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s weird. I’ve got this strange girl from Italy who keeps writing to me, and he keeps writing back saying let’s get married, pretending to be me. I don’t think she believes him.”

Be sure to also check out our interview with Skye Edwards about the Skye and Ross album.