Flash back to the mid-'90s, and the smooth, trip-hop stylings of Portishead, Massive Attack, and Morcheeba were dominating the airwaves and soundtracking countless romantic encounters.
While Portishead and Massive Attack went on to achieve nearly iconic status, Morcheeba seemed to dissolve into the background, flying under most people's radars despite releasing a handful of critically acclaimed albums in the first decade of the new millennium -- their early hit "Trigger Hippie" just a distant, pleasant memory.
This likely had a lot to do with the departure of Morcheeba's velvet-voiced lead singer, Skye Edwards, who's now reunited with original bandmates Paul and Ross Godfrey after departing from the band in 2003. "It was pretty much the height of our career, we had headlined the Glastonbury Festival and the Hollywood Bowl, but all three of us were not getting along so well," Edwards recalls. "They sensed that I was not happy…and then our manager phoned up and said that it's over. But they continued on without me."
Edwards admits that this was a devastating blow at the time, and she felt that her former bandmates had deserted her. She also thought that it negatively impacted the band's fans and left a lot of them scratching their heads at live shows.
"It was weird for a lot of Morcheeba fans, there was no major announcement as such," she says. "It would be like going to see Sade, and Sade not being there."
Flash forward seven years, and the Godfrey brothers asked Edwards to resume her lead vocal duties. "A few years later I was working on my second solo album, [and] they asked me to come back again," Edwards explains. Although she was hesitant about rejoining the group, her husband convinced her to go back. "I was basically bullied by my husband," she says with a laugh. "He said, 'Do it for your fans, Morcheeba and yourself.' As far as I was concerned, I didn't want to go back and I felt like they'd really hurt me. But we had a meeting and I decided to give it a go. I realized they didn't hate me and it was issues among themselves."
Edwards rejoined the band in 2010, when the Godfreys were writing the album "Blood Like Lemonade." Although Edwards brought her trademark smoky, honey-tinged voice to many songs on the album, most of it had been written without her input before she returned to the fold. That makes Morcheeba's new album, Head Up High, the first complete album she has been a part of since her original departure a decade ago. Since then, Edwards has started a family with her bassist husband Steve Gordon, released three solo albums, and is in a very different place than when she left at the height of Morcheeba's popularity.
"It's much better than it was in 2003," she says with relief. "I'm happy being back in the band."
"Head Up High" can be considered a return to form for Morcheeba, while it also explores some new terrain. It features the band's trademark down-tempo rhythms, as well as some screeching guitar solos and notable guest turns from rapper Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, James Petralli of Austin garage-rock outfit White Denim, hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks, and Chilean-French rapper Ana Tijoux.
"Chali did a great rap — we were all jumping up and down when it came through," Edwards says of the tune "Face of Danger," which features a distinctive bluesy style over a hip-hop beat punctuated by Chali's unmistakable baritone rap. "Paul is a huge hip-hop fan. He always tries to get his heroes to work with us, and even though Chali was quite busy he was able to lay down a vocal."
The song "Hypnotized" features an impressive Spanish rap from Tijoux, whom the band discovered in the unlikeliest of places, after her song "1977" appeared in the hugely popular TV show "Breaking Bad."
"Paul was blown away by her rapping style when he heard her on 'Breaking Bad,' and he got in contact with her and she did her bit," Edwards says.
Morcheeba are now gearing up for a European tour that will take them through the end of the year, before heading down under for dates in Australia and New Zealand. Edwards anticipates that the band will return to the States for some tour dates in early 2014.
"We really love touring in America," she says. "I grew up watching a lot of American TV shows. Our first tour in America was a three-month tour and it was so exciting to see the hills in San Francisco, NYPD cars, and buy a hot dog with everything on it!"
Check out the video for Morcheeba's new single, "Gimme Your Love," below.
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- Skye Edwards