Tricky was a poor petty criminal who grew up to be acclaimed as a musical genius. Martina came from a wealthy family, and left her public school to sing with him. As Tricky launches his new project - collabortaions with Björk, Terry Hall, Alison Moyet and ex-Stereo MC Cath Coffey under the name Nearly God - he and Martina talk to THE FACE about their years of living dangerously 

TEXT: Andrew Smith              PHOTOGRAPHY: Jean Baptiste Mondino

As he walked into the TV studio canteen, Tricky's brain squirmed and did a little paranoid flip. He looked round, and saw a room full of hostile, alien faces. "What the fuck are they looking at? What the fuck's wrong with them? Cunts! Yuppies! Bastards - fuck 'em," he shrieked inwardly, the words shivering through him like fingernails scraping the inside of his skull. Then he looked again.
   Actually, he knew these people. Some of them anyway. There was Polly Harvey, her smudged crayon features melted into a smile as she chatted with Nick Cave and Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld. There were people from his record and management companies and there was former Special Terry Hall. here to lend his voice to a lugubrious, Trickified version of his old band's hit, "Ghost Town". And before long, Martina was sitting with her mother at a table in front of him, trying to persuade their 11-month-old daughter, Maisey, to eat something. Everything was OK, after all.
   Tricky sat down, rolled a big spliff and smoked it.

One hour later and everyone's still in the canteen, waiting to soundcheck for tonight's recording of The White Room. Tricky's flitting flirting about the room, perfectly at home now, while Martina sits quietly at another table with Maisey and mum. Martina is hard to make out at this stage; there's a distant about her, which could be taken as haughtiness, shyness, or the fatigue associated with bringing up a small child more or less on her own. Because, judging from her body language when Maisey's wiry dad comes over to play, her relationship with him hasn't much improved since the point last year when it looked like even their artistic liaison might be in tatters. "He [Tricky] has certainly retained a lot child-like qualities," she muttered darkly to the NME at the end of a strained US tour. This is something Tricky admits. "You know, I think it's a lot easier to pick up a gun and put it in someone's face than it is to pick up your child and give her love," he will reflect. "That's scary, really tough: this is yours and that's it, final, no way out, no way back," he adds, unconsciously repeating something his own father might have said about him, years ago.
   But more of that later.
   The first few weeks after the baby was born, he tried to run away from it all. Every now and then, he confesses, he still does, disappearing for a few days of "collapsing in bars and clubs". But he clearly loves Maisey, walking along delightedly behind her as she takes her first steps, ready to catch her if she falls. The kid in him is still never far away, though. One time,when people's attention has turned to Harvey and Cave on the TV monitor, he hauls the laughing girl on to his shoulders, seemingly trying to win it back. Martina watches him wearily. She and Tricky live separately now, and aside from parental duties their relationship is predominantly professional - though, on the evidence, it is no less intense than it was in its
extraordinary infancy.

It was conflict that made the pair's first album, 

"Maxinquaye", what it was - the most breathtakingly rich and ambitious record released in Britain last year. They were perfect foils for each other. They had nothing in common in their lives and few musical meeting points. She, who is often seen as Tricky's muse, though she is in fact much more than that, loved the same punkish American rock as her predominantly white, middle-class schoolmates at Clifton College, one of the most expensive public school in the country - Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, Smashing Pumpkins. He was a hip hop-loving, dubby, clubby nightbird, although he would listen to anything, having spent his youth drifting between his black, Jamaican-British friends and his white cousin's posse of skinhead lager boys. ("That's why my music doesn't sound black or white and why the 2 Tone thing meant so much to me. People forget how much more integrated everything is now," he explains.)
   Anyway, "Maxinquaye" was special. Tricky was disappointed not to have received a Brit award for it - he also thought Jarvis was bang out of order, incidentally - but he can't complain about the amount of respect it won. This strikes home afresh when, during the soundcheck, an acquaintance comes and asks what I'm doing here. "I'm with Tricky," I reply. A passing Iggy Pop stops and gushes, "Oh, you're playuhn with Tericky - that's kool! I love his stuff." Iggy may have just made a duff album, but he has taste. Such acclaim, though, creates a monster problem for Tricky. How do you follow a debut like that? Especially when the woman whose voice lent your scared, scarred lyrics such sensual urgency will hardly speak to you?

   After tonight's recording is finished, Tricky will go round to the house of Dave Dorrell (seminal Eighties DJ and now manager of Brit-rockers Bush) for a drink and a smoke, then on to the Subterania club, where he will get "completely fucked". "I started at the TV thing," he says later, "more out of nerves before going onstage. Then you're feeling alright, so you want to have more." In an oiled half-sleep the next morning, he will have a dream, where someone is trying to make him release one of his songs as a single, but he doesn't want to because he "loves it too much". The song is "I Be The Prophet" and it's from an album he's about to issue under the monicker Nearly God.
   "Nearly God" (the album) by Nearly God (the group of artists) is on Tricky's own label, Durban Poison (named after a particularly potent brand of smoke), and features ten tracks, sung in conjunction with Tricky by a range of guest artists. These include Martina, Björk, Terry Hall, Cath Coffey (of Stereo MCs renown) and Alison Moyet, and the results sound like the darker moments from "Maxinquaye", teased out and tormented. We settle into an unoccupied office and Tricky starts rolling up ("I'm giving this stuff up," he announces boldly, as he fires up his fourteenth spliff). His pronounced Bristol accent makes him seem even more boyish and eager than he did before. Terry Hall comes in and falls asleep on a shelf to our side.

Where did the name Nearly God come from? It was from a bloke who interviewed me in Germany last year. He came in and said, "So how does it feel to be God?", then stopped and went, "Well, nearly God."

Why didn't this album have your name on the sleeve? I needed it to come out, but Island would never let me release two Tricky albums in the same year. I have a clause in my contract saying that I can release any record I like under another name. So Durban Poison is my way of pressurising the record company, giving me a bit of power. It also keeps me interested, stops me from getting sucked into the old business cycle. All it takes is a year in this business and you're totally disillusioned.

What do you mean? Well, like Radio 1 won't play me because they think my stuff is too dark and slow and moody. That creates a temptation to compromise. Everyone's pretending, trying to project images. You've got a lot of people from art college singing about things they've never experi enced. I like to keep my music real.

What's "real" about a pop song? Not designing records to sell. Shaun Ryder said something mad to me at the Brits awards. He said, "Listen, we're ugly." And I can agree with that. What I think he meant was that our energy isn't always pleasant, it's not all light. It's good that ugly people can get through...

It was reported that Damon Albarn had his collaboration with you removed from the album. I think he's paranoid. We did it quickly, and I would agree that it's an unfinished track. But I'm not worried about that.

You've said in the past that you have to fuck things up, is this album the big fuck-off? Yeah, yeah. It's me running away, really. In Australia, they were calling me "Lord of the slow beats". I find things like that really scary, so I did this album with no beats. I'm like a naughty kid. I'm running away all the time.

Have your and Martina's different backgrounds created tension? Yeah, that's why it works musically. A lot of my lyrics ain't nothing to do with public school. So to have her, a public school girl singing them... I think it makes it strange, not traditional. On the whole,

she totally understands what I'm about and I totally understand what she's about. It made it difficult to get her to sing "I'll fuck you in the ass / Just for a laugh..." and things like that.

Did Martina have a problem with that line? Yeah, you know, I was just saying to her, look you might be singing... but it's not you. If you start thinking like that, I feel like you're starting to think too much of yourself. You're playing characters - why can't you say "fuck you in the ass"? That's like people's opinions stopping you from doing something. It's like another form of conditioning, know what I mean?

It's interesting that "Maxinquaye" is often thought of as sexy. Your take on sex seems as ugly/honest/confused as your attitude to human relations generally. There again, different classes of people might like to shag to different things. Maybe going down into the ghetto to shag with your missus, if you're normally prim and proper, you can get off on that. Maybe the hint of danger in "Maxinquaye" is exciting to some people. I don't know. I can't see how it's sexy.

Sex and sexuality often seem to be viewed as dangerous, disorientating commodities in your songs. But I think sex is dangerous, not because of HIV and Aids, but it's almost like striking a blow to someone. Nothing will ever be the same again between two people after that. That's why most people at weekends are pissed out of their heads. When you're drunk, it's easier to laugh it down, to relax about this sexual tension that follows us around.

Have you had a lot of bad sexual experiences? No... not bad experiences. Not really. I know sometimes I've wondered, what the fuck are you doing this for, what's the point?

There were a lot of rumours about you and Björk. There was a lot of rumours.

Were they true? (long pause)

At Reading last year, she appeared to imply that they were. I'd left by then. She probably said "Why can't he love me?" or that I was too scared to love. The kind of things she always says about me.

If "Nearly God" was being offered up as the second Tricky album, it might seem inadequate. But as a series of detailed sketches, as an unex pected gift, it works. Certainly, "Poems", with words and vocals by Terry Hall (with Tricky and Martina), is as mesmeric as anything he's made. The other performances by Hall, Cherry, Björk and Coffey (again, all with Tricky) range from inspired to interesting. Only Alison Moyet jars a bit. And anyway, this might be the last taste we get of Tricky's trademark quiet psychosis. The next album proper is already recorded and he describes it as "fast and punky, full of manic tension, like a musical version of the film Jacob's Ladder, or a council tower block".
   But it's still the presence of Martina on three tunes that sets "Nearly God" alight. Tricky speaks of trying to bring out her "aura" when they record. It's strange, because she is not naturally charismatic. Her aura only appears when she opens her mouth to sing. Then, it glows like ball lightning. In fact, the closer you get to these unlikely partners in rhyme, the more you realise what an odd alliance they were to begin with - she all poise and public school-educated reserve, tall, elegant and collected; he short, bruised and bruised-looking, hyperactive and painfully 
intuitive, spluttering rage one minute and innocent good humour the next. She'll talk about the strains of doing four A levels; he has read one book in his life, a biography of Bob Marley. She is everything he isn't. But then, he is everything she isn't.
   And he doesn't want me to talk to Martina. His management and record company are nervous about the idea. The official line is that Nearly God is his thing, and she's just a guest vocalist like all the others. Is he a touch threatened by her, or are the people around him being over-protective? It's hard to be sure. Either way, about an hour before she and the others are due to perform, an opportunity arises to steal upstairs to Martina's dressing room. Her mum has just taken Maisey home, and she's having her hair done. She is welcoming, well-spoken, and friendly.
   Martina is the youngest of a large brood, which includes two sisters, a brother and two step brothers. Two of the brothers are in a group called Outtro. Her step-father is creative director in an advertising agency. Her biological father is also in advertising. She was singing from an early age, in choirs and later in a school jazz band. She's still only 20 to Tricky's 28.

The story about meeting Tricky when you were sifting on a wall out side your school - that's not true is it? (laughing) Yeah, really true! He just walked up the path making some sarky comment about smoking in a school uniform.

What did you think when you first saw him? (mutters) Dirty geezer. Stay away from that bloke... I don't know, I'd lived a fairly sheltered life, really. I didn't know anybody outside of school, because it's such an enclosed society.

You couldn't have met many people like Tricky. I still don't know anybody like him (smiles). At the time I was finding all that really stifling at the school, it was just so boring, such a cliche. So we met that day and I went round to his house a couple of weeks later. Tricky was out but Mark Stewart [former singer with the apocalyptic post-punk band The Pop Group] was there - he'd known Tricky since he was about 15. So I was banging on the door pissed out of my head on Merrydown. I climbed in through a window and we must have spoken about the band I was in, because next time Tricky was, like, oh, you're a singer.

You hadn't spoken about music first time? No, the first time we'd met was only for, like, five minutes.

So he'd just been chatting you up. Ha ha. I thought the house he was living in was kind of dodgy, and maybe it was in some ways, but it was open, there were always people round there coming and going, hanging out. I was 

about to turn 16 and I'd never met people like these. It was such a laidback atmosphere. When we did the album, there were no record companies around, no managers, no contracts, there was just music.

And it was exciting? Yeah, because in the beginning, our ideas about what you should and shouldn't be doing with music were the same. We were really excited by each other.

And your different lives didn't matter? I think we shocked each other sometimes with what we would come out with, and with our expectations.

Are you surprised by the situation you find yourself in? Yeah, I always thought I'd do this, but in my own time. I found it hard at first. When I first went on tour I found it really lonely. I found it easier just to sit in my hotel room all day. When you have a baby, you can't do that, a baby keeps your ego in check. It's been a positive thing for me, because I actually have some memories of a tour now, rather than it just being a blur of nondescript places.

What did your friends and family think of Tricky? Some thought he was dodgy, and that I was mad, and that pissed me off. My parents obviously wanted me to carry on with school

Did they blame him for your leaving? Blame? No, I think they understand that everyone's responsible for their own decisions. I'm so glad that I'm involved in something like this. If I hadn't done this I might have been brainwashed into being in some soul outfit, or something.

There had been talk of meeting up with Tricky the day after the White Room session. He was due for an acting lesson in the morning, in preparation for a substantial role he's taken in a film being made by Luc Besson. That meeting never happened and Tricky would probably have been too hungover to say much anyway. We wouldn't see each other again until the photo shoot on Tuesday.
   In the meantime, I tried to get in touch with his old sparring partner, 3D from Massive Attack. When Tricky left that collective, 3D had told him, in Tricky's words, that "if you leave Massive Attack, you'll never do anything. You can't even get up in the morning. You'll never make an album." Rumour has it that Massive were put out by the way "Maxinquaye" eclipsed their "Protection" album last year (even if they did get a Brit and he didn't). I wanted to ask 3D why he'd underestimated his old bandmate, and what his impressions of him had been at the time. He, 
reasonably enough, called Tricky to ask if it was OK to talk. The next thing I knew, his manager, Debbie Swainson, had hit the roof. I called her.
   "We weren't told about this," she said.
   Why would you be?
   "Because it's not consistent with what we're trying to achieve," she replied. 
   Well. What are we trying to achieve? I just want to find out who Tricky is. 
   At the shoot, Tricky makes no reference to any of this. He's his usual effusive self. The only hint that he knows what's gone on comes when I ask, for no particular reason, if Martina and Cath are here. "Why, do you want to talk to them?" he responds sulkily. No, I say, I want to talk to you. He brightens up. We go to the canteen, where other patrons smile and admire his striking silver make-up, and find a secluded berth. He's been smoking, and he's bright-eyed and a bit speedy.

What five words would you choose to describe yourself: Comedian, liar, funny, cynical... real.

Have you ever had sex with someone you didn't like? Yeah.

Why? Probably because I could have sex with them. That's always a thing with a man. If you can have sex with someone...

Did you like them any better afterwards? No, it made me hate them afterwards. It made me really hate them afterwards.

Are you bad at saying "no"? I'm getting better as I get older. The trouble starts when you start getting a conscience. When I was younger, I could do anything and not worry.

Have you ever refused to forgive someone for something? Yeah, but then I've realised that I need to be forgiven for a lot of things, so I've always given in. There are certain things... but then it ends up becoming a weight on top of your own head. If you hate someone for long enough - and I know about hating, I do lay in bed and think... I had this thing about energy once: I really thought energy could doharm to people. I used to do silly things, like do loads of press-ups and then stare at myself in the mirror while I thought about someone I hated and hope what I was thinking about them was coming true. So I do know about hating. But it just becomes your own burden. It starts tearing you up.

What caused that? Boredness, probably. Being at home and smoking too much spliff.

What irritated you most about your father when you were a teenager? I never had those problems. I didn't know him...

When did he leave? He left just after my mother [who was half white, half Ghanaian] died, when I was about four. After that, I was passed around between relatives in different 

parts of Bristol and I didn't see him again until I was 12. I was looking through the phone book one day - I used to sit around doing things like that when I was little - and I saw my name [Adrian Thaws]. My aunty said, "That's your dad." So I phoned up and said, "It's your son." We met the next weekend and I saw him four times after that. I haven't seen him in five years now: I'm not even sure he knows what I'm doing.

Is that weird for you? You know what's really weird? I just saw him at clubs in St Pauls, with his mates. He'll go, "Awwww, alright son?" That was weird. It was like seeing a mate from school. He'd be smoking a spliff with a woman. He's a ladies' man, still, to this day.

Did you feel rejected by him? No. But I was kind of fascinated for a time. I'd just sit and watch him and think, "This is my dad, I'm a piece of him."

What's the most insulting thing anyone ever said to you? That I sound like Portishead.

Who do you most admire? I don't think people are made for admiring. I don't like people very much. I think we're all fucking crap, a bit of a waste of time, really. They always disappoint you, turn out not to be what you thought they were.

A psychiatrist would say that was because you don't like yourself. That's the thing. I remember just about a year and a half ago, just as every thing started lifting off, I hated the sight of my own reflection in the mirror or in the windows going down the high street. But I can be quite egotistical. I love my talent. I've got quite a high opinion of myself sometimes. At others... I don't know why it is. 'Cause you can say anything to anybody and it doesn't mean anything. Have you ever told someone you loved them and not really meant it?

Yes. See? Words don't mean anything. They mean absolutely nothing.

Words don't mean anything, then, but they are also the things Tricky loves above all else. There's a kind of existential beauty in this, as there is to Tricky's life generally. He was deserted by his parents at the age of four, and brought up by his maternal grandmother who believed he was the reincarnation of his mother and, before his teens, would often sit for long periods of time silently gazing at him. She also used to enccurage him to sit up with her late into the night watching horror films on m; and then write sick notes for school so that he could sleep late in the mcrning, and spend the next day at home with her. He says he doesn't reme~ber much about his life then, but at the age of four, a child takes in everytttng. If you listen, you can still hear that angry, conlused kid in his music. I think the source of his confusion may be the source of his gift. They may be one and the same thing. "If I'm weird," he says, "it's because life had made me weird." Is Tricky  weird, or just unusually sensitive?
  Walking back to the studio from the canteen, he starts talking excitedly about the next album. It does sound exciting. As we sit waiting for the lights to be adjusted, he pours some tea and begins quoting from it. One runs: "Before you test, know what's going on / I've been a writer for long, my evil is strong / I lie awake and hate you, maybe that's strong enough to make you / Something happen, a car crash, make you pay with a weapon / A gun in your mouth, my voice in your mind / Sleep and I'll find you, just put my mind to / My funny valentine, I never find you funny..."
   "There's some mad, mad, angry shit in there," he says. Then he shakes his head and smiles, as though it's come from somewhere else.

"Nearly God" is released on April 22

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 photos: Jean Baptiste Mondino

analyze me (Tricky)
Tricky concertography
Tricky biography
Tricky solo discography part 1 (1991-1998)
Tricky solo discography part 2 (1999-2005)