Steve McQueen: Well, the first thing I want to say to you... I think, I mean how do you feel you're doing, exactly? What you want to do, and that's amazing... and what's so amazing about it to me is an artist to get financially rewarded for it, I mean that is amazing.
Tricky: I feel so lucky and blessed. It's good, it keeps me humble, because I wake up every day and it's like I feel I'm lucky to have a record deal, even though you get a lot of acclaim and things, I still feel like I'm lucky to have a record deal. And to do what I want is I'm so lucky, and it's all by accident really. I fumbled my way into Island Records and they wanted to sign me but I was this mouthy young kid and said "these are the conditions", you know, I doubt you're going to get any radio-friendly music, but if you wanna sign me, and I was really lucky with the people I had. I had Chris Blackwell and Julian Palmer. A friend of mine at Island is Darcus B, and these people become friends of mine and they're the people who run the company. So I lucked out, and I think they were smart in that like Chris and Julian Palmer especially, the more extreme I was the more they could see. I gave them my mistakes, made people interested in me.
SMQ: Your mistakes are what I'm interested in, all the time. Whatever people want to call it, mistakes or whatever, that's it - and what interests me about your work is that you remind me of Miles Davis. Miles for me is a guy who just do what he want, turning his back on the audience, writing what he wants to write, but also being so influential. But also he's got these followers and what I mean by that is he changed music about three times and you've changed it once already - and how old are you?
SMQ: Yeah, 31, and you've changed it once already, and he's like changed it three times, so we'll see. The next odd sixty years or so you'll keep going. You know, I'm not an interviewer; I can't do that interview shit. I'm just so fascinated in how, you know, when you're in a studio, when you're at home, what you're thinking about, how the sounds come out, the images etc.
T: Basically, keyboards. I muck about - I'm just like a kid playing around. I love playing with keyboards and stuff, and before you know it you've got a sound you like, and I'll record it. And then I'll play with a different sound and I'll record it on top. I love playing with sounds. I love listening to sounds, and I'm still really, I really do love what I'm doing. When you're making music you don't think about anything else. You spend three hours or so and for that three hours you're lost. It's a beautiful getaway, you know, from getting away from everything.
SMQ: I also want to, just coming back, you left London, you left Bristol, you left Britain basically, and you're living in New York now. Why did you leave?
T: Um... I got bored. I loved London, you know. When I first got here, I loved London. It was exciting, but with my success, and I was going to certain clubs and hanging out with certain people, and, you know, it wasn't me. It really wasn't me. Like all of a sudden you're in a club and you're surrounded by producers, producers, directors, producers. It's like I got a bit lonely, surrounded by people who liked me because I was Tricky. I felt like I had to run away.
SMQ: But when you talk about your music and what you said before, what you're saying I can just feel this kind of *** knowledge when you speak of this situation. You're kind of rounded, you know, you're aware, you use your nose, your senses, more than anything else. I hope I do it - it gives you an edge. You go with the feel.
T: That's exactly what happens. When I'm recording, say, whoever I'm recording, say like a vocal, I write words and it'd be this length and, you know, I'd give the words to the singer and then listen to it, and there would be a chorus in there. You'd hear a chorus. There'd be one part of the vocal that would stand out, and I'd see that as a chorus. I'd just think chorus. Everything happens. I just feel it rather than direct the music. I let the music direct me. Music is - I know it sounds mad, but it's magic. You know what I mean. Like, you know, just to sit back and listen to something, and it'll tell you what it means. It'll speak to you. A melody will be there. You've just got to follow the music.
SMQ: Tell me about your instrument, your voice. I'm fascinated by your voice, your singing voice. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?
T: Like a year ago I can remember someone said to me once, "Watch my voice". Cause from Massive Attack it's got a lot different - you know, it's gone down. But when I was a lot younger I used to go out with this girl. We were about fifteen, and we were playing around and she put her fingers down my throat, trying to make me be sick. You know, we were drunk, and she cut my throat. I went to see a throat doctor. I got a lump in my throat. I can leave it or take it out, but he said if I take it off, I will be able to sing like hit top notes, like opera. I asked a few people round, and they said don't do it. I'm a frustrated singer - I've always wanted to be able to sing.
SMQ:You sing beautifully, and that's not wank talking people. Really beautifully.
T: The grass is always greener. So I'll listen to people like Bob Marley or John Lennon or Prince and I get gutted cause I'd love to be able to sing a song like that. But everyone around me is like saying "don't do it, don't do it". So I'm not going to bother. Maybe like when I'm forty or something.
SMQ: What, like change your voice? That's mad. That's a fantastic idea.
T: Yeah, it would be a different career. Because I've just found a different career, it's weird. I've had a thing called candida. When I did Maxinquaye I'm asthmatic. I've been given from a young kid courses of antibiotics and steroids, and after a while it just breaks your immune system down, so things like sugar, milk, can't be digested any more, and you develop this thing called candida. It makes your moods - you go real dark. You know, they say eight or nine schizophrenics in hospital are starting off with candida, but society really don't know enough about candida, so instead of treating it with diet, they treat it with medication. And it's like a certain medication... there's this thing called dorphins - endorphins, and it's like it's a relaxing drug, the psychiatrist gives you, and it was made up by Hitler, invented by Hitler's peoples. It's kind of like a controlling thing, and they say there's more chance of getting raped on a psychiatrist's bed than in any street in New York, know what I mean? A lot of dark stuff.
T: Cause you know, it's drug dealing, innit?
T: Like, I haven't had an asthma attack since I controlled my blood.
SMQ: And you found that out in the States?
T: Not just because of the States. I found out from being a person from having no money to having money.
SMQ: Precisely that, paying...
T: Pay for a doctor and then, all of a sudden you go to a... when you're getting health for free, they're just giving antibiotics and steroids, but when you're paying for doctors they're saying to me "How many years have you been using antibiotic steroids? This is not good for you." So with my candida my music got darker, so I've been making music in a state of madness. I did go to a state of madness - I wanted to jump out of a window a year and a half ago. And now I'm controlling it all. I did Maxinquaye and then Pre-Millennium Tension when I started getting sick, I went down. And now I'm coming out. It's almost like I've had two careers. I'm lucky - it's like the Maxinquaye thing, and then there's the dark side, and now I've got better and my music's changing again.
SMQ: Sure. Would you say the political of that was your third album, the one that you... I've forgotten the title... Tricky.
T: Angels With Dirty Faces.
SMQ: That. Because a lot of people said that was like hard and dark and... but it was brilliant.
T: I thought it was the blues.
SMQ: Yeah, total.
T: I thought it was the blues. It's funny, like... some people, a lot of people, loved Maxinquaye, and those people can get into Pre-Millennium Tension and Angels, and there are people who are really into Angels, and some people say my best album is Nearer To God. And I kind of like that, like everybody's got their own...
SMQ: Yeah, yeah.
T: And that's down to...
SMQ: Sure, sure. I thought that your last album is fantastic... it's sort of... it seems sort of total reckless confidence...
T: Yeah, I really felt like that I really don't care, it's like... it's mad. I used to think that when you go to the industry, you're led to believe that success is videos, cars, such like that. It's like, I've got a house with two acres of land that my daughter runs around, and I mean that's success. So when I realised I've got a beautiful kid, that's success. Know what I mean? So I realised what success is - success is being happy. Do you know what I mean? You can have as many cars as... but success is definitely about being happy, and I realised that over the last year. So I just feel stronger; I can do what I want. I don't need your chart success; I don't need to be at the top of the charts for you to tell me I'm successful. It's like, it's funny, I mean I was nominated for six Brits, and the same year, the same year I went to America, I was nominated for eight Brits. But I'm a lot happier now than I've ever been. So it's like "I don't need to top the charts; I know I'm successful, because I'm happy."
SMQ: I think that... when I read that you'd left the country, I thought, this guy's very bright, he's doing something at the right time for the right reasons. Sometimes you just need that distance. I find now that living in Amsterdam... I travel a bit, and I don't basically... you know, I'm back in London once a month or once every two months, see my mum and things, whatever, that you get a real understanding of who you are to a certain extend, and also where you come from. And also to a certain extent you get a sense of Britain and British people and English people and London people and all that kind of... Everyone's kind of, like I say, how fucking small-minded we are.
T: Oh definitely. And people don't like you to say that in England.
T: But I feel I can say that because I'm English and I'm talking about myself.
T: And I'm totally... we are small-minded. It's like crazy, it's just so... people in America, you can have a dream and you can become anything and do anything you want. Your dreams can come true - but only to a certain degree in England until someone stamps on it; know what I mean, your dream just gets trampled on and you wake up to reality.
SMQ: And also the class system here, you know, people go on about it and all that, but it is in effect big-time still.
T: It is big-time. See, in America you've got money, that wipes out all class systems for me. And I'd rather have it like that, to be honest with you, in some ways. And it's like here, I know this is mad, I was in a place yesterday, and when I first went in, you know, there was only three black guys in there, and it's not even a racial thing but it's a class thing. If I'd been with three black guys and three white guys it'd be the same thing. And I just noticed no-one was interested in us at all. I don't mean... you go out and you look at people... I'm not saying socialise but kind of getting more spiritual. I could see these people walking towards us and kind of looking at us like... But then people found out who I was.
SMQ: Well, this happens to me very often. In certain areas it becomes like that, yeah. But tell me about... I'm interested in how people see you. I mean, you're a black guy...
T: Yeah. But it's funny, I've only ever felt I was a black guy since I've been in the music industry. Before I entered this industry... Because I grew up with a very mixed-race society in a mixed-race family. But when I entered this industry, I realised I was black for the first time ever - it was ridiculous, but I realised what racism was.
SMQ: You mean at school, you didn't realise what racism was?
T: Oh, only stupid things like someone might call you a name and you'd have to fight them or something.
SMQ: What, teachers, the system, stuff like that?
T: No, it was very strange. I mean, I come from a place called Norwest and very old-fashioned things like this part of Bristol was so old-fashioned, so it was like everyone was in the shit, and because you were so in the shit... everyone was busy because they didn't have no money. And if you got all of Norwest, and there wasn't a rich part. So everyone was poorer, and these guys would just go out drinking and fighting. And it didn't matter who it was with, and it was really weird because like it was crazy, because I grew up in a white community, there was only about five black families, and I didn't really experience any racism. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I didn't experience any racism. But then when I got into the music industry, that was a different thing, because it was white people telling me it existed. But, you know, I remember on Maxinquaye thinking like these bands in the charts now, I was saying to Julian Palmer - he'd say "these bands sound like you", and I'd say "Julian, if these bands sound like me, how come I get into the charts but I don't get radio play? And he'd go "It's because you're black, Tricky". I say "What are you talking about?" He goes: "Cause you're black. Massive Attack, it helps because they've got a front boy who's white. And stuff like that, Portishead, they're white."
SMQ: Listen, it's like when Hendrix did it all... the whole black band, what was it called, that band? I can't remember. People were trying to put him away, saying "You've got to have your white drummer and your white bass guitar". When Hendrix went black, it was fine, because he was so powerful, popular, avant-garde and all black. So therefore in that situation it becomes a fear, there's a real fear of that - I don't know why that is.
T: Yes, it's really weird - I've only just started selling to black people.
SMQ: So you think being in America, you think that helped?
T: Definitely. Because there's a stronger black community there. The community there has got respect, the black community has money.
SMQ: But do you think your music changed when you went to the States?
T: I think it's definitely changed, but not because of... just because it's a different environment. So I don't think there's a change... I've got a new song that sounds a little bit Hispanic and I mean, I've been hanging out with Hispanic kids, black kids, Asians, it's like being a kid again. I grew up... I remember I must have been like fourteen, and in my little firm of friends there were like Asians, we had two Greek boys, there was an Italian boy who went to a Catholic school, you had Pakistanis, black, a couple of kids half-caste, so it's like it is now, I see kids of all colours and races...
SMQ: That's the beautiful thing about America, New York, at least for me, because you know I can speak to this girl and her mother's from Ireland and her father's from Venezuela, and you know, this guy comes from Russia, these mixes, and it's just wonderful.
T: It breaks down racism.
SMQ: And also you learn more, you learn more about each other, certain cultures and situations, in a very kind of round way.
T: That's the future of society, that's the future of England, that's how England's going to have to be.
SMQ: It'll have to be. I mean, London maybe. It's weird how resistant...
T: The main cities kind of do that - all these different people are coming to the big cities and in the smaller towns it doesn't happen so much. But I think London's going to have to, it's going to go that way...
SMQ: Has to.
T: ...because people are mixing race. And it's like wild, it's like in Newark, round a corner of Newark there's a black community and an Indian section, and in a place called West Orange y'got Indians and black people living side by side like it's nothing.
SMQ: Don't people want you back here? People in general, do they want you back?
T: I felt like that one time, and now sometimes I feel like I've been forgotten about almost. That's why I was really complimented about this.
T: In the press there was a bit of "Tricky's betrayed England", and you know what's mad is I love England, because one of the reasons I'm successful in America is because I'm English, and that makes me different straight away. So I've never really left this place, I just had to get out for a while. It's like it's really weird - you know you get nominated for a Brit. And it's so uptight, English people are so uptight with themselves.
SMQ: Like Bowie, he went to LA, he went to Berlin, he just bought a place... he's just come back. But I think Bowie's had his time, and that's that. He's more of a...
T: He's a good man and everything, but like I said his changing things has been done. His time has come. And I think they've seen it as a big kind of "fuck you", almost. And what's mad is I think if I'd stayed here the press would have crucified me.
SMQ: I think you're over-estimating a bit because people will always... that last album got a lot of good reviews which I was pleased about. And surprised.
T: People think I have a problem with the English press, but I love the English press. Because they're the people who made me. Obviously, I don't like some people in the press but the English press have said some of the nicest things ever about me. So how can I not like the English press - they really set me up.
SMQ: What do you think of people like Wu-Tang Clan. Have you met Razor?
T: Yeah, I've met Razor, a few times. He's a good guy - he's like real.
SMQ: Because I think you two are pretty close.
T: There are similarities as well, definitely. I know he does what he wants and with no compromise. He's a very quiet guy. I mean, to me, I always used to call him the Mozart of hip-hop. Because his music sounds to me very classical, you know? It's like... his way of doing things is a bit different to mine. I mean I can produce, but I have to hold some things back...
SMQ: What do you mean?
T: Like he produces for hundreds of people, but I can't do that. I mean, I want my music to be heard, but it's almost like not too much because it waters it down almost? It's weird...
SMQ: I understand. It's like Prince stretched himself.
T: Yeah, yeah. I don't want to be stretching myself, but I know the urge - you want to release.
SMQ: So have you learned from that? I remember reading you wanted the album to... I'm so pleased that you said that.
T: Yeah, I've learned a lot. Just chucking music out makes you less focused in a way.
SMQ: Total. Absolutely.
T: I like the fact that every one of my albums is different - whether people like it or not, every one is different to each other. So I think that's more important than bringing out loads of stuff so I just want to make my albums do different things every time and keep learning. Every day you can learn something, and whatever, I'm just into learning, I just want to learn and travel and visit people in different countries talk. I mean, I could be in Israel, I'll be sat in dinner with the Israel record company and I'll get a song from what the A&R girl said - she'll say something and, you know, you're in a crazy setting in the middle of Israel, and this girl says "I was brought up in a kibbutz", in Israel, you know, and to me this just sounds like a song, and I'd take and write that down... You know, I'm always taking things out of people's mouths. They say things, and a lot of people lose what they say: they talk so fast they forget about it. And I just hear songs in people's words.
SMQ: Do you know what really interests me about your work as well, which other people... which hasn't been given any real volume. You have a really... a tenderness, a real gentleness, a real... I'm trying to think of words very quickly but I can't... a real beauty, a real gentleness, a real... like Miles Davis, he could be crazy, he could be aggressive, but when he blows it's so pure, it cuts a fine line. It's like a straight line - it doesn't go this way and that way, it's just straight, and it's so beautiful.
T: What it is, is honest...
T: Yeah, and I'm the sort of guy that... I could be working in a big studio and I come outside and see someone begging on the streets, and I feel so bad and I feel guilty and like driving through that area - obviously, I live in good areas, I've got a family, and I live in good areas. I live with Italians and Jewish people, but I drive through a certain area and you just feel so sad for everybody...
SMQ: But what I meant is love, whatever that love is, personal relationship love...
T: I've got a lot of love in me, yeah. My friends, I mean... Everything I love, I love to extremes. I'm quite extreme. So I'm so extreme with my friends, I'll do anything for them. And my family, I love them so much. I've got quite a bit of love in me.
SMQ: Quite a bit of love in you?
T: I was brought up by all women. There was never any men in my life.
SMQ: That's wonderful. I was brought up with mainly women, and I think you definitely have a very feminine situation.
T: Definitely. I've been taught everything, every lesson by women, and not many by men, because the men in my family sort things with their fists, and you learn that quick when you're at school anyway, and there's nothing else to learn. So these men figures just become fighters, and everything that was taught to me was taught to me by women, how to behave, how to act in society, how to treat people; I was always pushed into saying "please" and "thank you" and stuff for my nan and stuff. And every kind of lesson I've learned is from a woman, and the men have been, you know, distant. I've been disciplined by a woman and I've been loved by a woman. And sometimes the parents share these responsibilities, but not in my family, so it's the woman disciplining me, love me, taught me, and so on.
SMQ: Sometimes your songs sound like a caress, sort of someone caressing someone's body... It's very beautiful.
T: I know I've always wanted to touch people's souls rather than their ears. I always want to touch people's souls.
SMQ: You do that very successfully. But what do you think about Europe right now? Do you have time to see these places or is it a case of "Next!"?
T: Certain places like Israel you make time, because it's so different, but you do get a lot of time on your hands, and then you get lazy, and if you're tired you don't want to leave. But I do try to make the effort to try go to places where the people from the country go. But when I'm in Paris it's so much like England that you don't bother, and it's a little bit... Paris is a really good place for selling music, but when I go into a shop and buy something, people are so rude.
SMQ: How does it feel to be recognised, because you are Tricky and all that? How does that feel - if you were in town, like Soho now, would it be easy?
T: No, because you get what you want... I mean, you can attract a certain amount of attention. If you're just walking around...
SMQ: It's like a tap, you can turn on and off?
T: Yeah. If someone recognises you, you go "All right, how you doin'?" and just walk on. And sometimes I can walk through a place and no-one would know - I'd just have my head down, and I'm just going to get somewhere...
T: Yeah, you can do it.
T: And it's really easy to do, especially as it's like, where did I go the other night? I went to this crap club called 10. And sometimes being recognised is a disadvantage, but you've got this security guy at 10, not really security, but more like a guest list guy and he just didn't want to let us in. And there's no-one in there! And then someone said who I was, and he said "Never heard of you", and I know he had, because I could see it in his eyes; he didn't want to let me in. So sometimes it's a disadvantage. It all depends what reasons: sometimes it's a compliment when people recognise you, and sometimes it's total disrespect because they're just seeing someone they've seen on TV, and people just stare at you. I'm not into being stared at, and if I'm sat in a cafe or something, and someone's just staring and staring, it means I have to ask them, "Excuse me, what are you looking at?" I'd rather they just say "all right mate?", then that's it.
SMQ: I want to go back again, further back - whether you feel uncomfortable about it I'm not too sure - and talk about Massive Attack.
T: Yeah. No, I don't feel uncomfortable at all, man.
SMQ: OK, good. I listened to their album recently again, and I just think that you on those albums are so... somewhere else.
T: I was totally... that is it exactly.
SMQ: And I listened to all these chats that you and 3D and D were doing some chats and stuff, and I was listening to these things and... Age was a big part in this because you were far younger than them, you were far more... and it showed. They were in this definite sound system, chatting on a mike, and you were somewhere else.
T: Yeah. Yeah. I had a more punk rock attitude.
SMQ: I wouldn't call it white-influenced, because it's my influence as well. You talk about the Specials, you talk about whatever punk band, whatever rock band was going on in the late 70s, early 80s, whatever. These things were definitely coming out in you.
T: Yeah, and it was frustrating for me, because I was in Massive Attack doing certain lyrics, and they'd say "you can't put that down".
SMQ: What lyrics, for example?
T: I had these lyrics, like kind of Jamaican English stuff, saying like what the blood clot, and using words like "bloodclot", and stuff like that, and we talked on the street. Or certain things you say with your friends. And it was like... there was competition with me and D. And I didn't know I was in the competition at the time. But within his mind there was... know what I mean? And at the same time he was pushing me forward, because I can remember... when I was real young, when we were doing interviews like with cameras, he'd push me to the front and tell me what to say, like "talk about this". But I couldn't really bring anything towards the music. I found the music kind of like...
SMQ: Soulless. Like "let's do another album".
T: Yeah, total soulless. Like, manufactured, soulless, and neither here nor there. I'd rather do an album that everybody hated, but really said "I hate this because this is too angry". Do something, make something happen.
SMQ: This is what I mean, because when I hear... why I'm totally an admirer of your work is that I feel that if you died tomorrow, the last album that you'd put out, God forbid, that is like, he'd just pushed it to the limit.
T: See, yeah, it'd be horrible to die and not know you've had that opportunity and you've played it safe. Which I know Massive Attack have done, they've played it safe.
SMQ: Yeah, it's so obvious.
T: And it's like, how can you live with yourself when you've got that opportunity to do everything?
SMQ: I think this stuff we won't put in, I don't think it'll be good for us. We can talk about it, but it's just not in. But this 3D guy, is he the leader of the group?
T: 3D's the leader.
T: Well, he wasn't. It's really weird - Miles and Claude started off as the leaders, and then as they disappeared, he kind of took over, because it became businessy, and no-one else wanted to deal with the business. As soon as the record deals started, he's the one who got a relationship with the record company guy, he's the one who wanted Nellee Hooper to come and mess the album up. I mean, I'm not a fan of Nellee Hooper, and it's no disrespect to the man, because I don't know the man. But as a producer, I don't respect that, you know? And I think they just made one compromise after another.
SMQ: I want to talk about Björk, because I feel that at a certain point she was excellent, at the same point you were excellent. In fact, you were together at that excellent point in time - apparently; I read in the papers that you were together.
T: Yeah, it's true.
SMQ: But now I... I think she's looking for a way to go, and she really doesn't know what to do. And she's got a fantastic voice, but it's almost like it stopped before it started. Why is that? It's kinda interesting, because you keep on going on.
T: I think some artists...
SMQ: Is it money?
T: No. I think some artists are always looking for that new. Instead of doing what they do, they're always going for the next thing. I don't look for the next thing, I just make my music, and I'm lucky that my music becomes the next thing. So I'm never looking for anything - I just go in the studio. I'm not looking for... I don't make jungle, I don't make hip-hop, I don't make rock, I make music.
SMQ: I make my own.
T: I make my own art. And, like, it's harder for a singer. Björk... her talent is her voice, but then she's got to go and choose producers. So what she's gotta do is choose almost what's now. So straight away you're compromising. So I think after a while it gets harder to choose what's now. It's harder to go and pick off the tune and say "yeah".
SMQ: Absolutely. I think that's very perceptive, very sharp, that's it, that idea. But how do you feel about people like D'Angelo, for example?
T: I think what he's doing now is a big mistake, trying to do that Marvin Gaye pretty boy stuff. I liked it when he first came out, because he was a guy with a sweet voice, but he was on that street-boy tip and he's just a normal geezer. Now, he's got his top off in the video, and it's all that... he's manipulated by sex. I think it's more about D'Angelo than the music, man. But if that's what people want - but...
SMQ: I think it's just what people advise. What's interesting to hear what you say about these other artists from your own perspective and your own ideas is that you very much control what you do - and that's very rare.
T: And visually as well, see. I control my side visually as well as musically. And I know... it's just simple to me - I try to keep it honest. Me doing a video like that, like Maxwell or D'Angelo is just not very honest. It's almost like, who are you trying to kid? Who are you trying to fool? This is so old.
SMQ: Also, I feel... I'd call it brave, the way you appear in the sexual side. You're very open about that, and it's real sex. It's not porno.
T: No. No.
SMQ: It's not gels and soft lights, it's what sex is, and sex is fluid, sex is teeth, sex is, you know, a bit rough, a bit whatever, a bit not so...
T: You know, all this stuff comes into it, and what D'Angelo becomes is a starred artist, it's all about the way he looks.
SMQ: That's right, the body. And also the black male bodies, the glamourisation of that...
T: That stereotype of... that's why I've always loved being skinny. I've always loved being skinny.
SMQ: I'm trying to love being fat right now, but...
T: I think it's just about loving yourself. And I think courage, getting in front of that camera and like... I don't need... I need my music, so I can take my top off in front of the camera. My music is going to speak afterwards, so that's not the last thing you're going to see, my visuals are not the last thing you're going to see. I feel like there's music to back that up, you know what I mean? So I don't need this super...
SMQ: Tell me about the visuals, your videos that you're making for your album. What are they like, because I haven't seen any?
T: They're all just a waking dream state, like listening to music and... even when I'm listening to someone else's song, I dream a video in my head. Like I'm listening to the Specials and Prince, and I'll pretend it's my song, and I've got a video. And with the music comes the visuals, and a lot of the time as I'm writing music, the visuals come as well, and a lot of the time if I'm working with a good director like Stephan [Sednaoui], I let him put his ideas in. But the music takes you all the way.
SMQ: There was one really great video I saw of yours - it's the lyrics from the Massive Attack album which you took and redid and where you're shaking your hand...
T: Yeah. That's Stephane. That's his ideal. And I was so amazed how he said the record made him feel a certain way, and he it made him feel like that in the video. And I was amazed at how he took the music and translated that, know what I mean? I'm totally into letting a director do exactly what he wants. If I trust someone, I don't even have to be involved, you know?
SMQ: Well, that's obvious. So that's interesting what you said about Björk, but that is the answer.
T: Yeah, everybody's looking for new. To go forward you have to go backwards sometimes. It's like the same with the Rolling Stones. The reason I know this is there's been a fear in me since Maxinquaye. I look at artists and think "how can artists be so good, and then be so terrible?" And I'd rather not do the music if it comes to that. So I know exactly what I'm going to do when I get old. I'm going to become a blues artist, because blues and reggae artists are the only artists who seem to grow old gracefully, you know? And when you're a Rolling Stone chasing the next thing, and you're fifty, sixty years of age in tight underpants and that, but you see these blues guys, they just stand on stage and do a guitar solo and sing a song, and they don't look embarrassing at all. And it's like... so I used to think, this used to be my nightmare, my music ending one day. So I totally had to think about why, and I've been thinking about it for years, many many years. And just realised it's because you can't chase it, you can't chase for the new thing. It's like, when I made Maxinquaye, everyone started making dark music. But it don't sound dark because you're trying to sound dark. I didn't mean for Maxinquaye to be dark or Pre-Millennium to be tense, that's just how it is.
SMQ: I think people are on drugs, you know. I think a lot of people are on drugs.
T: A lot of people are on drugs, definitely.
SMQ: Absolutely. But also in that kind of other way, because when you say that album was dark, for me, it was like rubbing my hands together on some gravel. It felt real, it felt urgent, it felt necessary...
NB: AT THIS POINT THE STEVE McQUEEN INTERVIEW TAPE RUNS OUT, THOUGH THE TRICKY TAPE CONTINUES FOR A FEW MINUTES. BECAUSE STEVE McQUEEN'S QUESTIONS FROM THIS POINT ON ARE ONLY BEING PICKED UP BY TRICKY'S MICROPHONE, THEY ARE SOMETIMES INAUDIBLE OR INDISTINCT - SO APOLOGIES FOR ANY OMISSIONS. NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE INTERVIEW
T: Yeah. Yeah.
SMQ: [tape indistinct]
T: Yeah. And it's because...
SMQ: [tape indistinct]
T: It used to be the music industry, right? And now it's just the industry. And this is why I stand out like a sore thumb. I'm very lucky. There's so much manufactured music around, that there's not many artists... there's no artists who are real and who get through any more. Except me. I'm like in the wrong place, I've got my foot in the door.
SMQ: [tape indistinct]
T: Yep. They want their product - and you know, they're having quotas like if you don't sell 5,000 records, 500,000 records, you're not really a priority on the label any more. So, you know, like...
SMQ: Tell me about Island - are you still with them?
T: No, I've left Island now. And I really had a good time at Island, but it changed. I had a brilliant time at Island.
SMQ: It got sold, didn't it?
T: Yeah. And I had no complaints until it got sold. And when it got sold, all of a sudden I started changing my way of thinking. Like, what do I need to do to get on the radio? And I've never thought like that. So I just needed to get off, and they're good people, so they let me go. And they're real cool people, man. And I had a real good time there, but I had to get off of there. So I was trying to get off, so it's all been quiet for me over here as well because I haven't been doing any press in England or anything, because I've been trying to get off the label for about a year. And it's taken about a year to get off the label. I've had to give them another album and serve a certain time in my contract and all this rubbish.
SMQ: [tape indistinct]
T: They still let me go one album early, though, which is cool. And they're sensible, because when a relationship breaks down, it's like what are they gonna do, man? They know I'm not going to give them anything.
SMQ: You seem really happy.
T: I am really happy at the moment, yeah. It's like everything's making more sense to me. I've got a label and I've got these kids who I've known for years, and within a year from being on the dole they're going to France and doing Canal Plus and doing gigs in front of 2000 people and that. And they're number 2 in the charts in France and number 3 in another chart and number 6...
SMQ: What is in France - what has France got with hip-hop? It's like a big industry, people making money. What's going on in England? What is it?
T: It's crazy - it's like... it just seems that there's no support for hip-hop here. There's no general real support. And I don't know why that is, it's crazy. I think a lot of it was you've got too many English guys trying to sound American, and like...
SMQ: Yeah. This is what I was reading about... exactly, go on.
T: ...and in America where they've got millions of apples everywhere, why are you going to buy a watered-down product? And in England, there just don't seem to be a mass for it. People ain't got it. I don't think people have done it smart enough, on a big enough scale. Like for hip-hop in this country, you need the majors - you need to be on a major, man, and you need a major to put money into you. And majors don't put money into hip-hop.
SMQ: [tape indistinct]
T: No. I think... the odd one, maybe, but not a black artist, a male artist like me who's not really a singer. So...
SMQ: So who is?
T: Mark Morrison.
SMQ: Mark Morrison. And who else?
T: There's whatsername, that girl...
SMQ: [tape indistinct] ...right. OK.
T: I know I'm the first black guy in this country to be on the front of the Face magazine and NME and Melody Maker, which is crazy.
SMQ: Were you the first on NME?
T: I think English black guy.
SMQ: That's right, forgive me, yeah.
T: I think Public Enemy have done it.
SMQ: Yeah. Yeah.
T: And Mark Morrison, he sells a lot more records than me, and he's not been on the front of any of these magazines. And I think they find him more of a threat than me.
SMQ: You reckon?
T: Well, not a threat as in the obvious threat like gold chains...
SMQ: No, I think they know you're more of a threat but basically... I think with Mark Morrison the situation where, you know, people will die out. Sorry about that, but it's like [recording indistinct]. It's like it's a tree, and it's not even that high yet, and it's growing. And it's like when it first blossomed, you know, it's like magical - but now, people are a bit scared of it. But it's become a bit like... I'm sorry, I'm going round in circles. But no, but it's true. And I think the situation is that you've already changed music once. You on your own, you've changed music on your own, and you're 31 years old and you've changed music already. I think it's good.
T: Yeah, I feel like I've got a lot more stuff to do. I'm really excited about my new album. People are going to be shocked, especially in England, because I know they're going to expect something, and this is like... it's kind of like... it's real... it sounds the most contemporary...
[END OF TAPE ONE]
Ah, can I go to the toilet? Wicked!
TAPE 2 TRICKY o TAPE 2 STEVE
SMQ: It was interesting when you said that, you know, you don't care what anyone thinks about you - it shows.
T: Yeah, I'm not worried if I'm liked at all. You know, in any way at all. I could go to a club and you could know who I am and you don't have to like me because I don't really care what you think about me.
SMQ: Are you in a privileged situation?
T: God, I'm the luckiest guy...
SMQ: Meaning that, you know, you could do that, I mean, some people have employees and so forth and whatnot and have to make them like them, you know, sort of smile...
T: Yeah. I am privileged. Totally privileged. And sometimes I behave in that way. Because I can be quite rude. Especially in social circumstances. Especially with famous people as well, I can be very very rude because I won't play that game of, just because you're, say for instance you're Maxwell, like I've had situations with Maxwell - Maxwell has this girl, what was wrong with me.
SMQ: What, in front of you?
T: No. I was outside this club and Maxwell stood next to me, and I didn't say anything to him. I didn't talk to him because I don't know him. And he said to the girl... he was kind of looking at me, as if to say "talk to me". But I don't want to talk to him. So he's kind of saying what's wrong with me, have I got problems, have I got a problem with him because I don't talk to him. And I said to the girl, why should I talk to him? Because he's Maxwell? Because he's on MTV, and stuff like that? That's not enough of a reason for me to go socialising with someone.
SMQ: There's a very famous story about Miles Davis. I think me personally, you definitely are... you definitely come from that vein.
T: Well, that's a major compliment. And what's mad is that people have said that I'll do my gigs with my back turned and I've never seen a Miles Davis gig, though.
SMQ: Let me tell you a true story about that. One day, I think it was Mick Jagger come and knocks on Miles Davis' door, rings the doorbell. Miles come out from his bed, opens the door and there's Mick Jagger and says "What the fuck do you want? Who are you?" Slammed the door, went back to bed. He said "Just because he's fucking some... he think he can come and knock on my door - I don't know him! Who's he?"
T: Yeah. And that's how I feel about it. Artists are very uninteresting people.
T: I've met a lot of artists, and I'd rather hang out with someone from a different profession. Like whatever, anything, from villain to whatever, wall painter and decorator. Artists are very... it's almost like we live in a celebrity age now, as well as not much music. And it's like...
SMQ: I suppose it's not much art.
T: Yeah, not much art. Celebrities take themselves from video sets and award ceremonies, and they take it out on the street. Kids look like... they dress like they're in their videos and walk around and want attention. So it's a total celebrity age, and artists really ain't got much to say because all they do is take all the time. All they do is taking. So I just always get let down so I don't even bother any more - I just get let down.
SMQ: Do you mean take off you? Take things off you?
T: No, like all they do is seem to take from society and give little back. And some of these might do charities up the yin-yang, but basically kind of like... you get a lot of attention as an artist, so going out and demanding more is ridiculous. So, like, I get a lot of attention, I do a video and get a lot of attention. So I go to a club and I don't want a big deal made about me. I don't need loads of people around me. I don't need a special event.
SMQ: What, you don't have your entourage?
T: I don't need to be announced and all that stuff. I was out somewhere last week with my manager, and the club owner come over, and my manager said, "yeah, you can take a picture of him" and I'm going "What are you doing? I don't want to be in a club taking pictures". I'm an observer, I can sit in the club and just watch everything. You know what I mean, I'm a real observer, I like
T: Yeah, you know what I mean - just watching anything. And it's like, artists are just a mad constantly - they want attention, they want to be the centre of attraction all the time. I don't need that. So I'm insecure in different ways.
SMQ: Total. But is there anyone who interests you - or not interests you but someone you have some kind of affinity with or for?
T: I respect Gary Oldman a lot. Because when I met Gary Oldman - I met him a few times and talked to him a few times. And normally, he's like the biggest actor in the world, he's the best actor in the world. And he keeps his feet on the ground. He's so normal and so real, and that's why he's a great artist, I think - he's like so real. And he's like... and all that he's done must have touched him, but he doesn't show it. It just doesn't show. So I've got a lot of respect for him because he was like so normal with me, so normal and cool. He's got a real good vibe about him. You just look at him and it's Gary Oldman, the biggest actor in the world, the best actor in the world. And it's like, he's just so normal...
SMQ: I bumped into him once. In New York, years ago. And I think he was doing his [***] movie and I didn't know him, but I said "Gary! Gary!" And he turned round - he don't know me, I was just some sort of geek - and "I just wanna say, you know, mate, enough respect, give credit where credit's due, nice one". And he looked at me like this...
...and he goes "Nice one, nice one."
T: He's intense, isn't he? He's intense.
SMQ: I'm telling you, he was like he was in South London, and some geezer had said "Gary!" and he turned round and he really kind of knew, you know, whose manor are you from? And then he kind of like clicked back and "I'm in New York, I'm going to get a taxi, this guy's just saying hello, and that's it". But...
T: He controls the situation, yeah, he definitely controls the situation when someone comes up. The vibe I got off him - and it's only spending a short amount of time, I didn't hang out with nobody on that set, but... I couldn't stay in my room and sit in my room and just do nothing. So I'd hang out in the corridor, I was hanging out with the security guy, sat down talking to him, smoke cigarettes, and Gary Oldman would come out and go "you want a cup of tea? Come in!" So I'd go out and hang out with him. So I ended up spending... Thank you, man.
McQUEEN POURS A CUP OF TEA
T: So I hanged out with him a lot. But the vibe I got... I don't even know him. Even though I hanged out with him quite a bit you can't get to know someone like that. But the vibe I got from his eyes sometimes - it was a person who's given a lot... I'm not saying he's not worried about dying, but his eyes seemed to say that it was all just daily motions, getting up.
SMQ: I get the impression he's very disenchanted with the industry he's in, and he's an extraordinarily talented actor. I get the impression that he's a bit disenchanted because he wanted to do ÔNil By Mouth', he wanted to write, he ended up doing a really great film. But it's a kind of disenchantment with his real talent. I'm not saying he's not a talented director, but, you know, the talent which sort of feeds him, but he has a disenchantment with it, I feel.
T: It's really weird with actors, what I've seen with actors is, like Al Pacino after ÔScarface', he didn't leave himself with much. That is such a great... he put every ounce of his soul in that, and he didn't seem to be left with anything else. I don't see that in music so much.
SMQ: No, because I think with actors, they're part of the vehicle, they're a tool for the director. And maybe that's why he wants to direct, he wants to control a bit more. And that's why, you know - actors are a weird bunch of people.
T: It's a horrible job, man.
SMQ: Total. You give yourself in a way that...
T: I didn't enjoy doing it at all. I really didn't. The bonus was I met Gary Oldman, that was the bonus. But apart from that I really didn't enjoy doing it. Too much waiting around, too much doing nothing, and even when you're doing something, you're doing nothing. I've got nothing in common with what I was doing, the words I was saying, they meant nothing to me.
SMQ: Yeah. They approached you - they wanted you for that film?
T: Yeah. Just got a phone call to my management one day saying, "Will I be in this Luc Besson movie?" And I was thinking 'Nikita', 'Professional'.
SMQ: Yeah, wicked, Yeah, of course.
T: I never thought it would be like this, to be honest with you.
SMQ: How was Brucie baby?
T: I was totally non-interested in him, didn't want to meet him, not interested at all. I don't know if he's a nice guy or not, you know what I mean? But I didn't want to take the time to find out. I was totally like, no passion to meet him at all.
SMQ: I want to move onto something that I want to ask you - there's a movie just come out called 'Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai'. Have you heard about this movie?
T: I've heard about it, yeah.
SMQ: It's with Forest Whitaker, and Razor has done the score, a really beautiful score. And the movie... I know you'll like the movie.
T: Yeah, I've been told I'll love the movie.
SMQ: And Forest Whitaker is just crazy in it. But what I want to ask you is, have you ever and will you ever...
T: Does he play a samurai?
SMQ: He's a professional hitman who follows the way of the samurai.
T: So he don't use swords, then?
SMQ: He practices with a sword. He actually assassinates with modern-day technology, but he uses the way of the samurai, so it's basically Eastern culture with a contemporary way of life and a contemporary way of killing people. And it's just so... Forest Whitaker is for me on a par with Gary Oldman - get those two in a film, you'll really make something happen.
T: I love his...
SMQ: I think he's got his own company, actually.
T: I think his directing in his films is... I think he's a...
T: Yeah, I think he's a genius. Definitely.
SMQ: What I wanted to ask you is have you ever thought of doing a score for a film?
T: I've been asked a few times. It's not that I haven't been interested...
SMQ: You don't feel it's yours?
T: ...it's just that... I'm quite lazy in some ways as in, somebody asks me and I'll say to my manager "yeah, yeah, I'll think about it", then I'll never think about it, and it's just gone. Then I'm in a studio and doing my thing.
SMQ: You're such an artist in that way, in some ways. It's kind of like, forgive me for being so direct, but what I wanted to ask you is... I'm doing this sort of bigger movie...
T: You're doing a movie?
SMQ: Yeah, a Channel Four/BFI collaboration. Have you ever heard of Zadie Smith? This girl called Zadie Smith?
SMQ: It's a young black writer, a very beautiful, very interesting girl. And we're co-writing this thing, and she's great. But what I wanted to ask you, in some ways, is the whole idea of... have you ever thought of a theme and variations on a theme? Because you did it once, you obviously did it on the last album, unless I'm going crazy, you did it on 'Ladies', you did a rock version and the sort of hip-hop version.
T: Oh, the Public Enemy thing on Maxinquaye, you mean?
SMQ: No, the last album. Why can't I remember titles right now? The one with the guy who raps really fast...
T: I Like The Girls?
SMQ: That's bad. That's just rockin' bad.
T: Only now and again you get a concept, but mostly it's all freestyle words, and then... Mad Dog likes girls. I like girls.
T: Because he writes a lot of lyrics about girls, I just thought of that old Beastie Boys song, 'I Like The Girls', so I kind of took that and used that as a chorus. So now and again I get concepts but I'm not really a concept man. But actually I just did an album, and there is a concept to it - it's political, it's about racism, know what I mean?
SMQ: What album's that?
T: I haven't even got a name for it yet, but it's the album I would have done if I'd have stayed in Bristol. I would have started off as a rapper, and if I'd started doing music earlier, if I'd started doing music before I entered Massive Attack my music would have probably been more hip-hop based. But because... then again, I don't know, because I was listening to the Specials before hip-hop, so I don't know if that's true. But it would have been more on a rap thing, see? So this is like the album I missed, and it's about racism and English politics - a lot about England.
SMQ: What title is it gonna be?
T: I don't know. I haven't even thought of a title yet.
SMQ: I'm seeing this sort of...
T: It's very street as well, very street and very dirty-sounding, very street. It sounds very English, very very English.
SMQ: More of that! What is it with us - or at least me, I'm not and I am, I'm not and I am nationalistic?
T: Oh, I am and I'm not, yeah. It's the same with racism, I am and I'm not.
SMQ: Someone said to me "Are you an artist or are you a black artist?" And I say: "Sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not, sometimes I forget".
T: Sometimes you're forced to be. I've never thought of myself as a black artist, but I've been forced to be a black artist. In England it's crazy, though, they gave me this thing where... this is where I was very lucky, being very... not anything. The English press just wrote about me as an artist, and black, white never had anything to do with it.
SMQ: No, and you escaped that, and that's a thing which - I think that's the key to it. What is that? I mean, you escape it and other people don't, and what is it? What is black?
T: I think you can fall into the trap. Black is what a record company tells you to be. It's like diamond rings, diamond bracelets, cars, women in videos. The record company, the industry tells us that's what's black and people follow that. Like, I wear dresses, I wear lipstick, I wear make-up, I don't usually follow the same format for videos, so no-one can trap me. It's not rap, it's not singing...
SMQ: This is exactly what I try, you know. I tend to try to be a wet piece of soap, so as soon as they've got me, they're off, they think they've got me, but...
T: Yeah. You just do another thing. You know, it's weird, when I was going out with Björk, I started getting, you know, like the Sunday Mirror, the Sun press, tabloids - they'd call me "black rapper". And that's them making me black, it's them making me be a rapper, because I'm black, they're calling me a rapper. The people from the Sun have probably never heard my music.
SMQ: I should ask her this question to Björk, but unfortunately she's not here and I want to ask it. Because she's from, like, Norway, how does she feel about the situation of the black music industry in England or Britain. Was there any...?
T: I don't think... with some artists it don't really affect them, they're not really aware of them.
SMQ: They're not interested and why should they be?
T: And I know she likes good artists, whether they're black, white, yellow, but I don't think it really matters to her. It's crazy, like it don't matter to me. I'm lucky, in a way, because I sell records to all people, kind of.
SMQ: It definitely doesn't matter to me, but what you say about the record industry is that it does sort of...
T: Oh, definitely. Especially more in America as well. It's crazy. I've been there like four, five years nearly now, and they've... someone phoned me up the other day, and I'm in this hip-hop magazine and [***] was on TV and said I influenced him, and they just accepted me there, but they've accepted me as a black person. And what's mad is that when people like *** heard me, and these people found out about me, I wasn't in the black community. I'm still not in any community, but the black community found out about me later there, and it was just white press who used to write about me, and the black press didn't really... I didn't exist to them. But now it's like they've just found me, and it's almost like it keeps me a new artist all the time, all these different... They say I've changed music, but what music? White music, black music?
SMQ: All music. Music in general. Every kind of music. I'm sorry about this black, white, I'm really not that interested at all.
T: No, nor am I. What's mad is that New York's made me racist, yeah, but to taxi drivers.
SMQ: They never fucking stop, yeah.
T: They're a race to themselves, those people. Black, Indian...
SMQ: Black cab drivers, Indian cab drivers, no matter what they are, they never stop for you. My only salvation is that a cab driver might stop for me in New York because I wear glasses.
T: It's crazy. If I wear bright colours, I'd get a taxi. If I'm in black, I wouldn't get a taxi.
SMQ: You should always get a false pair of glasses and shove them on and put them away...
T: Then you get, yeah...
SMQ: So what I wanted to ask you is, and I'm being very direct, I have this project with these people, Artangel, and it's a huge project for the West Indies, and it's... I'm sorry, I'm being opportunist but because you're here and I like your music... my parents are from Grenada and the West Indies and anyway, Grenada was in the early ages, Caribs lived there, you know, like Caribbean, and it was so fierce that...
T: I'm gonna tell you now, before you go anywhere, that I'm going to want to do this. I'm going to say yeah, now, before you've even finished. See, it's about energy, people's energy, and about... See, you think you're a fan of mine, but you're not really, you're the same as me. That's why you like what I do, so obviously I'm going to like what you do. See, it's all really simple - you're not a fan of mine, you're the same as me. That's why you understand my music so much. It's not a greater level of talent - that's not possible; we're all the same. But because you're the same as me, you understand me, so you understand my music. So I'm going to say yeah to you straight away before I even know what it is, because I know it's going to be good for me to do it. So yeah, that's the first thing, and now let's carry on.
SMQ: You have to touch me. You have to touch me.
THEY SHAKE HANDS
T: It's an obvious thing for me, man, I know it. It's a real obvious thing for me. It's gonna be good, I know what you're gonna do is gonna be excellent, I know it's gonna be good for me, and I'm gonna learn a lot. I'm about learning, man. Beautiful.
SMQ: OK, I'll... well, cheers. Anyway, the Caribs were so fierce that no-one could actually land on this island, actually Columbus named Grenada three miles out, he just made the sign of the cross and moved on. In 1664 the French landed on a bit of Grenada and in order for them to stay there they traded brandy and rum with what looked like precious-looking stones for a piece of land. And the Caribs said, "OK, we'll trade your brandy, whatever". So what happened was that when the French got this part of land, they built a fort, and what happened of course was when they went out for water for the fort the Caribs got pissed off and killed them, "we don't want you on our island any more", whatever. So what happens is the French got reinforcements and went through the whole entire island killing women and children regardless...
T: Is it where they practice... where they put babies in mud and chopping their heads off for sword practice? As I think the French did?
SMQ: I didn't know that. Well, I'm sure they did all that - women and children regardless, until they got to the furthest point on the island which is called Saltaires [sp?], the furthest point north. What happened is that when they ran into the French colonists, the Caribs just jumped off this cliff into the water and killed themselves. Now Saltaires in French means "leapers", and the site in English is called Carib's Leap, and on that site the French put a Catholic church - it's mad. And I'm interested in doing two things - on that actual original site I want to put the biggest fucking film screen on it, a massive fucking thing which virtually covers the whole fucking rock. And from the fucking sea area we get this oil-tug thing, and we project and make this film of people falling through the frame and projecting the thing and basically illuminating history on that fucking site.
SMQ: Plus from there we go - there's obviously other elements, the build-up to that point, because it becomes a kind of crescendo point in the movie, when we turn over and round this cliff and we see this fucking big huge image.
T: So it's a movie?
SMQ: Projecting a fucking movie, bang on the hills at the original place where they jumped. From the... it's all rocks down there, but from the sea we'll get this huge huge ship with the hugest 35mm projector and just whack it on that cliff. And then the second part is we go to South Africa and we go to this place called Western Deep which is the deepest mine in the world, which is three kilometres underground, two miles down that way, and we go down... where I'm going to cut the movie is we go down with the miners all the way down, so that the movie's going to last as long as we get to the very bottom of it until we get a fucking brick wall in front of us. So one is a controlled descent, and the other is a... but each descent is about how people survived and how they intend to... I don't know how to say it, I've got it written down somewhere... how they intend to survive in a certain situation. So with the Caribs, these kind of South American Indians, there's no life, and for these people there's no life at all but they have an economy. You know, it's like Ghost Dog, it's a thing we're living in now, and how do we survive that situation?
T: Are you gonna write it like a movie?
SMQ: Basically, I'm doing it in a way where it becomes a situation of epic, because the whole cinema screen... it's like there was this movie by a German guy where he hauled a ship up a mountain, you know? I like the whole idea of this epic situation.
T: But are you going to try and put this in the cinema?
SMQ: Yeah. Well, basically it's going to be in the cinema but it's not going to be a feature film thing because there isn't a James Bond figure running around with a gun. But it's going to be... in the art world, and also museums, basically museums. And we have half the budget already, and the other half is coming hopefully very soon. The total budget is about £500,000, but we've got £250,000 already for it. Forgive me, it's very abstract what I'm telling you, but you've got the contact with this sort of descent. One is the deepest mine in the world, two miles underground, and imagine going how this would fuck your head up. And it's all there in the situation, the goal of this is... there's four of us and this yellow rock, and throwing themselves up... what kind of people would do this? They must be the baddest people - I couldn't do that, I'd want to survive. So I'd be down in that mine digging up gold.
T: It makes you wonder what sort of people could just leap off a... yeah, it's crazy, innit? It takes a certain amount of courage, definitely.
SMQ: I think the concept of life for them is totally different from what we think of what life is. They'd had no contact with the West at all, they were living on these islands...
T: It was as simple as life and death to them, wasn't it? To us, we think about death too much and we know too much about it...
SMQ: And the reason why, for you, is that you - forgive me, I don't want to make these people into heroes at all, that's not my cup of tea. But you're doing exactly what you want to do, and it's a sort of situation where, in doing it, it's just it, and that is why it's so potent, and the work you've done is gonna last a long time. It just will. It doesn't matter what you do, because what you do is what you do. There's so much longevity in your work. It's difficult sometimes, your work, but also it's kind of difficult because you want to know what it is, then when you think you know what it is, it has a kind of... it's like that wet piece of soap, because even when you think you've got it, it's bigger than you. And you definitely speak for a lot of people, not in any kind of political thing, but here, as a song, which when we listen to it, we smell it, as if we were animals. You smell a scent and you know it's something for you - you don't know what it is but it's so direct that it goes beyond who you think you are, your religion, and...
T: Thank you, man.
SMQ: Am I going too much? But it has to be said, my mother said give credit where it's due, that's what it does.
T: Yeah. I'd love to work on this project. Love to. What do you want me to do - the music?
SMQ: No... Of course, yes, but do what you wanna do - that's the concept. I've got something in my pocket, I've just got it faxed over... But it's a situation of... I can't tell you what to do! For me, this whole idea of falling, gravity and mixed in with this situation of the two worlds, the Americas and Africa, the situation of what people do now to survive. And also there's the colonial situation, of course. But that's here or there, it's not about... these are native Americans.
T: When are you gonna be filming?
SMQ: We start filming in November. I'm filming with this guy Robby Müller, this great cinematographer, he worked with Wim Wenders, he worked with Jim Jarmusch, he's a fantastic guy, he's Dutch, he's a great old hippie. A great guy.
T: Yeah, I'd love to be involved, man. If you get any ideas of how you want me to be involved -- because, like you said, it's a little bit abstract for me now, so if you give me a bit of direction, what you want me to do in...
SMQ: I'll give you the printout.
T: So all the filming's just gonna be people falling?
SMQ: Yeah. A controlled descent from this kind of cage, and also following all these people...
T: And how long is the film?
SMQ: It's going to be about 25 minutes.
It's a kind of situation of what we do now, you've pinpointed so many things in what you're saying, also the music and how we sort of are now right now. The do's and don'ts.
So how was it in Amsterdam - did you...?
T: I stayed there for about five days and met with this company and we're gonna do some business. It was really good - they've got a company in L.A., and instead of setting up in London they just set their own company up in...
SMQ: English people?
SMQ: Wicked. I mean, a record company?
T: Yeah. Yeah. Epitaph.
SMQ: And who else have they got on the label?
T: Tom Waits...
SMQ: Tom Waits is fantastic!
T: ...Buju Banton, and Rancid, and...
SMQ: You're in good company.
T: ..and what's that? That band, that punk band - I don't like them very much, but they've done well... Offspring...
SMQ: Tom Waits - wasn't he on...?
T: He was on Island.
SMQ: He left, too?
SMQ: Do you know Tom Waits?
T: No, I haven't met him, but we know mutual people, and people had kept talking about this company for a while, for a year, saying that they're a real good company. And then I found out that Tom Waits went there, and Buju Banton...
SMQ: You have to go. You have to go.
T: And then meeting them and all... they're all ideal. They don't care about radio, this company, and it's a very rare you meet a company that does not care about radio. Just does not. Not interested at all. If we get it, good but if we don't get it, that's not the end of everything, which corporate companies just aren't like, you know - if you don't get radio, you're fucked, know what I mean? Well, I was one of the lucky ones, I get promotion and they pay for all that stuff, but then it's me paying for it at the end of the day. It's my money.
SMQ: Yeah, they take it out of your pocket.
T: It's ridiculous, innit?
SMQ: And you pay for your video?
T: You end up paying for all of it, man.
SMQ: You pay for your video and everything?
T: You pay for the percentage, yeah. Crazy...
SMQ: How much out of 100%? What's the percentage you pay on...
T: I can't remember what it was, but I think paying any of it is ridiculous.
SMQ: Yeah, because you're basically giving them money.
T: Yep. You're giving up your own money so they keep all your royalties. You make money off your publishing, and they just keep all your royalties. Unless you sell, and then hopefully you might break ten million albums...
SMQ: Can anyone cover your record? I don't think they can.
T: What do you mean, cover it?
SMQ: I mean the lyrics and the tunes, they can't do it...
T: No - but my songs are uncoverable!
SMQ: Totally uncoverable, because you've...
T: You totally totally can't cover it, know what I mean? And I can't imagine anyone covering it.
SMQ: They can't, no. Totally not.
T: I think they're uncoverable, yeah, I think they are as well. I mean, the closest maybe, say, "Makes Me Wanna Die", something like that, you could take the words and the melody, overcome the words and the melody but there's not a lot there...
SMQ: OK. But I don't know - I'm really happy with the idea that you're getting involved with this.
T: I'd love to, man.
T: Yeah, it's easy for me to decide things. I'm like, I decide things very easily.
SMQ: What about those times in the past when you talked about how you'd had enough, you...
T: Ah no, that's different, though. That's not ever meeting anybody. Someone will phone up my manager and say, "will I do this?" But meeting someone, that's different. You meet someone and you know you want to work with someone. You ain't like some corporate guy from Miramax, know what I mean?
SMQ: Really? You've done that? Of course you've done that...
T: Yeah, I've done that, I've had corporate meetings with big companies, man, I've sat down with Mo Austin and Gerald Busby, and stuff like that.
SMQ: You know something - I really should have brought it - Miles Davis' autobiography. I think Miles...
T: I should read that, yeah.
SMQ: I wish I'd brought it now. I think Miles and you are just cut from the same cloth.
T: What's mad is that I found out somebody said that did I know that Miles Davis turned his back on his audience, and I never ever knew that. Never ever knew that.
SMQ: You never knew that? Miles just turned his back and started to blow, and the people were just stunned. You know, he was just putting his music in there and, like, "I'm not entertaining you, you just happen to be in the room. I'm playing!"
T: Yeah, it's not like I'm not going to be singing down to people.
SMQ: You'll stage... someone was talking about your stage performances, because what I've seen... my goodness, where are you? Where are you when you're on that mike?
T: I'm not in that place because I'm scared of being embarrassed, almost, I'm scared of doing a bad gig, or having all these people see me embarrass myself. So I don't open my eyes too much and I don't look at the crowd, so it's like I'm not there. It's like I'm trying to get into the song, and the more you get into something, the less scared you get. Because I'm real scared when I'm on stage, I get real nervous and that. So it's like, I'm just not there, I'm just... Sometimes, we do the gigs too fast, not like play fast, but we get into it too quick sometimes. Because I get scared, and I'm scared of being out there, naked and open out there in front of all these people. So the quicker I get into it, then I'm a million miles away, and then all that happens doesn't matter.
SMQ: So this is the part I want to talk to you about - performance. How do you, because you know...
T: There's no performance. The performance is for us as a band, and if people like it, they do, and if they don't... because just no performance. If we get into it - it's like, I ain't got no dance moves, but I shake my head, stuff like that, it's quite physical in a way. And the band... we meditate with each other and it's wild, it's like it's unspoken. It's like we look sometimes at each other and we know we've been to a place. It sounds corny, but you know it's spiritual and it's not of this earth. And you know you've just been there with someone - there's seven of you on stage and you all went there at the same time and it's like a powerful thing. And then you come off it and you just catch people's eyes and you just see the sparkle in their eyes and they see it in yours and they're just like... you know you've been there. And like you've kind of said to each other: "yeah, yeah", but you know you've been somewhere else. You know that. So it's like...
SMQ: A great vibe, off other people. Together, the closeness. I envy musicians. I envy you guys.
T: And then, people felt the same way as you, deprived, but when they get into it, whether it's in the dark, bright lights, anything...
SMQ: The bass, the keyboard and drums and you on the mike and it's like... it's like better than being in a fucking great football team.
T: And for that time you're lost and there are no worries, no problems or anything...
SMQ: I mean, yeah, my closest dream of that was when I used to be in the school football team, a great football team. That was the closest I'd ever get to that kind of buzz, and everyone's sort of...
T: Everyone's together, yeah. And sometimes I get sad.
T: Lyrics and... certain lyrics, you remember certain things and you feel a bit sad. And then at times it's just fun, comical...
SMQ: Where are you happiest? On stage, on recording, in the producer's...
T: Both. It's real society where I have problems. I've just started seeing a psychiatrist about five months ago, and all that's fine on stage, on tour and in the studio, that's all good, but it's in normal society where I have problems as a person. I don't know how to act with people.
SMQ: I think we get on well. I don't see there's a problem.
T: Yeah, this is cool, but sometimes like... not act with people but act in certain situations. I can make it easier for myself on a social thing, know what I mean? I just need to go over and talk about life and see what's... I had a really weird upbringing as well, you know, no men around, moving from family to family.
SMQ: Sure. Sure.
T: So I've just got to get things in focus and try and get my mind in... think how normal people think, because sometimes I'm a bit erratic. And, like, in music it's all right but in real life you have to be more careful, know what I mean? So it's like... my music and onstage I'm totally... and I don't mean that it's always happy because on stage sometimes you're scared, sometimes you're bored... but I'm happier in those circumstances.
SMQ: Why don't I see this side of you - if I was into fucking newspapers and looking at you, I wouldn't see this other side of you, because you're like warm, highly in-fucking-telligent musician.
T: Some people, they write about you and they want to see you like...
SMQ: ...some street kid. You just picked up a fucking sampler and you're just...
T: Yeah, and it's not any of that at all, it's all like you said, senses and stuff. Some people... I know some people are envious, because I'm doing what I want, and they envy me in certain ways so they stamp me. And some people I can be really rude to - if I don't like their attitude I can just be rude. And I make them think I'm just a street kid...
SMQ: Because you can be.
T: Yeah. Because I can be.
SMQ: And I'm happy that there are people out there who can be.
T: But what's crazy is that nine times out of ten when people meet me, specially guys, even writers, they meet me and they say "You're not at all abusive!", and a lot of people are shocked, because a lot of people are scared of me. I don't know where that comes from. I know it comes from certain things like... one time with The Face magazine, they wanted me to do this photo shoot, this front cover, and I wasn't into doing the photo, and the photographer started acting like a little girl, so I wasn't into it, so I left, basically. And then we had to do it another day. So people see that as difficult, just because I know what I wanna do, and people turn round and say "he's a difficult artist". It's really weird - I always thought I had a great relationship with Island, I've got nothing bad to say about them, but V2 rang up my management a few months ago, interested in signing me. Then all of a sudden they turned round and said they don't want to sign me because there are some people who are working for them now who are from Island Records, and these people are saying I'm really difficult, I've done this, I've done that. Lies, basically. And that I really don't understand that, because I never had any trouble with anybody in Island.
SMQ: You should really read Miles Davis' autobiography - just because he's a musician in this situation, record companies, what he did, how he did it. And you'll take more than I ever took from it because you're in that situation. And if I could be so frank, you're a black male.
T: Yeah. Yeah.
SMQ: And the males, it's like castrating the slaves, there's something about it...
T: And it's weird. What I find really hard to understand is that I grew up in a multi-racial thing, and it was fine, and then all of a sudden you get in the industry.
SMQ: Power. It's the power.
T: Yeah. It's the power thing.
SMQ: The same thing happened to Miles, and was... he had a very similar situation, and he stopped playing. He actually stopped for ten years.
T: It wouldn't stop me making music, but it would stop me making music with Martine, for instance. The reason I've got a different singer now is that people were making me into Ike Turner. People were trying to say that I'm keeping her down, why do I write all the lyrics, because I write faster than her. I want to do stuff now, so I write the lyrics. I've always found it easy.
SMQ: Who said that?
T: Yeah, quite a few writers, a guy from the Face, for instance...
SMQ: What is that magazine with you? What is that?
T: Yeah. I'll tell you what it is. Most musicians, in their garage when they're twelve years of age, stringing da-da-da-da-da, and they never have nothing else on their mind. I'm not really a musician, so the way some of these magazines talk about people, even in front disrespectfully, I'm not taking that. So I will challenge that. It's like they say, "Well, we've seen so-and-so in the club last night, the prick". And to them it's funny - they talk with a degrading manner about artists. All artists. It's nothing personal, they're not just picking on me. But I'm not an artist like Blur, I didn't grow up in a garage doing this, it's like... I grew up in a totally different lifestyle, so you ain't going to call me a prick in print, you ain't gonna disrespect my family, you ain't gonna talk about my daughter. Because I'm not going to sit there like any other artist, because most artists just sit there, you know? I'll see you and I'll fucking challenge you about it, and if I think you've been rude to me I'm gonna totally disrespect you and be rude to you... you know, like really get what I thought was a payback. So sometimes they make the mistake of treating me like an artist sometimes, and they write about me like I'm just an artist. Now I'm a person first, who grew up in like difficult situations, and so this is why I'm seeing a psychiatrist, because I want to learn to deal with things in a different way, because I'm not in difficult situations any more. I live in a big house in the country, know what I mean? So I've got to deal with things in a different way, I've got to deal with things like a businessman. So I'm gonna deal with them, you know? I'm gonna ring up the Face and abuse them on the phone if I read something out of order, just abuse them. I'm going to ring up, find the writer and abuse him and make him unhappy the way he's made me unhappy. And unfortunately the only way I can do that is with abuse, because my power is limited. Because they can write in their magazine. I had problems with 'Angels With Dirty Faces', because I took on the press with that record, in the way. Everything, you know, the lyrics and stuff, you know, I challenged what they said about me, because there's no way I'm gonna be made into Ike Turner. Because I love Martine and I love my daughter. So I'm not gonna be in that situation at all. And I don't mind giving up something.
SMQ: You remind me in some way of Romario, the footballer - and what I mean by that, it sounds odd, is that you see things before they happen, because I never saw that coming, and you saw it coming.
T: Oh, it was coming.
SMQ: How did you see it coming?
T: Just one of these questions like, "Why doesn't Martine do interviews?" And I started thinking about why Martine didn't do interviews, and I can remember the press always wanting to talk to me, because I wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music, they always wanted to talk directly to me. And the way he was asking, I just knew he was trying to...
SMQ: You know, it's the same thing with Miles Davis again. The album Kind of Blue, Bill Evans was the pianist on his album. He was the white guy on the album, basically, and there was Cannonball Adderly and there was John Coltrane. And after the album came out and became a classic, they said that Bill Evans co-wrote the album, and Miles says, "He didn't co-write no album! I wrote the album!", so after that Miles put on every album "Produced, arranged and co-performed by Miles Davis".
T: Same problem I had in my first album, Maxinquaye. Mark Saunders got co-producer. He didn't co-produce that album, he engineered that album. Done a little bit of arrangement, maybe. But there's no way he co-produced that. But I got na•ve after that, as I never even... everybody was just like "engineer". Mark Saunders was a glorified engineer who'd done a little production on the side. That's all right for some artists, but that's not all right for me. I let him mess with one record in the beginning, I hated it, and he never touched anything again. After that, he got a lot of work out of that, and what's mad is that a lot of people have seen that, seen it, so it hasn't been exactly healthy for him but it's like... people just, when do you write your stuff, you know? I was young, I was in my bedroom making this album. He was showing me how to use the equipment, he was using the equipment for me and I was playing everything. So he had a little bit of power there, but since then it was like, engineer. I find engineers who ain't producers or engineers who maybe do a bit of production but I let them know. Like, you know, I work with a lot of different engineers because I don't need to keep an engineer. So I just go anywhere. But, for instance, I had this guy at my house the other day, and he goes, "maybe if you put in so-and-so" - no, he goes, "I hear a part". And I goes, "yeah, that's good, you keep it for your stuff. Don't ever bring it up again. If you bring it up again, I ain't gonna work with you again." And I tell them that - don't bring it up. If I want input from you I'll ask you. Otherwise, it annoys me. And I don't ever see these guys again. I just let them go off and do their thing, you know? So it's made me militant, it's made me... so working with Mark Saunders was a very good thing for me, because it made me so militant. Like the same thing with Howie B, he got co-production for nothing. I only did one song with him, but he's built a career out of it for nothing, and he's... I don't listen to the guy because I don't like the music. But people kind of vampire you - there's a lot of vampires in this industry, so people just vamp you, man.
SMQ: It's interesting, because I remember Prince saying, "Why don't you become a producer? Does someone tell you what to wear in the morning, how you're gonna dress?"
T: Same thing, yeah, exactly.
SMQ: Are you gonna clothe me?
T: Some bands need production, I think. Some things need production.
SMQ: I just forgot one thing - changing the subject. The feature film idea is for the BFI/Channel Four, but this is the Artangel idea, two separate ideas, but I was thinking of one idea merging into two. But this is interesting, because in some ways it is about that... who you are and how you want things to be. And how you've dealt with it... you're so perceptive about these things, how did you...?
T: Making a lot of mistakes, man. I made a lot of mistakes when I came in this business, like socially, and like what I thought life was about, what success was about. And I'm a thinker - I do think a lot about things, I think about things, I think it's really important in this game because people will trap you and end your career as quick as they started it. And I hang out with people like Chris Blackwell a lot, stuff like that, older men.
SMQ: How old is he, actually?
T: He must be about sixty, I think. But it's just a learning process - you make mistakes, get burnt, look back. And I have trouble. I haven't learned from my mistakes. I get burned, I never learn, and I get burnt again and burnt again. And it's only this last year I've started learning, last couple of years, last three years, started learning. And I've always been a thinker and I've always thought about stuff and...
SMQ: Yes, absolutely, you're wise beyond your age.
T: Being brought up by all people that were... my grandmother and my aunt, and they were old.
SMQ: It shows, because you're 31 years old and you're speaking like someone who's, like, 50 - not in that conservative way but in the way of a person who's actually learned something over a certain period of time...
SMQ: OK, I think we've done it, haven't we?
T: That was good, man.
SMQ: No, it's excellent. It's the kind of thing I wish I'd read, everything's just fantastic.
T: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SMQ: But I think also, they way you speak - we'll edit the bits that aren't so... But listen, for a lot of people it will be just so helpful... fucking hell.
T: Hopefully a lot of people will see it, man.
SMQ: Oh yeah, they will. Absolutely. Because I think this thing is very popular.
T: Is it really popular? See, I don't know much about the Internet in England at the moment.
SMQ: Well, I think it's because it's always artists and musicians involved. How we're going to do it with you, they want to do it three ways - one will be a two-minute snatch because to download it takes a long time, one will be just text, and one will be the whole thing. I imagine if they wanted to
T: They could use it, yeah. Definitely.
|1) Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (May 9 - August 19, 2001)
2) Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (January 14 - February 19, 2005)
3) La Cigale, Paris - during "Nuit Blanche" (September 1, 2011) link, link
4) Art Institute, Chicago (October 21, 2012 - January 16, 2013)
5) Schaulager, Basel (March 16 - September 1, 2013) link, link, video
6) Tate Modern, London (February 13 - May 11, 2020)
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