||Text Caspar Melville||Photos Derrick Santini|
want to deal with Tricky you first have to deal with the myths which surround
him. His meteoric rise from Massive Attack bit player to inventor of trip
hop" and British pop icon was accompanied by an ecstatic press fanfare
(a Guardian reviewer recently called him simply "the best musician
in Britain"). If you listened to the debut album 'Maxinquaye' (and who
could avoid it?) Tricky appeared as a mumbling rapper, into hip hop, rock
and dub. Admittedly weird; kinky even.
The Tricky myth consists of a few simple assertions. Tricky is a skinny kid from Bristol; Tricky is the prophet of the coming apocalypse, the poet of the millennium; Tricky is, or thinks he is, God (or the Devil); Tricky is 'difficult', very tough, and given to beating people up (especially journalists); Tricky is a transvestite; Tricky has psychic powers; Tricky is (nearly) mad; Tricky smokes a lot of herb; Tricky is a moody bastard.
In preparing for this interview I read many of these articles and felt kind of apprehensive as I walked down Ladbroke Grove to meet him at the photo shoot, especially in view of his apparent hostility to journalists (which almost every interviewer had emphasised). I didn't fancy ending up in the back of Tricky's motor with my face shot off (a threat he apparently made in one of his songs to a Time Out writer). I had things to do tomorrow. In the studio Tricky is sitting on the sofa between his A&R man and his uncle Tony. The disparity between Tricky The Myth and Tricky The Man is immediately obvious. For a start he is just that: a man. Not a 'kid', not obviously 'skinny'. A grown up. A geezer. And this geezer is not wearing a gold lame pantsuit or a Kaftan and he is not caked with half a pound of Max Factor either. He is wearing a 'nice' shirt, a 'nice' jumper, 'nice' slacks (admittedly they were velvet) and a sensible pair of Hush Puppies. All in delicately coordinated shades of beige. On top of that the king of dark ("Devil in a blue mood" according to one New York magazine) is laughing and joking around with his mates, reminiscing about last night's booze-up at the MTV Awards. As their limo crawled through the London traffic, apparently, Tricky kept jumping out and nipping into off
so that he was thoroughly mashed by the time he got there. Just like, well,
just like an ordinary bloke. And hang on a minute. The moody 'nearly
god' is friendly and polite, nothing like what I had been led to expect.
Who then, is the 'real' Tricky, and how has this myth been created around
Much of the Tricky myth can be traced back to his music. If 'Maxinquaye' was odd, then the follow-up 'Nearly God', a bunch of demos knocked together in two weeks featuring among others ex-special Terry Hall, Alison Moyet, Bjork (an ex-girlfriend), and Neneh Cherry, was stranger still. His current release, 'Pre-Millennium Tension', continues in the same vein, with the now-familiar Tricky motifs: fuzzy leaden beats (often purposefully out of time), noisy rock riffs, Martina crooning Tricky's lyrics while he mumbles in the background, fucked-up versions of hip hop classics (Eric B and Rakim's 'Lyrics of Fury' gets the treatment this time). Undoubtedly this music: disturbing, innovative and defying categorisation, is going to give you a certain impression of who Tricky is. But to confuse the work with the artist is one of the oldest critical fallacies there is. Was Picasso a cube? Irvine Welsh a trainspotter? Tricky has crafted a musical persona which, while making use of his family history, his 'ghetto' upbringing, his asthma, in no way gives a complete portrait.
Tricky (born Adrian Thaws, 'Ade' to his uncle Tony, 'Trix' to his mates) has had a hand in creating his own gender-bending, maverick image. But that so many journalists are willing to take the Trickster at face value - to believe that he really is scary, crazy, dangerous - is in part, because so many (white) journalists are willing to believe this of any black man, let alone a powerful black star. What has virtually escaped mention (but seems so obvious in talking to him), is Tricky's acute business acumen and ironic sense of humour. His career has so far combined these two elements more successfully than anyone since Malcolm McLaren: leading to the feeling that he has played a grand ironic joke on the public, the music industry and the oh-so-serious press, while at the same time becoming a best-selling artist and mini-mogul. No doubt Tricky's testing of all boundaries musical, sexual and racial is brave and innovative. But it's also his way of having a laugh.
Tricky refuses to wear the classy threads Touch have prepared for him for the photo shoot, and he's adamant about that. Not aggressive, not unreasonable, just
|definite. Once he has decided,
you sense, there is no going back. Even in his normal clothing Tricky is
a strange looking bloke. His greenish eyes are unnerving and his skin is
pulled taut over his cheekbones. He is the first to admit that he's not
classically handsome. During the photo shoot he declines a certain gesture
because he says "it makes me look like I think I'm all that". Then he tells
a funny story: This bloke in New York goes to me 'you must have a big fan
base' and I goes 'why's that?' and he says 'cos you're no Denzel Washington."'
He erupts into waves of wheezy laughter.
His accent is one of those rounded West country burrs Londoners might refer to as 'bumpkin' where 'like' becomes 'bike' and 'mind' 'moind'. He is gracious and easy-going despite his reputation for sudden mood swings. His answers to my questions are eager and, apparently, honest. Perhaps this has been partially to blame for all the mythification? "I'm a bit too honest" he acknowledges. "I admit to being a wanker sometimes. But also being well known people expect something from me, people don't come up and ask 'how's it going', they come up with loads of attitude. They think I'm going to be a cunt. I'm not, like, rude, I'm not going to go up to you and slap you in the face, but I am going to speak my mind."
Tricky clearly wants to come across as an ordinary bloke but it also seems that he really is able to be more ordinary now; now the madness of the past two years is subsiding, now he has secured himself a strong position within the industry. "I think I just wanted to do damage, to constantly do the damage musically, now I'm slowing down a bit." From the moment 'Maxinquaye' was released, Tricky embarked on a mad whirl of recording, publicity and partying during which he did, by his own admission, act like a spoiled child on occasion, and become involved in 'situations' (like his feud with the Time Out journalist or the 'trendy love triangle' between him, Bjork and Goldie) which he now sees as trivial. "When you're going to make music you've got to make money; you can't make music and have a nine to five. But then you start believing that money will solve everything. You have to remember you are just solving the problem so you can record. Last year I forgot that. I started thinking charts. I don't give a fuck about that now."
| It was his decision
to appear in photo spreads in drag, with horns or on a cross. But he was
feeding an urgent desire - on the part of the press - for a new odd-ball
star, and making himself famous into the bargain. But does it mean he's
Satan? Jesus? Or even that he thinks he is? Or does it signal extreme media
savvy? In order to escape what had become stifling media attention in Britain,
Tricky went to Jamaica last Christmas to record 'Pre-Millennium Tension',
in one of Kingston's crappiest studios (Ali Campbell from UB4O warned him
not to use it but Tricky liked the lo-tech vibes). "Going to Jamaica made
me remember that I didn't get into it for the money or the fame. In England,
Island Records told me from the beginning 'you can do anything you want'
so obviously I did anything I wanted. You just get your ego stroked all
the time. In the studio in London you can say 'make me a cup of tea, get
me some food, roll me a spliff'. In Jamaica if I asked them to get me a
tea they just said 'bloodclaat get it yourself'. I had to make my own tea,
buy my own weed, it stops you being lazy."
Laziness isn't one of Tricky's major vices. While it is true that he smokes copious amounts of weed (notch up one for the Tricky myth) it doesn't seem to have adversely affected his productivity. During his eight month sojourn in New York ("they don't know who I am out there, or if they do they don't give a fuck,") he recorded four tracks with Grace Jones (now signed to his Durban Poison label), a five track hip hop EP called 'Grassroots' for American label Payday, and a British / American hip hop album under the name Drunkenstein; an ambition for someone who always idolised Slick Rick and Rakim. The Drunkenstein project allowed Tricky to get back into the studio with Miles Johnston, one of the founder members of Massive Attack, who split with the band rather than sign a recording conctract. The Drunkenstein project features three British rappers - Tricky, Rodney from the London Posse and MC Mello - and three Americans - Roc, Storm and Papa D (a moonlighting New York cop). Tricky seems genuinely excited by the opportunity to play with different aspects of his musical personality, to return to his musical roots. "I'm sounding like a young kid, confident. I'm rapping like I used to. There's no slow shit in there. " he declares proudly. In the studio I
|even learnt to freestyle. These
kids were just so up for having a laugh, we were giggling all over
the place and kids just blowing off rhymes, it was like being sixteen again.
How does he think his rapping will go down with a hardcore hip hop crowd?
"I don't know if a hip hop crowd will consider me a player
after this but the guys I was working with liked what I did."
On 'PMT', Tricky has taken his lo-tech misery to its absolute extreme. It's a fuzzy dreary record, with one pretty ballad to alleviate the pressure. It sounds exactly like it was recorded in the worststudio in Jamaica. Less accessible than 'Maxinquaye', it is still likely to sell well (reviews have been mixed but generally positive) although it is unlikely to endear him much to the average Touch reader. As if he, too, is bored with the morose monochromatics of his past albums, Tricky is intent on exploring different elements of his musical personality. In addltion to his straight-up hip hop projects, expect some Tricky power pop. He already has big plans for an out and out pop band by the name of Superior, signed to Durban Poison. The next album I make is going to be a happy album, It's going to be pop." No more lo-fi production minimalism for him: I've never really demoed before, the demo is the finished product, so I'd like to demo and then think about it, rehearse it, then go in again, write some silly songs, see what happens."
The real surprise to Tricky is that, while he consciously steers clear of any kind of black nationalist rhetoric, he is not only well aware of the conditions of racism (he has commented elsewhere that "they don't let blacks onto the A list") but he espouses the principle which underpins any form of black nationalist thought: economic self - determination. Tricky is the very prototype of a black entrepreneur. "I'm trying to get into the corporate world and change it from the inside. Power, you need power," he explains. Through the record company I can get a bit of power and give my artists a bit of
|power. The record company is
about digits, how much you are making for them, they would drop you in
a minute if you stopped. After being in New York I realised that I can
make money as a business man."
What is also underestimated is Tricky's sense of humour, his delight in playing the record industry at its own game. Nothing seems to have given him so much pleasure as delivering Island two albums which were basically rough demos, recorded on cheap equipment (he uses a very basic sequencer so the tunes often fall out of time), where his vocals are barely audible. He refuses to change a thing and - guess what? The resulting shambles sells a truckload - a kind of double joke on the record company and the record buying public who, no matter how unlistenable the album appears (and 'PMT' is virtually unbearable) can't get enough. Tricky's pop breaks all the rules. There are no hooks, few melodies, no sing-alongs, misery in place of romance. And still it sells. I can do anything. It's a good position to be in," he says modestly.
Well so what? Why should Touch readers bother with Tricky? Because, like it or not, he is perhaps the most powerful black musician in Britain today, as well as being our most interesting pop star (move over anyone named Gallagher). Whether you like the music or not - and for what it's worth I do - you have to respect his attempts to create a genuine British answer to hip hop, his skill in manipulating the record industry and the media and his barefaced cheek. More than that, he is putting his money (and there is lots of it) where his mouth is. Building his own company, supporting British music, and particularly British hip hop which needs all the friends it can get. He's also paving the way for black British entrepreneurs in an industry which has systematically exploited black talent without rewarding it. Don't look now but Tricky might just be turning into Britain's crossdressing, spliff smoking answer to Sean 'Puffy' Combs or Suge Knight. Now that is scary.
|TrIcky on racIsm
"I've hanged around with white kids who were racist and black kids who were racist and they're both stupid. White kids say things like 'yeah he's alright but I wouldn't let him marry my sister'. Black kids say things like 'nah man that kid could never beat me in a fight because I'm black.' You soon realise that both sides are pretty fucked up."
TrIcky on marijuana
TrIcky on trip hop
|TrIcky on drum and bass
"Aah, drum and bass is new music, it's amazing. I'm a bit jealous because I can't do it. It's like a
young British reggae with hip hop,
it's English music definitely."
TrIcky on gettIng older
Tricky on being normal
Tricky on Brit Pop
Tricky on success
|confuses you. Going to Jamaica
made me remember that I didn't get into it for the money or the fame, I
got into it to write the best music and the best lyrics in the world."
Tricky on fatherhood
Tricky on performing
Tricky on 'Pre Millennium Tension'
photos: Derrick Santini