01 July 2008

Tricky Kid Rises Again

Written by Published in Music Interviews

The music encyclopedias all have him down next to his former bandmates in Bristol – Massive Attack and Portishead – as a pioneer of trip-hop. But Tricky famously rejects such a label. His musical method of fusing beats and samples with spoken word, intriguing melodies and eerie female vocals might well fit in nicely with the trip-hop blueprint. but even his first singles ‘Ponderosa’ and ‘Aftermath’ showed that his was a singular voice, much darker and more abrasive than most music that was loosely comparable.

Tricky himself seemed a troubled soul, given to dramatic mood swings and a tendency to antagonise those around him. Hence the name – initially a nickname – Tricky. Fourteen years later, things are very different. His volatile temperament was finally recognised as a symptom of candida, a yeast and sugar intolerance aggravated by asthma medication. Today, Tricky lives in Los Angeles, often works in London, and is about to release his eighth album, Knowle West Boy – named after the area in Bristol where the then Adrian Thaws spent his youth.


Sublime: It’s five years since your last album – what took you so long?

Tricky: I’d done a lot of music in a short period of time – more than most artists. This is my eighth album. I was bringing out an album every year, so it ain’t like I took too long. I worked too fast. It caught up with me and it just fucked me up, basically; I had no interest in it any more. It seemed like my life was a cycle of albums. You do an album, you do the press, you tour and then it’s Christmas. You’re life’s going [claps hands]. I had problems with this thing called candida. I was trying to get to grips with that, but being so busy was making me sick. It started affecting me mentally – not like going insane or paranoid, but my brain was under stress.


S: It sapped your energy?

T: Yeah! It was starting to affect my mind. That scared me a little bit. All of a sudden I stopped recording. And then I just started hanging out. I’d done the club thing before, but no more than once a week, twice a week. Well, now I was going to clubs four or five days a week, just going there and being one of the crowd. As the years went by I got less and less noticed. Also, I was hanging out in the Bronx where people didn’t really know who I was. And it was like you realise that’s what you’ve been missing, being one of the crowd. Instead of walking into a club and feeling the whispers, ‘that’s Tricky’, you’re just walking into a club with four or five of your friends and you’re able to sit against a wall and no one notices. If you lose your anonymity, tpfft, that is a weight on the brain! It’s kind of hardcore.


S: So it felt good getting the anonymity back?

T: Yeah. And if you had asked me that years ago, ‘What would be an important thing to lose?’ there’s no way I would have said that, or even thought of it. ‘Cause when you have anonymity you don’t think anything of it. But if you lose it, it’s like being in a goldfish bowl – everybody’s staring at you.


S: And when you had your anonymity back, the pleasure in making music returned?

T: Yeah! I was hanging out with this guy called Rod, a Jamaican guy. He’s on the album, actually. We’d go to clubs, and he’d be chatting over a track, and I’d be doing vocals. And we were just doing it, like, to instrumentals that came on. Every time we’d go out, we’d just vibe. We’d go out every night. It was like being a kid again. We did that for about three years! Just go out, go travelling, Miami, Vegas, and we even got up on people’s shows, artists we didn’t even know, just jump on stage and do this rhyming shit. People didn’t know who the fuck I was. This was like how I started. I didn’t do this for fame or money. I did this because I wanted people to hear me on the street. You wanna be known as good, for having a talent. So I was, like, going way back again. It put the fun back into it. By the time we finished hanging out for all those years it was, like, ahh! I wanna make a record now!


S: This album shows you from a very playful side. You’re trying out many different things. The first three tracks each have a totally different atmosphere

T: Yeah, yeah! I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done. Some people say Angels was my worst album, but a lot of people say it’s their favourite album. Or Pre-Millennium. Some of that stuff, I don’t even get it any more. I don’t feel like that any more, so I don’t understand it. But for some of my family, that’s their favourite album. Whereas I would think Blowback, Maxinquaye or Vulnerable would be the obvious choices. Now, with this album, I had time to think. To realise, ‘You know, you’re lucky as a musician. You could do anything you want! You can create anything you want and say: I’ve got my name on it. Listen to this!’ What a great opportunity! How many people can do whatever they want? Very few. So you have a responsibility as an artist just to do something – maybe if you don’t even understand it yourself.


S: Yours is an attitude that’s becoming rarer and rarer. All too often bands nowadays are mouthing off about artistic integrity, whereas in reality they’re thinking first and foremost about marketing concepts

T: Yeah! And what a waste of an opportunity that is! If you say to me, I’ll sign you, I’ll play for your album and you can make music – that’s, like, you’ve got to have fun! You’ve got to do fucking everything! In those twelve or thirteen tracks you wanna live a lifetime! I don’t take my job for granted. Every day I wake up feeling I’m blessed. I’m lucky to be doing this. So I have a responsibility. Like you have a responsibility to live life, man! How many people get to live through another world like I get to live a different life through music? You can’t have that much of a gift and not do something with it.


S: You haven’t always felt like that, have you? Your condition – candida – got you down …

T: No, I didn’t always feel like that. First of all I felt like I shouldn’t be here, and that I was very lucky. Then I felt very misunderstood. Then I felt suffocated. Now that I’ve had time to sit down and think, I realise this is a great, great opportunity. Especially when you see the way music has gone now. It’s different to when my albums first came out. The way music is now is just totally corporate – it’s run by bankers and accountants. It’s a great time to bring out a record and say something honest and stand behind it.


S: Do you still have your studio in Los Angeles – and anybody you meet you take them in and let them sing?

T: Anybody, yeah! If I meet someone and they’re cool – to me it’s more important that someone’s a good person than a talent. Luckily enough I meet good people with talent. With most people, I talk to them and get on with them, and really get a good vibe, and they tell me they do vocals, and so I say: come in! If you’re a dick, you might be the most talented guy in the world but you ain’t gonna come in and do a vocal with me.


S: The press release mentions one of the singers on the new album, Joseph, and that you don’t apparently know where he is. Have you found him in the meantime?

T: No, but that’s why I call the track ‘Joseph’. I met him, he was kind of a busker, he used to play for money and shit and worked in an ice-cream thing, Häagen-Dasz. We did the track, and he disappeared. So I called that track ‘Joseph’. I hope that if it comes out he’s gonna find me. He didn’t really know about me, but his girl was a big fan. One day he bumped into me in the street, and goes: ‘It’s crazy, my girl goes on about you, and I just bump into you in the street!’ We started talking and I said, come round my house. I wrote this song for him, we did it, and then I lost touch with him. Hopefully now he’s gonna see this somewhere and get in touch, ‘cause he should be singing on records.


S: You’ve been talking about your own record label, Brown Punk, for a while. What’s the state of affairs there?

T: We’re going to be launching very soon. I’ve done a movie, I’ve directed it and I’m in the middle of finishing it. Actually, it’s two years old. I’ve lived with it, I didn’t like it, so I’m just finishing the re-edit now. I’m gonna bring that out to launch the label. The artists from the label are all in the movie.


S: Is it the story of the label?

T: Basically I took twelve tracks of these artists and made the words into a script. So it goes from real live into lipsync, but not into song. The lyrics are part of the dialogue. Basically it’s a movie about what people are willing to do to make a record. What I have to do to set up a label. Stuff like that. It’s like The Office, but ‘street’.


S: Has the experience of setting up a label been different from what you expected?

T: I didn’t know it was gonna be this hard! Whoa! I thought it was as easy as getting the artists and putting them out. It’s inspiring for me. The only music I listen to is the music on Brown Punk. And I don’t get involved. I don’t produce any of them. It’s all their own stuff. I could say: ‘I don’t like that’, but I don’t think it would really matter, and I never actually do that.


S: Why start a label and then not get involved?

T: Because I’m supposed to give them a vehicle. And if I like what you do already, why change it? ‘Cause I’m not gonna sign something I don’t like. I have to love it to sign it. If I love something, I’m a fan. As a fan I can’t really go and tell them what to do. If I could do it better I’d be doing what they’re doing. Even if there are a couple of tracks on an album that I don’t like, who am I to say? That might be just my taste. There might be a million other people out there who do like it. You sign people for their talent, and then you let them do their thing. This is what Chris Blackwell did to me. He signed me and let me do whatever I wanted. I’m sure he doesn’t like everything I put out on his label. But I never heard him say, ’You can’t put that out’. So it’s like I’m just a vehicle, really. I’ll find something I love, and then I’ll use my name, but apart from that you’ve got to do your thing.


S: A lot of lyrics on the album deal with youth, with Bristol. Being away from Britain most of the year, has your perspective on how you grew up changed from this distance?

T: I still think the same. But I look at things a little differently. Like, I realise these kids are a lot more fucking violent than we ever were. I can see the changes. But my perspective hasn’t changed. It’s still England, and it doesn’t seem much different to when I grew up, except they’re a little bit more hardcore now, the kids. And it’s getting a little bit more segregated. When I was growing up it wasn’t so much of that. It was more of a multicultural thing.


S: That was the beauty of your generation, wasn’t it? Britain in the early 80s was a time when people suddenly realised that there was so much to exchange between all the different cultures they’d grown up with.

T: Yeah! And we seem to be leaving that now, for some reason. I’m starting to see groups of black kids, groups of white kids – I don’t think that suits England. ‘Cause England is not about that. So that’s kind of strange. I don’t know where that’s gonna lead to.


S: Where do you think it comes from?

T: I think it comes from America. If you look at the biggest music over here, or the biggest music in the world, it’s hip-hop right now. The biggest movers in music at the moment are American. And the politics – we follow American politics, Blair did especially. So maybe it’s the influence of politics, movies, music. It’s hard to explain. It’s really weird. But it definitely wasn’t like this when I was growing up.


S: And all the violence, as you said.

T: People used to have punch-ups, now they have gun battles. They’re a lot more full-on than we were. But in a way I think they have less than my generation. When The Specials came out, that took the pressure off me. There was a band I was really into, a youth culture I was really into. They way we dressed. Hip-hop was like that when it first came out. But now it isn’t really so much, any more. So really these kids have nothing except going for money [rubs fingers together]. Know what I mean? We didn’t need certain things when we were 15. Now when you’re 15, these kids are like men. So I think they’ve got a lot less than we did.


S: It’s ironic, isn’t it. ‘Respect’ has been the big word around for a while. But in fact its use is all to do with material things and macho muscle. Its use has bred disrespect for anyone not inclined to think and act in similar ways.

T: Oh, yes, totally! When I was growing up, if someone was older than you, even if you were a tough guy, you gave them respect. Now, they don’t give a fuck. You could be out there as a man, a couple of 15-year-olds will stab you up. Shoot you up. It’s a totally different thing. My grandmother always taught me: respect your elders. That was a big thing when I was growing up, a big part of the culture. Don’t tell tales, and respect your elders. Now I don’t think there is that, I don’t think people are teaching that now. I’m not saying kids weren’t violent when we were younger. Kids where I come from used to fight when they were 15, and they’d fight men. But it was in a different way. A different attitude. It’s the 15-year-old kid who’s starting the fights now. Whereas it used to be the 15-year-old kid who’s standing up for himself and fights a man who’s been picking on him first. Now you’ve got a 15-year-old kid pushing up on someone who’s a lot older than them. It’s a totally different mentality. These kids are quick to violence.


S: Do you think hip-hop has sold its audience down the river, in a way – so many artists going on so much about violence and materialistic things?

T: Yeah. I can understand rappers talking about their environment, and when they do that you can’t censor anything. When rappers like NWA first came out they were like that. But when it becomes pop culture, and it’s not about your environment but it’s about making money, I think it gets a bit weird then. I see hip-hop as the blues was, and reggae – a struggling people’s music. It comes out of suffering. Now hip-hop has become a corporate venture. Now you’ve got a corporation talking to you instead of a struggling kid or a guy who comes from a hard environment. It has lost its way. It’s like having corporate America rapping to you. I’m not interested in corporate America. I wanna hear things like Juvenile was doing a few years back, talking about New Orleans and what it was like living through Hurricane Katrina. I’m not really interested in how many cars or how much draw you’ve got.


S: Do you still get aggro these days, the way you dress and look?

T: Nah, nah! Ha ha! I think I look strange enough that people leave me alone. So – nah, I get left alone.


S: And Los Angeles is a comfortable place for you to live?

T: Yeah, yeah. But it’s a dangerous place, you know. You can get into problems there. But I just stay low-key. It’s when you’re involved with something that you have problems. I live in a neighbourhood where if you step on people’s toes there’s pressure. But because I move around so much it doesn’t affect me.



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