trickyDevil in a blue mood
|They used to
call him Tricky Kid, he lived the life they wished they did, he lived the
life, don't own a car, and now they call him superstar.
Tricky - naked and famous
and ever-so- slightly "out there"
|Tricky and me are sitting in
a bicycle rickshaw, staring at a college kid's sweaty bum as he pedals
us through Saturday night in downtown Manhattan. It is hot and heavy, amund
midnight. Since we met four hours ago Tricky has had about four spliffs.
The plan had been to go to a cook-out with Tricky's new pal Rock, of New
York hip-hop crew Stick E & The Hoods. Rock had earlier come calling
at the Lower East Side apartment of a friend of Tricky's, "four hot mamas"
in tow, but, you know, the grass and the gas got in the way and Rock had
to blow without us. Shit happens, and usually to Tricky.
So now we're off to see Orbital at Irving Plaza. "This is weird," says Tricky, soaking in the buzzing sidewalks and endless noise of traffic. "If this was London we'd be getting bottled!" He cackles a mad cackle.
Soon we are at the bar at the back of Irving Plaza, drinking. Tricky tells me of two remixes he has done recently, including one for Yoko Ono, and how he started off by simply swapping over the songs' drum tracks. Tricky mentions that he is a loner, constantly on the move, then talks of having to go and meet a man about a god [I'm paraphrasing here]. Then he asks me to hold his beer bottle, goes off to the toilet, and never come' back. I am not surprised.
Tricky and me are approaching each other up the pavement. His trousers are hanging off his hips, his pants are riding up his waist. Tattooed and topless in the early evening humidity of the New York summer. He is munching on a red apple. Looking small and large, thin and wide, at the same time. He offers a wide, fruit-eating grin and shouts a greeting in that vocoded West Country accent. Tricky has been in New York, on and off, for four months now. He came here to record and to escape, which might be the same thing. So far he has produced a showcase EP of underground New York hip-hop artists, Tricky Presents: Grassroots, for Payday - the label run by the manager of Gang Starr / Jazzmatazz majordomo, Guru. He has also just finished, yesterday, another album project by the name of Drunkenstein, featuring, amongst others, MC Mello from London and a New York cop-cum-rapper called Papa D. All this, and for
|the past three weeks he has
also been looking after Maisie, he and Martina's daughter, before Martina
takes her on the road with Perry Farrell's Porno For Pyros, for whom Martina
is supplying backing vocals.
Tricky leads the way up to a friend's apartment. It is dusky and sweltering, the floor cluttered with the tapes spilling out of Tricky's bag. "I'm trying to bring English and American hip-hop together," he gabbers, flopping down and reaching for a half-smoked spliff. "It's fucking crazy, right! It's like not giving a fuck. I've gone back to being 15 again. I'm writing just crap, and it's all about flow. Jonowhamean? Off the top of my head, going in, drunk, just mocking around... having a laugh. A lot of the tapes have loads of laughing. It's the first time I've laughed in a long time."
In the 18 months since Maxinquaye, Tricky
hasn't had much time for mirth. Björk, Bush, Garbage, Gravediggaz,
Yoko Ono, Elvis Costello, Whale, Terry Hall, Starving Souls, Suggs, Silver
| It is called Pre-Millennium
Tension and it is, frankly, astonishing. It is the croaking, creaking sound
of one man's mad life and madder thoughts. Next to Pre-Millennium Tension
the unnerving sexual games and close-quarter psycho-dramas of Maxinquaye
are like easy listening. Not for the third album the odd blissful flourish
['Overcome'] and odder moment of avant-pop ['Ponderosa'] of the first.
This time, Tricky gives full vent to his obsessions and vendettas.
The album was written and recorded in four weeks in Jamaica over Christmas last year. Hence the fraughtness of much of sound?
"Maybe that was it," muses Martina. "Tricky is the
puppetmaster, so that's the kind of backing track he was creating. I think he wanted to do something a bit more in the vein of hardcore..."
It is some weeks after New York and after her tour with Porno For Pyros. Martina is being photographed in a London studio as she casts her mind back to an album that, given Tricky's work-rate, already seems like ancient history.
"It was a nice atmosphere to record in. When we did Maxinquaye up in Harlesden you could just feel the tension of the city. But out there it was a lot easier."
She thinks about this for a while, tentative and considered where her partner is impulsive and relentless. "In the studio, I guess it was actually a lot more tense - but not in the same eerie, confused, headfuck sense that Maxinquaye was."
A different kind of tension?
"Maybe, let me think... Maybe you shouldn't ask me any questions about the album!"
Whatever the circumstances, whoever you ask, these beats are dark. The cornerstone of Pre-Millennium Tension is 'Tricky Kid', a clanking treadmill of a song that features NY crew The Hillfiguzes supplying posessed, jibbering raps in the background. "They used to call me Tricky Kid, I lived the life they wish they, I lived the life, don't own a car, and now they call me superstar" Tricky intones. "Here comes the Nazarene; looks good in a magazine... everybody wants a record deal, everybody wants to be naked and famous".
| It goes on with
the so-called single, 'Christiansands', a true tale of how Tricky met "a
devil in Helsinki". The devil was a journalist, and the tune is twitchy
and somnolent "I remember that day," smiles Martina. "He'd smoked lots
and lots of weed! And she was awful with him, apparently. He came back
Then, if you can imagine it, things get heavier still. 'Vent' has Tricky and Martina trading lines about her hiding his Ventolin inhaler over a backing track that sounds like the thrum of blood in an oxygen-starved brain. It is, perhaps, Tricky's most candid pronouncement yet on the nature of his relationship with the mother of his child, the singer of his songs, and the rock to his roll.
"I don't suffer with asthma so bad," he says, "but I nearly died once at Martina's mum's. I stopped breathing for a bit. After that, I just started getting heavily into fitness, 'cos it did fucking scare me, man. I stopped breathing, and I had 'those electric things. It scared everybody. I'd had attacks before but I'd never stopped breathing."
Deeper, deeper still. What about 'Bad Things'?
"That's me as a frustrated gangster. Talking about all the things I'd like to do to you if I had the power. And what's scarey is that I meant it. You can hear it in the vocals. I really mean it."
Who are you singing it to?
"Anybody who's fucked with me. I remember people who've fucked with me from when I was 17. Jonowhamean? When I haven't deserved to be fucked with. And people who get in my way. I don't need anybody getting in my way 'cos I need to keep going forward.
"Other songs, I've got this real voodoo thing. I took mushrooms in Finland and we were doing a show and there were x amount of thousands there. And you're controlling people with your energy. And I'm
|thinking, if I've got enough
energy to do that with my music on stage, if I want to do something bad
to someone, it must be possible. So I've been playing with that. Thinking
about someone, giving them all my negative energy, and trying to hurt them.
I feel like... I need to fucking hurt people, but I know I can't do it
physically 'cos I'll go to prison. So my only outlet is making myself think
I believe in voodoo."
Once a journalist was coming to meet Tricky in America. Tricky really didn't want to do the interview. Really didn't want to do it. On the flight over the journalist's plane developed engine trouble and had to be diverted. Once there was a record company employee that Tricky didn't like. They got the sack. Tricky doesn't smile when he tells these stories.
Once, Martina recounts, there was a table full of glasses at a party. Tricky said he made them explode. Martina smiles when she tells this story.
"I want to be a gangster but at the end of the day I know I ain't," Tricky states matter-of-factly, saying how he'd love to meet jailed Mafia kingpin John Gotti. He's had a lot of time to think about walking on the wild side, coming as he does from a hard, parentless upbringing in Bristol, coming from a short spell in jail, from teenage years thieving and scamming.
He had a metal cosh for years, used it round the house to get rid of his frustration. Last year he gave it to his (short-term] paramour, Björk. Now Tricky uses a punch-bag. And he plays chess.
"I've never been shown how to get rid of my anger. I think I do it through the music. My cousin got robbed just round the corner from where he lives. And my uncle said to him, 'I don't believe it, my daughter's got more bottle than you.' That's the things we're getting programmed into us! No, fuck it, of course, let him rob you!" Tricky is indignant now, shrill and animated, the memories coursing. "A guy called Michael Armstrong threw a stone at my head when I was
Life Is Rubbish
There is a Tricky track called 'I'll Pass Through You', which sounds like Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger' go diabolical, that Damon Albam recorded for Nearly God but then pulled from the finished version. Tricky fucked around with it in the studio after I did it, says Damon. Damon had no guts, says Tricky. Now Tricky has re-recorded the track with former Madness singer Suggs.
How does Suggs's differ from Damon's version?
"It's real, he's the real deal, innee, he's the original. It's honest."
And Damon's the young pretender?
"Yeah. He's got melodies, he's got vocals, but... this Is Suggs. Damon's accent ain't his, Is it? This is real. Damon's track was wicked, it sounded quite scarey. But this is real.
Damon had no bottle. Which was stupid 'cos that's exactly what he needed in his career. Bottle. He said 'I'm out'. Oasis and them mouthing off each other all the time -- c'mon, put some actions behind your, em...
"AlI that laddy thing. Drinking beer. Hanging out with the lads. They're not lads. They're kids. I've been out with Damon to a club, and he totalIy brings out the bully in me. He makes you do it 'cos he always acting the lad. And I don't to act Iike that 'cos I don't want to get beat up. It makes me angry when someon wants to be a lad because it's more serious than they think. PIaying around with fighting is not a joke. It's not my time in life to be a lad."
|eight. I told my nan, and she
said 'Get a bigger stone'. That's what I got programmed into me. And sometimes
I find it a struggle to get it out of me. If someone does something to
me, fuck it, I don't have to be a man. If I get robbed and I'm alive, that's
good. But I grew up with my uncles, and all the men in my family are boxers.
They went from bouncers to protection to general villainry. Tough guys.
"I know I'm not that person. I'm finding a way to get away from that. That's what's good about Pre-Millennium Tension. On this record I can do anything I want. I can kill you, I can beat you up, I can kick you in the head, I can voodoo you. And then it's gone."
From Nearly God to Nearly Satan?
"Yeah, yeah, totally," he eagerly spews, fidgeting on the couch, fiddling with his smoke. "Totally opposite, aggressive, fucking, c'mon then if you think you're a lad, seeing this press about lads, so-called tough guys... Tough guys don't live a good life. Bad boys don't live a good life."
But haven't you written a song about a journalist who upset you [the journalist, spending time with Tricky, Martina and Maisie on the set of The White Room, observed that Martina had a "distant air about her, which could be taken as... the fatigue associated with bringing up a small child more or less on her own"]? A song about putting him in the boot of a car and shooting him in the face?
"Yeah I did."
Well, that's "bad".
"It's not really. It's bad what he said about me and my daughter. He deserves to be put in a car and shot in his face."
That's like a fatwa, that's Salman Rushdie territory.
"No, he got - yeah, yeah, I suppose I am. He's got a black heart, that guy. But then again, it's only a song. I know I wouldn't get away with that. The song ain't actually got a name, I did it on Silver Bullet's album.
|It's basically saying: "fuck
the music industry, fuck the royalty cheques, let's take it back to the
council flats, guns, grenades and baseball bats, I wanna put you in your
car and shoot you in your fucking face, parental to parental how do you
expect me to feel?" Cos he's got a kid as well...
"It was the cheek he had to try and say what our relationship is when he walks into my life for five minutes and then he writes saying this is it. He's got no right to do that. No right to do that. I got more right to shoot him in his face than he has to do that
"But then again there's a positive because I got a wicked song out of it. And now there's no beef. Now I don't hate him so much."
Are you becoming obsesssed with the nature of your fame, considering this and 'Tricky Kid' - how you're "naked and famous"?
"Yeah, because it's what I'm living. I am famous and it's made me naked. What's mad is, now everybody wants to be like me. But they don't fucking know the half of it. The grass is always greener."
Would you want to be you?
"I can think of a few more people I'd rather be. I used to think Mike Tyson. But nah, because he's obviously struggling as well."
Tricky and me are arguing
on the phone. It is a week after our meeting. Tricky is back in London.
He says I've been calling his record company in Los Angeles, trying to
find out the name of his daughter.
|Day turns to dusk turns to
night. Tricky has barely stopped talking for three hours. Again, we are
pondering fame and infamy. "The bigger things get, the more you realise
they're actually pretty
pointless. Really, I might as well be an arms dealer. I'm making money for the money to go and make some money. I'm a musician, I don't want kids dying of bombs and shit like that I got a heart. But at the end I'm part of it, I'm part of this world. I get to America and I realise that I've become a business, not a musician. I'm turning this wheel. I've become a corporate company. I am the devil, man. Jonowhamean? I am the devil itself."
Are you essentially a good person?
"Yeah. Very good. I'm a very nice person. But people wouldn't believe that from the way I portray myself. I'm very honest; I'm so honest sometimes it gets me into trouble. I'm not gonna laugh at your jokes and I'm not gonna get my dick out and wank when you say so."
When was the last time you lied?
"I lie all the time. No one knows who I am. That's what's frustrating for people, no one knows who I am 'cos I'm always lying."
Do you know who you are?
"No, I've never known and I've given up trying to find out. I know I live and I die. That's enough to be
|worried about. I was a long
time ago. People say I'm strange and fucked-up, but I found that became
the luckiest thing. It opened doors. My worst characteristics did me favours.
It made me want to produce music unlike anybody else.
Do you find it easier to hate than to Iove?
"Sometimes, yeah. Especially in New York. Taxi drivers. Two minutes in the cab, I hate them. They'll say, 'You like black pussy'. Or the way they treat you in shops. An~d just general people's nature."
Why have you stayed for four months'?
Tricky shakes his head and pauses. "You're not smart," he glares, you're not smart. Listen, all these things you're sayiin, nothing smart."
He's staring at me now, contorting his face and raising his voice.
"Like, I've been through things which you would not believe, kid. And now I call you beause you're making me angry, you're trying to antagonise me. There ain't no trickery in my game. I could talk to you and say what comes out of my mind, or I could fu ck with your head. However you want to fuck with me I could fuck with you...
DOUBLE. DOUBLE DOUBLE DOUBLE!"
Tricky rises up on one end of the couch and I sink into the other.
|Modern Life Is
Tricky knows Gavin Rossdale, singer in Bush, via the latter's menager, Dave Dorrell [ontime DJ and member of M.A.R.R.S.]. Tricky saw one of Bush's erliest shows, at London's pokey Subterania and one of their most recent in a 15,000-capacity stadium in New Jersey. After talking about it for ages Bush and Tricky have finally worked together on a version of Joy Division 'In A Lonely Place' for Tim Pope's sequel to The Crow.
"The besf thing about Tricky is how open he is,"reckons Rossdale. "He has no fear and I respect that. No fear of anyone else, of any fomula. His whole vibe is about self expression and musical expression and the rest can fuck off. And Martina has a voice to die for."
"To sell that many records you do have to pay a price," reckons Tricky. "But Gabin seems quite the same that he ever was. What I find quite wicked is that he's stIll inspired. To make music you gotta have a constant battle, you gotta be fighting for something. And after selling five million records there's not a lot you have to fight for. But I get a vibe that he wants to be taken seriously."
"Without a doubt we will work together again," reckons Rossdale. "Unless one of us gets shot."
| "I ain't fucked
with you - I sit and I smoke a spliff and I'm chilled," he continues. "And
you're trying to trick this... There's no trickery in my game. That's my
name. Tricky. I'm just a normal guy. But if you're gonna fuck with me I'll
fuck with you."
At this point I consider [a] the darkness, [b] the sweat trickling down my cheek, and [c] the gun-in-the-face incident.
Okay then. This film you've been doing with Luc Besson in London, what's that all about? And boof, Tricky's off again, moving onwards, switching personalities, and scarcely glancing around.
"Well, I don't know what it's about really," he says, suddenly perfectly affable. Phew. "They filmed it backwards, kept it really secretive. All I know is that Gary Oldman's in it, Bruce Willis is in it, and this girl, but I can't remember her name. I play this henchman called Right Arm. I had to learn a few lines. But Besson's really a good guy, you don't have to have it off perfectly. He just let me blag it... It was hard work. And when you're not doing it you're hanging around. It was not something I really enjoyed."
Tricky didn't hang with Bruce, but he did kick back with Gary. Oldman, so it goes, "is kinda fascinating. Quite a scarey guy. Intense without being intense. I wouldn't like to fuck with him. He's got an energy about him. If I could project that energy half the battle would be won. I wouldn't even have to get in arguments with people."
Tricky and me are arguing
on the phone. It is two days after the first call. "I think we should meet
up," he says. he's a bit paranoid and wants to clear up some confusion
over something he thinks he said about melodies and something he thinks
I thought might have referred to Martina. Something like that. "Let's go
for a coffee on Monday," he suggests.
Never a dull moment... Tricky, says Martina,
is impulsive, is constantly embracing and rejecting, hauling in and clearing
out. It's what makes him a
"He doesn't have either of his parents, no one to say, 'That's fucking out of order'. There's no yardstick for him. That works to his benefit, but, you know..."
Tricky, for his part, knows that he can't pull any strokes with the woman he met when she was a 15- year-old public schoolgirl and he a 22-year-old former wide-boy who had some stuff on Blue Lines.
He calls Martina "very smart. We got a different relationship to anybody else - record companies, friends, anybody else at all, there's no one in my life like Martina, and vice versa. Our relationship is totally... You ain't gonna know it.
"She's very uninterested. Our relationship aln't about music, 'cos she ain't interested. Our conversations ain't about shit like the next record. It's about where Maisie's gonna go to school, or have I got bars on my new flat, or have I covered the plug- holes, or is there a nanny."
Things like this, real adult life like this, you suspect, has made Tricky stop and think a bit more.
As things wind down, as the tape runs out, Tricky says: "Everything I've done bad to people has come back to me. I've hit people, I've been hit I've bullied, I've been bullied. I've robbed, I've been robbled. One of my friend's robbed my auntie's house, there was nothing I could..."
Something else juts into his brain.
"Betraying someone - if someone really cares about you, taking advantage of them. It's all come back on me. And that's one of main reasons I am what I am now. I hardly move with anybody now. I got two friends, who I've known since I was young. Apart from that I meet people and I lose 'em. Meet people and lose 'em. 'Cos I ain't fucking with 'em and I don't, want to be fucked with. So basically I'm a loner. I ain't got nobody. That's the position I deserve for all I've
done to people. It ain't success what's got me here. Everything I deserve is coming to me now."
Does that not suit you since you like being in the studio so much?
"I don't know if it suits you better. There'll come a day when you realise, when you become an old man and you die lonely. That's where it goes to."
|Modern Life Is
Tricky went to Chicago to remix Garbage. In the studio he was "smoking, just doing my thing. It was that track 'Milk'. I just totally stripped it. It was quite weird a session 'cos they were there. And it
was quite tense. They'd been on the road for ten months, playing every night. They weren't into it at first 'cos I work backwards. I start off with a noise" - and he makes a noise like an emphysemic dog - and they were thinking ,'What's he doing?', 'cos l ain't started off with a drum pattem. I just try and write as simply as I can. I put one noise in" - and he makes a noise like a lecherous frog - "every few bars, then I'll put another noise on top of that, then another noise, then a drum kick, then another drum kick. So it must have seemed strange, but after they heard what I was trying to do they were cool with it."
"They want to release it as a single. So l think they were looking for something that was gonna chart. And this doesn't sound like something that's gonna chart. And my argument was, you've sold four million records, you can do anything you want and I think It'd be better for you to do exacdy
Were you giving Garbage the same thing you were givlng Bush?
"Yeah. Extreme. Being totally extreme."
"I don't know. Yo meet people, they say they like what you do, but you don't know, do you? it's hard for me to comprehend 'cos I ain't gonna work with someone for credibility."
You don't have to.
"No. I'd work somebody for the opposite. I'd produce Kylie Minogue 'cos Kylie Minogue would get me into the charts. So l suppose there's a bit using. Maybe Garbage will get me into the charts, and l don't get into the charts. But unless there's a little bit of respect for each other...
"Like, Garbage wrote 'Milk' themselves and it is a fucking brilliant song, but with Kylie Minogue I'd have to start from scratch. I'd be writing her lyrics and her melodies."
| Is that why you
work so much: it's something to do?
"Yeah. I have to fill the time. I need to be hearing music, I need to be making music constantly. Music consumes you. That's what it's doing to me now."
Is that a positive thing?
"Phew," he puffs. "I don't know. I could never say. Then, when someone comes up to and says, 'Thank you, you touched my soul', it is a positive thing. Like my friend Derek in Bristol, he's a schizophrenic. And he was mad - we'd go out in Bristol, he'd take his clothes off, beat someone up, be standing in the road, talking to himself. No one let him into any of the pubs. He was fucked. And we used to listen to 'Teen Spirit'. We'd walk down the street and sing it together, and for that three minutes he forgot all his pain, all his fears, all that schizophrenia. It was gone. That's positive. And I've done that for people."
Tricky's learning. Coming to grips with loosening off. "I feel weak," he says of his post-Pre-Millennium Tension state of mind. Because the album has helped him let go. Slacken off. Leave it. Now he's going to tour until he drops, to keep him away from the studio, to recharge and reconfigure.
Pre-Millennium Tension may be someone else's worst nightmare come a-calling at your door, but it still sounds liberational, charged and utterly compelling. It's always darkest before dawn, and all that blunted jazz.
"I know my music's scarey," reflects Tricky, "'cos people tell me it is. It's not to me at all. People say, 'It's like the devil's music'. What is it Trent Reznor's doing? He's deliberately trying to be scarey. He stays in that house where there was murders. There's nothing scarey about him. He probably got bullied at school."
| Then he says "talent
in Latin means 'heavy burden'." Then he says, "if you're making money you're
dirty, you're evil". Then he says, "I listened to Nearly God the other
night and I found it so negative it's positive. Before things get better
they have to get worse." And then he says, "Pre-Millennium Tension is almost
coming through that I've got the energy back to say, I'm proud."
Have you told me any lies tonight?
Tricky waves a hand and laughs. "I think it's not lies. It's my own truths. I've had lying built into me from when I was younger. Whenever I had to write my name on a piece of paper, I'd make up a name. I come from a family of thieves. If I rob a shop, I know not to have any pieces of paper on me. If you walk past a house and the phone's ringin and no one answers the phone, you know no one's in... My lessons were different. I feel like I'm fighting my conditioning every day.
"What's good is I'm hanging round with different kinds of people. I've done songs with Terry Hall, Damon, Alison Moyet, Cath Goffey, Martina, but in the old days I just used to rap. Now I'm working with just rappers. I have to keep juggling my personalities."
Is this why they call you the Tricky Kid?
"Nah," he splutters, exhaling smoke." That's just a nickname for being unreliable."
Tricky and me are arguing in a club in central London. It is a week after the second phone call. He is jabbing at my chest saying if I keep it real we'll be sweet. Fine. He cackles that mad cackle and walks off.
Also check out the two articles about the tricky kids Amber Sunshower and Ragga!
photos: Joseph Cultice
|analyze me (Tricky)|
|Tricky solo discography|
|Tricky collaborations discography|