|written by Kurt B. Reighley photographed by David LaChapelle|
|It's noon on a Friday in a hotel on London's Kensington High Street, and the 28-year-old man known as Tricky is still sitting in bed, in his pajamas, grumbling sweetly admist the debris: rolling papres, weed, tobacco, demo tapes, and a phone that rings persistently. "I'm having bridges done," he cackles, alluding to his ongoing odyssey of dental work. "I've got teeth missing in the back, so I've got tall hese replacement teeth in at the moment, for the bridges. I've had four teeth out, I've got to have one more out today."|
|FOR A MAN IN DISCOMFORT,
HE SEEMS TO BE in remarkable good spirits. The sinister character frequently
painted by the UK press is nowhere in sight. Never mind that he'll be performing
in Germany next week with a mouthful of temporary pearly whites. Or that,
amidst the press for his forthcoming album, Pre-Millennium Tension,
he's also being consulted for a film about his uncles and their role in
the Bristol underworld. Oh, and he's the verv active father of 17-month-old
daughter Maisey, as well. Tricky is used to being busy. He likes it that
"I'm doing a tour now, but the tour is just designed to get me out of the studio," he say's of his dates in Deutschland, and his attitude in rehearsal later that day, which - depending on the tune - vacillates from meticulous to devil-may-care, confirms this. "I can't sit down for long. And there's onlv so many nights you can go out and get pissed up. So if I ain't got nothing to do, I keep going into the studio." Hence the abundance of Tricky' product of late: In addition to Pre-Millennium Tension (out now on Island), the summer months of 1996 saw him release Nearly God, a collaboration with Neneh Cherry, Bjork, Terry Hall, and others, and Tricky Presents Grassroots, a foray into hip-hop with a crop of budding MC's and singers.
Tricky began his rise to prominence as a member of the Wild Bunch, the notorious Bristol posse of MC's and DJ's that eventually spawned Soul II Soul and Massive Attack. He soon lent his laid-back raps to Massive's acclaimed debut, Blue Lines. Around the same time, he met his creative partner, sometime girlfriend, and the mother of his child, Martina Topley Bird, and the duo cut their first single, "Aftermath, " which then sat gathering dust for three years. Finally, about the time he concluded his assist on Massive Attack's Protection, the industry took notice, and Tricky landed a solo deal with Island. A string of disturbing yet successful singles followed, enabling his album Maxinquaye -a mutant blend of hip-hop, rock, dub, and abrasive, disquieting lyrics - to enter the UK Top 40 at number three in late '94.
The triumph of Maxinquaye, coupled with his M.A. pedigree, immediately found Tricky under the cumbersome "trip-hop" umbrella, alongside the rest of the Bristol brigade, Massive Attack and Portishead (named for the town near Bristol). "It's an incestuous cess-pit, as far as I'm concerned," sniffs Tricky", dismissing the region's scene. "My environment, where I grew up, is totally' dif-ferent from Massive Attack and Portishead's environment." Raised by his extended family (his mother died when he was four, and his dad departed soon afterwards), Tricky grew up in what he refers to repeatedly as "a white ghetto." "It's basically like Hell's Kitchen," he explains. "They're Irish youth, white boys carrying shotguns and knives, and they're bad, arms dealers and gunmen."
Around his late teens, T'ricky befriended brothers
|in the neighboring black
ghetto, and became acutely aware of the friction between the two. "No one
understood each other," he reflects. "It was mad. To hear the white guys
talk about black guys was weird, and to hear the black guys talk about
white guy's was weird." With white and black relatives in his lineage,
Tricky managed to move between both worlds, although not without ribbing
from both sides, and internalized feelings of conflict.
But after seeing Two Tone ska band the Specials, he realized that black and white could come together through music, a spirit that directly informed his work with the Wild Bunch, and continues to motivate him to reject being labeled as a Black Musician. "What is black music?" he explodes. "What is white music? Who gives a fuck! Music either makes you feel good, or it doesn't." He pauses to collect himself. "That's why, when I did Maxinquaye, I was very interested in doing rock music. I listen to all kinds of people, from Prince to Kate Bush, from Public Enemy to Danzig."
Which brings us back to Pre-Millennium Tension, which, by Tricky's own account, reminds him of something the Specials might have done. "It mixes around noises and energy'," he diagrams. "I stripped it down, let the drums do a lot of the work. Instead of melodies, like on Maxinquaye, a lot of the vocals are just da-da-da-da-da..." he shouts, pounding his palm for emphasis. "That's why I kind of see it as more punk rock. We got rid of a lot of the melodies, and the complex lyrics. I've got the attitude of this being quite a militant album."
Yet in between the driving rock of "Sex Drive," the disturbing melancholy of "Piano," and the swirling darkness of "Chaos," one element that keeps resurfacing on Pre-Millennium Tension is Tricky's roots in hip-hop. While earlier releases have seen Tricky' and Mattina tackle "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" by' Public Enemy' and Slick Rick's "Children's Story," the new album includes covers of two rap classics, "Lyrics of Fury" by Eric B. and Rakim, and "Bad Dream" by Chill Rob G, plus a reprise of "Tricky Kid," from the Grassroots EP.
Tricky continues to include the raps on his
albums to keep in touch with his hip-hop heritage. "That's where I come from, but I didn't get the chance to make music when I was younger. So for years I've been writing rhymes. But by the time I got the chance to go into the studio to make "Aftermath," I'd moved on to something else. By the time I came to recording, I'd never made a hip-hop song.
That same spirit eventually inspired him to visit New York and create Tricky Presents Grassroots, a showcase for the singers Laveda Davis, Roberto Malary Jr., and Stephanie Cooke, and rappers the Hillfiguzes and Drunkenstein. But going home isn't always as easy as you think. "Sometimes it was difficult. because some of the beats I was putting down," admits Tricky of the experience. "I wasn't
R&B. I'd start fuckin' it up, and some of these MC's would be like,
'I can't get down in that...' so I'd have to go, 'Sorry, sorry' and make
it a bit simpler." In addition , he was unsettled by the nihilistic words
of the Hillfiguzes on "Heaven, Youth Hell," so much so that he ended up
framping their rap with one of this own, warnung listeners that if we don't
look after our urban youth, the consequences will just get grimmer.
He allowed himself to play fast and loose a little more with Nearly God (released through Island on his own Durban Poison label), which includes Tricky's take on the Siouxsie and the Banshees rarity "Tatoo" (especially fitting considering Tricky has two, including one of a gecko - "It's a big lizard that eats up all the little lizards," he beams) and Martina's rendition of the standard "Black Coffee," as well as pariing them with such collaborators as Terry Hall, Björk, Alison Moyet, Neneh Cherry, Dedi Madden, and Cath Coffey from Stereo MC's. The results were recorded in less than three weeks, designed to capture the rough feel of " a bunch of brilliant demis."
While Alison Moyet's appearance resulted from the two artists coincidentally winding up in the same hotel, Tricky's long-term relationships with many of his other Nearly God cohorts has provided grist for the gossip columns for months. With her marriage to supreme junglist Goldie approaching, are Tricky's feelings for Björk as strong as they were when tehy created "Headphones" together for her Post album, and were romantically linked by the press for a spell?
"I talked to her the other week," he says with a grin a little later, still smarting from five injections of local anesthesia in his jaw. "We never really had a relationship, if y'know what I mean. We were in weak states, and just leant on each other." He dismisses claims that she bad-mouthed him to the press at his year's Reading Festival. "I don't know if she did, she reckons she never.
"She demands quite a lot as a person, and she's really into giving, she'll give you everything, love and all that," he clarifies. "But I can't handle that. She's got a bit of a fairy-tale life. She wants to be in love. And we got into a stupid argument. She asked me if I love her, and I said, 'No, I don't. Do you mean, do I need you? You're a wicked person, but I can't say I'm in love with you." And then it all went up in the air, and she had her heart broken, and I left. But I think she thought she was in love with me, or she liked the thought of two people being in love."
Similarly, the rocky state of Tricky's friendship with Neneh Cherry has been blown out of proportion in the midst of the publicity hubbub surrounding her long-awaited third album, Man. Both parties confirm that rumours that tehy collaborated on roughly ten tracks are true (one of which, "Together Now," surfaced on Nearly God, and a couple more are slated for Man and Neneh B-sides), but why they
|didn't finish an album
together has become ab one of modest contention.
Tricky claims that the socially conscious Neneh Cherry fresh in the publui's mind after her smash duet with Youssou N'Dour, Seven Seconds (which sold three million in France alone), isn't the real woman he's pals with. "I know she's a woman who's been through strife and pain, she's had a hard life, she's just seen her dad [jazz legend Don Cherry] die," he says. "But if you listen to her on records, this is a woman who wants to save the world, she loves everybody, very soft. That's not her." So Tricky whipped up songs with nitty-gritty lyrics like "I bleed when I give birth." Her management and label recoiled in horror, and the project was shelved.
"Now. I wanna know how do you want to go out?" he continues. "Do you want to go out like Kylie Minogue, or like Billie Holiday." I'd rather go out like Billie Holiday, totally radical, totally real." Tricky reckons Neneh's played the pop game, and now has an opportunity to record material that cuts closer to the bone, and a devoted audience that'll buy it, regardless. "The stuff I made her was so fucking scary, so sad, some of it, that you want to cry," he insists, shaking his head. "I've seen her when she is miserable, and when she is bad off, and crying, and we got that spirit. I totally tuned into her, and even though I wrote these lyrics, they totally come from her energy. And I thought it was perfect. But it scared everybody...
"And I got bitter, he admits, "because they only wanted to use a couple tracks on the album, but they want to include my name everywhere, on posters and things." Tricky says they're still talking, but he remains upset. Don't expect to hear "Together Now" in the live show.
Oddly enough. the Nearly God association that seems strangest is the one dearest to Tricky. From his days with the Specials and Fun Boy Three, right up to the present. Terry Hall has always been high on Tricky's hit parade. "Even when he's done something crap he's still brilliant." In the midst of Britain's persuasive cult of the Lad, and a pop music culture full-swamped with tunes of drinkin, fighting, and football, folks have lost sight that Terry Hall remains the genuine article. "He was a hooligan, back in the days, a kid who'd come from not a good background," gushes Tricky. "Where he comes from, you either go to prison, or start a band. But he would never act like this, because he's a humble man.
"I've been out to clubs and industry things with
|him, and watched indie
kids really acting rowdy, and Terry Hall sitting there with his legs crossed,
sippin' a beer. And I look at Terry Hall and think, They'd love to be you,
but he doesn't behave like that. He used to be quite a little bastard,
a tough guy, and he just makes me laugh." And a giggle slips out. "He's
quite bitter and twisted, I think, in some ways.
That part of Hall's personality appeals to Tricky, who understands the duplicitous nature of a private persona versus public perception. Take, for example, Tricky's stand on drugs. The same man who smokes spliffs throughout our day together dismisses the film Trainspotting (which he admits he hasn't seen yet) for helping heroin sneak back into vogue. "Smack and cocaine are a trendy thing," he complains. "It's cool for artists to get into smack, I've never tried it. I don't need smack to make a certain kind of music. A lot of these bands, they're taking it because they think it's gonna make them deep, like Miles Davis, they're gonna make great music, become great people.
"Miles Davis was quite a scary geezer, but that's probably the stuff he's been through. Billie Holiday could sing like she suffered, because she did suffer." In a business built on the artificial, Tricky takes his knocks for refusing to suffer artists who peddle in stereotypes and phony candor. "Everybody comes from a troubled neighborhood, everybody comes from the ghetto, everybody suffers, every woman's had her heart broken ... and I can hear through it," he insists. "If I hear your voice, and you're singing about suffering, I can hear if you haven't suffered. Because it's just so obvious.
Yet even as Tricky strives to keep his conduct in the public eye as down-to-earth as possible, he readily admits that his penchant for outrageous videos and photo shoots promotes the myth of own his dementia. He sighs: "In normal life, I'm quite... normal. I'll go on stage in a pair of jeans. I'm lazy, I'm not gonna try too hard. I'm just me. But images, I love photographs. So if I can put a certain makeup on, to make an image ... but in real life, I can't really be bothered by it all."
"People get too affected, they start believing their own hype. You sign a record deal, and people start believing. 'Oh. I've got make an effort, I've got to dye my hair purple. I've got to get the latest pair of trainers for when I'm in that club next week.' "Yet regardless of what you wear to that club, when you walk through the doors, people treat you differently "You get the old, bitter people who come up to you and say: 'Oh, you're doing really well,' and you can.
|tell there's hate in
their voice. They' test me straight away, to see if I've changed. Kids
I've known from years ago."
What those cronies have to realize is that success has changed Tricky, just not in the ways one expects. And fatherhood has only compounded those developments. He's just bought a place to live, and is renting an apartment in New York as well. "I've got to put bars on the windows, I've got to cover the plugs, put guards on the stairs," he says. "My life's totally changed. I have to think about two. Every move I think of is for her now. Which is good, because I start to lose a center." It may sound trite, but Tricky insists that money and fame quickly lose their allure, and Maisey has provided him with a reason to continue courting them when he loses interest.
But ironically, the most precious thing in his life is also the source of his occasional return to the ways of his criminal roots in the council flats. "All the time I lived in the ghetto, I never had a gun," he claims. "But now I'm kind of well known, and sometimes I think I should have a gun in my house. But that's paranoia." And mad as it sounds, Maisey is why he'd buy one. "Because if somebody broke into my house. and my daughter was in bed, I'd have to kill that person," he states flatly.
"Sometimes I analyze hip-hop, and I listen to people who've got there, and made a lot of money, and they start talking about guns and big dogs. I think a lot of them are very paranoid. You've got kids talking about selling drugs and guns, but that's because they've got nothing. But when a rapper's made it, and he's a millionaire, to me, talking about guns is almost like saying, 'I'm paranoid, you know I've got lots of money, do not try and break into my house.' When you get a lot of attention, you think people are gonna come fuck with you. You take everything personally."
But right now, Tricky's got a little too much going on to fret about shopping for Dobermans and an AK-47. He'd like to take a break, kick around, and enjoy the spoils of his popularity a little more (although the new album was recorded in Jamaica, to get away from the madding crowd), but he finds it almost impossible to slow down, even when he'd like to most. "If I decide to just sit and smoke a spliff and watch a video, while watching a video, I'll get an idea. While walking down the street, I'll get an idea. I'm not saying I catch all these ideas, I lose them all the time. But it's hard not to create." he rubs his jaw again and grins. "Just waking up every day is a buzz."
photos: David LaChapelle