|They used to call him Tricky Kid, now they call him The Boss... He is the overworked businessman with his own label who is to the Nineties what Prince was to the Eighties; the stoned neurotic who loves his family so much that he will make voodoo records about anyone who comes too close. Now he's made his own Black Album. Will the real Tricky please chill out?|
text Craig McLean photography Jeff Idol
says Tricky. He is sitting in bed, wearing stripy blue-and-white pyjamas
and T-shirt with his face on it. Rather comically, his hair is sticking
straight up. He is eating toast and ladelling spoon after spoon of honey
into a very small cup of black coffee. His skinning-up stuff is getting
lost in the bedclothes.
He is looking at a photocopied page from his week's NME that has just been faxed to his hotel in Atlanta, Georgia from London, England. It is a news item about Finley Quaye, who has long claimed to be Tricky's uncle (Tricky's mother's second name, as memorialised in the title of his first album, was (Quaye), and how Tricky has reacted to these claims the only way he knows how: by writing a song about it. A belligerent, affronted, menacing song.
"Fuckers." Tricky is annoyed because the story mentions "violent threats" that he has allegedly made against Quaye. "If I wanted to be a thug, I'd be a thug!" he shrieks, slapping the pillows, voice adolescently protesting, his boyish face and frame the picture of wronged innocence. "If you're gonna be a bad boy you gotta be 100 per cent bad boy 'cause you ain't gonna survive otherwise. If I wasn't 100 per cent rnusician I wouldn't survive as a musician. See, I have threatened people before but... to take it seriously is ridiculous! I have such a high profile, I don't murder people."
The Finley-berating song, "Can't Freestyle", is available in Tricky's adoptive home of New York on "bootleg" green vinyl. In terms of abrasive abuse it is not up there with his "Divine Comedy", the other 5,000-copy, Tricky-sanctioned 12-inch that surfaced in a handful of British record shops last month. This latter track is Tricky's response to a statement last year by an American record company
at his parent label, Polygram. Said executive, it seems, commented that
if he were to only employ black kids with no criminal records, he would
have no black kids on his staff. "Fucking niggers!"
goes the song.
the shouted response. The executive is no longer with Polygram.
is no disrespect to anybody who works at Polygram," Tricky concludes,
you're a racist FUCKER!"
Nor is "Can't Freestyle" as forceful as the song he wrote in the wake of his last appearance in THE FACE (April 1996). After Andrew Smith noted that Tricky's sometime partner Martina looked tired, perhaps because she was bringing up her and Tricky's daughter Maisey "more or less on her own", Tricky got upset. So he wrote a song about "putting [Smith] in the boot of a car and shooting his face". Tricky gave the tune, "Darker Magic", to British rapper Silvah (ne Silver) Bullet, and this summer it may finally come out, on Bullet's album. "Fuck the music industry, let's take it back to the council flats, guns, grenades and baseball bats," it goes, roughly.
And nor, finally, is "Can't Freestyle" as pointedly bitter as "Money Greedy", another new Tricky song, the only one of these lyrical assaults that will appear on his new album. "'Member we used to sit at The Brits," Tricky husks, "never won no awards but that's not what we looked towards."
Is that about Finley - surprise winner of the Best Male gong at the awards ceremony in February - as well?
"Well," says Tricky perkily, shoving toast into his mouth, "it didn't mean to be but it is now! That was written about the last kids I was in..." He pauses for as long as he pauses over anything (which isn't long at all). "To tell the
was about Massive Attack. I produced two songs on that album ['Protection'],
which helped win 'em a Brit [for Best Dance Act in 1994], and they walked
past the table after getting the Brit, and they didn't even say hello to
me. That's weird! Someone who produces your shit and you don't say hello
to 'em! I don't give a fuck about a Brit, I don't want you to stand up
there and say, 'I wanna thank Tricky.' But I've known you for ten years,
all I want is a wink! To a mate! A mate!
"And that reminded me: when we first got into this, we didn't give a fuck, we wanted to make good music. Now all of a sudden it's about Brits. And that's wrong, man. But," he brightens, "it does relate to him, which is kinda mad!"
So "Can't Freestyle" takes a pot at "him" for "taking my mum's name in vain... Everybody knows I've got pain from my mum, from what happened, and it goes into my music, so it's almost like he's bagging on that now." As Tricky will remind you, after one of his uncles revealed the circumstances to the wider public in last December's brilliant Channel 4 exploration of Tricky's Bristol background, Naked And Famous, Maxine Quaye "lay down on her bed in her best clothes and killed herself" when Tricky was four. Despite the heaviness of this subject matter, the song is actually quite light in tone for a Tricky revenge-number. "I know your name's MacGowan," Tricky sings, "you're probably Shane's cousin... The sound of chuckling can be heard in the background. Then Tricky - who has, in the past, often hinted that he thinks he can make bad things happen to people - mutters "voodoo... voodoo... voodoo..."
Coffee, toast and spliff consumed, Tricky jumps from the bed. He pogos on the spot, hoisting up his pyjama bottoms. "Woo-hoo!" he yells, "I feel heavy metal!"
He stops jumping and says: "He's a cunt, in' 'e, Damon?"
Albarn, you may remember, recorded a Tricky song called "I'll Pass Through
You", which was to be on the "Nearly God" album. A dispute between the
two over how the track should sound resulted in Tricky rerecording the
song with sometime Madness singer and minor TV celeb Suggs. Damon "had
no bottle" and nor is he "real, 'cause his accent ain't his", Tricky told
me two years ago. "I've been out with Damon to a club, and he totally brings
out the bully in me..."
Now Tricky says: "Damon totally nicked all his new moves offa me."
It's An Unfair Cop
|And the first
criminal record? That'll be "Angels With Dirty Faces", the third Tricky
album. It blatantly flouts the laws of pop and hip hop which state that
a couple of tunes here and there would be appreciated. There is nothing
as inspirationally innovative as "Ponderosa" or "Pumpkin" from "Maxinquaye",
or as sonically breathtaking as "Tricky Kid" or "Christiansands" from "Pre-Millennium
Tension". Instead there are percussive free- for-alls like "Talk To Me"
and "6 Mins", breakneck rant "The Moment I Feared", the parched, ambient
rap of "Carriage For Two", and the arhythmic oddity that is "Demise". In
one moment of abject pathos, Tricky makes reference to Jimmy Cagney, whose
1938 gangster film classic gave the album its title (unless the reference
is to duff punks Sham 69 and their 1978 single of the same name). "I
want my mum," he whispers on the desolate "You", before sliding into
a paraphrased version of the climactic line from 1949's
"Mum, I'm on top of the world."
As with Cagney's
character, Tricky's highest point is also his lowest.
Just when you thought Tricky couldn't get any blacker or bleaker, more mumbling and rambling, more like a stereotype of himself, he does. OK, "Broken Homes", the lead single, has something approaching a melody, but that is sung by PJ Harvey, who could make a menu sound impassioned.
All of the above, it must be (hastily) added, is not necessarily a bad thing.
"We don't have many songs," Tricky cheerily concedes. "Like 'Makes Me Wanna Die'. 'Black Steel' was a song [that he didn't write]. 'Broken Homes' is a song. But we don't have many of 'em."
Is that deliberate?
croaks, mystified. "They just don't come out! They just come out... low.
don't mind a pop tune. If it's a good pop tune, I'd do a pop tune. But
I don't have any luck. So we've come to Dallas Austin."
Tricky's Garden Is Bigger Than
get on black radio in America. "'Cause I'm living in New York at the moment"
and because "in England I was determined to get on white radio, and I've
done that now." So Dallas has been asked to do a remix of "Mellow" which,
on the album, is the sound of a swamp-flecked guitar nagging at the back
of your neck, and which might be the second single. This is "about as radio-friendly
as the album gets," says Tricky. "And Dallas is making it radio-friendly.
I do, but Dallas don't. Yesterday's recording session went a bit awry. Dallas - smart, sleek, upright, chilled - thought that he should do what Tricky - ruffled, rough, hunched, wired - does. So he made "Mellow" into a clattering jungle track. "No no no no. Iwant what Dallas does." So today we're back. Out of the studio's ajar door, beneath the din of the fuck-off telly, comes a smooth swingbeat groove. Tricky bounds in and shuts the door.
He hears today's work. This is more like it. Tricky is so stoked he wants to do a new rap over "Mellow". But we're putting him off, so we have to go and stand outside, me and Tricky's manager and the press officer, on the back deck. We look at Dallas' garden, running down to a river, with its small wood, basketball court, forlorn swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
Tricky comes out and tells us that the garden of the house he's buying in New Jersey is bigger than this.
"It's more for my kid," says Tricky of Maisey, whose third birthday is in two days (Tricky's flying back to England with us for the party). "The back garden is like Alice In Wonderland, it's ridiculous! I want to take her there, close her eyes, and when she sees this house, she's gonna freak! It's like a little dream for her! That's reality. Getting her school fees - that's reality. Not me being in clubs with girls going, 'Aw, I love your music.' I've found my reality."
So you're happier now...
"Oh, a lot happier..."
So why don't it sound like it on his LP?
Why isn't "Angels With Dirty Faces" a
happy record, Tricky?
"Because when I was doing it, I had a broken leg for one. And I was at the point of chaos in my life. I was heading for disaster. HEADING FOR DIS-AHHH-STER!" he says, his Bristol brogue becoming more pronounced, more raw, as it always does when he's moved to repeat himself to make sure you're hearing him. "Now, I ain't talking shit like, 'Oh, I was a runaway car, I was heading for death..."'
That's a Goldie quote, no?
"...he he he!" laughs Tricky, naughtily. "But my life was chaos! Drinking! I got into a fight in a club! I don't fight! I haven't fought for years!" We are back in Tricky's hotel now, and he is jiggling up and down on his bed. "Then when I broke my leg it was the best fucking thing!"
"Fucking around in a club, pissed out of my head", Tricky snapped four bones in his leg. He went to Daniel Lanois' New Orleans studio. He was there three weeks, recorded 14 tracks, only went out once. He was getting up at six in the morning. He would drink "loadsa water", have "vitamin drips". "That's the healthiest I've been in years."
This was last summer?
"Yeah yeah. Or the summer before."
If you hadn't broken your leg, what would
"Angels..." sound like?
"More chaos. I don't feel like that any more. Now, I want to get to 70-years-of-age. Then, I was thinking: 'What is going on here?' I was confused. And what's mad is," Tricky says, his voice rising in teenage befuddlement, "I can't even remember what I was confused about!""
being "relaxed enough to be an observer now. You can't be totally swallowed
up by your work. If all I could see was my music and my gigs, I'm blind."
So he sees other people's music. Indeed, you can't be anything but impressed by his absolute devotion to his Durban Poison artists, to the music coming from his blood relatives and his professional family.
"None of it matters," he shrugs. "You live, you die, and everything in between is killing time. Getting the record company has been the best thing. Since getting that, I've become more business. People want to suck your dick now, but if you fall off they won't suck your dick tomorrow. I'm very realistic about it. If you start believing that shit, you're fucked. Not fucked as in 'your career's over', but as in 'you're lost'. For the first time I don't feel lost."
The new record, he says, "is more of a thought-out verson of 'Pre-Millennium'. That was recorded so quick, and fucked-up. And more punk. This is..."
A lightbulb goes on above Tricky's head. "....this is maybe a pop version of 'Pre- Millennium Tension'."
Which is patently cobblers.
Nothing is internalised with Tricky. Everything pours out in a tumbled rush of ideas, issues and gripes. Because he is An Artist, and undoubtedly a great one, with a million ideas happening at once, and because he is, by his own admission, a spliff-induced paranoiac, coherent discussion is at best problematic. In conversation he will jump from A to C and you will be left wondering what happened to B and how that B came to be something you said and how that same B now appears to be causing him major upset.
But that's probably my fault. Because I'm not a genius.
Thus a collaboration (whether interview or recording project) becomes a beef, a beef becomes a public brawl, a public brawl
record you can buy in the shops. The spat with Finley Ouaye, for example,
started to get serious after the two planned to work together under the
name "The Ouaye Twins, and we'd do pictures like Reggie and Ronnie!" Then
Tricky felt Finley dissed him in some lyrics. Hence, eventually, "Can't
"That's the trouble with rap sometimes," he sighs. "People take it too seriously. Those kids couldn't murder people. There's five per cent rap artists who talk the shit and are living it. It's not real. It's a persona."
But you've remixed Biggie, worked with RZA, you live in New York - you're as close as you can get to the real-life hip hop movie.
"Yeah. I know it can happen, and there is some heavy shit going on. But I ain't involved in that. I don't shoot people, I've never stabbed anybody. That was my uncles' lives, that was Biggie Smalls' life, but that ain't my life. It's just writing stories. It's just like writing a movie. People take everything so literally. It's art. It's art. That's what it is. That's all it is."
Durban Hymns, Urban Poison
"See, he's done a lot of good for me, Finley," Tricky reflects equanimously.
"I got so annoyed at one point that I thought: I got real cousins and real
family, if he can do so well offa my name... I've always had this thing:
anybody can be a musician, you've just gotta have the opportunity. Now
it's time to put that into practice. So I've got this passion to hook up
my family. I've got my uncle doing security. We're building. My cousins,
The Namboos. Threw 'em in a cheap studio in Manchester. The music was fucking
Dope dope dope! They're like me: they ain't got no rules to
go by. I live offa dreams. You follow your dreams and all of a sudden you
think, 'Fuckin' hell, this could work. This is real!"'
Tricky's sister Leona, 25, remember, is also in The Namboos. By his own admission, she was one corner of his family that he had "neglected". Then his auntie reminded him that his sister's life had been harder than his. While Tricky was brought up by his granny, Leona was brought up by their great-granny. Uncle Martin - the one with the white eye and stories about stabbing people in Naked And Famous - lived there too, and he'd be coming back, pissed-up, smashing up the house. Then, great-granny died when Leona was young, thereby robbing her of her second mum.
So Tricky thought about this. "Yeah, she has seen a lot of grief. And if
she could sing, she's probably got a lot of soul in her!"
And so, again, from pain came gain. Tricky put Leona in the studio with his cousins. "And it totally rocked my world! I'm so proud of her, and my cousins. It's the best album I've heard in years. They're like Happy Mondays, without the problems. Without the self-destruct button. This year, England is their town."
What does "Baby Namboos" mean? "It's a gun. The guy who made up the name is in prison. This is why the album's so good: the lyrics on there are real shit."
Listening to the music now, once more, he gazes out of the limo window at passing Atlanta. "This is Namboos weather," he says ponderously. What? Grey and cloudy? "Concrete," Tricky says.
He Be The Prophet
"Broken Homes" is released on May 11, "Angels With Dirty Faces" on May 25
photos: Jeff Idol
|analyze me (Tricky)|
|Tricky solo discography part 1 (1991-1998)|
|Tricky solo discography part 2 (1999-2005)|