Who or what is TRICKY? A former member of Massive Attack? A genius in his own right? A gifted madman or an unpretentious Bristolian with an astonishing talen? The man is an enigma. DAVID BENNUN strives to find out more.On the beach: LILI WILDE
  You name it, to Tricky it's mad. Some people have the irritating habit of claiming that everything which crosses their path is crazy, or wacky, or bonkers, when it plainly isn't, but to Tricky it's all just mad.
  Didn't you once call your entire family mad, Tricky?
  "No. They're not all mad. They're normal. But if anyone who works in this business met my family they'd think they're all mad. All my uncles are totally different to me. I was quite... feminine. Not in my actions, in my ways. If one of my uncles had trouble at school, they'd go to that person and thump him. It's all a man thing. They got sent off to boxing when they were kids. You live in a tough area, you get off to boxing.
  "My auntie tried to do that to me. I lasted six minutes in boxing. My uncles, they defend themselves with anger and vigour and it makes them what's called hard men. I used to wonder what was happening with me, because I'd hear all these stories about my uncles knocking out people and all this mad stuff, and I could never do that. So where's my position? That's in a way why we're mad. We're all mad including myself. We're all quite a dysfunctional family. Every family is, innit?"

TO Tricky, the idea of a family and its function or lack of it might be different to many. Born 26 years ago in Knowle West, Bristol, he sounds old beyond his years.
  "Been through a lot. I've been moved around from family to family, never stayed in one house from when I was born to the age of 16. Moved all different areas lived with my auntie, lived with my nan, lived with my cousins. I ain't been stable. I'm very naive, but l'm kind of a bit wise as well. I was brought up by my grandmother and the age difference was massive. So I was learning from her, I never had anybedy young to learn from. She was a very old fashioned lady."
  Tricky is not normal. A desperate fear of pretension marks his conversation, a constantand careful self monitoring to ensure things are kept simple, but clearly he is not normal. You only have to listen to his music to realise that.
  What exactly does Tricky do? He writes songs that aren't songs, lyrics that trail at the edge of recognition, music that bypasses reason and heads straight for the senses, sounds that you can smell and taste and feel against your skin. He doesn't sing, or even rap in any recognised way. He creates records that are genuinely,

shockingly like no others. He is strange and outlandishly gifted.

TAKE as a starting point the sinister, heat-seeking tracks Tricky's made with Massive Attack: "Five Man Army", "Karmacoma", and so on. Move off from there at an angle so oblique that you'd have to be blessed with second sight to know it's there. If you wind up where Tricky's at, you're Tricky himself and the game is up. "Aftermath" and "Ponderosa" were last year's oddest and best recordings (and how often do those attributes coincide?) The new single, "Overcome" - a cover of "Karmacoma", his own song, with accomplice Martina on vocals - is sibilant, tenacious, uncanny. Next month he and Martina will release an album, "Maxinquaye", which will f*** with people's ideas of what pop music is and what it can do.

"MAXINQUAYE" is disturbed and beautiful and deeply erotic, filled with the tang of uneasy sex .
  "It's mad when people call it erotic," protests Tricky "Mad." He reflects for a moment. "I suppose it is, in a way,"

he concedes. "It's all accidental."
  But so much of it seems to concern sex. Lyrically and in the feel of it.
  "No, no, not at all. Even the parts that are about sex ain't about sex. Like in 'Overcome': 'You and I walking through the suburbs / We're not exactly lovers'. Then it goes, 'And then you wait / For the next Kuwait'. You could be walking down the street with your girlfriend, and at the same moment Kuwait is getting bombed. It's to do with a moment in time. I'm trying to be three-dimensional. It's about the world. I suppose there is a lot of sex and violence in the world. We're like- Martina, what's that word - sociologists? Is that a word? We're documentarians. That's what we do. We document the situations around us. Violence. Death. Sex. Money. Deviousness."
  But the eroticism is so strong it's almost suffocating. You even have a track called "Suffocated Love", which lives up to its title.
  "No, I find people suffocating. People. Especially in relationships. Sex is okay. The album has got nothing to do with sex
at all."
  I don't beIieve you. It's full of stuff about sex. 
  "Name me one thing."
  Okay, that line in "Overcome" - "When there's trust there'll be treats / When we f*** we'II hear beats".
  "Ah no, it don't say f***, it says 'funk'. That's to do with trust. As in, me and you, when I trust you totally I'll show you myself. I must admit," he grins, "it does sound like 'f***' though, dunnit? Sorry to disappoint you about this sex thing." 
  I'm not disappointed, just perplexed. Because of all the people I know who've heard this record, the only one who doesn't think it's about sex or find it incredibly erotic is the guy who made it.
  "We should be doing porno vids for it then, I tell you."

YEAH, we're on a video shoot. Don't ever go on a video shoot unless you're paid to, because
you can bet nobody else is going to be there for the fun of it.
  The shoot is at Camber Sands, an enormous stretch of beach on the south

coast, desolate in mid-winter, populated today only by the photogenic exotics who infest the "classy" end of the promo clip market.
  "Okay,  extras down to the beach!"
 "Did you want all the extras, or just the black ones?"
  "Where's the old Jewish guy? Tell him we need him in costume now." 
  Tricky has spent much of the day belting around the beach in a camouflage van with his name stencilled on the side, to the disquiet of the video crew. He's not insured to drive it. But you can't blame him for seeking some kind of diversion. Hours of grisly weather and all the sand you can eat don't make for much of a day out.
  "We can't get the f***ing budget to go away anywhere," he grouses, "so we come to Camber Sands."
  The whole thing seems perfect for getting on "The Chart Show".  "I think so, yeah, but the music isn't. And I've told them that if it looks like a pop promo, I'm not going to use it."
  No, I mean, I hope it works. I'd hate to think of all this bullshit going for nothing.

  "Get the children down here," says a voice behind a clipboard. "We're losing the light."

TRICKY's music has a curious, intense quality that makes it sound like the work of a man prone to obsessions. Addictions.
  "Yeah. Anything I get into, I get into and use it when I'm weak. If I have a bad day I'll go out and get pissed out of my head, which ain't the best thing I could do. I do kind of fall on those things. And spliff. I've been tryinq to give it up. I drink only on weekends, but even that gets too much.
  "I'm not an alcoholic, but my problem is that I do get obsessive with things. Like people's lyrics. People get bored with me when I hear a song, and I'm going 'Didyou hear what they said? Did you hearwhat they said?' And they stopped thinking about it ages ago but I'm still carrying on. People pretend to listen to me, but they don't. I could hear a song tonight, I might not like the song, but there might be two words in there and I wouldn't be able to sleep. I'd just be laying there thinking about it."
  Has this tendency damaged your life?
  "Yeah, definitely. Drinking used to be fun. It was, let's go out and get any drink we can, drink till we puke, mixing stupid crappy drinks, drinking bottles of sherry. But over the last year, it's down to stress. You learn something off something. I learnt off drink, good times and a laugh. And once you've learnt something, you should should leave it alone. Spliff has opened

certain parts of my brain that I probably wouldn't know about otherwise. But now I've learnt it, I should put it down."

TRICKY, as his name suggests, is elusive. He professes carefully to his music: "Mad. You've analysed this album. You see I've never really anaIysed. I don't
write songs as such. It's all stuff what goes round in my head. Maybe it don't make sense, but it turns into something, and you sit there and you think, F*** me, that's what it's about."
  Tricky is so elusive that often his own performances seem disguised - mixed down, behind or to the side of Martina, furtive. It's like he's trying to hide in the music.
  "Yeah." Tricky agrees with that one. "I think that's true. I don't know why that is. I've always been keen on a vocalist singing my stuff."
  (Martina is all of 18, and like Tricky, seems a lot older. It's unnerving, sometimes, to hear her sing lines like "l'll f*** you in the ass just for a laugh" in her young, high, otherworldly voice.
  "I guess it's kind of strange," she says. "I never thought about it before. I don't know anybody who writes like him.")
  Does Tricky feeI like he's trying to keep out of sight? "Yeah! Yeah, I do. In my life as well. Certain people I just can't hang out with, 'cause they're bad influences on me. Like if you drink too much and I hang out with you, 

I'm going to drink too much. If you take
cocaine and I hang out with you, I'm going to take cocaine. If you take smack and l hang out with you, I'm going to take smack. So I have to be careful about that. I'm so - influenced. People make me weak. When people try to get to know me, it frightens me off, because I'm easy to understand, and I don't like people to know what I'm about.
  "I've got a really druggy mind. I don't have to be on anything. I think I smoked so much spliff over my lifetime and took so much acid, if I'm tired, I can put myself into a state of being charged right up." 
  I look at him. He has a mask of make-up pasted across his eyes - his own idea. He looks like a black Lone Ranger.
  I believe him.

  "I WAS looking at an antique book of Victorian fairy tales," Martina tells me later, "which had line drawings as illustrations. There was a picture of a Faerie Queen, and I was shocked. It looked exactly like Tricky. Exactly. And further on, a drawing of a goblin, which looked exactly like him as well. It was very strange."
  Me, l wouldn't be surprised if it was him. Both of them.

'Overcome' is out now on 4th & Broadway. 'Maxinquaye' follows in February

David Bennun
this article is taken from with kind permission of the author 

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   photos: Lili Wilde
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Tricky solo discography
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