|TRICKY's 'Maxinquaye' is the dub-soul-ambient-trip hop-blues-dance album of the year. ANd Tricky is the leading chameleonic, studiocentric artist currently working in (and out and up and around) pop. With the imminent release of the 'Hell' EP and his appearance at Glastonbury this weekend, IAN TARR meets 'the black Bowie' in Manhattan. Tricky photography: STEVE GULLICK|
|I HAD THIS PSYCHIC
DRAWING DONE," says Tricky sucking
greedily on the first of the four joints he's to consume in the next hour.
Behind his smoke-wreathed head, the Cubist AIps of midtown Manhattan's
skyscrapersscrape is visibible through the hotel suite window.
"See, I wanted to know where all this silver was soming from, cos Iately I've been wearing loads of silver," he continues. "And the psychic woman told me it syrnbolises Mercury, the messenger God. She gives you a message and each different muscle tells different stories. She wrote that I came to this eartch too quick. l wasn't ready, but I said, 'F*** it, c'mon, let's go.' And she wrote, 'When he lands, there shall be peace.' Mad, innit?"
Tricky tells me he wrote a song last night inspired by this psychic analysis (on impulse, he'd booked a New York studio and used two days between making his live debut and supporting PJ Harvey to knock out a quick EP). The song's called Prophet and Tricky plays it for me on his portable DAT-Walkrnan. It's an uncanny feeling, listening through the headphones to Tricky's eerie rasp, then glancing up and looking straight into his eyes. The music - to be released under the name Starving Souls - is brittle, diffuse and denuded, peculiarly reminiscent of the Raincoats' "Odyshape". Unlike "Maxinquaye"
|and the forthcoming
Nearly God project (featuring Damon Albarn and Tricky's old hero / new
soulmateTerry Hall), Starving Souls isn't sampler-based, it's all live;
Tricky describes it as "world music". Or did he say "weird music"? That
goes without saying.
TRICKY as prophet? That might be going too for. Tricky himself exhibits a healthy scepticism: "I'll believe anything! I'll pay you 80 dollars, you can tell me a story and l'll believe it. It provides me with material!" And yet l think there's a sense in which Tricky is a conduit for the cloudy, contaminated consciousness of British youth; Tricky as aerial, maybe, tuned into the frequencies of anguish and dread emanating from a jilted generation. He taIks of the origins of his lyrics in such terms: "Something passes through me and l don't know what it is."
WHOis Tricky? A SIy Stone for the post-rave generation (the "Maxinquaye" / "There's A Riot Goin' On" analogy is already a critical commonplace). Chuck D without the dream of a Black Nation to hold his fragile self together. The greatest poet of England's "political unconscious" since John Lydon circa "Metal Box". Brian and Bryan in one wiry body, Eno-esque soundscape gardener AND Ferry-like lizard of love/hate. The "bIack Bowie".
I invoke the latter because Tricky's gender-bending imaginary (the wedding
dress and pistol pose on the cover of "Overcome", the mascara and lipstick-caked
diva on "Black Steel") are reminiscent of nothing so much as the video
dor "Boys Keep Swinging", where Bowie impersonates an array of female stereotypes.
The're really aren't too many black artists who cross-dress (it's hard
to imagine Ice Cube in a miniskirt, high heels and false eydashes, for
This shows the extent to which Tricky belongs as much
to a British art-rock tradition (Japan, Kate Bush, Bowie, early Roxy) as to the more obvious hip hop lineage. But it's also yet another indice of the compulsive, almost pathological nature of the man's creativity; like Courtney Love's kinderwhore image, Tricky's transvestitism proclaims "Something's not right here". Especially as cross-dressing isn't a marketing gimmick or jape, but something he's done since he was a 15-year-old kid.
"All my mates thought I was mad anyway," he says. "I don't know what my nan felt, though - she never said a word, even when I walked out the door with a dress on. I was really lucky, I had mates around me who said, 'He's mad, leave him alone."
Did you use the role of weird or holy fool as a kind of armour?
"It was to get attention. Before
|that, I used
to do things like fight, or steal. But that didn't last very long. I found
out l didn't have to do anything to be liked, just be myself, and people
thought l was weird."
You've said before that you were quite feminine as a child, at least in comparison with your family of hard men.
"I was brought up by women. My nan taught me to defend myselt first. But I never had the passion for violence. It was too easy. I got nothing out of it, and it weren't my life."
The fact that Tricky lost his mum at the age of four, and was brought up by a grandma who was convinced that he was the reincarnation of his own dead mother (she'd spook the child out by staring at him intensely for hours) - all this must have a lot to do with Tricky's exttravagant forms of "acting out" (as the Americans term dysfunctional behaviour). There's a theory that the sartorial flamboyance and effeminacy of the "dandy" constitute a form of symbelic allegiance to the mother;a perverse attempt to assume her subordinate position in the patriarchal order. In Tricky's case, it could be both a homage to the mother he barely knew, and a way of proclaiming himself an alien even among the B-boy band of outsiders he ran with, his surrogate family.
nothing Iiterally dub-wise, no heavy echo or reggae basslines, on the record,
it's clear that the influence of dub permeates "Maxinquaye". The way that
Tricky works - f***ing around with sounds on the sampler until his sources
are unrecognisable wraiths, ghosts of their former selves; composing music
and words spontaniously in the studio; mixing tracks Iive as they're recorded;
retaining the gIitches and inspired errors, the hiss and crackle - aII
this is strikingly akin to early Seventies dubmeisters like King Tubby.
And of course there's also the fact hat Tricky breathes sensimilla fumes
like they're oxygen...
"Dub's an infIuence in that it isn't perfectionist. Dub, it's just bottom-end heavy with loads of noises, and it's not musically 'correct'. But my biggest influence from dub is the chatters, all the Saxon Sound posse, and especially this guy from London called Champion"
When it comes to the organisation of sound, Tricky's only rivals are artcore drum'n'bass - heads like Dillinja and Droppin' Science. Like Tricky these guys are descendants of both dub and hip hop. See, in Britain, hip hop's greatest impact didn't come through all that non-starter "homegrown UK
|rap", but rather
as a crucial element in the sound system culture that evolved through the
Eighties, and eventually bore fruit in the form of Bristol triphop and
London jungle. In a sense, in Britain hip hop returned to its roots in
dub (in the proto rap of DJ "talkover" and MC chat, in the reggae sound-system's
bass-science, both imported to the Bronx by Jamaican immigrant Kool Herc,
the DJ who later invented the art of looping brakbeats).
More than just dub derived sonic traits (music as a maze-like mix-scape),Tricky and the junglists share a mood, a worldview, even.There's a palpable sense of the demonic pervading both "Maxinquaye" and darkest drum'n'bass tracks like Dillinjas "Warrior" and "Angel's fall". On the other side of the AtIantic, horrocore hip hop units like Gravediggaz (with whom Tricky's just collaborated to create two tracks for his new "Hell Is Round The Coner" EP) exude the same dammy palmed emotion: blunted paranoia, swollen into cosmic, millenarian dread. A sense that we're living through Armageddon Time; Babylon's Iast days.
"Sometimes, I thinking everything is going to fall apart," says Tricky. When I had the psychic reading, this woman was really positive; she was, 'No, the world isn't in trouble,
|we're all going
to be allright' Sorry, I just don't feel that. Especially with money; it's
the corniest thing to say that money is the root of all evil, but how true
is that? I can't see how things are gonny get better. Sometimes I feel
this is the living hell.
"Look at the conditions we're living in. Living in the city can't be healthy. Look at the way we build these," he says, gesturing vaguely at the corporate concrete monoliths through the window. "I think we've all got a touch of psychosis. In a city, you've got all this energy of people who ain't quite normal; that abnormal energy just reflects off everything and pushes us further down the path."
So it's like psychic pollution, poisoning our minds?
"Yeah, exactly. I could never understand how someone can kill people for money. But the first time l came to New York, I understood it right away. It's just the way these people are living."
THE difference between a Rastafarian worldview and Tricky's is that, for the natty dread, the evil is out there. Through their dress and rituals, Rastas exempt themselves from a Fallen World, elevate themselves as the pure in heart destined Zion. As such, they're like all fundamentalists; realIy not so far from the Christian Right Militia in America, in fact, except that the Iatter direct their fantasies of cleansing apocalyptic violence against the US Federal Govemment / United Nations conspiracy,
|and against the
"mudpeople" (the racially impure). Unlike the believers, Tricky doesn't
distance himself from Babylon, from the system or shit-stem (as some dread
put it); he's intimate with evil, on first name terms with the Devil. In
his In his words and his music, Tricky opens the (l)id and lets all this
contamination and corruption speak itself, in its own vernacular as opposed
to the cut-and-dried polarities of the message-mongering "political" sorgwriter
(who also imagines himself "cIean").
"I'm part of this f***in' psychic pollution. I'm just as negative as the next person. l think we have to destroy everything and start again. Everything has to end before it gets any better. And it's not going to happen in our lifetimes. Everything needs to burn and be rebuilt."
Lines like "We're hungry / We take our fill / My brain thinks bomblike / Beware of our appetite" suggest you identify yourself as a part of the problem, that you're convulsed by the same voracious will-to-power that's ruining the world.
"It's like, I can be as greedy as you, I want money, I want cars. I'm conditioned to want that, and the conditioned part of me says, 'Yeah, I'm gonna go out and make money, and build an empire. I'm going to rule my own little kingdom.' But part of me knows that's bullshit. But I am hungry, and you have to watch out for someone who's hungry.
"AN 'ungry man is an angry man", so sayeth the prophet
|Prince Far I.
In black music, it sometimes seems that everyone's searching for the kingdom,
the kingdom of heaven. Some want it now and they wiIl not wait: the gangsta
tries to buiId that kingdom on earth, makes a deal with Satan (who himself
decided "'tis better to rule in hell than serve in heaven". Trouble is,
there's always a bigger king out there to make you his slave, his boy;
at the ultimate degree, there's the State. So the smarter rudeboys turn
"conscious" and dream of the lost kingdom of the righteous, calling it
Zion, or the Black Nation; the pot of gold at the end of Time's Rainbow.
Other black mystics - Hendrix, Sun Ra, CIinton - dub this Iost paradise
AtIantis, or Saturn or the Mothership Connection.
Tricky has come up with his own proper name for Zion - Maxinquaye.
"Quaye, that's this race of peopIe in Africa, like Mancunians or something... 'Maxin', that's my mum's name, Maxine, and I've just taken the E off."
Maxinquaye=the lost Motherland. And Tricky, he grew up an Exile on Main Street. On Knowle West High Street, Bristol, to be precise.
"Raised in this place/Now concrete is my religion" - "Feed Me"
"What that saying is, my reIigion was KnowIe West. You grow up in a certain place and you grow to be like the environment. I knew how to pinch, how to get aIong in that environment."
Tricky talks about how "we all have this animal hunger. It's
|quite a stronge
force; if we were cleaner of mind and body, this energy might be good."
In the concrete jungle, the natural impulses of the young mind toward prestige
and belonging get twisted out of shape, distorted into madmuthaf*** a-hood
and gang loyalty. SIy Stone wrote "Riot" songs like "Thank You For Talking
To Me, Africa" and "Africa Talks To You (The Asphalt Jungle)" because "in
Africa, animals are animals. The tiger is a tiger, the snake is a snake,
you know what the hell he's going to do. Here in New York, a tiger or a
snake may come up looking like, uuuh, you."
When Tricky talks about being stoned and paranoid in supermarkets - "I feel alien, and like someone's going to recognise me in a minute as an alien" - I wonder if that's how he feels all the time, deep down. Has he ever felt like he belonged anywhere?
"Well, there's nowhere I want to live. I've travelled everywhere. I find some place where I think I want to live and after two weeks l find out it's not. So l haven't got a home and that's something I'm desperately looking for. And I think I'm never going to find it."
| It's Tricky's
"primal narcissistic wound" - the loss of his mother - that makes him morbidly
sensitive to the currents of anguish and dread in the culture. Like that
other mamma's boy, Kurt Cobain, hes eems to have no defenses, no skin.
And being an aerial - for - angst is taxing.
"It takes up a lot of energy, it ends up sapping me sometimes. I do soak it aII up. I was in Paris doing a photo with Massive and there was this old lady, and she looked very old and very sad. Now, that catches my eye, and it really, really hurts me. I don't like feeling like that. But it's something I can't control. It hurts me to such an extent that it confuses me. See, if some geezer comes up to me on the street and starts asking me for money, I get an instant rage. When someone comes up to me and I see this person ain't got a life, my emotions get confused. No one likes seeing that, cos that could be you or me. It's too scary. It's like a mirror almost."
When people go on about how "sexy "Maxinquaye" is, I sometimes wonder if their ears ever penetrate through the sensuous sonic murk and Martina's shortcake-crumbling-
to the desperation and dread - of - intimacy in the lyrics. As a seduction
"Overcome" and "Suffocated Love" ain't exactly amorous or arousing. Tricky is highly bemused when people tell him that his album's an aphrodisiac.
"I get beautiful girls in Italy come up to me and say, 'I have sex with my boyfriend to your album'. I really don't need to know that. I say, 'why don't you have sex with me listening to my album?"
Maybe what the "Maxinquaye" - as - sampladelic "Let's Get It On" posse are cueing off is the voracious oral craving in the songs: from the line "F***you in / Suck you in / Tuck you in" from "Abbaon Fat Tracks" to "Ponderosa"s litany of implosive violence (inflicted via alcohol and spliff) against the self ("See she scars of my rage"). That song documents the same abyss of despair - down and down through "different levels of the Devil's company" that birthed "Strugglin", the albums' most gruelling feat of avant-gardism. Sonically, "Strugglin" sounds like a faithless Public Enemy; PE if they somehow lost grip on the "black steel" of their ideology,
"Hehehehehe!" wheezes Tricky. "I dunno quite how to take that! That trock, it is the last resort. It's based on real depression, but not through something terrible happening to you, which is what most people think causes depression. It's easy to get a depression, if you don't have a job, don't have a passion, don't exercise your brain. After doing 'Blue Lines', I was getting a wage into a bank but not actually working. Massive were paying me, so I had money, and that was the worst thing, cos it enabled me to have weed and drink. All I did was smoke and drink, hang around in town, kill time in bars. And go to clubs, from Wednesday to Sunday."
This two-year endless weekender-bender nearly drove Tricky round the bend. After the party, utterly wasted. he'd contemplate the waste of his life, until, in his weed-distorted paranoia, all that killed time would assume the grotesque shape of a spectre, a nameless appehension of doom: "Mystical shadows fraught with no meaning". Out of this wasteland eventually emerged a prophet, a sonic wizard conjuring up the paranoiascapes of "Aftermath" and "Abbaon Fat Tracks", aural allegories of a generation's
music that makes cultural entrophy seem as picturesque as the photos of
corroded, rust-mottles metal and flaking paint inside the CD booklet of
Along with everything else, Tricky's album is an inventory of the cost of this country's recreational drug "culture"; of the venomous blooms that sprout when a whole generation, finding no political outlet for its idealism, turns to self-medication / self-poisoning to provide its provisional utopias, each and every weekend. Where a lot of groups glamorise drugs, Tricky raps lines - "I roll the blue bills / I snort the cheap thrills", "Brainwashed by the cheapest" - which seem to attest to a healthy quotient of shame.
"Cocaine is the cheapest thrill I've ever experienced in my life, the lowest, lowest thing. Cos it's totally unreal. You feel so good about yourself, but you've done nothing to deserve it. The times I've taken it is with other artist, and you stand there and say loads of bullshit, how you respect them, love their lyrics, and you pat each other on the back all f***ing night. E is just as bad: I like loads of nice things being said to me, and you say loads of nice things
|back, and you
get all deep. Some things ain't worth talking about."
For the jilted generation, all that festering rage is filtered through chemicals. Short-term measures. As Irvine Welsh's "A Smart C***", paralysed by the seeming futility of political activism, puts it: "I think I'll stick to drugs to get me throgh the long, dark night of late capitalism."
"We're all f***ing lost," says Tricky. "Heheheheh. I can't pretend I've got all the answers. Bob Marley, he could write songs about freedom and love. I'm just telling the truth that l'm
confused, I'm paranoid, I'm scared, I'm vicious, I'm f** *ing spiteful."
And yet the album's last song, the unspeakably beautiful "Feed Me", seems to hold out a cruel
glimmer of hope, a dream of the promised land (Maxinquaye itself?)...
"We found a new place to live / Where we're taught to grow strong / Strongly sensitive" Tricky quotes himself. "It's not the sort of stuff I write about usually... it's really hopeful!"
But tentative, almost taunting - like a mirage.
'The HelI' EP is released by Island on June 26. Tricky plays Glastonbury's jazz stage on Saturday June 24.
photos: Steve Gullick
|Tricky solo discography||