He helped mastermind one of the albums of the decade - Massive Attack's 'Blue Lines' - but instead of soaking up the glory he decided to go it alone, creating two sublime singles. Now he has fashioned his own awesome album and a third single with the help of an angel-voiced 19-year-old. TED KESSLER finds out what drives the genius of TRICKY. STEVE DOUBLE does it with mirrors.
The first and last thing you hear is bass. In between there are the drugs, the booze, the paranoia, the violence, the oral sex, the anal sex, the love, the pain, the faith and the future. Sounds good already, doesn't it?
   Now listen to the two voices telling you about these things. There's the angelic beacon that creeps deep into your soul and wrenches your heart loose. That's Martina, she's 19. Then there's the deep and hazy half whispered drawl of Tricky that demands you crane your neck closer to the speakers to determine just what's sending him up the wall. But he's always been good at that. They call him Tricky Kid, after all, for particular reason.
   And then there's the music that wraps itself around the bass and carries Tricky's extraordinary visions. If you bought either the 'Aftermath' or 'Ponderosa' singles you'll know all about this other - worldly, through - the - looking - glass stuff.
   A world where keyboards and guitars shoot through the middle of languid dub and funk, leaving off-kilter trails of melody in their wake, where Martina sings a punk rock version of Public Enemy's 'Black Steel' that sounds like a tribute and not a piss-take, where the G funk of 'Feed Me' sounds like the most spiritual thing on earth, a world where every musical rule is turned upside down without affecting some
ridiculous Art prank. Imagine Bjork doing a version of Massive Attack's 'Karmacoma' with additional production by Terminator X, Dj Krush and Kevin Shields and you're halfway down the path to Tricky's musical shack. In short, Tricky Kid has made a truly awesome album. And he's called it 'Maxinquaye' which, if you jiggle the E about, spells his mum's name.
   He's been part of the process before, of course. He co-authored and rapped on a trio of tracks on Massive Attack's sublime debut 'Blue Lines' in 1991, and he was there again on a couple of tracks for their last album 'Protection'. But, good though those albums were (and, for the record, Tricky much prefers 'Blue Lines'), that wasn't really his thing, so he never felt that proud. He always felt part of a committee when he was working with Massive. Yet he was back in Bristol thinking about the kind of record he was going to make on his own when the rest of the group were getting the plaudits in London boardrooms, so he never even really had the chance to bask in any reflected glory.
   Not that he plans to bask in the glory that will inevitably find him now. No, the tales of paranoia, suffocated love and psychosis that stretch though 'Maxinquaye' are much too deeply rooted in fact for Tricky to relax. Other people can tell him his album has the oddball cross-over potential of
Bjork's 'Debut', but he's not interested. He's already thinking about the next record anyway. It's going to be really nasty, really angry and occasionally really fast. That'll throw his sworn enemies, "the trendies", off his case for a while. Heh, heh, heh...
   But who is he? What kind of fellow masterminds one of the albums of the decade only to dream of losing his fans before he's even released it? Where did he hone the kind of lateral thinking that encourages a rapper of his skill and pedigree to pass his raps on to a novice to sing them so gloriously with him over your music?
   What made him? Where did he come from? What does he want? What kind of name is Tricky?
   Only one way to find out. Let's go find the man.

"To the cage, through the bars / You'll see scars, results of my rage" - 'Ponderosa' and 'Brand new you're retro', Tricky.

He's samll and he's ruddy. His face is slightly swollen under the eyes as if he's just taking a pounding. but that's just the Red Indian in him. Yup. Red Indian. Apparently, somewhere way back along Tricky's family tree, there's Native American blood. He found out about this the day after he got his Native American tattoo on his forearm. Spooky.
   And today he's on his own. Martina's ill or busy or on holiday, depending on who you ask. Whatever, she  won't be joining 

Tricky as he bounds down the corridors of Island Records' west London offices, ripping the filters off fags he's caged off lackeys and colleagues. She'll be in bed, the studio or on the beach as the little genius heads for his A&R man's office, meeting and greeting his staff on the way. Chhhhh, normally he hates trendy people but this lot are smart.
   "Trendy people." he spits, reaching for the door handle, "have been putting my name next to this f--ing bullshit trip-hop and my music's got nothing to do with that trip-hop bollocks..."
  What, even though your affiliation has been documented in the Sunday and style press?
   "Nah, l don't know who made up that f--ing stupid name. Just a bunch of trendy kids with labels, I think. I read this thing that said I was one of the innovators of trip-hop, and it's so stupid, so stupid. I'm not even making hip-hop let alone this trip-hop bollocks. Sad, trendy shit... sit down, man. I'm just going to nick a fag."
   Some people who've had dealings with the man will tell you about Tricky's wobbIy grasp on reaIity. The guy's a nut job, they chortle.  They'll tell you about the time he turned up to DJ with a Tigers of Pan Tang album and a PJ Harvey 12-inch, or about his Brian Wilson-esque studio eccentricities, or just general lifestyle stuff. Oi, nutter! What about it?
    "Yeah, I've heard all that stuff and it's all bullshit," he says, crouched on his stool with one hand squeezing his cig. the other thrust down his trousers. "I think I'm more normal than most people. I get a lot of people asking if I'm as weird as everyone says but I don't even pay attention to it.  You can't be anything but a bit mad in this society but everyone is willing to pass the buck and say. 'Ooh he's mad'. People just want to involve you in their lives and I don't want to be involved in anybody's life."

TRICKY'S LIFE began 27 years ago in Bristol and continued through his youth and teens in Ardiffe and Norwest, neither of which are spots of outstanding natural beauty.
   "I grew up in a f--ing ghetto. They call it Little Bronx. And I was a bit of a thug, bit of a hooligan. I had a posse of about 12 of us and we used to get very seriously naughty together. I was mainly into stuff like chasing girls and fighting and stealing and robbing."
   Eventually the fighting, the stealing and the robbing caught up with him when he was arrested for forgery of the Crown. He'd bought a load of forged 50 notes off a friend; when the friend was arrested, he grassed Tricky up. Tricky had already been caught for a number of things. usually TDA (taking and driving a vehicle away) because he was crap at driving. and this time he was sent 

down. He was 17.
   "Prison was really good. I'm never going back. I was sentenced to a couple of weeks in youth custody. which doesn't sound like much, but they make you carry your blankets through the main prison to scare you and I just thought, 'I ain't going to survive with all these big men'. I was just a kid, the blankets were bigger than me! All these men with massive arms and tattoos... imagine doing two years! Ridiculous!"
   Which was exactly what faced him as soon as he was released. He'd been charged with assault in Oxford before he went to prison ("total mad stitch-up bollocks") and faced a hefty sentence if the jury fell for the story of the five fellas he'd allegedly beaten up. Luckily they didn't, and Tricky Kid's life reached a crossroads.
   He'd always been obsessed with music, but never what all his mates were into. If they liked reggae, he'd be into hip-hop; if they liked dub, he'd be into The Specials. He always wanted to be into the alternative, and he didn't know why until he left prison, met Miles Johnson and started rapping with a group of people called The Wild Bunch. He'd finally tapped into a similar wavelength.
  He'd started writing raps when he was 15 ("It was mainly about shooting people. All violence and shagging girls, because I was at that age") but now he was writing about other things with Johnson's Wild Bunch. He was writing about 

himself and the things that went on in his head. He'd just stay in and write because it was cheaper than most alternatives and it made him laugh.
   Over the years The Wild Bunch mutated into Massive Attack and Tricky found himself a member of a genuine recording outfit. Nearly. He was never really that certain of his status within Massive Attack.
   "I see things very differently to them and it's quite frustrating. All I did was write lyrics and a beat was given to me to rap over. My way of thinking was always alternative to them. One day I'll probably work with them again but there's animosity between us. 
   "I've got animosity towards them for saying they co-wrote 'Karmacoma' when I did all the music and most of the words, and they've got animosity towards me
for doing my own thing. It's something you can't put your finger on."
   So throughout his time with Massive Attack he was thinking about how he could make the record he had playing in his head, fitting the words he had drifting through his skull to the music. He wanted tto find a woman who could sing his raps and thus throw their meaning. It would sound really unique. Maybe, he thought, he could do it with Massive Attack. He gave them a song he'd written called 'Daydreaming' and asked if Shara Nelson could sing. They thought it was another of Tricky's funny little plans but when they heard the result... well, it was amazing.

POPULAR MYTH has it that Tricky met Martina on a wall outside his house three years ago, when she was still at school. Tricky shrugs. It doesn't matter.

All he knows is he'd found what he'd been looking for: someone with the voice of an angel and a penchant for recreational cigarettes. Perfect. He cut a track called 'Aftermath' with her and took the result to Massive Attack, but they weren't into this strung-out flute mantra. It was the free light he needed. He'd work with Martina on his own.
   "It's the best. I never have any structure to my stuff, I just build from one sound I like. I couldn't write you a blues track or a hip-hop track if you asked. I just make what I hear and then me and Martina sind all the words on paper, putting the emphasis on the things that perhaps shouldn't be sung.
    "I think she finds some of what I write quite depressing, but then it's just reality. She's been a student all her life, grew up in Somerset, and I don't think she's 
ever faced the real world. She finds it all a bit weird. But she's my best mate. We've shared a flat for the last year and she's still my best mate. When I shared a house with 3-D (from Massive) I almost killed him. Honestly! And he nearly killed me! But Martina is still my best mate...
   "It's weird because I don't want to tell her too often she's got the best voice I've ever heard, but she has. Funny, because she doesn't like some of her vocals but that's just because it's her. She just wants to get her vocal content up. She's an amazing woman."

THE SINGLE that directly precedes the album is a version of 'Karmacoma' - last heard on Massive's 'Protection' - called 'Overcome', a brooding deep bass trawl through Tricky's mind, voiced exquisitely by

Martina. But  won't this further the mutterings about the incestuous Bristol scene?
   "Well, that's my song for a start, and it doesn't sound anything at all like the version on their album. Not a bit. I think it's a myth there's a Bristol sound anyway. Everybody singles us out as the same, but as far as I'm concerned my music has nothing to do with Portishead. There's a connection with Massive maybe, but Portishead... I've known Geoff from Portishead a long, long time and me and him are chalk and cheese. We've never had the same experiences of anything ever.
   "Anyway, all this slow haunting music, all this so-called tortured shit is a load of bullshit. It's a load of bollocks. 'It's really dark, man...' Bollocks! Portishead sound like Massive Attack ten years ago because Geoff used to engineer for Mushroom. That's what the Portishead album sounds like: Mushroom beats with a girl on top. Can't say too much though, 'cos we've got the same management."
   Tricky laughs and winks, as if to say, 'OK, man, you've had your piece of me'. He looks at his watch. Shit, he's got to be back home half an hour ago to meet an engineer. OK, OK, one last question: why are you called Tricky Kid?
   "No particular reason," he deadpans. "Had it from school, my street name, all that trendy stuff. Maybe it's from not turning up to meet people. I quite like it."
   Is your real name a secret then?
   "Nah, my real name's Adrian Thaws."
   He stands and stretches. "Kind of weird innit? Adrian Thaws. Kind of weird, kind of funky."
   It's perfect then.

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   photos: Steve Double

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analyze me (Tricky)
Tricky solo discography
Tricky biography