|VAMPIRE OF THE SENSI|
|Forget all you may have read about TRICKY. Forget that he once admitted being the father of MARTINA's child. Forget that he and Björk, at one time, may have been an 'item'. GAVIN MARTIN pins the Tricky one down at the end of his American tour for this week's version of events. Even a rare chat with his elusive female cohort fails to make everything clear about this unusual musical couple. Camera Tricks: STEFAN DE BATSELIER|
could be a tricky situation. Martina, the limelight-shrugging star of Tricky's
'Maxinquaye' album, has finally consented to sit down and talk. Be gentle
with her, is the advice; it's a rare interview, she's suspicious of the
press and she may not react well to indelicate plying.
That discomfort with the media spotlight may have meant that Martina's part on 'Maxinquaye' has been too easily overlooked, but her role has been crucial in bringing Tricky's inventiveness to fruition. Without Martina, 'Maxinquaye' would merely be a mix of intoxicating samples and wounded spoken word raps. With her, it becomes something illuminating, spellbinding, vulnerable and sexy, the cradle of not one but two important new talents in British music. Martina's input is proof of James Brown's old adage about soulful endeavour - it may be a man's world, but it'd be nothing without a woman.
We are meeting at the end of the road for Tricky's three-month tour of the States. For most of the weekend, Martina has been holed up with her six- month-old baby, Maisey, in the Hyatt Hotel, surrounded by the junk culture of Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Tricky, who she first met five years ago, when she was 15 and bunking off school in Bristol, Tricky, who discovered and nurtured what he calls her 'aura', is staying at The Hyatt too. But, from when they arrived three days ago, it was obvious that the often fractious war of male and female forces which gives 'Maxinquaye' its power had spilled over into real life.
When they first arrived at The Hyatt, the crew and the baby frolicked in
the lobby while Tricky and Martina engaged in their only public communication
all weekend - a 30-minute, stand-up argument on the steps of the hotel.
Tricky became increasingly exasperated, gesticulating and fulminating,
while Martina remained calm, immune, refusing to be drawn or baited. Eventually,
she slid down to a sitting position, turning her face away from the
overheated Tricky. Later that afternoon - along with her baby and travelling companion / babysitter - she'd elected to spend a few hours by the hotel pool, but turned straight back into the lift when she saw that the Tricky little Devil was himself holding court with journalists at the poolside.
To put a seal on the air of confusion and rancour, the tour had come to an inauspicious conclusion. A show at Johnny Depp's Viper Rooms was cancelled at the 11th hour because of Tricky's aversion to trend-setting haunts, and last night's show at The Hollywood Grand provided a near - disastrous climax when the club promoter was forced to pull the plug as the fire marshal and Los Angeles Police Department arrived to close the venue for overcrowding.
Result? Martina, her friends and family left on the sidewalk while inside Tricky, who had ended the show with a rousing chant of, "You're going to get your f---ing head kicked in", was free "to hang" backstage with such lunimaries as 'Slim' Jim Stray Cat.
Despite all that, the "be gentle" advice seems inappropriate. Martina admits
that, at the time of the first Tricky UK tour, the "urgent family matters"
she was attending to were her pregnancy, a condition that transformed her
into "a raging mass of hormones". But, "without wanting to sound precious",
since she's become a mother she has discovered far more about herself,
her strengths and what she wants from life.
Circumstances permitting she wants to have more children because children are everything: "They give you it all - joy, love and pain."
Compared to the temperamental, excessively paranoid and quickfire Tricky, Martina is an oasis of calm. It is an air she maintains on record and onstage, feminine guile and wisdom set against Tricky's mind-twisting. verbal slights, cradling her little bottle of champagne, closing her eyes as she lets fly, marking out her future when she sings "I think ahead of you / I think instead of you".
She was a bright, relatively privileged kid when she first met Tricky. She'd spent time in America, where her sister booked bands at The Ritz in New York. Although her mother worked in the music business, it was her own second - generation punk background that spurred her into the position where she arrived at Tricky's house one day, drunk on Merrydown cider. At that time her three favourite bands were Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili
and Fishbone and, with her hair dyed blue, her idea of outrage was shouting
obscenities at "certain male singers".
Singing had never occurred to her as a vocation until she crawled through the window of Tricky's flat and was given an impromptu audition by On-U Sound luminary, and former frontman with seminal Bristolians The Pop Group, Mark Stewart. What with the mixture of cider, smoke and excitement, she can't remember much about what happened that first day, but an adventure and voyage of discovery began, an adventure brilliantly captured and heightened on 'Maxinquaye'.
An adventure you can sense is, if not coming to a close, then certainly moving into a new chapter.
IN THE weeks, months
and years after they met, she and Tricky talked a lot about themselves.
Deep, personal bonds were uncovered, things that brought them together,
things - private things - that had happened to them both, family
similarities. They also talked about the roles of black people in the music
business: what they were expected to do and wear, what sounds they were
expected to make, and how they could set about dismantling those expectations.
had taken four years for 'Maxinquaye' to become a reality and, when it
did, the gratifying thing was how the tests of wills, the moments when
they were at odds with each other, the clash of opposing forces, contrasted
with the harmonising moments to make it such a genre and stereotype-spuming
record. The reaction to 'Ponderosa' was still her favourite - she'd heard
it described as "bored, sexy, totally alien" and liked the fact that she
herself still couldn't work out what it was about. She'd played Tricky
her punk favourites (hence the sample from Smashing Pumpkins for 'Pumpkin',
just released by some smart arse at Island as a Halloween single), and
he'd made her listen to the music of the tough-talking gangstas and ghetto
boys, stuff she'd previously shunned. The result was a landmark album that,
distilling anger and contempt with internal English reveries, crossed musical
and psychic boundaries.
She admits that, since the record, Tricky and herself have grown apart. There will be more records together, she reckons (she appears on his current Starving Souls single project, is one of several vocal guests on his forthcoming Nearly God album, and says she will be on the second Tricky album). But she also has to think of her own career. After spending so much time in awe of Tricky's lyrics, she has to think about her own writing, her own future. Plus some things are starting to annoy her about Tricky...
"Like the way he stops a song right in the middle of the part where I'm enjoying it."
Aren't there ways she can get her own back?
She smiles. "Retribution is a
thing. That's not to say I can forgive and forget. I'd like to be able
to, but that's not always possible."
There's the baby to look after, of course. When I'd earlier asked Tricky if he had become a father this year, he took a long while to come up with "no" for an answer. Previously he'd told a journalist that Maisey was his but it was personal, nothing to do with his music, and that he wouldn't be responsible for his actions if anyone wrote "anything sneaky" about it. Martina is too worldly-wise to sound off about the responsibilities of fatherhood, but ask her how Tricky has changed since they first knew each other and her comment is brusque but pointed.
"He has certainly retained a lot of child-like qualities," she says, in a thinly veiled put-down.
TWO DAYS earlier,
Tricky had arrived in the hotel lobby an hour late for the interview. He
was dressed in a long white shirt (a present brought to him by a friend
from lsrael) and his head was newly shorn, so that he looked ready to join
the Hare Krishnas. He was eating crisps, slurping coffee, taking hits from
his asthma inhaler. With him was his yoga instructor, keep fit expert and
right-hand man, Kingsley. Some people say that Kingsley has the easiest
job on the tour - Tricky's physical regime not exactly being of Olympic
ordered more coffee, French fries and a salad and cadged roll-up cigarettes
from the photographer.
Although his voice is a fading rasp - his asthma is not reacting well to the infamous Los Angeles air pollution, the constant air conditioning, and whatever he puts into his lungs - he's pleased to report that the tour has been plain sailing.
"Good, easy, people are reading the press and we've got a little fanbase over here, it's easy for us. It just shows that people will believe anything. Seriously, people will believe any form of hype. That is fact. Especially in America. I think they're all a bit mad, even the most normal of them. I don't know if I'm being a typical Englishman but I think they're all f---d up. Just everything, nothing to do with the government, just people's attitudes. Like I met this young wealthy guy yesterday, he's 24 and he accepts his wealth. The way young American kids are taught to just go for it, that driving ambition. It's mad; at 24 I didn't know what I wanted to do."
But not knowing what he wants to do, mining his own paranoia and confusion, has unlocked the gold in Tricky's soul. It's certainly one of the keys to the toxic charms of 'Maxinquaye'. Naturally, it means his American record company struggles to find a niche for him.
"Yeah they do. 'Black Steel' is getting loads of radio play, then after that 'Hell Is 'Round The Corner' comes out. All of a sudden they have me in an indie rock niche which doesn't fit. So I think they are confused, a bit paranoid, a bit scared."
marketing dilemma is probably not helped by Tricky's insistence on his
links - albeit qualified links - to the likes of Wu Tang Clan and recent
"Wu Tang Clan and bands like that are real, their music is very real. It's honest, raw music. But they are actually tough guys, I'm not. I'm more of a big girl's blouse; if a trend came out for the big girl's blouse of hip-hop, that would be me. I'm a camp hip-hopper, a sensitive hip-hopper, that's what I do. I'm very English and I like it when people say that. I don't write about Americans or think like Americans, and it's no use trying. I understand parts of it and that's where we can hook up, but their life, the whole gun thing, I don't understand.
"But they're real and there's not much music in the world that is real. I don't think I could name five bands out of England that are real and probably bands that I could are bands that that aren't successful. In England, everybody's into their own little thing: an indie kid or a mod Quadrophenia lookalike, retro-sounding like The Beatles type of act."
But surely with the soon-to-come Nearly God conglomerate (a ten-track album featuring the likes of Terry Hall and Damon Albarn planned for early 1996 release), Tricky himself is working with some of these retro mod types? He doesn't take kindly to the way the question is framed.
"Now what you said is not very clever at all. You think you're smart now, but you're stupid because when I've worked with them I've put them in and made them work my way. They weren't wearing
on my f---ing album."
He is also angered by a jokey reference made about him by Noel Gallagher in the NME earlier this year.
"Something about us doing cocaine together. That's not funny - joking about cocaine, I think it's a serious thing. Have you ever seen anybody without money who is into cocaine and what they do to get things like that?
"Y'see, it's easy to joke about coke when you're making loads of f---ng money, but it ain't a joke. Even involving my name with cocaine I don't find funny
- it's silly, it's got nothing to do with the music."
Hang on, isn't this the same guy who told this esteemed organ about how he nearly died from a coke overdose last time he was interviewed?
"Exactly, but that's a positive. If kids read that then they'll think twice about taking cocaine. I'm not talking about getting high and hanging around with models."
TRICKY HAS just launched
his'own label, Durban Poison, with 'The Starving Souls' debut single -
the warped and vampiric 'I Be The Prophet'. Typically defying studio conventions,
it's one of the most individual and mesmeric sounds you'll hear anywhere
this autumn. A progression from 'Maxinquaye', certainly, but The Starving
Souls stilI sounds a lot like him, Martina, and assembled musicians. Is
there a difference between The Starving Souls and Tricky?
that's why I set up my own label and made up pseudo - names. I don't want
to sit on music and say I'm going to keep this for the second or third
album. If I can make a record in two days, why should I wait six months
to release it?"
Everyone else does.
"But they have to. I can release it, I can do it. Why not? This is what I do for a living, that's the stupid thing, so to ask me why I would want to bring out music is a werid question. It's like, 'Pardon?'.
"I don't have to plan anything. I've got good songs and I've got good lyrics - that's a fact. All my mistakes as a human person and all that - nothing matters. I got lyrics and music so it doesn't matter when I'm flooding the market. I don't have to have a little technique or market plan. The record company let me be me. If I want to release something, I take the consequences. Flood the market? I don't think that you can do such a thing. If you've got good music and good songs, it's easy."
When did you first know you were going to do music?
"Not until I'd done it, not until I'd worked with Massive Attack. I never wanted to do it before that. There again, seeing The Specials on TV - I wanted to be in The Specials. When Slick Rick and Rakim came along I wanted to do that, but before that I was lust a kid listening to music.
"The Specials, I could understand what they were saying, they were a real band, very real. I could imagine that most of the things that they wrote about boys like Neville actually experienced, they led real lives. They didn't go to public school, didn't fall straight out of public school into a cushy lob.
"They suffered, they hurt, they experienced and they perceived. If you
don't experience you can't perceive, if you don't experience how can you
write about anything with any meaning?"
Was it a thrill finding out you could do music with Massive Attack?
"I never had no time, it was really fast with those guys. For years we were together doing street parties then all of a sudden they signed a deal and 'Unfinished Sympathy' was Number One (In your dreams mate - Ed). Before I knew I was doing photo shoots and TV, and, for some reason, they used me as a front man to do a lot of the talking. I never had time to think about it, it blew up in a matter of months. Ten years of work to be an overnight star. That's what it's like, you know what I mean? So I haven't had time to consider it."
Tricky steeled himself to cope with the limelight using a provocative array of masks, play-acting and posing. A sense of anarchy and confrontation infects everything he does.
"I've watched other people and they treated it like a business. People say, 'Do you dress up to sell records?'. I dress up because doing a three-hour photo shoot is the most boring thing ever. If I put on make-up or dresses I'm guaranteed to have a laugh. If you walk round the street in a wedding dress there's going to be jokes, there's going to be pisstakes, there's going to be fun.
"It's a wicked opportunity which everyone should take advantage of. It's like a fairytale, isn't it? I can be what I want, in my own little world I can be whatever I want. I can act like a woman, I can write lyrics in the voice of a woman. I can do anything I want because I've made up my own little bubble."
But is he not trying to discover his inner self in the music?
"God no, I wouldn't know where to start looking. To discover yourself in these times is lust impossible - nobody knows who they are. Well probably in all times everything is confusing - people, the whole way of life - it's f---d up, whoever made us is having a laugh."
Tricky's wiry arms are emblazoned with tattoos. He got his first one two years ago because, "I was feeling vampirish. I think most people are vampires to tell you the truth, they drain your energy." Most recently he's had a weird, demonic - looking beastie tattooed on his forearm.
"It's a psychic drawing, it's supposed to be a reflection of my soul. It's actually a cover-up. I used to have an Injun motif there but I went over it. You smoke a spliff with this geezer and you get chatting and you have to form a level of trust with him. So he starts freehand and just goes on and on, draws something out from inside you.
"This was in Christian Sands in Norway, a Christian town - very strange, it's a strange part of the world, everyone is out to convert you. It's mad! Like I went to Helsinki, right, and I met a Devil in Helsinki and a Christian in Christian Sands - that's fact!
"It is mad. I did an interview with this geezer who was an absolute devil and on the 'plane going to Christian Sands there's this woman trying to convert me. I'm leaning down because I've got a bad back and she starts rubbing my back saying, 'I feel you've got a good heart'. But what she's doing is trying to get me down to this gospel church thing. It's not that I'm not interested, it's just that going to see lots of Christian musicians
really turn me on. Such is life - terrible isn't it?
"I'm a very plain, straightforward person. I don't know what I'm doing, I don't know why I'm here. I don't know what I believe in. That's good enough for me; I don't need to know why we're all here. I don't need to know why people kill each other, I don't know why people take drugs and I don't want to know. I'm confused as f--- and I'm happy with that. If a lot more people did that instead of trying to find some f----ing... whatever it is they're trying to find, it would be a lot easier.
"Everybody is looking for a f---ing answer and, you know, what's mad is that through my music and through my lyrics people come to me looking for an answer. It's all these lyrics that people get loads of meaning from. But I don't think when I write my lyrics, I lust write and it comes out of me. I'm God's tool, I suppose, heh heee. It's a very spiritual thing, he he hehe, my aura. Can't you feel it, surrounding me at this very moment?"
Ah yes. Tricky as 'God's tool'. Previously he's been the Devil and, most blasphemously, he's claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus.
"It's a form of psychosis. I smoke a lot of weed and, you know, it's a fact that people who smoke weed go through Devil syndromes and Jesus syndromes. But I've read a wicked thing: this artist said that if you find the passion and you find the art that controls your mind, body and soul, you're representing God."
Is The Starving Souls' 'I Be The Prophet' a response to people looking for answers in your lyrics?
"No, the name Starving Souls is about watching people who have been touring
for years - they're quite weird. I almost feel sorry for them. I was working
with this guy called Pete Briquette, Patrice and a guy called Les. One
of them has gone mad now heh heh heh. Watching these guys, it's quite a
lonely life. I think it comes to a stage where you carry on touring and
making your money or you have a baby. You settle down and things like that.
Watching these guys, they remind me of Starving Souls, they travel all
'round the world just for that one hour onstage, they are just going 'round
looking for that place where they can make music."
WHAT DO you mean when
you sing "I'm already on the other side"?
'Strugglin", because if you haven't struggled you can't make a song like
that. If I make too much money and start hanging out with superstars and
going to superstar clubs and getting on the guest list, that would probably
go because life would be too good, know what I mean? Success is scary because
it's a drug. If you're successful once you always want to be, and you try
and do things that aren't within your personality to carry on being successful.
Then you become a living lie, then you lose it."
Has that happened to you at any time?
"No, I'm too old for my personality to be changed, too set in my ways. When you're younger you haven't developed your personality properly, so if I was successful when I was younger it would have definitely f---d me up, definitely. Now I'm just me, quite honest, really simple, straightforward."
Historically, Tricky's hometown, Bristol, was the slave trade centre of the world. Now some say it's awash with white liberal guilt.
"They've still got places you can go and see where slaves were chained up. The people who own it all, their family were in the slave trade. That's the history of the place but I don't know if it's something that they've got white liberal guilt about - they all seem happy and wealthy to me.
So there's a certain irony, a certain feeling of payback that hundreds of years later Bristol should become England's Memphis, the hotbed of a new rhythm revolution with former street kids hailed as figureheads, kids like Tricky and his old sparring partner Goldie.
"He was a bad boy, a rude boy and I tried not to hang out with bad boys.
I've been in certain situations with him where I felt I don't want to be
involved with this, circumstances where I just walked away. It was never
a temptation to get involved; fear is not a temptation, it doesn't turn
me on at all. We've always known each other but never got really tight,
obviously he's a different person now. But he was a bit naughty, know what
"What's funny is that England is desperate for a jungle superstar because they know money can be made off it. Goldie's been pushed up there as the representative. They're saying Goldie has the best jungle music of the minute around the world, which is dangerous because he hasn't, there's people like Alex Reece. There's a danger of being set up by the press. Goldie doesn't need to be set up as a jungle superstar because he already is a superstar - in his personality, the way he walks and talks makes him a superstar - in his own right.
"But me and Goldie are definitely going to work together. That's a fact, there's
you want to work with and people you know that you're going to work with.
Me and Goldie know we are going to work with each other, we knew that a
long time ago. So we're both content with sitting and waiting."
Never one to turn down a chance to expand his gameplan, Tricky worked with Björk on her second album. But their relationship seemed to have turned sour when she bad-mouthed him onstage at this year's Reading Festival.
"I wouldn't know about that. I left see, before she came on. She probably said, 'I'm too scared to love', or something like that. 'Why can't he love me?' The sort of things she always says about me."
You were an item?
"We were more support for each other. She's got it hard now; it's her second album, it's stressful, my first album brings on stressful things. We used to hang out together but I think people wanted us to be more of an item than we wanted to be. We've just been leaning on each others' shoulders but if that's an item I don't know"
TWO DAYS later the Tricky crew are departing the Hyatt
Tricky is ordering more coffee, watching as two members of staff have a
fight on the forecourt. He's talking of plans to film a recently compIeted
script and to record the second Tricky album in Jamaica. He doesn't have
much to say about Martina - you can hear how important she is just listening
to the records.
"She's got a bigger mouth now, naah. I see her speaking to a different generation, if a man says something then a woman sings it, it must have a different effect, make a different connection, mustn't it?"
The tour manager seems relieved that the gigs over; last night when the fire marshal and LAPD arrived he had visions of a night in the cells. Kingsley is off to stay with friends in Ireland. Over at the other side of the hoteI, Martina is saying farewells to her family and friends. Shouldering a heavy bag, Tricky checks out, ignoring them and goes to his tour van. He returns minutes later complaining that the load has given him a sore back. Behind him, totally oblivious, Martina carries Maisey out into the sunshine of a new day.
Seems like everybody has their cross to bear, but maybe some aren't as heavy as others.
photos: Stefan de Batselier
|analyze me (Tricky)|
|Tricky solo discography|