|· With his haunting, consistently creepy debut album gathering critical acclaim, TRICKY's career is going into ocerdrice - if only he can control the demons that constantly battle for his soul. JOHN MULVEY goes in search of Bristol's most uncimprimising new talent and finds a ragin mass of contracdictions. Photography for the devil: STEVE DOUBLE|
|GET YOUR KICKS|
|ON ROUTE 666|
minutes to showtime. He has had a black stripe painted across his eyes.
He has pissed in the sink. He has played a new tune on his portable sequencer.
And now, as a roadie sits in the corner diligently rolling him a joint,
Tricky has reached the climax of his pre-gig ritual...
Kickboxing. Kick! His foot lashes out over the tray of food, as he swivels around the room to try and forget his nerves. Kick! It flies again, closer and closer to a hapless band member. Kick! just one more time, perilously near an unprotected neck. It is an agile, impressive, even frightening display, but nobody - except the victim - pays much attention. Conversations continue. Until, casually, someone mentions the devil.
All of a sudden, Tricky stops dead and turns to face the culprit.
"You know nothing about the devil," he snaps, and his hard, unwavering stare brooks no argument. "I know the devil. I am the devil."
The room is silent. No-one even giggles.
"You know the film Rosemary's Baby?" he continues, and he's talking to us all now, revealing his true nature. "Someone says in that film that the devil shall be called Adrian - and that's my real name. I am the devil!"
He calms down a little.
"God, I'm nervous tonight. Even the devil gets nervous...
And then he erupts into a long, throaty, hoarse cackle. The laugh of a deranged yokel who kills himself at a loke no-one else can comprehend. The laugh of a prankster from another dimension. The laugh, perhaps, of the devil himself. Lucifer, ladies and gentlemen, is alive and well and on the road in the United Kingdom.
illusion of confusion, it's not from where I'm sat... Different levels
of the devil's company."
-'Ponderosa'How do you know about the devil, Tricky?
"Because I've slept with the devil, I've held hands with the devil. I've done really bad things in my time, so I can look inside people's eyes and I know they know nothing about the devil. I've been close to the devil, and I've been close to losing my mind.
"I died once, for three minutes. It was about a year ago in Martine's (the main singer on his astonishing 'Maxinquaye' album) house. I needed these electric things. I've got asthma, but I did loads of cocaine, and all of a sudden I just couldn't breathe. I thought I was going to die.
"She lives in this mansion house in Somerset, far away from everywhere, so by the time the doctor came I was really ill, and he never had the right stuff - he never had enough oxygen - so we had to call the paramedics out. And I just collapsed and stopped breathing.
"Things like that. I've gone close to drinking myself and smoking myself to insanity, and I know I've been close to the devil."
It is later, much later. Almost the
witching hour, in fact. We are sat in the lounge of a chintzy motel on the outskirts of Cambridge, perhaps the least likely location in Britain for a chat about the powers of darkness. The gig went well - it will turn out to be the best of the tour - and Tricky is still wired and elated from it, even as he claims that the devil exists.
"Oh yeah, of course he does," he says now, as if it was a blindingly obvious fact, "even though it might not be the devil as
story books. But some things you just shouldn't do, a person should not
'cos it's not right. And I can see that that is the devil."
He rips a slither of bacon out of his sandwich with his teeth.
"Erm, prostitution... I'm really corny. I hate prostitution. I don't hate the women, but I hate pimps, 'cos I know a couple of pimps and I know how how their minds work - total f---ing wankers, as far as I'm concerned. Kids selling drugs to other kids, getting your house robbed by someone 'cos they need some coke, really corny things like that."
On your album, you say, "I fight evil with evil".
"Well, you have to seomtimes, y'know?"
So you think you can control evil?
"Oh definitely, definitely. A negative can be so strong. If you get twice as negative as them, it scares them away. I can get really demonic in my mind, and my mind is strong enough to scare someone.
"I don't have to prove it with my hands or with a knife or gun. I can be under the influence of draw and a drink, and I can scare them, just by thinking certain things about them. I look them in
the eyes and they get scared.
"But I've been close to the devil, if not been the devil, definitely. It's like drinking alcohol and going out every night, you know that ain't good. You go out every night, hunting for girls, or f---ing drinking, being mouthy. Even little things like that are the devil's company."
The last time that Tricky was in the devil's company was three days ago. It was in Glasgow, Saturday night, the first night of his tour with PJ Harvey - the first
|time he had ever
played live with his band. After the gig, still wound up, he found himself
in a club, drunk and stoned, talking to a girl. When she was rude to him,
he lost his temper, started calling her names, then discovered the big
hard guy nearby - a gangster, Tricky reckons - was her boyfriend. When
went to the toilet, the man followed hir and had a word. "If a girl isn't nice with me, I'm gonna give her attitude," Tricky told him.
He chatted to the guy at the bar later but, his mind wrecked, he was still pananold. Back at the hotel, he was scared the gangster had followed him back, had tracked him down, was even now stalking the corridors in search of his room. He didn't sleep much,
The next day, hungover and guilty, he lay low, shrouded in his bunk like a vampire, on the bus all the way down to Leeds, locking himself in his room when he arrived there.
No one sees much of Tricky until Monday afternoon, when the band assemble in the hotel foyer ready to go and soundcheck at the Leeds Town & Country Club. It's an odd, almost dysfunctional group. The four 40-something session musicians keep themselves to themselves: their leader, former Boomtown Rat bassist Pete Briquette, models a suitably Mephistophelean beard that makes him
look like Andy Cairns' errant father; the guitarist, a balding and pony-tailed French man named Patrice, spent two years in Vic Reeves' band, where he was paid to play badly.
In a corner, petite singer Alison - an Orbital and Dread Zone collaborator replacing Tricky's muse Martine, absent due to "urgent family matters" - is shy and, it seems, in a constant state of nervousness about the forthcoming gigs. The tour manager, checking everyone's here, has just finished working with The Chippendales. No-one says a lot. After just three rehearsals and one gig, no-one even really knows each other.
Then, belatedly, Tricky appears. For one of Satan's emissaries on earth, he seems remarkably amiable. He is small, tough, has disconcertingly dark eyes and - if only for the precious few hours a day he is awake - is irrepressibly lively. He's a taut bundle of contradictions, too, a confrontational mischief-maker in his
|mid-20s who just
happens to have made an unarguably classic debut album.
On the cover of his last single, 'Overcome', he is clad in a wedding dress, lipstick smeared over his face. From each hand, a pistol dangles limply. From beneath the veil, you can see those eyes; brutal, challenging, uncompromising. It is a compulsion to shock that is at the heart of his nature, to screw with people's expectations, to make an impact.
It's this which leads him to mix up macho and feminine imagery, that leads him to talk at length - if not quite brag - about an adolescence full of knives and gangs and robbing, and then to talk about how all this is genuinely evil, the work of the devil on earth.
You get the impression that his mind is so bursting with ideas, many of them opposites, that he rarely knows exactly what he wants. One moment he's fiercely asserting his independence, the next he's daiming that he's easily led. He'll happily talk, and rap, about wanting to be dominated by women, but then he'll go and admit he's aggressive and selfish in relationships. Everything seems to be confusion and clashes. Everything, that is, except his sleek, menacing, frequently staggering music.
You probably know know all about it by now: about how Tricky grew out of the Bristol scene, passed through The Wild Bunch and Massive Attack, and came to record his own album, 'Maxinquaye'. You've probably read, too, about how good his record is; it has, after all, been universally feted, from the broadsheets to the style mags, and all points in between.
It is worth stressing again, though, exactly how incredible the album really is. 'Maxinquaye' is not just another oh-so fashionable dose of trip-hop from Bristol. Rather, it's a strange, self-contained world of haunted voices, stoned beats and disorienting sounds. As the sound of bullets being loaded creates a rhythm track, and the record's overwhelming sense of paranoia becomes infectious, you begin to think that this is exactly what it is like inside Tricky's head all the time. Ultimately, it's one of those rare albums where you're not told how the artist feels but, instead - thanks to the unique, consistently creepy atmosphere - you actually feel what the artist feels. Amazing. The tunes are pretty good,
Tricky's dressing room is tiny and when he ambles down he corridor and
peeks inside Polly Harvey's luxuriously-appointed, flower-laden salon,
he begins to construct a conspiracy theory. Look at her rider; a table
groaning with fine wines and cheeses, a huge bowl of fresh fruit. Look
at his: half a bag of crisps poured into a bowl, six mini-Snickers bars
(one each), a few cans of Iager, one bottle of plonk. This, coupled with
the fact that the famously private Harvey hasn't deigned to speak to him
yet, can only mean one thing she is trying to sabotage his show.
Paranoid as well as nervous now, nothing seems capable of stopping him moving. First he paces the dressing cell like a caged big cat. Then he keeps disappearing, sneaking around, striking up conversations and winding people up, charged with the kind of hyperactivity little kids develop if they overdose on E numbers. When the tour manager inadvertently leaves his mobile phone lying around, Tricky delightedly pounces on it and starts calling friends and family around the country. Finally, he calls his nan in Bristol, all his streetwise posturing drops, and he is reduced to a fumbling and uncomfortable politeness, ccidentally swearing to her and desperately apologising for his foul mouth.
By 7.30 pm he is trying to bullshit the promoter into letting his band go on half an hour late. By 7.35 pm he has failed, and is standing edgily onstage, hardly moving a muscle. By 8 pm he has shouted at the band, amateurishly into the microphone, to stop them from playing 'Aftermath' any longer. And by 8.15 pm he is sat back in the dressing room, trying to bullshit the already long- suffering tour manager into believing he wants to cancel the entire tour and go back to London right now.
Nobody said touring was going to be easy. And, in truth, the show was pretty good. What is so evidently hard for him - this intense, perfectionist studio creature - is to adjust to the slog of being a support act; of having crap food, no lights, and an early start time. For all his musical experience, the rigours of the road are something completely new, and not altogether welcome.
The next night, in Cambridge, he will
relax, box his way cockily around the stage, and play an infinitely better set. Pi Harvey will bravely tell him how much
|she likes his
stuff, and how she'd love to work with him. All conspiracy theories will
be instantly forgotten. He will watch her extravagant, dramatic set utterly
enraptured. Later, he will walk through the crowd and thrive on their congratulations,
going so far as to invite one gang of star-struck teenagers back to sample
the myriad pleasures of his dressing room.
Then he will ride his tour bus back to the hotel - blasting out The Prodigy at eardrum-puncturing volume - order a soda water and a bacon sandwich and settle down, finally, to talk.
First, he talks about his amazement at 'Maxinquaye"s success, and about how the tour is going surprisingly well, considering that he and his band are totally blagging it. He talks about being a workaholic, about working on Neneh Cherry and Bjork's forthcoming albums, and about the session he did with Gravediggaz last week, when he ended up puking red wine all over himself.
About his mysterious new side project Durban Poison, newly signed to Go! Discs, that he claims will feature vocals from Bjork, Alison and a famous British male singer, amongst others.
Then he gets on to the subject of women, and 'Suffocated Love', the track where he takes a totally submissive sexual role in the face of a dominatrix (played by Martine).
"I wanted her to be the cruel woman, the bitch," he explains through a mouthful of meat. "Everybody wants to be macho, but I like playing the weak role, the person who's upset, the person who's used. I'm sure some of those rap guys are being pussy-whipped, they can't all be hardcore 24 hours a day, I'm sure some of those geezers must have tasted love.
"I've been In love, and when you're In love you'll do anything for that person. I hate playing the male rote: you sit on the sofa, the arm goes round the
shoulders, you put your hand on her breast... I want someone to take my clothes off. I don't want to be the one who has to try it on. I'd like sometimes for the woman to make the first move. It'd be nice, y'know? It's kind of nice to play the weak role."
Is that what you do in relationships now?
"No," he says immediately, unequivocally. "In my relationships I change people's personalities. That's why I don't have long relationships. My personality's stronger and they just break, their will breaks. I can use people without actually knowing it. Even for things like making us a cup of tea, or
cooking food, that's what usually happens. They submit to me, 'cos I'm quite lazy, so that's no good for me."
Are you quite aggressive?
"Yeah, very aggressive, weird things trigger me off. Sometimes when I'm tired, if someone presses me, someone keeps irritating me, I get so angry. And I don't like being physically touched, unless it's a friend."
Can you see yourself, being so independent, settling into a long-term relationship?
"I don't know. That's the hard thing, y'see. You have to compromise when you're married, you can't go out all night. At the moment I cannot compromise, so no, not at the moment, no. I'd have to have somebody who was so into me they'd let me do what I wanted. Being faithful's not the problem. Having respect for the person is the problem. I walk all over someone if I can, y'know? I come in at all times of night, I never wash up, I never clean up.
"But I can't complain, 'cos I'm doing what I want to do now. And for things that you want, sometimes you have to suffer, I think. So if everything in my life was going totally right, there'd be something wrong. You've gotta have a problem, y'know? You have to be sad
sometimes. But I'm quite lucky: what happens is I get so depressed, I think, 'F- it!' I see people so depressed that they just give in. But I have to fight, I have to fight back."
What's your relationship with Martine?
"She's the number one. Tricky is me and Martine. We're very close - telepathic almost. We can be in anybody's company and you can't faze us when we're together. It's like those lyrics: 'The strength we have together...'"
..... But we're not exactly lovers"? "Yeah, exactly. It is almost love - I fall
|in love with
her when I bear her voice, and she falls in love with me when I write the
lyrics or make the music. So we're lovers in some ways."
But it's never been physical?
"No, not really, no. It's a weird thing,
I could never explain..."
Contradicting all his fighting talk, his declarations of independence, of course, is the fact that Tricky is easily led into temptation. If he feels like going to bed, and someone suggests going to a club, he'll go straight to the club. That's how he got into a mess in Glasgow. Back home in London, where he now lives, he'll find himself outside Soho cafe's at four in the morning, going off drinking with weird Cockneys he's never met before in his life.
When he was a teenager, this perverse vulnerability was much more dangerous. He often tells stories of these times, entrancing his band and crew with tales of running with psychotic friends, of being smashed against a wall by a bouncer as a cocky 15-year-old. It's as if, by turning conversations back to his old life again and again, he can make anyone understand the way he is - and the way his music is - today. At the roots, always, was peer pressure: he was part of a gang, constantly getting into trouble.
"People put ideas in your head," he remembers. "If you've got a friend who's making money, you think, 'Where's he getting all that money from?' Then he tells you, and then you join in.
All the gang had their own particular characters. There was the mad one, the stupid one, the funny one, the fighter, the thief, the ladies' man. Then there was Tricky Kid. The weird, mouthy one. The one who lived with his nan and would go out to clubs, at 15, wearing a dress and carrying a knife.
"My mates were really good, they backed me up, 'cos we lived in not a good area - not a good area for black people, let alone black boys in a dress. I got called 'Nigger in a dress', but it's all reaction. Any reaction is a good reaction, y'know? People were giving me attention."
Did you ever own a gun?
"No," he says, never hesitating, "but
sometimes, living in certain places, 'Should I have one?' I was young,
I was still hanging around with thugs, thieves, f---ng drug dealers. When
you move in that environment, even if you aren't involved, you're paranoid."
Would you ever have shot anyone? "When I was younger, I know I would've shot somebody, or stabbed somebody. Not through anger, but through trend. We all used to carry these knives, and it was trendy. If I'd got a group of friends with me and I shot somebody, they'd be talking about me for the next two weeks. The only thing I could get is respect off my friends."
And the praise would be much more powerful than the guilt?
"Oh yeah. I've had fights with people I know I couldn't possibly beat, just so my mates would say, 'He had a f---ing go'.
"It's seeking attention, y'know? You're a tough guy, and everybody loves a tough guy."
Do you regret those days?
"Oh yeah, I wish l could wipe out things I've done, wipe clean the slate. But then I've paid for a lot of things I've done. I've robbed houses, and in turn my auntie got robbed once. I've beat people up for no reason, and then I've got beat up for no reason, so it all comes back on you. I've paid a lot for what I've done."
It's strange, though, how you were doing all these stupid macho things, whilst wearing a dress.
"Yeah," he muses. "And my nan was really good with me as well... she was really good. Looking back at it now, I think it probably worried her. 'Cos I've got a really strict family - no gays in my family, if y'know what I mean. Boys can fight, and girls can cook and clean. But two of her brothers were security / boxers / villains-type guys, and I don't think she wanted me being a tough guy,
'cos she knew I wouldn't survive in those circles. I think she'd rather have me wearing a dress than carrying a gun...
"I've got a really funny story to tell you, actually. When we were younger we used to have these knives called 007 blades, and I always used to carry mine with me. I went to this club once, wearing a silk shirt. I was getting a wank in a little booth from this girl
and she split my foreskin, then rubbed blood all over me. I didn't notice, so I'm in the club, staying there.
"So anyway I went home, took off my shirt to swill it in the sink, took my knife out of my pocket and put it on the side of the bath, and just went to bed. And
|then my nan came
in in the morning screaming, 'You've killed someone! You've killed someone!'
But I couldn't really tell her this girl split my foreskin in a club."
So what did you tell her?
"I didn't say anything. I just got slapped. You didn't mention penis in our house. You didn't talk about sex
or anything like that. My grandmother was very old-fashioned, I wasn't even allowed girls in the house, we had to do everything on the street. Mind you, she always used to tease me about my girlfriend.
"But I think my nan always thought I was weird. This is honest to God, she used to sit me in the middle of the floor and watch me for hours. She'd just sit there with a Woodbine, with her
hands between her legs, while music was on and I was drawing little pictures. I think I was my mother's ghost, y'know, because my mum died when I was young, and she'd see my mother in me. She always thought I was different. She used to keep me home from school a lot, and keep me up all night watching vampire movies and Frankenstein movies. Everybody says I'm weird, and if I am weird, that is a reason."
Even though you regret your past, don't you think talking about it glamorises it? That it was a school of hard knocks that you survived, so other people can, too?
"I hope not," he says soberly, "'cos that's not always the case. I was lucky."
What about some of the hip-hop you were playing on the bus? Some of it, notably the Geto Boys and Smith And Wesson, was pretty unapologetically macho - and sexist and homophobic.
"They're young and angry, and they don't know what they're talking about," he avers. "But then again, the talent, the voices, the way they rap - I can actually appreciate the disgust. It's like my line, 'F--- you up the ass, just for a laugh,' - sometimes you honestly feel like that, to
be rude, just to disgust people. It's anti-everybody. My stuff goes in the hip-hop section, which is supposed to be very macho and that, so to talk about f-ing you up the ass and giving you a nosebleed is very homosexual. It's just to disgust people."
Can you ever go too far?
"No, I don't think so, not if it's with talent."
What if you upset people who are just
don't deserve to be upset?
He flashes that stare again, that utterly ruthless stare. No compromises, remember.
"There's casualties to every war, man. And this is a war, making music is a war as far as I'm concerned, you're fighting against everybody. People want to make me into a product, they want to f-ing sell me. I want to do things my way. It's a constant battle. Because lyrics and music mean more than anything, more than the money, more than my family, more than my loved ones, they mean more than anything. I'm a writer before I'm a poser, before I'm an egotistical wanker, before I'm a bad man, before I'm a big man. Lyrics come before all that..."
And then he's off again, off for another sleepless night of room service and unfathomable business and ideas, always more and more ideas that crowd his head and won't leave him alone. And - who knows? - perhaps another night of feeling the presence of evil, of seeing the devil just slinking off behind the bedroom curtains, offending off the temptation of drinking more, and smoking more, and hurtling again towards a precipice from which music can sometimes be the only protection.
Tricky is not, probably contrary to certain impressions, someone who toys with the idea of the devil as a fashionably deviant accessory. He has not tried selling his soul, Robert Johnson style, in exchange for the gift of music. For sure, part of him loves to cause outrage:
after his NME photo session, he went wandering out of the studio to carry on his daily business complete with horns and generously-applied make-up.
But there's a side of him, too, that knows he's vulnerable, that knows he's lucky to have escaped - a lot luckier than some of the kids he went to school with. It's sheer paranoia that mingles with all the determination. It's at the root of every one of his contradictions. And it's always there, so that when he says, bursting with bravado, "I'm too clever to be a casualty," you're only 99 per cent sure it's the truth.
One year ago, remember, Tricky died for three minutes. On every track of 'Maxinquaye', you can sense the risks, the dangers, you can catch the faint but definite stench of malevolence. A very, very distinctive stench. A sulphurous stench, you could even say - if; you were feeling in a melodramatic mood, that is...
photos: Steve Double