MAD. IT'S all mad.
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 anybody young to learn from. She was a very old-fashioned lady.”
Tricky is not normal. A desperate fear of pretension marks his conversation, a constant and 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 fuck 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 fuck we'll hear beats”.
“Ah no, it don't say, ‘fuck,’ 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, ‘fuck’ 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 fucking 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 nonsense going on 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 ‘Did you hear what they said? Did you hear what 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 with regard 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, fuck 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 fuck 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 feel 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, 'cos 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.
Tricky in Israel
[Melody Maker, 1997]
THERE'S trouble at immigration.
“Why did you stop just me? I said, didn't I, I bet those security geezers go straight for me. Security check, bollocks. You mean black check. First black face off the plane, they go for it.”
By now, they're trying desperately to let Tricky into the country.
“You can't keep me out! I belong here! Don't you know that I'm the original Israelite?”
TRICKY ON PRE-MILLENNIUM TENSION
Is Pre-Millennium Tension meant to be uncopiable?
“It is. I'm forced away from what I would call my music. I can't do another thing like Maxinquaye. I can't even listen to it. I find it hard to do it live because, for me, Maxinquaye is a shit album, as in now it sounds just like hundreds of other shit albums out there. But if people didn't go out and copy it, I might have done another three or four Maxinquayes. Which is terrible.
“Pre-Millennium Tension is not a perfect album, by far. But is a big fuck-off. All these people trying to get involved. And they associate theirselves with things. And they've got nothing in common with you, they just get a piece of music, take it, and it's good for them, and it sells. I would like to see them follow this. I would like to see them try, and I know they can't.”
TRICKY ON TRICKY KID
They used to call me Tricky Kid“I think it's comical. It's not me taking the piss out of hip hop, or out of Goldie. It's a comical look at all of us, as artists. It's like, people take theirselves way too seriously. The attitude of it is boasting, but if you listen to the lyrics, it's like, I ain't got a car, I'm just a normal, normal, normal geezer, and I walk into a hotel, I've got people photographing me, I'm on TV, and what people don't understand is I'm just like - them.”
I lived the life they wished they did
I lived the life, don't own a car
And now they call me superstar
But you're not exactly normal, are you? And even if you weren't a pop star you'd still be pretty strange.
“Yeah, probably, yeah. I know deep in my heart I'm not normal. It's got a lot to do with my upbringing. Being shipped around from family to family. Never having stable parents. Staying somewhere for three years then going off for three years. My uncles being villains. All that stuff. I've got quite a dysfunctional family. I can name two or three people who've got their lives together, just got a normal life, kids, house. For some reason, in my family, the mothers always give the kids to the grandmothers.”
BILLY Joel is the doorman at the Tel Aviv Hilton. In the lobby, photographers snap Tricky as he picks up his key. Tricky snaps back. “Fuck off,” he mutters. We get in the lift, along with a small boy. Tricky smiles at him. The boy looks startled. “Shalom,” growls Tricky. “I can speak English,” replies the boy. “Well, how are you doin’, then?” says Tricky. “Fine,” says the boy, and scuttles out.
A company called Schindler made the lifts here.
TRICKY ON POWER AND MONEY
“I'VE met little old Jewish men, who've got enough money to have you killed, and you find out who the real bad men are. It's not the person with all the gold on and the fucking Mercedes, the bad boy walk and the bad boy talk, it's that little Jewish geezer sat there, and he's frail, he never gets angry, don't say a lot, and you know he could have you blotted out. I'm just learning. I was in America, doing my record label [Durban Poison]. I've read the book, Hit Men [Eric Danen's portrait of the sleazy side of the US music industry], and recognised the family names. It's weird, to meet the real man. You could just feel his money coming off him. He don't have to say anything. People, to get power - I do it myself, I shout, I go mad, I give loads of attitude. But I'm not really controlling jack, I'm controlling nothing. This guy without raising his voice makes me sacred, 'cos I can feel his energy - or is that money? I call them ‘Players’.
I can understand the word ‘Player’ now.
“Like Snoop Doggy Dogg, I think is a player. I would not like to be in his shoes, man, 'cos I don't know how he deals with it. I don't know he manages to be so cool. He's signed to a really heavy label, I didn't want to say it, but fucking everybody knows it, and I don't know how he manages to maintain hisself. I'm going to cover that song, Freestyle Conversation, that to me is like a diary of the last two years. This industry makes me feel like that: ‘I should get upset.’ And I'm not toting a gun, I'm not running around LA. I'm not a bad boy. I ain't got a bullet-proof vest. I think it's absolute genius.
Do you envy him his calm?
“Oh, yeah. Fucking yeah. I really do envy it. 'Cos he gives me the vibe he's always going to come up roses, always on his toes. In a way, I don't agree with all that making money stuff, but I can understand it. If you make your attitude about, this is my life, this is me, I'm making money, you can shield yourself from a lot of pain. Whatever anybody says about you won't hurt you.”
Is that why you want Maisey [Tricky's daughter with co-vocalist Martina] to grow up to be a yuppie?
“Definitely. I want her getting on first-class planes, first class tickets, and I want her to be treated as somebody who's got money, 'cos it's easier. People say, She's got to know where she comes from. Why? She's got to have a good life, and if my money can make it easier for her, I hope she does. I want her to go to public school, I want her to be a yuppie with nothing to worry about except what she's going to wear on weekends. Some people might say that's pretentious, but it isn't. Sometimes I'd like to forget where I came from. I'd like to sweep it all under the carpet.”
WE'RE in an Arabic restaurant in Jaffa, the old city of Tel Aviv. The one place in Israel where Jews and Arabs peacefully co-exist. The whole party - band, crew, the Maker - is chowing down on meze and grilled fish. A large, middle-aged, red-headed woman billows across the room with the sombre, unhurried authority of the Queen Mary and docks at our table. We think she's with the promoters, but she appears so much in charge of everything, we're all too scared to ask. She could have just walked in off the street and taken control. The Godmother, as we decide to call her, hands Tricky a present. He unplugs himself from the little black box on which he programmed Pre-Millennium Tension. “Thanks,” he says, and unwraps the paper. “BOOM!” he yells, and hurls the parcel in the air, catches it, grins. Everybody's staring at him in stony faced silence. He looks aghast. He apologises, thanks her again for the good-luck crystal and drops back to his food.
“God,” he grimaces, “oh no, that's terrible. I just meant that the promoters would want to blow me up 'cos they'd heard about my attitude. Oh no. I don't believe I did that.”
The owners light up a hookah and we pass it around the table. It tastes wonderful. Tricky forgets about his faux pas and sits happily puffing and bubbling away like a diminutive pasha.
TRICKY ON LYRICS
“YOU know if a lyric's good the way the words bounce off your tongue. It doesn't have to mean anything. Doing the live stuff has given me time to think about what I've written. The other day, I was thinking, What a load of bollocks. What. A. Load. Of. Bollocks. There's a lot of bollocks on this album. I mean, I love it, I think it's funny. But when I'm doin' 'em, I'm thinking, fuckin' hell. Christiansands: WHAT a loaaad of - twadswallop. It rhymes. That's what it is.”
Do you like the idea of people gazing at these lyrics for meaning?
“And they do. They gaze, and they gaze, and they write mad shit. And I think, fucking hell!”
TRICKY ON PICKING FIGHTS
“I learnt when I was young, one-on-one fights are not so funny. Unless fighting is your business, if you don't know what you're doing, you'll pick a fight with someone who'll destroy you. As you'll get older, you'll recognise people who're just schizophrenic. I've got schizophrenic people in my family, so I can tell.
“It was weird with all my mates, the Fresh Four guys who are now DJ Krust - Roni Size weren't around then - and his brother Flynn, all those jungle kids. There was loads of us, we all fed off each other. When there's eight or nine of you, you're strong, and when you're that age, you ain't got no fear. Violence is a game or, you know, a film, you threaten people, people threaten you. Nothing really serious happens.”
Did it make any difference that you were small?
“Being small would mean I had to try extra hard to get into trouble, trying to prove a point, so I used to lead a lot of those guys into situations. I'd go out with 3D from Massive Attack, and we'd end up at the wrong club night, and there'd be these kids I knew from school. I'd talk to them, and it'd be, ‘It's old Thawsy [Tricky was christened Adrian Thaws]. Yeah, we'll have to go out and dap some kids.’ Not ‘have a drink’ but ‘dap some kids’. When you've been living in that environment, you don't even realise it. I was lucky. I met a girl called Alice. Her dad was a university teacher. He was a Muslim, very mellow. I remember, when I was 18, it was the first time I actually sat with a family around a table. I ended up living there for a year. I was changed. Fuck going to a club. She'd read a book, I would sit in bed writing lyrics. Then you move away from that and you realise how mad it is. ‘Dap some kids.’”
TRICKY ON VIOLENCE AND RACISM
“I FIND it hard to watch violence on TV now, since I had a kid. I used to be one of the biggest fans of all that violent shit. I think I'm just becoming a different person. I'm starting to realise the fucking truth of people who do hold the power. The idle threats we make to each other every day - what are you going to do at the end of the day? Are you going to kill me? Gangsters kill people. I grew up with this thing, you threaten each other, you get grief from someone who lives across the road from you. I don't know whether I'm becoming conscious or whether I'm just realising how futile and petty and boring - boring, boring, boring- all this bad boy talk is.”
What about your supposed desire to shoot former Maker writer Andy Smith in the face after he suggested you weren't living up to the responsibilities of fatherhood?
“See, that was just a song. Tarantino can do that in a movie, but I can't do that in a song. I didn't fucking threaten him. If you look at it logically, I'm very well known. For me to shoot him in the face would be impossible. I just wrote a story about a fascination, a dream I had in my head. And he just wrote about a dream he had in his head. He didn't know anything about me, or about my family. It did bother me at the time, because from me writing a song, it became, Tricky said he wanted to shoot him in his face. Then that becomes very heavy.
“It's like Tarantino. I can watch a Tarantino movie now, and I love what he does, and I fucking hate him at the same time, for all the violence he's giving, and a lot of racism too, in some ways. Tarantino's the sort of person who a couple of years ago I would have been on my knees to, posters of him on my wall. They're gone.”
Why do you think he's racist?
“Because [laughing] you can only say ‘nigger’ so many times in one conversation. How many times do you want to get your point across? I reckon he's a frustrated gangster. I think he'd like to be black as well. Thing is, I've gone past the thing of colour, politics. To me, people are people, and I know it sounds a corny thing to say, but I really cannot see colour. I've got cousins who look like Asians. My mother's sister's children - my first cousins - are totally white, blond hair. My uncles're black, my uncle Tony looks a bit Chinese.”
Do you relate to the frustrated gangster thing?
“Yeah. You see, I grew up in a terrible situation where men like that got respect. It's like, I didn't know I could be a musician then. I didn't know I could get respect from what I'm doing. I have been a frustrated gangster, yeah.”
THE radio station is run, after a fashion, by soldiers. Teenage soldiers of both sexes, which explains why it has the air of a student project. As the lady from the local record company puts it, these kids have the best job in the army.
“Your music is very dark, very moody . . .” proffers the presenter.
“No it's not,” says Tricky brightly.
“You wrote a song about meeting God and the devil . . .”
“No I didn't,” lies Tricky.
The presenter looks beseechingly to the control room. “I guess we'll go straight to hearing Tricky's mix of Milk by Garbage,” she says.
“Milk” starts up. “That's not my mix,” points out Tricky.
There's a pause. It starts up again.
“Nor is that.”
Another few seconds of dead airtime. Then a tinkling intro.
“That's not it either. Mine hasn't got any nice bits on it.”
TRICKY ON GOLDIE
I want to be the best at everything. If you're going to be king of the jungle, that's only because I'm going to let you be king of the jungle, because I don't make jungle music. But if you piss me off, I'll make jungle music and you won't be the king of it any more.“That's not about him! I ain't mentioned no names. All last year I was reading about the king of the jungle, everybody was the king of the jungle. I was reading articles where Goldie was getting dissed. I've seen 10, 20 kings of the jungle. I don't see anyone else coming out of the woodwork saying, danananana. If your name ain't on there, that ain't a dig at you. 'Cos I would have put his name on it. To even think that I'd sit down and think about you. Taking things too seriously. To me, that's more of a dig at the press, not even the press, the industry. To make things up, like ‘The King Of The Jungle’ and ‘The King Of Trip Hop.’ I was supposed to have invented trip hop, and I will fucking deny having anything to do with it.
“What Goldie's on about, I've already left. I've moved on, done it, seen it, got the T-shirt. He just shouldn't be so paranoid. I've been just as paranoid, I've been in the same situation as him, and I've been doing it a lot longer than him. I'm not talking streets, or council estates, I'm talking in this industry, and I've been under much more pressure. He'd be better off being my friend, 'cos I could fucking help the guy out. It's just pressure. It's a situation which none of us are ever ready for. Nobody's ever ready for this business.
“I don't mind telling people that the guy tried to fight me and I said no, because in a way, at the end of the day, I'm safer. I'm the one who's backing down in the national press, that makes me inoffensive. I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that I think I'm a bad boy. Because then what happens is, I'll meet a real bad boy. Everybody wants a pop at the tough guy. You can be the tough guy. It's yours. Have it. Come up to me in a club. Rough me up. That's all right. I don't want the focus on me.”
TRICKY ON TUPAC
“IF you carry that bad boy aura, and you're a musician, you're gonna get it. Tupac is a classic example. Tupac just used to boast and brag. The one with the biggest fucking mouth is dead. Suge Knight [Death Row records boss] is supposed to be a real fucking gangsta. Tupac had more mouth than him. What the fuck was he doing in LA calling people fellow gangstas, kids he'd known for only 12 months. Homie, all that homie stuff, all that b-boy shit. The only people you can call that are kids you went to school with, grew up with. How could he have slept at night? He must have been around those people, thinking [whispers]: ‘Fuck me, man, these ain't really my boys. Do they want to hurt me, is that the thing? Are they just pimping me for money?’ This is business, but at the end of the day there's real gangstas out there.”
“CAN I get an Israeli army uniform? I want to wear an army uniform onstage tomorrow night.”
“Yeah, sure,” says record company lady, and never mentions it again.
TRICKY ON DRINK, DRUGS AND TROUBLE
“GETTING drunk and telling people what I think about them is not always a good idea. When I'm sober, I can be very unpleasurable. If I'm just smoking weed, I'm the last person you want to come up to in a club and talk to. If I'm stoned, I'm not very sociable. Everyone goes out and you're in a room on your own, brooding about things and thinking.
“In London, it's easy for me to go out to some celeb thing, get drunk, there's a part of me which is like a load of bollocks. I'm one of those drunks who's with you all night, then starts slagging you off: ‘You make fucking pop music, what the fuck do you make pop music for?’ Cos we're all up our own asses. Most artists I know, including myself, we're all up our own asses. Fact.
“Sometimes I walk around with my eyes closed. I walk into situations thinking, I don't want to hurt anybody, I don't see why anybody wants to hurt me. I'm very naive, I think I'm more naive than people realise. 'Cos I've got a lot of mouth, and I talk and act like I know. I don't ever get into anything serious, except in strange cities. I had a gun in my face in New York, in a Bowery bar. In San Francisco, I went out to get some Rizlas wearing make-up and a skirt, and I walked straight into the middle of some very heavy guys. I had to make a lot of noise about looking for king-size papers, and smoking weed, so they'd think I was alright. In New York, with the Wu-Tang lot, I find them a bit scary, but to them I'm a weird kid who wears a dress. That's perfect. I've been accepted, but I haven't”
You'll land yourself in another situation if you go onstage here wearing an Israeli army uniform.
“Oh God, actually, that's a bit heavy, isn't it? I didn't see it as that. I saw it as, I'm in Israel, the people have been good to me, I want to wear what they're wearing. But what they're wearing is for fucking killing each other. I should be thinking, at the back of my mind, there's a fucking war going on. To me stuff like that is not real. I'm just like Mr Happy.
“That was a potential situation. I'll go in wearing loads of flowers.”
All material on this site is copyright © David Bennun and may not be reprinted or reused without permission.
Back to Music Reviews
Back to Pop
Back to Main Index