Exclusive: Catching Trip-Hop Superstar Tricky… in Transit

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Dateline: London.

Tricky is running late from a previous interview, and he’s got a meeting across town. This means we’ll have to catch the former Massive Attacker, current trip-hop superstar in transit. As he makes his way through the busy streets, he clearly hungry, traffic is all around, and the phone connection isn’t quite what it could be. This could be a tricky conversation, indeed.

Thus it was that Christian Rose-Day of our sister publication Earplug chatted, with minor interruptions, to a very distracted and “very English” Tricky about his feelings on fish and chips, record sales, and other people’s opinions of The Fifth Element. The interview, featuring Rose-Day’s inner monologue, after the jump.

Earplug: So, you’re obviously a busy man?

Tricky: Sometimes

[He seems distracted.]

EP: Have you got plans for the weekend?

Tricky: Umm, I don’t know mate.

[Awkward silence… this is going really well.]

EP: I see you were recently part of the NME Shockwaves tour here in the UK — how was it playing in front of your home crowds?

Tricky: Do you know what? Playing in front of any crowd, you tour so long you be happy just for people to turn up…

[This is better. And by Jove, he’s got a thick West Country accent.]

…Anywhere that I go, if I’ve got more than 20 people, I’m happy. It’s just the fact that people will buy a ticket to come see you, it makes me feel good. Obviously it’s nice in England because in Manchester I got to see all my family. I had friends from Liverpool come down. Obviously when I’m playing New York that can’t happen.

EP: How was the latest material received in the live context?

Tricky: We had a good vibe everywhere. It’s no so much what album you’re doing. If you try to give 100 percent of yourself, someone will feel you, someone will have feedback off feelings. Feelings generate around the room. For instance, my band know that they’re not to get dressed up when they go on stage. I have a knock down if I ever see anyone putting on anything special. It’s like “What you wearing in the day time is what you go onstage with.” If you’re wearing pajamas all day you go on stage in pajamas. We try to keep it real and honest.

EP: And you’ve got your first full US tour for 5 years coming up. Any reason why you’ve chosen now?

Tricky: It’s the only time I’ve got at the moment. We’ve been on tour for about the last 9 months. I’ve got to record a new album in April so this is really the only time we’ve got. So I’ll go to America, do this tour and then record my album. I’m going to be going to places [in the US] that I’ve never been before and places where people don’t know me. It’s going to be almost like my first gigs. I’m not going to be selling out these places. Probably a lot of them will be half empty. So it’s like going back to old school, spreading the word, doing your gospel thing.

EP: Did you get to choose any of those venues yourself?

Tricky: No, it’s all done by my promotion guy. It’s basically like a promotional tour — not promotional as in doing the main places like New York and LA where I could probably get a big crowd, but doing places like North Carolina, Tennessee, and the sort of places that I’m not really known.

EP: I see you’ve got something special lined up for SXSW…

Tricky: I get nervous. The only reason I get nervous is because I want people to have a really good show.

[Huh? Has he not heard the question correctly? Let’s try again]

EP: And…

[Too late. He’s off. ]

Tricky: …I want people to have a good show so apart from that I don’t plan anything in particular. I just want 100 percent for my fans… and I’m just going to get a hot chocolate….

[Is he ordering refreshments?]

Tricky: ….and it can be quite sad sometimes if you’re ultra tired and you don’t give 100% of yourself. That can be quite a depressing feeling. So what you hope for is that you’ve got everything to give. It’s such a nice thing for someone to come out and see you, to get a ticket and take the time out of their life to see you play. I see it as such a beautiful complement.

[Let’s give it one more try]

EP: And you’ve got something special lined up with Devo for SXSW?

[Surely he heard it this time?]

Tricky: Yeh, we’re going to be doing Devo which I’ve been a big fan of for years. I’ve met one of them once or twice but I’ve never actually got to do a show with them. So we’re going to be supporting them.

[Fair enough, let’s ask about his label]

EP: Brown Punk: can you give us a quick summary of how things are going with that.

Tricky: It’s going good. It’s taking a lot of time. It’s me and Chris Blackwell [Bob Marley, U2, Grace Jones, PJ Harvey] and we’re just trying to set it up real properly so hopefully we should have a film out and a record out this year. But err, sorry mate… soya milk, no cream… Do you want anything… so errm… sorry mate, what was I talking about?

EP: Brown Punk.

Tricky: Oh yeah, I did the movie and I’ve got about two more weeks of editing and we’ve got a compilation album what will come out at the same time.

EP: So how do you decide who to sign on that label?

Tricky: Sheer talent. I don’t give a shit about record sales. Like, I seen one of my bands play about six months ago and I was in the crowd and no one knew who I was and it was just beautiful to see them up there. So success to me is them finishing and mixing the album. That’s success to me.

EP: I wanted to ask you about your own success in terms of records sold — your latest album: fantastic reviews, great piece of work, but then it didn’t quite get the recognition in terms of sales.

Tricky: It’s understandable because I’m not in the right demographic for [BBC] Radio 1. Everything I stand for is not Radio 1. So I knew it was never going to go and sell millions of records and I knew to a certain extent that Radio 1 weren’t going to… thank you, oh excuse me, could you pour some away please…

[Ah, refreshments must be ready]

Tricky: …that Radio 1 weren’t going to play me. The music industry thinks I’m a bit raw and real. I’m a bit too honest. I don’t play the game. So I can understand it really.

EP: The album is quite broad in its range.

Tricky: Yeh, it’s like my upbringing. It’s every kind of music. It’s like my history. I didn’t grow up just listening to hip hop and I didn’t grow up just listening to reggae. I used to listen a lot to Marco Bolan and T-Rex, Gary Numan, The Specials. I come from a multi-racial family — my grandmother is white, my Dad’s Jamaican, my mum is half African, half white — and this is how I grew up: integration. And that reflects on what I do when I make music.

EP: So going by the names you thrown out there, it’s quite a British album as well?

Tricky: Yeh yeh, and I’m very, very, very English. Don’t matter how long I’ve been in America — I lived in America for 15 years — my accent is still the same. I’m very English in my attitude, the foods that I like to eat, and people say English food is crap, I love it.

EP: You like pies?

Tricky: Oh, fish and chips. Fish and chips is the best thing in the world. There’s nothing ever created better than fish and chips. Sausage and chip, bacon, tomatoes, fish fingers, Heinz ketchup. You know, I’m English.

EP: The album itself details how life was quite tough for you back then, but how is it now?

Tricky: Obviously I’m lucky. I get to travel. So I don’t get stuck in one place. It was tough but not tough. The toughest thing was being heard, or getting a job. I think it’s tougher for kids now. You’ve got the whole gun culture going on. I was lucky I didn’t go through any of that.

EP: You said last year that if ‘something doesn’t sound dark people say it’s their best stuff’. Do you remember saying that?

Tricky: Yeh, basically this is a comeback album. The only reason they’re saying this is a comeback album or that it’s one of the best albums I did is because it’s more accessible. They have to understand, Angels With Dirty Faces, you have to get your head round. With this, it’s really in your face and it speaks for itself.

EP: Have you got any other examples of artists that have done similar?

Tricky: I don’t know really. Things are bit harder for me because Maxinquaye caused such a storm. To have that much interest in your first album, where do you go from there? You have to go backwards to go forwards. The reason I did Nearly God was because Maxinquaye was too successful. It was too successful too quick so I did Nearly God because I knew that the record sales wouldn’t be as big as Maxinquaye, the radio wouldn’t be so quick to play it. I get critiqued a bit more because of that. I get critiqued quite heavily now. People dissect me.

EP: Perhaps that’s an indication of how much respect you get.

Tricky: To a certain extent it is, and what people expect from me, which is not a bad thing. It ups your game.

EP: With many of your tracks you seem to be reveling in attracting the talents of other people. Is there anyone you would like to work with in the future if you were given the opportunity?

Tricky: I’d always work with Polly Harvey. She is one of my favorite artists and I’m always, always, always, always up for working with her.

EP: You’re obviously very keen on doing the odd cover version, are you a bit of a wannabe?

Tricky: Yeh, I wish I’d written a lot of the covers I’ve done. So, in a way, I am a wannabe. I wish I could sound like Kate Bush or The Cure.

EP: Are there any particular covers you’ll be doing in America?

Tricky: I have a tracklist of everything I’ve ever done and I literally call them out as we go along. The crowd kind of let you know where you’re going as well. So if I feel like ‘All right, this is a bit mellow’ then I’ll call out one of the tougher songs. It’s very spontaneous, to a certain extent.

EP: You’ve stated before that you’re not into new music as much as older music. Is this still the case?

Tricky: I think a lot of new music leans itself on old music. It’s just like ‘You sound like so-and-so, but where are you?’ If I want to hear ’60s music, I’m going to listen to ’60s music. I’m not going to listen to an artist from now that does ’60s music. I like new music. I like people that are experimenting. Why would I try and sound like a band from the ’60s, what would be the point?

EP: So which albums have you been caning lately?

Tricky: Last night I was listening to the Best of The Jam album. Happy Mondays too. Public Enemy. I still listen to all my old favorites.

EP: Do you ever go to gigs yourself?

Tricky: Nah, I’ve never been into live shows, to be honest with you. Going to stand in front of people, watching them sing on stage, has never really appealed to me. I come from the DJ point of view, where sound systems play your music and you’re bouncing. Live shows have never really done anything for me.

EP: Before you go, just a few quick questions. What are you most proud of?

Tricky: My little girl. She’s so smart, she’s so intelligent, she’s a lot better than I am, she’s a better person than I am. She’s got a better mind than me.

EP: Would you rate yourself as a good Dad?

Tricky: Not perfect, nah, not perfect.

EP: When was the last you said ‘no’ to someone?

Tricky: Just now when I was down at Universal and they told me to put out a spliff.

EP: What is the biggest misconception people have of you?

Tricky: Usually when people meet me they give me a bit of attitude because they think I’m dark and moody but I’m quite a comedian, I’m clumsy, I’m a joker.

EP: So what reading material do you have next to your toilet?

Tricky: I’ve got this book called Wild Thing by a doorman called Lew Yates. It’s about a guy who does security in London. It’s a good book.

EP: What makes you angry and when was the last time you had a Christian Bale-type rant?

Tricky: Now I’m older I don’t often have them any more. But a few things make me angry like someone coming up to me on the street saying ‘Are you an actor?’ or ‘Were you in The Fifth Element?’ Who would give a fuck if I was in The Fifth Element? Why would anyone care? That makes me angry, that you’d waste your time to come up to me and say that. How fucking stupid is that?

EP: What worries you?

Tricky: Not a lot really because it ain’t perfect. Why worry about anything? You live and you die and everything in between. It’s not really worth worrying about anything.