20 years of making music is a Tricky business

Two decades after his debut album, the trip-hop icon tells us why he’s always moving things forward.
Tricky reveals all about his life, music and new album.
Tricky © False Idols
By Bella Todd

In a lock-up in New York are the mementoes Tricky has amassed over more than 20 years in music. Among the fan mail from David Bowie and signed autographs from boxer Johnny Tapia are mountains of studio reels and cassettes. “There’s about 70 tracks I’ve never released in there,” says the trip-hop legend, “tracks with Bjork, Neneh Cherry, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry… I need to find time to sort through it all”. But first he has to play the Brighton Festival, finish a Russian rap album, make his first record with a lifelong friend, and release collaborator Francesca Belmonte’s debut on his own False Idols label. When it comes to music, Tricky isn’t one for looking back.

What are you doing in Berlin?
I’m recording an album with DJ Milo, an old friend of mine. He was one of the original members of Wild Bunch. I’ve known him since I was eight years of age, and he sees my family more than I do. We always knew we were going to do an album together at some point. But we haven’t done anything live together since I was 15.

Tricky reveals all about his life, music and new album.
Tricky © Aldo Belmonte

Was your voice very different back then?
My voice got f**ked up. When I was 15 I was going out with this girl, my oldest daughter’s mother, and she broke up with me in a park. I pretended that I took tablets, laid out on the park, just messing around. Her crazy sister put her fingers down my throat to try and make me puke up, and she cut my vocal chords with her nail. That’s when my voice changed. I coughed up blood and then that was it. I’ve been to see a doctor in New York, and he says he can put it right, and I would be able to sing, but I wouldn’t sound like Tricky. My manager at the time said no, don’t do it. But I’ve always wanted to sing. So maybe later. It might be like a new career.

What have you revealed on latest album Adrian Thaws that you hadn’t revealed before?
How hard my music can be. People see my music as dark, but not as hard. If I wanted to, I could go the urban route. I’ve just done an album in Russian with Russian rappers [the upcoming Human Skills of Slow Saga]. What people keep missing with me is, I create new music, which is rare for how long I’ve been around. People take little bits from me and commercialise it. I’ve done some albums that are just way ahead of time.

You’ve worked with and dated some extraordinary women, not least Martina Topley-Bird and Bjork. Do you believe in muses?
Yeah, but you might not think they were a muse at the time. Hey Love was about Bjork, but I only realised it years after we’d broken up. When I did the Blowback album I was hanging out in the Bronx with these notorious Jamaican street guys. They’re all in jail or dead now. It didn’t feel dangerous to me, we were friends through motorbikes and cars and clubs. I bumped into my friend the other day and he said, people will never know, but Blowback is a gangster album.

It’s 20 years since your debut album, Maxinquaye, which you named after your late mum. Has she remained a presence in your music?
I think my mum writes through me. Aftermath got me my record deal. The lyrics are, ‘Your eyes resemble mine, you’ll see as no other’s can. You’ll inherit my kingdom, speak of our people’s plan’. Now I had no children there, so who am I talking about? My auntie said, that’s so obvious, it’s your mum. My mum was a writer, but she had no opportunity. It’s like she said, I can’t do what I’m meant to be here for, so I’m going to leave, and let my first son do it. One of the main reasons people got behind me was because my mum had committed suicide. She’s half of my career really.

How do you feel about approaching 50?
I think I’m 48 in January. It’s totally cool. I was the youngest out of Massive Attack and that little clique, so when I get to 50, those guys will be pushing 60. You just have to look after yourself more. Now I cook on tour. I ask for hotplates and set them up backstage. It’s healthier and it fills the downtime. I always thought, at a certain age, I’m stopping this live sh*t. But you know I was on tour last year, and Madness were there. I went to watch their show: 2,000 young kids who weren’t alive when they made their first album just going crazy. F**k it, I’m not going to give it up either then. I think I’ll be touring until I take my last breath.

Tricky reveals all about his life, music and new album.
Tricky © Aldo Belmonte

Tricky will be at the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange as part of the Brighton Festival on May 23. Tickets and more info here.

Tricky is on Facebook.

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