Part of: Interview

Interview Transcript: Tricky

published on 21 March 2001

Tricky discussed his early career and Massive Attack, discovering racism in the music industry, movies and leaving England for America in an in-depth interview with artist Steve McQueen. Read the full transcript.

Tricky discussed his early career and Massive Attack, discovering racism in the music industry, movies and leaving England for America in an in-depth interview with artist Steve McQueen. Read the full transcript.

Photograph from the cover of 'Mixed Race'

Steve McQueen: Well, the first thing I want to say to you... I think, I mean how do you feel you're doing, exactly? You're doing what you want to do, and that's amazing... and what's so amazing about it to me is an artist to get financially rewarded for it, I mean that is amazing.

Tricky: I feel so lucky and blessed. It's good, it keeps me humble, because I wake up every day and it's like I feel I'm lucky to have a record deal, even though you get a lot of acclaim and things, I still feel like I'm lucky to have a record deal. And to do what I want is I'm so lucky, and it's all by accident really. I fumbled my way into Island Records and they wanted to sign me but I was this mouthy young kid and said 'these are the conditions', you know, I doubt you're going to get any radio-friendly music, but if you wanna sign me, and I was really lucky with the people I had. I had Chris Blackwell and Julian Palmer. A friend of mine at Island is Darcus Beese, and these people become friends of mine and they're the people who run the company. So I lucked out, and I think they were smart in that like Chris and Julian Palmer especially, the more extreme I was the more they could see. I gave them my mistakes, made people interested in me.

SM: Your mistakes are what I'm interested in, all the time. Whatever people want to call it, mistakes or whatever, that's it - and what interests me about your work is that you remind me of Miles Davis. Miles for me is a guy who just do what he want, turning his back on the audience, writing what he wants to write, but also being so influential. But also he's got these followers and what I mean by that is he changed music about three times and you've changed it once already - and how old are you?

T: 31.

SM: Yeah, 31, and you've changed it once already, and he's like changed it three times, so we'll see. The next odd sixty years or so you'll keep going. You know, I'm not an interviewer; I can't do that interview shit. I'm just so fascinated in how, you know, when you're in a studio, when you're at home, what you're thinking about, how the sounds come out, the images etc.

T: Basically, keyboards. I muck about - I'm just like a kid playing around. I love playing with keyboards and stuff, and before you know it you've got a sound you like, and I'll record it. And then I'll play with a different sound and I'll record it on top. I love playing with sounds. I love listening to sounds, and I'm still really... I really do love what I'm doing. When you're making music you don't think about anything else. You spend three hours or so and for that three hours you're lost. It's a beautiful getaway, you know, from getting away from everything.

SM: I also want to, just coming back, you left London, you left Bristol, you left Britain basically, and you're living in New York now. Why did you leave?

T: Um... I got bored. I loved London, you know. When I first got here, I loved London. It was exciting, but with my success, and I was going to certain clubs and hanging out with certain people, and, you know, it wasn't me. It really wasn't me. Like all of a sudden you're in a club and you're surrounded by producers, producers, directors, producers. It's like I got a bit lonely, surrounded by people who liked me because I was Tricky. I felt like I had to run away.

SM: But when you talk about your music and what you said before, what you're saying I can just feel this kind of knowledge when you speak of this situation. You're kind of rounded, you know, you're aware, you use your nose, your senses, more than anything else. I hope I do it - it gives you an edge. You go with the feel.

T: That's exactly what happens. When I'm recording, say, whoever I'm recording, say like a vocal, I write words and it'd be this length and, you know, I'd give the words to the singer and then listen to it, and there would be a chorus in there. You'd hear a chorus. There'd be one part of the vocal that would stand out, and I'd see that as a chorus. I'd just think chorus. Everything happens. I just feel it rather than direct the music. I let the music direct me. Music is - I know it sounds mad, but it's magic. You know what I mean. Like, you know, just to sit back and listen to something, and it'll tell you what it means. It'll speak to you. A melody will be there. You've just got to follow the music.

SM: Tell me about your instrument, your voice. I'm fascinated by your voice, your singing voice. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?

T: Like a year ago I can remember someone said to me once, 'Watch my voice'. Cause from Massive Attack it's got a lot different - you know, it's gone down. But when I was a lot younger I used to go out with this girl. We were about fifteen, and we were playing around and she put her fingers down my throat, trying to make me be sick. You know, we were drunk, and she cut my throat. I went to see a throat doctor. I got a lump in my throat. I can leave it or take it out, but he said if I take it off, I will be able to sing like hit top notes, like opera. I asked a few people round, and they said don't do it. I'm a frustrated singer - I've always wanted to be able to sing.

SM: You sing beautifully, and that's not wank talking people. Really beautifully.

T: The grass is always greener. So I'll listen to people like Bob Marley or John Lennon or Prince and I get gutted cause I'd love to be able to sing a song like that. But everyone around me is like saying 'don't do it, don't do it'. So I'm not going to bother. Maybe like when I'm forty or something.

SM: What, like change your voice? That's mad. That's a fantastic idea.

T: Yeah, it would be a different career. Because I've just found a different career, it's weird. I've had a thing called candida. When I did Maxinquaye. I'm asthmatic. I've been given from a young kid courses of antibiotics and steroids, and after a while it just breaks your immune system down, so things like sugar, milk, can't be digested any more, and you develop this thing called candida. It makes your moods - you go real dark. You know, they say eight or nine schizophrenics in hospital are starting off with candida, but society really don't know enough about candida, so instead of treating it with diet, they treat it with medication. And it's like a certain medication... there's this thing called dorphins... endorphins, and it's like a relaxing drug the psychiatrist gives you, and it was made up by Hitler, invented by Hitler's peoples. It's kind of like a controlling thing, and they say there's more chance of getting raped on a psychiatrist's bed than in any street in New York, know what I mean? A lot of dark stuff.

SM: Shit...

T: Cause you know, it's drug dealing, innit?

SM: Absolutely.

T: Like, I haven't had an asthma attack since I controlled my blood.

SM: And you found that out in the States?

T: Not just because of the States. I found out from being a person from having no money to having money.

SM: Precisely that, paying...

T: Pay for a doctor and then, all of a sudden you go to a... when you're getting health for free, they're just giving antibiotics and steroids, but when you're paying for doctors they're saying to me 'How many years have you been using antibiotic steroids? This is not good for you.' So with my candida my music got darker, so I've been making music in a state of madness. I did go to a state of madness - I wanted to jump out of a window a year and a half ago. And now I'm controlling it all. I did Maxinquaye and then Pre-Millennium Tension when I started getting sick, I went down. And now I'm coming out. It's almost like I've had two careers. I'm lucky - it's like the Maxinquaye thing, and then there's the dark side, and now I've got better and my music's changing again.

I grew up with a very mixed-race society in a mixed-race family. But when I entered this industry, I realised I was black for the first time ever - it was ridiculous, but I realised what racism was.

SM: Sure. Would you say the political of that was your third album, the one that you... I've forgotten the title... Tricky.

T: Angels With Dirty Faces.

SM: That. Because a lot of people said that was like hard and dark and... but it was brilliant.

T: I thought it was the blues.

SM: Yeah, total.

T: I thought it was the blues. It's funny, like... some people, a lot of people, loved Maxinquaye, and those people can get into Pre-Millennium Tension and Angels, and there are people who are really into Angels, and some people say my best album is Nearer To God. And I kind of like that, like everybody's got their own...

SM: Yeah, yeah.

T: And that's down to...

SM: Sure, sure. I thought that your last album is fantastic... it's sort of... it seems sort of total reckless confidence...

T: Yeah, I really felt like that I really don't care, it's like... it's mad. I used to think that when you go to the industry, you're led to believe that success is videos, cars, such like that. It's like, I've got a house with two acres of land that my daughter runs around on, and I mean that's success. So when I realised I've got a beautiful kid, that's success. Know what I mean? So I realised what success is - success is being happy. Do you know what I mean? You can have as many cars as... but success is definitely about being happy, and I realised that over the last year. So I just feel stronger; I can do what I want. I don't need your chart success; I don't need to be at the top of the charts for you to tell me I'm successful. It's like, it's funny, I mean I was nominated for six Brits, and the same year, the same year I went to America, I was nominated for eight Brits. But I'm a lot happier now than I've ever been. So it's like 'I don't need to top the charts; I know I'm successful, because I'm happy.'

SM: I think that... when I read that you'd left the country, I thought, this guy's very bright, he's doing something at the right time for the right reasons. Sometimes you just need that distance. I find now that living in Amsterdam... I travel a bit, and I don't basically... you know, I'm back in London once a month or once every two months, see my mum and things, whatever, that you get a real understanding of who you are to a certain extend, and also where you come from. And also to a certain extent you get a sense of Britain and British people and English people and London people and all that kind of... Everyone's kind of, like I say, how fucking small-minded we are.

T: Oh definitely. And people don't like you to say that in England.

SM: No.

T: But I feel I can say that because I'm English and I'm talking about myself.

SM: Exactly.

T: And I'm totally... we are small-minded. It's like crazy, it's just so... people in America, you can have a dream and you can become anything and do anything you want. Your dreams can come true - but only to a certain degree in England until someone stamps on it; know what I mean, your dream just gets trampled on and you wake up to reality.

SM: And also the class system here, you know, people go on about it and all that, but it is in effect big-time still.

T: It is big-time. See, in America you've got money, that wipes out all class systems for me. And I'd rather have it like that, to be honest with you, in some ways. And it's like here, I know this is mad, I was in a place yesterday, and when I first went in, you know, there was only three black guys in there, and it's not even a racial thing but it's a class thing. If I'd been with three black guys and three white guys it'd be the same thing. And I just noticed no-one was interested in us at all. I don't mean... you go out and you look at people... I'm not saying socialise but kind of getting more spiritual. I could see these people walking towards us and kind of looking at us like... But then people found out who I was.

SM: Well, this happens to me very often. In certain areas it becomes like that, yeah. But tell me about... I'm interested in how people see you. I mean, you're a black guy...

T: Yeah. But it's funny, I've only ever felt I was a black guy since I've been in the music industry. Before I entered this industry... Because I grew up with a very mixed-race society in a mixed-race family. But when I entered this industry, I realised I was black for the first time ever - it was ridiculous, but I realised what racism was.

SM: You mean at school, you didn't realise what racism was?

T: Oh, only stupid things like someone might call you a name and you'd have to fight them or something.

SM: What, teachers, the system, stuff like that?

T: No, it was very strange. I mean, I come from a place called Norwest and very old-fashioned things like this part of Bristol was so old-fashioned, so it was like everyone was in the shit, and because you were so in the shit... everyone was busy because they didn't have no money. And if you got all of Norwest, and there wasn't a rich part. So everyone was poorer, and these guys would just go out drinking and fighting. And it didn't matter who it was with, and it was really weird because like it was crazy, because I grew up in a white community, there was only about five black families, and I didn't really experience any racism. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I didn't experience any racism. But then when I got into the music industry, that was a different thing, because it was white people telling me it existed. But, you know, I remember on Maxinquaye thinking like these bands in the charts now, I was saying to Julian Palmer - he'd say 'these bands sound like you', and I'd say 'Julian, if these bands sound like me, how come I get into the charts but I don't get radio play?' And he'd go 'It's because you're black, Tricky'. I say 'What are you talking about?' He goes: 'Cause you're black. Massive Attack, it helps because they've got a front boy who's white. And stuff like that, Portishead, they're white.'

SM: Listen, it's like when Hendrix did it all... the whole black band, what was it called, that band? I can't remember. People were trying to put him away, saying 'You've got to have your white drummer and your white bass guitar'. When Hendrix went black, it was fine, because he was so powerful, popular, avant-garde and all black. So therefore in that situation it becomes a fear, there's a real fear of that - I don't know why that is.

T: Yes, it's really weird - I've only just started selling to black people.

SM: So you think being in America, you think that helped?

T: Definitely. Because there's a stronger black community there. The community there has got respect, the black community has money.

SM: But do you think your music changed when you went to the States?

T: I think it's definitely changed, but not because of... just because it's a different environment. So I don't think there's a change... I've got a new song that sounds a little bit Hispanic and I mean, I've been hanging out with Hispanic kids, black kids, Asians, it's like being a kid again. I grew up... I remember I must have been like fourteen, and in my little firm of friends there were like Asians, we had two Greek boys, there was an Italian boy who went to a Catholic school, you had Pakistanis, black, a couple of kids half-caste, so it's like it is now, I see kids of all colours and races...

SM: That's the beautiful thing about America, New York, at least for me, because you know I can speak to this girl and her mother's from Ireland and her father's from Venezuela, and you know, this guy comes from Russia, these mixes, and it's just wonderful.

T: It breaks down racism.

SM: And also you learn more, you learn more about each other, certain cultures and situations, in a very kind of round way.

T: That's the future of society, that's the future of England, that's how England's going to have to be.

SM: It'll have to be. I mean, London maybe. It's weird how resistant...

T: The main cities kind of do that - all these different people are coming to the big cities and in the smaller towns it doesn't happen so much. But I think London's going to have to, it's going to go that way...

SM: Has to.

T: ...because people are mixing race. And it's like wild, it's like in Newark, round a corner of Newark there's a black community and an Indian section, and in a place called West Orange y'got Indians and black people living side by side like it's nothing.

SM: Don't people want you back here? People in general, do they want you back?

T: I felt like that one time, and now sometimes I feel like I've been forgotten about almost. That's why I was really complimented about this.

SM: Really?

T: In the press there was a bit of 'Tricky's betrayed England', and you know what's mad is I love England, because one of the reasons I'm successful in America is because I'm English, and that makes me different straight away. So I've never really left this place, I just had to get out for a while. It's like it's really weird - you know you get nominated for a Brit. And it's so uptight, English people are so uptight with themselves.

SM: Like Bowie, he went to LA, he went to Berlin, he just bought a place... he's just come back. But I think Bowie's had his time, and that's that. He's more of a...

T: He's a good man and everything, but like I said his changing things has been done. His time has come. And I think they've seen it as a big kind of "fuck you", almost. And what's mad is I think if I'd stayed here the press would have crucified me.

SM: I think you're over-estimating a bit because people will always... that last album got a lot of good reviews which I was pleased about. And surprised.

T: People think I have a problem with the English press, but I love the English press. Because they're the people who made me. Obviously, I don't like some people in the press but the English press have said some of the nicest things ever about me. So how can I not like the English press - they really set me up.

SM: What do you think of people like Wu-Tang Clan. Have you met Razor?

T: Yeah, I've met Razor, a few times. He's a good guy - he's like real.

SM: Because I think you two are pretty close.

T: There are similarities as well, definitely. I know he does what he wants and with no compromise. He's a very quiet guy. I mean, to me, I always used to call him the Mozart of hip-hop. Because his music sounds to me very classical, you know? It's like... his way of doing things is a bit different to mine. I mean I can produce, but I have to hold some things back...

SM: What do you mean?

T: Like he produces for hundreds of people, but I can't do that. I mean, I want my music to be heard, but it's almost like not too much because it waters it down almost? It's weird...

SM: I understand. It's like Prince stretched himself.

T: Yeah, yeah. I don't want to be stretching myself, but I know the urge - you want to release.

SM: So have you learned from that? I remember reading you wanted the album to... I'm so pleased that you said that.

T: Yeah, I've learned a lot. Just chucking music out makes you less focused in a way.

SM: Total. Absolutely.

T: I like the fact that every one of my albums is different - whether people like it or not, every one is different to each other. So I think that's more important than bringing out loads of stuff so I just want to make my albums do different things every time and keep learning. Every day you can learn something, and whatever, I'm just into learning, I just want to learn and travel and visit people in different countries talk. I mean, I could be in Israel, I'll be sat in dinner with the Israel record company and I'll get a song from what the A&R girl said - she'll say something and, you know, you're in a crazy setting in the middle of Israel, and this girl says 'I was brought up in a kibbutz', in Israel, you know, and to me this just sounds like a song, and I'd take and write that down... You know, I'm always taking things out of people's mouths. They say things, and a lot of people lose what they say: they talk so fast they forget about it. And I just hear songs in people's words.

SM: Do you know what really interests me about your work as well, which other people... which hasn't been given any real volume. You have a really... a tenderness, a real gentleness, a real... I'm trying to think of words very quickly but I can't... a real beauty, a real gentleness, a real... like Miles Davis, he could be crazy, he could be aggressive, but when he blows it's so pure, it cuts a fine line. It's like a straight line - it doesn't go this way and that way, it's just straight, and it's so beautiful.

T: What it is, is honest...

SM: Tender.

T: Yeah, and I'm the sort of guy that... I could be working in a big studio and I come outside and see someone begging on the streets, and I feel so bad and I feel guilty and like driving through that area - obviously, I live in good areas, I've got a family, and I live in good areas. I live with Italians and Jewish people, but I drive through a certain area and you just feel so sad for everybody...

SM: But what I meant is love, whatever that love is, personal relationship love...

T: I've got a lot of love in me, yeah. My friends, I mean... Everything I love, I love to extremes. I'm quite extreme. So I'm so extreme with my friends, I'll do anything for them. And my family, I love them so much. I've got quite a bit of love in me.

SM: Quite a bit of love in you?

T: I was brought up by all women. There was never any men in my life.

SM: That's wonderful. I was brought up with mainly women, and I think you definitely have a very feminine situation.

Tricky: Definitely. I've been taught everything, every lesson by women, and not many by men, because the men in my family sort things with their fists, and you learn that quick when you're at school anyway, and there's nothing else to learn. So these men figures just become fighters, and everything that was taught to me was taught to me by women, how to behave, how to act in society, how to treat people; I was always pushed into saying "please" and 'thank you' and stuff for my nan and stuff. And every kind of lesson I've learned is from a woman, and the men have been, you know, distant. I've been disciplined by a woman and I've been loved by a woman. And sometimes the parents share these responsibilities, but not in my family, so it's the woman disciplining me, love me, taught me, and so on.

SM: Sometimes your songs sound like a caress, sort of someone caressing someone's body... It's very beautiful.

T: I know I've always wanted to touch people's souls rather than their ears. I always want to touch people's souls.

SM: You do that very successfully. But what do you think about Europe right now? Do you have time to see these places or is it a case of 'Next!'?

T: Certain places like Israel you make time, because it's so different, but you do get a lot of time on your hands, and then you get lazy, and if you're tired you don't want to leave. But I do try to make the effort to try go to places where the people from the country go. But when I'm in Paris it's so much like England that you don't bother, and it's a little bit... Paris is a really good place for selling music, but when I go into a shop and buy something, people are so rude.

SM: How does it feel to be recognised, because you are Tricky and all that? How does that feel - if you were in town, like Soho now, would it be easy?

T: No, because you get what you want... I mean, you can attract a certain amount of attention. If you're just walking around...

SM: It's like a tap, you can turn on and off?

T: Yeah. If someone recognises you, you go 'All right, how you doin'?' and just walk on. And sometimes I can walk through a place and no-one would know - I'd just have my head down, and I'm just going to get somewhere...

T: Yeah, you can do it. And it's really easy to do, especially as it's like, where did I go the other night? I went to this crap club called 10. And sometimes being recognised is a disadvantage, but you've got this security guy at 10, not really security, but more like a guest list guy and he just didn't want to let us in. And there's no-one in there! And then someone said who I was, and he said 'Never heard of you', and I know he had, because I could see it in his eyes; he didn't want to let me in. So sometimes it's a disadvantage. It all depends what reasons: sometimes it's a compliment when people recognise you, and sometimes it's total disrespect because they're just seeing someone they've seen on TV, and people just stare at you. I'm not into being stared at, and if I'm sat in a cafe or something, and someone's just staring and staring, it means I have to ask them, 'Excuse me, what are you looking at?' I'd rather they just say 'all right mate?', then that's it.

It'd be horrible to die and not know you've had that opportunity and you've played it safe. Which I know Massive Attack have done, they've played it safe.

SM: I want to go back again, further back - whether you feel uncomfortable about it I'm not too sure - and talk about Massive Attack.

T: Yeah. No, I don't feel uncomfortable at all, man.

SM: OK, good. I listened to their album recently again, and I just think that you on those albums are so... somewhere else.

T: I was totally... that is it exactly.

SM: And I listened to all these chats that you and 3D and D were doing some chats and stuff, and I was listening to these things and... Age was a big part in this because you were far younger than them, you were far more... and it showed. They were in this definite sound system, chatting on a mike, and you were somewhere else.

T: Yeah. Yeah. I had a more punk rock attitude.

SM: I wouldn't call it white-influenced, because it's my influence as well. You talk about The Specials, you talk about whatever punk band, whatever rock band was going on in the late 70s, early 80s, whatever. These things were definitely coming out in you.

T: Yeah, and it was frustrating for me, because I was in Massive Attack doing certain lyrics, and they'd say 'you can't put that down'.

SM: What lyrics, for example?

T: I had these lyrics, like kind of Jamaican English stuff, using words like 'bloodclot', and stuff like that, and we talked on the street. Or certain things you say with your friends. And it was like... there was competition with me and D. And I didn't know I was in the competition at the time. But within his mind there was... know what I mean? And at the same time he was pushing me forward, because I can remember... when I was real young, when we were doing interviews like with cameras, he'd push me to the front and tell me what to say, like 'talk about this'. But I couldn't really bring anything towards the music. I found the music kind of like...

SM: Soulless. Like 'let's do another album'.

T: Yeah, total soulless. Like, manufactured, soulless, and neither here nor there. I'd rather do an album that everybody hated, but really said 'I hate this because this is too angry'. Do something, make something happen.

SM: This is what I mean, because when I hear... why I'm totally an admirer of your work is that I feel that if you died tomorrow, the last album that you'd put out, God forbid, that is like, he'd just pushed it to the limit.

T: See, yeah, it'd be horrible to die and not know you've had that opportunity and you've played it safe. Which I know Massive Attack have done, they've played it safe.

SM: Yeah, it's so obvious.

T: And it's like, how can you live with yourself when you've got that opportunity to do everything?

SM: I think this stuff we won't put in, I don't think it'll be good for us. We can talk about it, but it's just not in. But this 3D guy, is he the leader of the group?

T: 3D's the leader–well, he wasn't. It's really weird - Miles and Claude started off as the leaders, and then as they disappeared, he kind of took over, because it became businessy, and no-one else wanted to deal with the business. As soon as the record deals started, he's the one who got a relationship with the record company guy, he's the one who wanted Nellee Hooper to come and mess the album up. I mean, I'm not a fan of Nellee Hooper, and it's no disrespect to the man, because I don't know the man. But as a producer, I don't respect that, you know? And I think they just made one compromise after another.

SM: I want to talk about Björk, because I feel that at a certain point she was excellent, at the same point you were excellent. In fact, you were together at that excellent point in time - apparently; I read in the papers that you were together.

T: Yeah, it's true.

SM: But now I... I think she's looking for a way to go, and she really doesn't know what to do. And she's got a fantastic voice, but it's almost like it stopped before it started. Why is that? It's kinda interesting, because you keep on going on.

T: I think some artists...

SM: Is it money?

T: No. I think some artists are always looking for that new. Instead of doing what they do, they're always going for the next thing. I don't look for the next thing, I just make my music, and I'm lucky that my music becomes the next thing. So I'm never looking for anything - I just go in the studio. I'm not looking for... I don't make jungle, I don't make hip-hop, I don't make rock, I make music.

SM: I make my own.

T: I make my own art. And, like, it's harder for a singer. Björk... her talent is her voice, but then she's got to go and choose producers. So what she's gotta do is choose almost what's now. So straight away you're compromising. So I think after a while it gets harder to choose what's now. It's harder to go and pick off the tune and say 'yeah'.

SM: Absolutely. I think that's very perceptive, very sharp, that's it, that idea. But how do you feel about people like D'Angelo, for example?

T: I think what he's doing now is a big mistake, trying to do that Marvin Gaye pretty boy stuff. I liked it when he first came out, because he was a guy with a sweet voice, but he was on that street-boy tip and he's just a normal geezer. Now, he's got his top off in the video, and it's all that... he's manipulated by sex. I think it's more about D'Angelo than the music, man. But if that's what people want - but...

SM: I think it's just what people advise. What's interesting to hear what you say about these other artists from your own perspective and your own ideas is that you very much control what you do - and that's very rare.

T: And visually as well, see. I control my side visually as well as musically. And I know... it's just simple to me - I try to keep it honest. Me doing a video like that, like Maxwell or D'Angelo is just not very honest. It's almost like, who are you trying to kid? Who are you trying to fool? This is so old.

SM: Also, I feel... I'd call it brave, the way you appear in the sexual side. You're very open about that, and it's real sex. It's not porno.

T: No. No.

SM: It's not gels and soft lights, it's what sex is, and sex is fluid, sex is teeth, sex is, you know, a bit rough, a bit whatever, a bit not so...

T: You know, all this stuff comes into it, and what D'Angelo becomes is a starred artist, it's all about the way he looks.

SM: That's right, the body. And also the black male bodies, the glamorisation of that...

T: That stereotype of... that's why I've always loved being skinny. I've always loved being skinny.

SM: I'm trying to love being fat right now, but...

T: I think it's just about loving yourself. And I think courage, getting in front of that camera and like... I don't need... I need my music, so I can take my top off in front of the camera. My music is going to speak afterwards, so that's not the last thing you're going to see, my visuals are not the last thing you're going to see. I feel like there's music to back that up, you know what I mean? So I don't need this super...

SM: Tell me about the visuals, your videos that you're making for your album. What are they like, because I haven't seen any?

T: They're all just a waking dream state, like listening to music and... even when I'm listening to someone else's song, I dream a video in my head. Like I'm listening to the Specials and Prince, and I'll pretend it's my song, and I've got a video. And with the music comes the visuals, and a lot of the time as I'm writing music, the visuals come as well, and a lot of the time if I'm working with a good director like Stefan [***], I let him put his ideas in. But the music takes you all the way.

SM: There was one really great video I saw of yours - it's the lyrics from the Massive Attack album which you took and redid and where you're shaking your hand...

T: Yeah. That's Stefan. That's his ideal. And I was so amazed how he said the record made him feel a certain way, and he it made him feel like that in the video. And I was amazed at how he took the music and translated that, know what I mean? I'm totally into letting a director do exactly what he wants. If I trust someone, I don't even have to be involved, you know?

SM: Well, that's obvious. So that's interesting what you said about Björk, but that is the answer.

T: Yeah, everybody's looking for new. To go forward you have to go backwards sometimes. It's like the same with the Rolling Stones. The reason I know this is there's been a fear in me since Maxinquaye. I look at artists and think 'how can artists be so good, and then be so terrible?' And I'd rather not do the music if it comes to that. So I know exactly what I'm going to do when I get old. I'm going to become a blues artist, because blues and reggae artists are the only artists who seem to grow old gracefully, you know? And when you're a Rolling Stone chasing the next thing, and you're fifty, sixty years of age in tight underpants and that, but you see these blues guys, they just stand on stage and do a guitar solo and sing a song, and they don't look embarrassing at all. And it's like... so I used to think, this used to be my nightmare, my music ending one day. So I totally had to think about why, and I've been thinking about it for years, many many years. And just realised it's because you can't chase it, you can't chase for the new thing. It's like, when I made Maxinquaye, everyone started making dark music. But it don't sound dark because you're trying to sound dark. I didn't mean for Maxinquaye to be dark or Pre-Millennium to be tense, that's just how it is.

SM: I think people are on drugs, you know. I think a lot of people are on drugs.

T: A lot of people are on drugs, definitely.

SM: Absolutely. But also in that kind of other way, because when you say that album was dark, for me, it was like rubbing my hands together on some gravel. It felt real, it felt urgent, it felt necessary...


T: Yeah. Yeah.

SM: [tape indistinct]

T: Yeah. And it's because...

SM: [tape indistinct]

T: It used to be the music industry, right? And now it's just the industry. And this is why I stand out like a sore thumb. I'm very lucky. There's so much manufactured music around, that there's not many artists... there's no artists who are real and who get through any more. Except me. I'm like in the wrong place, I've got my foot in the door.

SM: [tape indistinct]

T: Yep. They want their product - and you know, they're having quotas like if you don't sell 5,000 records, 500,000 records, you're not really a priority on the label any more. So, you know, like...

SM: Tell me about Island - are you still with them?

T: No, I've left Island now. And I really had a good time at Island, but it changed. I had a brilliant time at Island.

SM: It got sold, didn't it?

Tricky: Yeah. And I had no complaints until it got sold. And when it got sold, all of a sudden I started changing my way of thinking. Like, what do I need to do to get on the radio? And I've never thought like that. So I just needed to get off, and they're good people, so they let me go. And they're real cool people, man. And I had a real good time there, but I had to get off of there. So I was trying to get off, so it's all been quiet for me over here as well because I haven't been doing any press in England or anything, because I've been trying to get off the label for about a year. And it's taken about a year to get off the label. I've had to give them another album and serve a certain time in my contract and all this rubbish.

SM: [tape indistinct]

T: They still let me go one album early, though, which is cool. And they're sensible, because when a relationship breaks down, it's like what are they gonna do, man? They know I'm not going to give them anything.

SM: You seem really happy.

T: I am really happy at the moment, yeah. It's like everything's making more sense to me. I've got a label and I've got these kids who I've known for years, and within a year from being on the dole they're going to France and doing Canal Plus and doing gigs in front of 2000 people and that. And they're number 2 in the charts in France and number 3 in another chart and number 6...

SM: What is in France - what has France got with hip-hop? It's like a big industry, people making money. What's going on in England? What is it?

T: It's crazy - it's like... it just seems that there's no support for hip-hop here. There's no general real support. And I don't know why that is, it's crazy. I think a lot of it was you've got too many English guys trying to sound American, and like...

SM: Yeah. This is what I was reading about... exactly, go on.

T: ...and in America where they've got millions of apples everywhere, why are you going to buy a watered-down product? And in England, there just don't seem to be a mass for it. People ain't got it. I don't think people have done it smart enough, on a big enough scale. Like for hip-hop in this country, you need the majors - you need to be on a major, man, and you need a major to put money into you. And majors don't put money into hip-hop.

SM: [tape indistinct]

T: No. I think... the odd one, maybe, but not a black artist, a male artist like me who's not really a singer. So...

SM: So who is?

T: Mark Morrison.

SM: Mark Morrison. And who else?

T: There's whatsername, that girl...

SM: [tape indistinct] ...right. OK.

T: I know I'm the first black guy in this country to be on the front of The Face magazine and NME and Melody Maker, which is crazy.

SM: Were you the first on NME?

T: I think English black guy.

SM: That's right, forgive me, yeah.

T: I think Public Enemy have done it.

SM: Yeah. Yeah.

T: And Mark Morrison, he sells a lot more records than me, and he's not been on the front of any of these magazines. And I think they find him more of a threat than me.

SM: You reckon?

T: Well, not a threat as in the obvious threat like gold chains...

SM: No, I think they know you're more of a threat but basically... I think with Mark Morrison the situation where, you know, people will die out. Sorry about that, but it's like [recording indistinct]. It's like it's a tree, and it's not even that high yet, and it's growing. And it's like when it first blossomed, you know, it's like magical - but now, people are a bit scared of it. But it's become a bit like... I'm sorry, I'm going round in circles. But no, but it's true. And I think the situation is that you've already changed music once. You on your own, you've changed music on your own, and you're 31 years old and you've changed music already. I think it's good.

T: Yeah, I feel like I've got a lot more stuff to do. I'm really excited about my new album. People are going to be shocked, especially in England, because I know they're going to expect something, and this is like... it's kind of like... it's real... it sounds the most contemporary...

Artists are just mad constantly - they want attention, they want to be the centre of attraction all the time. I don't need that. So I'm insecure in different ways.


SM: It was interesting when you said that, you know, you don't care what anyone thinks about you - it shows.

T: Yeah, I'm not worried if I'm liked at all. You know, in any way at all. I could go to a club and you could know who I am and you don't have to like me because I don't really care what you think about me.

SM: Are you in a privileged situation?

T: God, I'm the luckiest guy...

SM: Meaning that, you know, you could do that, I mean, some people have employees and so forth and whatnot and have to make them like them, you know, sort of smile...

T: Yeah. I am privileged. Totally privileged. And sometimes I behave in that way. Because I can be quite rude. Especially in social circumstances. Especially with famous people as well, I can be very very rude because I won't play that game of, just because you're, say for instance you're Maxwell, like I've had situations with Maxwell–Maxwell asks this girl what's wrong with me.

SM: What, in front of you?

T: No. I was outside this club and Maxwell stood next to me, and I didn't say anything to him. I didn't talk to him because I don't know him. And he said to the girl... he was kind of looking at me, as if to say 'talk to me'. But I don't want to talk to him. So he's kind of saying what's wrong with me, have I got problems, have I got a problem with him because I don't talk to him. And I said to the girl, why should I talk to him? Because he's Maxwell? Because he's on MTV, and stuff like that? That's not enough of a reason for me to go socialising with someone.

SM: There's a very famous story about Miles Davis. I think me personally, you definitely are... you definitely come from that vein.

T: Well, that's a major compliment. And what's mad is that people have said that I'll do my gigs with my back turned and I've never seen a Miles Davis gig, though.

SM: Let me tell you a true story about that. One day, I think it was Mick Jagger come and knocks on Miles Davis' door, rings the doorbell. Miles come out from his bed, opens the door and there's Mick Jagger and says 'What the fuck do you want? Who are you?' Slammed the door, went back to bed. He said 'Just because he's fucking someone... he think he can come and knock on my door - I don't know him! Who's he?'

T: Yeah. And that's how I feel about it. Artists are very uninteresting people.

SM: Totally.

T: I've met a lot of artists, and I'd rather hang out with someone from a different profession. Like whatever, anything, from villain to whatever, wall painter and decorator. Artists are very... it's almost like we live in a celebrity age now, as well as not much music. And it's like...

SM: I suppose it's not much art.

T: Yeah, not much art. Celebrities take themselves from video sets and award ceremonies, and they take it out on the street. Kids look like... they dress like they're in their videos and walk around and want attention. So it's a total celebrity age, and artists really ain't got much to say because all they do is take all the time. All they do is taking. So I just always get let down so I don't even bother any more - I just get let down.

SM: Do you mean take off you? Take things off you?

T: No, like all they do is seem to take from society and give little back. And some of these might do charities up the yin-yang, but basically kind of like... you get a lot of attention as an artist, so going out and demanding more is ridiculous. So, like, I get a lot of attention, I do a video and get a lot of attention. So I go to a club and I don't want a big deal made about me. I don't need loads of people around me. I don't need a special event.

SM: What, you don't have your entourage?

T: I don't need to be announced and all that stuff. I was out somewhere last week with my manager, and the club owner come over, and my manager said, "yeah, you can take a picture of him" and I'm going "What are you doing? I don't want to be in a club taking pictures". I'm an observer, I can sit in the club and just watch everything. You know what I mean, I'm a real observer, like–

SM: Undercover!

T: Yeah, you know what I mean - just watching anything. And it's like, artists are just mad constantly - they want attention, they want to be the centre of attraction all the time. I don't need that. So I'm insecure in different ways.

SM: Total. But is there anyone who interests you - or not interests you but someone you have some kind of affinity with or for?

T: I respect Gary Oldman a lot. Because when I met Gary Oldman - I met him a few times and talked to him a few times. And normally, he's like the biggest actor in the world, he's the best actor in the world. And he keeps his feet on the ground. He's so normal and so real, and that's why he's a great artist, I think - he's like so real. And he's like... and all that he's done must have touched him, but he doesn't show it. It just doesn't show. So I've got a lot of respect for him because he was like so normal with me, so normal and cool. He's got a real good vibe about him. You just look at him and it's Gary Oldman, the biggest actor in the world, the best actor in the world. And it's like, he's just so normal...

SM: I bumped into him once. In New York, years ago. And I think he was doing his [***] movie and I didn't know him, but I said 'Gary! Gary!' And he turned round - he don't know me, I was just some sort of geek - and 'I just wanna say, you know, mate, enough respect, give credit where credit's due, nice one'. And he looked at me like this...


...and he goes 'Nice one, nice one.'

T: He's intense, isn't he? He's intense.

SM: I'm telling you, he was like he was in South London, and some geezer had said 'Gary!' and he turned round and he really kind of knew, you know, whose manor are you from? And then he kind of like clicked back and 'I'm in New York, I'm going to get a taxi, this guy's just saying hello, and that's it'. But...

T: He controls the situation, yeah, he definitely controls the situation when someone comes up. The vibe I got off him - and it's only spending a short amount of time, I didn't hang out with nobody on that set, but... I couldn't stay in my room and sit in my room and just do nothing. So I'd hang out in the corridor, I was hanging out with the security guy, sat down talking to him, smoke cigarettes, and Gary Oldman would come out and go 'you want a cup of tea? Come in!' So I'd go out and hang out with him. So I ended up spending... Thank you, man.


T: So I hanged out with him a lot. But the vibe I got... I don't even know him. Even though I hanged out with him quite a bit you can't get to know someone like that. But the vibe I got from his eyes sometimes - it was a person who's given a lot... I'm not saying he's not worried about dying, but his eyes seemed to say that it was all just daily motions, getting up.

SM: I get the impression he's very disenchanted with the industry he's in, and he's an extraordinarily talented actor. I get the impression that he's a bit disenchanted because he wanted to do Nil By Mouth, he wanted to write, he ended up doing a really great film. But it's a kind of disenchantment with his real talent. I'm not saying he's not a talented director, but, you know, the talent which sort of feeds him, but he has a disenchantment with it, I feel.

T: It's really weird with actors, what I've seen with actors is, like Al Pacino after Scarface, he didn't leave himself with much. That is such a great... he put every ounce of his soul in that, and he didn't seem to be left with anything else. I don't see that in music so much.

SM: No, because I think with actors, they're part of the vehicle, they're a tool for the director. And maybe that's why he wants to direct, he wants to control a bit more. And that's why, you know - actors are a weird bunch of people.

T: It's a horrible job, man.

SM: Total. You give yourself in a way that...

T: I didn't enjoy doing it at all. I really didn't. The bonus was I met Gary Oldman, that was the bonus. But apart from that I really didn't enjoy doing it. Too much waiting around, too much doing nothing, and even when you're doing something, you're doing nothing. I've got nothing in common with what I was doing, the words I was saying, they meant nothing to me.

SM: Yeah. They approached you - they wanted you for that film?

T: Yeah. Just got a phone call to my management one day saying, "Will I be in this Luc Besson movie?" And I was thinking Nikita, Professional.

SM: Yeah, wicked, yeah, of course.

T: I never thought it would be like this, to be honest with you.

SM: How was Brucie baby?

T: I was totally non-interested in him, didn't want to meet him, not interested at all. I don't know if he's a nice guy or not, you know what I mean? But I didn't want to take the time to find out. I was totally like, no passion to meet him at all.

SM: I want to move onto something that I want to ask you - there's a movie just come out called Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Have you heard about this movie?

T: I've heard about it, yeah.

SM: It's with Forest Whitaker, and Razor has done the score, a really beautiful score. And the movie... I know you'll like the movie.

T: Yeah, I've been told I'll love the movie.

SM: And Forest Whitaker is just crazy in it. But what I want to ask you is, have you ever and will you ever...

T: Does he play a samurai?

SM: He's a professional hitman who follows the way of the samurai.

T: So he don't use swords, then?

SM: He practices with a sword. He actually assassinates with modern-day technology, but he uses the way of the samurai, so it's basically Eastern culture with a contemporary way of life and a contemporary way of killing people. And it's just so... Forest Whitaker is for me on a par with Gary Oldman - get those two in a film, you'll really make something happen.

T: I love his...

SM: I think he's got his own company, actually.

T: I think his directing in his films is... I think he's a genius. Definitely.

SM: What I wanted to ask you is have you ever thought of doing a score for a film?

T: I've been asked a few times. It's not that I haven't been interested...

SM: You don't feel it's yours?

T:'s just that... I'm quite lazy in some ways as in, somebody asks me and I'll say to my manager 'yeah, yeah, I'll think about it', then I'll never think about it, and it's just gone. Then I'm in a studio and doing my thing.

SM: You're such an artist in that way, in some ways. It's kind of like, forgive me for being so direct, but what I wanted to ask you is... I'm doing this sort of bigger movie...

T: You're doing a movie?

SM: Yeah, a Channel Four/BFI collaboration. Have you ever heard of Zadie Smith? This girl called Zadie Smith?

T: No.

SM: It's a young black writer, a very beautiful, very interesting girl. And we're co-writing this thing, and she's great. But what I wanted to ask you, in some ways, is the whole idea of... have you ever thought of a theme and variations on a theme? Because you did it once, you obviously did it on the last album, unless I'm going crazy, you did it on Ladies, you did a rock version and the sort of hip-hop version.

T: Oh, the Public Enemy thing on Maxinquaye, you mean?

SM: No, the last album. Why can't I remember titles right now? The one with the guy who raps really fast...

T: I Like The Girls?

SM: That's bad. That's just rockin' bad.

T: Only now and again you get a concept, but mostly it's all freestyle words, and then... Mad Dog likes girls. I like girls.

SM: Obviously.

T: Because he writes a lot of lyrics about girls, I just thought of that old Beastie Boys song, I Like The Girls, so I kind of took that and used that as a chorus. So now and again I get concepts but I'm not really a concept man. But actually I just did an album, and there is a concept to it - it's political, it's about racism, know what I mean?

SM: What album's that?

T: I haven't even got a name for it yet, but it's the album I would have done if I'd have stayed in Bristol. I would have started off as a rapper, and if I'd started doing music earlier, if I'd started doing music before I entered Massive Attack my music would have probably been more hip-hop based. But because... then again, I don't know, because I was listening to The Specials before hip-hop, so I don't know if that's true. But it would have been more on a rap thing, see? So this is like the album I missed, and it's about racism and English politics - a lot about England.

SM: What title is it gonna be?

T: I don't know. I haven't even thought of a title yet.

SM: I'm seeing this sort of...

T: It's very street as well, very street and very dirty-sounding, very street. It sounds very English, very very English.

SM: More of that! What is it with us - or at least me, I'm not and I am, I'm not and I am nationalistic?

T: Oh, I am and I'm not, yeah. It's the same with racism, I am and I'm not.

SM: Someone said to me 'Are you an artist or are you a black artist?' And I say: 'Sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not, sometimes I forget'.

T: Sometimes you're forced to be. I've never thought of myself as a black artist, but I've been forced to be a black artist. In England it's crazy, though, they gave me this thing where... this is where I was very lucky, being very... not anything. The English press just wrote about me as an artist, and black, white never had anything to do with it.

SM: No, and you escaped that, and that's a thing which - I think that's the key to it. What is that? I mean, you escape it and other people don't, and what is it? What is black?

T: I think you can fall into the trap. Black is what a record company tells you to be. It's like diamond rings, diamond bracelets, cars, women in videos. The record company, the industry tells us that's what's black and people follow that. Like, I wear dresses, I wear lipstick, I wear make-up, I don't usually follow the same format for videos, so no-one can trap me. It's not rap, it's not singing...

SM: This is exactly what I try, you know. I tend to try to be a wet piece of soap, so as soon as they've got me, they're off, they think they've got me, but...

T: Yeah. You just do another thing. You know, it's weird, when I was going out with Björk, I started getting, you know, like the Sunday Mirror, The Sun press, tabloids - they'd call me 'black rapper'. And that's them making me black, it's them making me be a rapper, because I'm black, they're calling me a rapper. The people from The Sun have probably never heard my music.

SM: I should ask her this question to Björk, but unfortunately she's not here and I want to ask it. Because she's from, like, Norway, how does she feel about the situation of the black music industry in England or Britain. Was there any...?

T: I don't think... with some artists it don't really affect them, they're not really aware of them.

SM: They're not interested and why should they be?

T: And I know she likes good artists, whether they're black, white, yellow, but I don't think it really matters to her. It's crazy, like it don't matter to me. I'm lucky, in a way, because I sell records to all people, kind of.

Steve McQueen: It definitely doesn't matter to me, but what you say about the record industry is that it does sort of...

T: Oh, definitely. Especially more in America as well. It's crazy. I've been there like four, five years nearly now, and they've... someone phoned me up the other day, and I'm in this hip-hop magazine and [***] was on TV and said I influenced him, and they just accepted me there, but they've accepted me as a black person. And what's mad is that when people like *** heard me, and these people found out about me, I wasn't in the black community. I'm still not in any community, but the black community found out about me later there, and it was just white press who used to write about me, and the black press didn't really... I didn't exist to them. But now it's like they've just found me, and it's almost like it keeps me a new artist all the time, all these different... They say I've changed music, but what music? White music, black music?

Interview by:



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