an interview with TRICKY (on his new album, dubstep, grime, Bernard Butler, Switch, M.I.A. & more)
by BrooklynVegan Mike
A friend of mine played me some stuff and said “you’re the father of dubstep.”
Tricky (who kicks off a US tour at Irving Plaza in NYC Thurday night) is never at a loss for words or a strong opinion. His career has been defined as much by his viewpoints on artists and music past and present as it has his ever shifting sound pallette. He has been called “the king of trip-hop,” a moniker that he never liked and never quite fit. Though his debut Maxinquaye helped forge and popularize, along with Portishead and Massive Attack, the “Bristol” sound, every album since has steadily moved away from simple categorization.
“It’s coincidence. To be honest with you, Portishead and Massive Attack, I don’t know anything about their music; last time I heard Massive Attack’s music was when I was in it, and I’ve never listened to Portishead. Even if I hadn’t been in Massive Attack, that’s not something I would listen to, it’s not my thing. I don’t know much about these bands.” [said Tricky recently to The Skinny]
The forty year old, who was worked with everyone, from Bjork and The Gravediggaz, to Tool and Live, is back with his first album in five years, Knowle West Boy, and many are calling it a return. When we spoke, he was in a relaxed mood. He speaks with a hyper active patter that is engaging and contagious.
We began our conversation by discussing his absence away from music. Despite being quite consistent with his releases (putting out eight albums in eight years), this is his first record since 2003’s Back To Mine. When asked about the long break, he suggested that he started to break away mentally before 2003. “September 11th took me off my stride,” he said. “I was in the cycle of tour, record, tour, record. I was in L.A doing some work. I was to leave on a European tour on the 11th and everything happened. I didn’t want to travel for a long time. I moved to L.A. And that took a year of my life. I was also looking for another label, and that took another year of my life as well. So really, the 11th of September just changed everything for me.”
He has since moved back to England, a decision that has certainly influenced the new record. But when asked why at this stage in his career he would make a concept album about his youth (as was written here, and here), he replied “That’s not really true. It’s not just about my youth. There are a couple of songs [including the first single, ‘Council Estate’] that are about my childhood but there are other songs on there. I think people are thinking that because of those songs as well as the title. Knowle West is a place where nothing good is supposed to come out of. I named the album Knowle West Boy to say, “look at me. I’m still here.” He also scoffed at the notion that the record, which has received some of his best reviews since Angels With Dirty Faces, was a return to form. “That’s basically because it’s more accessible then say Pre-Millenium Tension. I could have put this kind of record out then but chose not to.”
This got us talking about the Tricky “sound” and if, in fact, there was one….
Beyond the conscious decisions you’ve made on each record, have you ever thought about how much your music has evolved in the past fifteen years?
Tricky: “Right around the time of Pre-Millenium Tension a friend of mine told me that none of my albums are linked together in any way. That they could each have been done by someone else. I never realized that. It’s kind of weird. I don’t know why that is. I’m still trying to search to find that sound that is me. I like that it keeps changing but when I make a record I am only making what I want to do at that time. I don’t choose to change. It just does.”
Do you believe there is a Tricky sound?
Tricky: “I don’t. I believe there is a Tricky feel. A Tricky vibe. Even though each album sounds different you know it’s a Tricky record, I think.”
Tricky – Council Estate
Tricky had been in the UK news again this past summer for other reasons, engaging in a war of words with 90s Britpop star and Suede guitarist Bernard Butler. When asked about what went down, he didn’t hesitate to continue firing missives. “He’s a prick,” he said. “A horrible little man.” In Tricky’s words, “I wanted to try working with a co-producer. It was something I never did before and I wanted to see how that would turn out. We had an agreement beforehand that he would be a co-producer. It didn’t work out at all so I went home and redid everything and got him off the music but he still insisted on getting the credit. Laurence from Domino [Tricky’s record label] spoke with his manager and even he admitted that he didn’t hear any of his stuff on there. But he insisted on the credit. He was willing to take me to court over it.”
After that fiasco, Tricky finished the record himself then brought in Switch to mix the record. “His thing ain’t my vibe,” he said of the producer du jour, “but he does get a good sound. His music is just breakbeats with some noise over it.” When I asked how the process went, he said “I didn’t see him that much. I would go downstairs from time to time and say ‘that sounds good’ or that it didn’t.”
From Switch, our conversation turned to Switch collaborator M.I.A. As an artist whose music fuses elements of classic hip-hop, punk, reggae, and electronica like Tricky, I was curious what he thought of the Londoner by way of Sri Lanka. “A few years back, someone gave me her demo,” he said. “I was asked if I wanted to do some work with her and I said no. It didn’t interest me. The vibe I got was it was trying to be experimental. You can’t try to be experimental. You just are. It comes from a place of no known knowledge, doing what you think works. All her music really is is dance music, nothing more. It’s not her fault, really, it’s more with how she is being marketed.”
The emergence of dubstep and grime from the UK underground onto the world stage was a subject I thought he would have a lot to say about it. And though his answers surprised me, he certainly had a strong opinion on it. When asked about dubstep, he replied “It’s funny. About four months ago, I was introduced to dubstep. A friend of mine played me some stuff and said “you’re the father of dubstep.” Then he played me some stuff from this guy who no one knows what he looks like. A shadowy figure.”
Tricky: “Yeah. I really liked it. I could see the connection between his work and mine but he’s doing something completely different. He’s taking from the same places but doing it in his own way. If I had anything to do with the creation of dubstep, then I’m proud. It’s a hell of a lot better name then trip-hop, I can tell you that.”
What about grime?
Tricky: “What I heard, I thought was okay. But at the moment, they don’t know how to make a great album. It’s like the same thing with Drum N’ Bass. At the end of the day, it all comes down to great songwriting. It’s that simple. The sound is too limited right now to put out a complete vision on a whole record. It needs to grow some more.”
We wrapped our discussion with the topic of songwriting when I asked him if he ever saw an acoustic album in in his future.
“Definitely,” he said enthusiastically. “I have to in a way. It’s funny you ask that because it’s a question I ask myself all the time. I think there is definitely one in me and it something I will do, but I just don’t know when.”
It would be interesting to hear what Tricky would do with an acoustic record. It would most certainly not sound like the accepted notion of what ‘acoustic’ entails. That would be too obvious. Everything about Tricky, from his music to his personality, defies easy classification.
Tricky – Tricky Kid
Tricky is set to release his new studio album Knowle West Boy (Domino) on September 9th. He kicks off a rare (aka not cancelled) U.S. tour in NYC tonight….
Tricky – 2008 Tour Dates
Sep 4 – The Filmore At Irving Plaza New York, New York *
Sep 5 – The Trocadero Philadelphia *
Sep 6 – 9:30 Club Washington *
Sep 8 – House Of Blues Chicago, Illinois *
Sep 9 – Phoenix Toronto, Ontario
Sep 11 – House Of Blues Anaheim, California
Sep 12 – Henry Fonda Theatre Los Angeles, California
Sep 14 – The Independent San Francisco, California
* w/ Telepathique