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Tricky in Interview

What does underground mean today?

© by Tricky - Skilled Mechanics Press Photos

It will take about 13 minutes to read this article.

(Attention! A bit heavy on the four-words-side!)

I’m not a musician. Actually, I’m very untalented when it comes to music. This is probably the reason why I’m never much impressed when I meet famous artists, I do not compare their career to some imaginary future I could have had. What I’m interested in, is the person that hides behind the success.

Because somewhere, behind the lime lights, the charts, the headlines and the screaming fans, there is always going to be a person that gets up in the morning, has coffee, works, meets friends, eats dinner and goes to bed eventually.

Still, how does one prepare to interview someone who is simply legendary? Someone who’s been in the music business for 30 years, who’s defined a music genre, forged it almost from scratch? Imagine this someone is also known for not liking media exposure and for occasionally kicking out journalists after a few questions…

Tricky (born Adrian Nicholas Matthews Thaws) is the English record producer, vocalist, director, actor and musician that pioneered the trip hop style that rose to prominence in the UK during the 90s.

He began his career as a collaborator of Massive Attack before releasing his solo debut album, Maxinquaye, in 1995. He would proceed to release 11 more solo albums including the self-titled Adrian Thaws in 2014 and his latest Skilled Mechanics, released in January 2016.

He has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Martina Topley-Bird, Terry Hall, Björk, Gravediggaz, Grace Jones, Massive Attack and PJ Harvey.

If you call yourself a master of something, you stop learning.

I met Tricky about ten days ago, in the backstage area of WUK, right before his Viennese show.

I arrived at the venue late afternoon and was immediately picked up by Tricky’s tour manager who escorted me upstairs to the backstage area. And when I say upstairs I really mean it: the backstage at the WUK is like five flights of very high stairs above stage level! The tour manager complained a lot about it while we went up together.

I managed to trip twice climbing those stairs. Both times he got me mid-air and saved me from falling. So when I finally arrived at the top and was instantaneously introduced to Tricky, I was still a bit embarrassed from all the tripping. And quite out of breath.

We sat down in the kitchen, in front of each other across a table with a plastic cover. Now, Tricky is a tiny person, not short but with a light frame. He also has an ageless appearance – he smiled at me very friendly and when he does this he almost looks like a child. Sitting in front of him, with the table between us, I had this strange feeling I was not interviewing him, but examinating him! Like a teacher! I quietly changed seats so that we would be around the corner from each other. Muuuch better.

You live in Berlin? (pant-pant)

Tricky: Yeah. I moved there about eight months ago now. 

It’s a short time. (pant)

Yeah, short but I really like it though.

Why Berlin? Because of the label, or… (I could finally breath normally again)

No, it’s not because the label, it’s just… the pace is good. It’s slow. My manager is actually German and he lives in Berlin – but I rarely… I don’t know anybody there. I got no friends there, nobody, but I’m all right like that.

I tried to move back to London, I lasted about six months. I just didn’t like it anymore.

I must confess, I love London – my best friend lives in London, so I go there every now and then. I’m always so happy when I go to London, and I’m always so happy when I come back…

Yeah, yeah. It’s a bit stressful, right?

Everything is… there is nothing you can do easily!

No, no. It’s all very difficult.

And Vienna is very cozy, so…

It’s beautiful, is what!

… the comparison with London is shocking.

It’s very nice that we came here after Prague. Because Prague is a party city. This is like… chilled out. It’s nice.

It’s just the surface. There is a lot of party here, but you have to know where.

No, I don’t mean there ain’t no party here. But it’s a more chilled vibe here than Prague’s – like, even in the daytime, it’s manic!

(Somewhere, outside of the kitchen, somebody starts making big noises. Tricky stands up and closes the door so that the noise won’t disturb my recording. This is the moment I start questioning the whole difficult-Tricky-thing in my head.)

You were born in Bristol, and…

Bristol, yeah.

And you were sucked into this Bristol-Sound-thing…

Yeah, my friend Whitley… like the song Boy (NB from the newest album Skilled Mechanics) – that’s like my life in three minutes. And that guy I’m talking about – Whitley – he’s in the video. That’s a guy I used to hustle with. We used to survive together, whether it was get a shit job or sell some shit weed, we always hustled together, me and Whitley.

Um, Bristol. Who influenced you? I mean, do you make the music that you make because of your beginnings, or…

No, see, this Bristol thing is bullshit, right? Bristol’s like any other city, there’s going to be good musicians there. It’s like Manchester in a way, a few artists blew up…

I actually asked Róisín Murphy about this, and she agreed that Madchester influenced the music she makes…

Portishead are not from Bristol! So that’s one that kills one myth of the Bristol scene, right? I made my first album Maxinquaye in London, I’d been living in London for a year and a half. So that kills that myth!

And Trip Hop… that’s another stupid name. It’s just a name, it’s a myth.

How do you define your music?

Um… work in progress! Work in progress – yeah, I’m still learning.

So you don’t allow any kind of label to stick to your music?

I’ve had the word genius used a lot with me, right? No. I’m still learning, I really am still learning.

That’s why I love it even more now than (when) I first started. To sit back. You can sit back at a keyboard and play anything. You just go miles away, and then you sample that and you play something else. Before you know it, you have a piece of music, and a lot of the times you can’t even remember how you did it.

It’s just… such a beautiful thing to be able to do. I don’t know what a genius is, but say a genius is someone who writes what’s in his head tonight and then goes and put it down in a few minutes… I don’t do that.

I’m playing like a child, like a child writes and draws. You know how a child draws? Sometimes I might start with just a kick drum (taps the table with his finger – just one finger). Look that up. Then, I try a bass note (some more one-finger tapping). All one fingered, all playing around. So I’m a work in progress. I’m a child.

What do you mean? If you put a tag, a description, on your music, then you limit yourself from the beginning?

A Tai Chi teacher told me years ago… I did Tai Chi for seven years with a guy called Master Cheng. He’s like a legend. He was seventy then, healthier than me, he could fight better than me!

I asked him once about black belts. I’m like…

Do you have belts?

And he said

Belts just hold up your trousers.

And I said

How long have you been a master?

He goes

No no no, I’m still learning.

And he is a master, right? And he still learns every time he teaches.

If you call yourself a master of something, you stop learning. So if I think I know (everything) and I stop learning, my music is not going to go anywhere.

I’ve did… I can’t even remember how many albums I’ve did!

(NB I’ve done my homework: it’s 12 studio albums over 21 years.)

I was going out with a girl in New York, after about my fourth album. We sat there, and she was listening to my music on headphones. She wasn’t a fan, she was my girlfriend, and she was just listening. And she goes…

It’s weird, all your albums could have been done by someone else. None of them sound the same.

I didn’t realize…

It’s a compliment!

I think it’s wicked. Because artists can’t do that.

Well, maybe only geniuses can do that! 😛

Yeah, that’s what they said, that’s right. But I didn’t try to do that. I didn’t even realize until she told me, I had no idea.

And I think that’s how I go through life. With no idea. And I just make it up as I go along.

I believe you have more freedom now, with your label…

Yeah. And more fun!

Which is the most important thing, probably! :-)

I always have this funny feeling that artists are super happy when they first get signed, and after a couple of years they get equally super happy when they can finally drop the label…

Do you know what? I’ve been lucky! I was on Island (NB Island Records), right? My trouble was when he sold. The thing is, when people hear me complain about corporate companies… that’s now. Back in the days… Virgin was great back then…

What do you mean by back in the days? Early nineties?

Back when… I caught just that tail end of the music industry. So I was lucky enough, after me it ended.

Back then, when Polly Harvey (NB better known as PJ Harvey) used to release an album, you used to feel it before…

(whispers) Oh, Polly’s album…

You could feel the energy, you knew something was coming. It wasn’t just a business then.

Now it’s just totally about making money. Obviously, back then, they wanted to make money too, but you did it through… for instance, Chris Blackwell (NB founder of Island Records), Tom Waits, Bob Marley, U2… they never sold much on their first albums. Chris would wait two, three albums. Now, if you don’t have a hit single, you’re dropped!

On Island, I was very happy. But when he sold Island, and the dudes who took over it were on some corporate stuff. And then I ran away.

The underground scene, in my opinion, doesn’t exist anymore…

No, it’s over. That’s finished.

Nowadays, with the online market, as soon as one has a track ready they put it out on fifty platforms, immediately. It’s everywhere!

Yeah, there’s no such thing as underground now.

Do you think something like that could happen again? And where? Because now it’s not in the clubs, it’s not online, it’s not…

I’ll tell you what, right? With False Idols, for instance, I’m dropping an EP this summer, with underground artists. They really are underground because they can’t get nothing going from them. They’re just in certain situations.

So I think you can get a feel of it… this EP I’m doing to drop is fucking ridiculous. I got a band called Kiko King & creativemaze, it’s just ridiculous! And then I got another guy from Bristol who’s a rapper. He comes from my area. Then I got this guy called Cas, he’s a London artist.

And this Cas is very interesting, he’s quite a big artist but I met him through… he sent a tweet! I don’t tweet, but someone sent a tweet saying

Do you know this dude? He’s saying he’s coming to Bristol to do a show and he wants to hook up with you.

So I sent a message and the guy said to me

I thought I’d become the next Tricky.

Now that’s some big balls, right?

He told you to your face?! 😀

Yeah, and I loved it. I loved it!

He’s a big artist now, and he’s never done an interview in his life. Never done one interview. And he’s so honest and pure.

He says things like… I say

That’s a wicked track I just heard of yours.

And he goes

With no Tricky there’s no Cas!

But then he’d also say

I’m the next Tricky.

It’s nice to see there are some artists who are thinking good, like Cas. He’s never done any interview, and he’s a big artist, never done one press. No one’s ever sat down and talked to him!

What do you mean, interviews are bad? 😛

No, no, I like interviews, personally! What I’m trying to say to you, for a young guy – and he’s in the urban scene – for a young guy to have that attitude is super smart. Because people don’t think like that anymore.

I go

I hate all this social media shit sometimes.

He goes

It’s fucked. When I was a kid and I listened to you, I couldn’t get in touch with you. I couldn’t send you a message. That’s fucked. People are too attainable now.

So he thinks in a very smart way.

There could be some underground, but it’s not underground as in it’s really underground. It’s more in the way you’re thinking.

A mentality?

Yeah. I think there won’t be really underground, but there will be guys like him, who think underground.

And like this EP I’m bringing out, it’s got an underground attitude.

But, as an underground artist, you have to find new paths, new ways to come out.

Yeah. Right, it’s your music. So underground used to be a way you put out your music, but now you have to make your music underground.

See what Cas does, even if it sold a million records you’d still have to call it underground. Because it’s different. And he’s not playing by any rules. What Kiko King & creativemaze do, they’re doing their own thing. So, in a way, it is underground.

Artists got a terrible habit – young artists of today got a terrible habit of following others. Second-hand emotions. You see these urban artists, when they’re doing all this… (mimes fake Hip Hop moves showing exaggerated sadness and pain). They did that for real, they went through that for real. She went through stuff!

These people see stuff, and they recreate second-hand emotions. But there are some people out there, like Kiko and creativemaze, and this Cas dude, and this guy from Bristol, who are, just… two of them are struggling. I mean struggling. All they know is music. They’re the real deal.

So there will be some underground, but not the way you put it out. What will make it underground is the sound of the music.

I have the feeling that there are two sides of your personality, two sides that are kind of fighting each other… the musician, performer and producer vs. the shy private person who doesn’t what to be exploited by the media…

So… (I take a deep breath before I say what I’m about to say…) I think you have the wrong job!!

(Tricky, who was fumbling with something in his hands and looking down in his lap, suddenly lifts his head and looks me in the eyes. I can tell he’s surprised. I don’t know yet if he’s surprised at my bravery or at my stupidity. He doesn’t answers immediately, pondering my words first)

I’ll tell you what… I’ve never seen it like this but you’re right! I do have the wrong job – I’m a very shy guy, very shy…

Do you remember the first time you went onstage? How did you feel?

Fucking scared! I was almost paralyzed.

There was this big concert, my first big big one, I played before PJ Harvey, it was a huge thing. I asked for all the lights to be switched off and had the show in complete darkness… and everybody went…

Genius!! Tricky’s such a genius, a show in the darkness!!

And I did it because I was scared. So what’s important is, you don’t tell them why…

Haha! This story is so cute!

I’m so naïve! After the concert I went back to my wardrobe and I was sitting there in the twilight (mimes sitting bored, with his hands hanging from his knees) wondering…

Is this what it’s all about? (mimes rocking his chair until it leans against the wall and his feet hang a bit from the seat, then looks around so that he seems even more lost and bored than before)

Then PJ Harvey came in and…

What the heck are you doing here, alone in the dark?

And I go

I don’t know what to do!

And she goes

Get out! Have a beer! Light up a joint! Chase some girls!!

(Mimes his face lightening with realization and quickly getting up from the chair!)

So you’re a bit naïve?!

Very naïve, yeah.

My grandmother said a really weird thing to me once, when I was about fifteen. I came out of my grandmother’s house, and she always used to watch me walk up the road. She would stand on the gate, in her apron, and she’d smoke a cigarette.

And she used to do a thing – she wouldn’t use an ashtray (he mimes grandmother ashing her cigarette in her hand) and then tuh (mimes Grandma spitting in her palm).

You know what your problem is, right?

and I go

What?

and she goes

You have a problem dealing with reality.

That was such a weird thing to say…

What did she mean?

That’s it! I never knew it!!

I don’t know what she means, but if I have a problem with reality, it goes into my music. I could be quite pessimistic, but my music is very hopeful. Because I feel like I have no boundaries on my music. I can make anything happen.

Hmm.

Yeah, I’ve always wondered what she meant. Freaked me out!

Would you like to know when I play your music at home?

Hmm…

When I clean the house!

Most people have sex to it. I always meet people who have babies or have sex to it. It’s weird. Maybe it’s people who have children (who) share this. Cleaning the house is easier.

(I realize now, this is much funnier in my head than in his head. Sigh.)

When I told people I’m going to meet Tricky tomorrow, many said Oh, poor you, it’ll be so difficult!

Oh, everybody says that.

Why do you have this reputation? Was I lucky today, or what?

I’ve got a bad reputation, totally. But really not deserved. I don’t care, it don’t matter to me, it means nothing.

For instance, I just did a press thing in Berlin. It was really weird, I didn’t know this guy, he comes in, and he was just a dick. Some artists will just go through it because it was a really big magazine. Some artists will go through it because they don’t want to have a bad relation, because it’s good business or whatever.

I just said to the guy from K7 (NB Tricky’s label)

Tell that fucking idiot to get out of here!

Not very diplomatic! 😛

No. I’m not very good at being diplomatic!

I won’t even talk to him – and he can hear me, he’s standing there… then my manager talked to the press guy and he said

He’s known to be arrogant!

Why I get a bad rep is, if you’re a dick with me, instead of sitting through it, I fuck you off. I will just say…

Leave! I won’t talk to you!

That’s the reputation that goes around, it’s not the ones when I’m nice! The only time I’m difficult is if someone’s difficult with me. That’s it.

If you’re nice to me, I’m a super nice guy. I’m very chilled out. But everybody thinks I’m going to be… and my music as well! Everybody thinks I’m going to be all dark. And I’m really quite silly. I’m clumsy, I’m always joking around, I like getting into the maddest crazy things. There’s nothing dark and mysterious, I’m a very normal dude.

Do you know what I mean? I don’t go out, I don’t go out to clubs. I go for walks. I’ve got a mountain bike…

But you used to go to clubs?

Yeah, I used to. I go to clubs sometimes now, when I’m on tour, but I live a very boring life. People have a vision about how artists live…

Not boring, for sure!

People would think an artist lives a certain way. But I go to bed at eleven o’clock at night! I’m in bed at ten, watching fucking Netflix, YouTube, listening to music or whatever. Very simple. I like cooking, I like going to the supermarket, buying ingredients, walking around, choosing my food, cooking, and going to sleep. I’m a very normal person. Very.

A little bit crazy though. I can be a little bit crazy, yeah.

I even had a little statement prepared – just in case you were a dick to me! I have it written here…

What were you going to say?

(I pompously read from my scrap of paper) “You once said, about live shows, that it is supposed to be a two-way thing, so if the audience doesn’t give anything back, then the show can’t be good”.

And I wanted to say It is the same for interviews! Two-way!!

That would have been a good point!!

On some strange level I’m a bit pissed that I couldn’t use it. So thank you for letting me read it.

Then my time is over and Tricky asks if I’m happy with the material I have. I thoughtlessly go Umm… so he gives me his telephone number to follow up the next day while he will be sitting in a bus travelling to Italy.

Then we hugged good-bye. Yes, I hugged Tricky!!

So much for the difficult interview!! <3

Epilogue:

I was left with one little question mark in my head… why was Tricky pissed at Prague? After the interview I had a long chat with Tricky’s tour manager and understood better.

He told me that the concert in Prague, the day before Vienna, was packed. But the crowd was somehow lost in their artificial mood and more interested in partying by themselves than interacting with the show on stage. This is the reason why Tricky was a bit annoyed.

Funny, how we always think that the audience is the only one that reviews the show and marks it with a good or bad note. I realized that artists do the same, and maybe a concert that was outstanding for the spectators, was not thrilling at all for the artist. Or the other way around.

Well, Vienna was packed too, sold out! And the crowd was fantastic – two-way!!

Written by Monica Mel

Global Rockstar magazine editor

261 posts