Tricky: Real Gone Kid

Having built up a head of steam during his absence from the music scene in the last five years, <b>Tricky</b> returns with a daring new record and talks to <b>Dave Kerr</b> about reclaiming his youth, the real problem behind gang culture, and why he can't work with Bernard Butler

Feature by Dave Kerr | 30 Jul 2008

He was trouble as a young ‘un; did time in the slammer for committing 'forgery of the crown', bounced back to carve his own niche with 1995’s seminal Maxinquaye and still had a minute to anger Gary Oldman when he ate a Twix with his back to the camera as they shot The Fifth Element. Growing up with the nickname Tricky Kid, it’s no secret that Adrian Thawes endured more grit and glory than most do in their adolescent years. Entirely in tandem with the subject matter of new album Knowle West Boy, we find the polymorphous Bristolian vagabond in retrospective mode.

“When you’re a kid it’s all a good laugh,” Tricky reflects. “But I found the transition from Wild Bunch to Massive Attack hard. From writing lyrics for no reason - where you’ve got one or two chances to get it right live - to going in the studio and working an hour on one vocal. I found that a hard transition; me and 3D doing the vocal over and over again. We’d work all night on them and end up using the first vocals we ever did! That stuff I couldn’t get into.”

With old acquaintances on his lips, Portishead back to their jaw dropping best and Massive Attack’s overdue studio return mooted for release in a matter of months, it seems mandatory to ask whether Tricky gives any credence to the perceived reprisal of ‘the Bristol sound’.

“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.” Yet this didn't deter him from sampling Portishead classic Roads on Council Estate, Knowle West Boy's lead single.

No bonhomie in the Bristol set then, and Tricky’s ties with Massive Attack might be long severed, but he talks emphatically about an undiminished love for his early influences. “Polly Harvey still inspires me, lyrically, and people like Rakim and Public Enemy. I don’t listen to a lot of new music. The last album I bought was the Kaiser Chiefs for that one single [Ruby] and there was nothing else on the album! I find with a lot of new albums, they write two singles and then it’s over.”

Having flitted between New York and Los Angeles as part of a self-imposed exile for much of his adult life thus far, Tricky suddenly found himself at the centre of homeland affairs again when he recently remarked that hip-hop should be held accountable for the UK’s gun and knife pandemic. “Nah, I didn’t really say that, see. I did an interview with Uncut; some editor took the lines and made it sound like that,” he shrugs. Broaching the subject now, he’s quick to clarify that the villain’s not Fiddy or the beef culture he perpetuates, but Maggie and the mess she left.

“Margaret Thatcher’s fucked everything up and no one’s made it better, everyone since has put a band aid over it. The [Government] keep talking about asbos, knife culture, gun culture; there’s a really simple solution; you’ve got to get the kids when they’re young. Instead of building an opera house for so many million pounds, and building the millennium dome – I mean what the fuck is that thing doing there? 50 million pounds and there’s nothing there, put that money into schools.”

I mention the amount paid by taxpayers on the ‘architectural marvel’ that is the Scottish Parliament, and the fact that syringes still litter the streets nearby. Tricky hits the roof.

“Unbelievable. £400 million? See, they don’t give a fuck. Basically, you need rich and poor. You’ve got to have communality, you’ve got to pay judges, policemen, insurance companies, locksmiths; without crime these people cannot exist and they cannot have a good life. So what [the Government] does is set up a social security – or dole - which isn’t really enough to get by, you need to have another hustle, you have to sell a bit of weed and do a bit of this or that. No government wants a place free of crime; it’s like the CIA bringing coke into the ghetto. The first time crack was ever in America: that was the CIA boys. It’s the age old story, the government might complain about knife crime, but they don’t want to do anything about it because there isn’t any where they live.”

Tricky’s own extracurricular endeavours have proven more fruitful than any Harlem crack deal and his recording sabbatical since 2003’s Vulnerable shouldn’t be mistaken for thumb twiddling. Apart from putting score work together for Jerry Bruckheimer, there’s a film on the way to document the genesis of his record label, both called Brown Punk. “It’s kind of like Spinal Tap and The Office but not funny,” he deadpans. “Well, not as funny. You don’t know what you’re watching; whether it’s a movie, a documentary, and it’s just about me trying to set up a label; what I’m willing to do to make it happen, what artists are willing to do to get their music out, just struggling.”

Knowle West Boy itself proved to be no exemption from struggle as Tricky breached his usual comfort zone by forging an ill-fated production partnership which ultimately meant he had to re-record the album. “I was working with [ex-Suede guitarist] Bernard Butler,” he explains. “I was like ‘Right, this is the first time I’m going to let someone co-produce,’ but the guy’s shit, he’s got no clue! So I just took it home and re-did it all, protected some of my songs.”

Somewhere, 3D and Brett Anderson must be feeling some empathy.

Knowle West Boy is out now via Domino.

Tricky plays The Arches, Glasgow on 19 Feb, 2009.