Tricky on Massive Attack, Bjork, Obama and false idols
The trip-hop pioneer opens up to TOM MANN on his brief relationship with Bjork, his record label troubles and why Obama is the devil.
On record Tricky is a man of few words. Since the days of the first Massive Attack albums and his early solo albums he’s been the menacing voice in the corner muttering paranoid thoughts while his (mostly) female collaborators – including Martina Topley-Bird, PJ Harvey and Bjork – have taken centre stage.
On the phone Tricky’s a very different man. In the midst of yet another round of press, for yet another “comeback” album – his tenth record False Idols has just been released – he’s animated, engaging, and totally uncensored. Tricky is holed up in a London hotel room where he’s been watching the rain for days, but with the new album to promote he’s off to “Stockholm or maybe Austria” in the morning. A new album and a new record label equals a busy schedule.
“There’s a lot of kids out there who don’t give a fuck about Tricky and they don’t give a fuck about Massive Attack”
Although his classic 1995 debut Maxinquaye gets all the attention, everything in his prolific ‘90s run – Nearly God, Pre-Millennium Tension, Angels with Dirty Faces and Juxtapose – is well worth investigating. However, for much of the past decade Tricky has been lost in a directionless limbo as his need to push his sound beyond the ghetto of “coffee table” trip-hop led him to some bewildering choices. Teaming up with Red Hot Chili Peppers for a regrettable cover of the Wonder Woman theme song on 2001’s Blowback was just one example of his wavering focus.
For the past decade every Tricky album has been billed as a “comeback” but False Idols really is a return to form and to the sound that made Tricky’s name. Last year Tricky performed Maxinquaye live and he recently recorded new material with his former Massive Attack sparring partners. False Idols continues the ‘90s theme: ‘Nothing’s Changed’ quotes from Pre-Millennium Tension’s ‘Makes Me Wanna Die’ and ‘Valentine’ is a belated “apology” to former partner Bjork. He also tells FL that he wants to carry on his tradition of radically reworded covers with a full album of Kim Deal and Breeders songs.
Not that any of this should suggest that Tricky is in a meekly nostalgic mood. In 20 rapid-fire minutes Tricky sets the record straight on his issues with Massive Attack, Bjork, Obama, his old record label, his former manager, Jesus and pop-stars.
On reuniting with Massive Attack’s 3D and Daddy G:
I lost my temper with him [Robert “3D” Del Naja, aka 3D] within an hour when he was in my house. See, what people don’t realise is that we were never friends. The only reason we were together is because of music. My friends, the people I grew up with, are very different to those guys. Very different. Daddy G and 3D wouldn’t come to my area [Knowle West, Bristol]. I don’t think they’ve ever been to my area. Daddy G, I will put money, if he’s been there it’s once or twice and he was driving through. He’s never been to a pub up there, he’s never hung out up there. It’s impossible he couldn’t hang out up there. It’s too rough for them. I was with people who weren’t really friends [in Massive Attack]. When that happens, when you’re chucked into a close environment with someone who ain’t actually your boys or friends and it’s just a working relationship it’s always going to be difficult.
For instance, I think the tall black guy [Daddy G] is a very arrogant dude. He knows one of my cousins from like three years of age but he’ll walk past my cousin and not say hello – just blank my cousin out – real weird things like that. So I just don’t have respect. So when I was in the studio I had to explain to 3D “I don’t give a fuck what you’ve done or what we’ve done. Tricky, Massive Attack: It means nothing. It’s about where we are now and there’s a lot of kids out there who don’t give a fuck about Tricky and they don’t give a fuck about Massive Attack.” I felt like he needed to realise that.
They’d been kind of sniffing around it for a while; for a couple of years. I’ve always been anti it. Then they contacted me and I said “Alright, let’s try it”. We did some good things, there’s a couple of songs which are OK, which are really good actually to be honest with you. I can’t remember it because it’s so long ago. I couldn’t spend more than two or three days in the studio with them. I could never go back to that band properly because you have to hang out with someone to be in a band and I can’t hang out with them.
Maybe it might get used, I don’t know. It’s a shame really because the people would like to like us to work together. 3D put a picture of me and him in the studio [online] and he got a million hits on his Facebook within an hour or something like that. It’s the biggest thing that they’ve had on their Facebook. It’s a shame, maybe they might use it. Another thing is that they take too long to do stuff, thinking and planning. I’m not a thinker and planner I just kind of jump in there. It might get used – if it is it’s two or three tracks – but no way could there be a whole album with those guys.
On “comeback” albums:
It’s weird, I don’t know what it is, I haven’t been anywhere. Every time I do an album it’s a comeback for some reason. With Maxinquaye, for instance, it’s not just how big a record is, it’s time and place. For instance, last night I went to see this band play right and there was this guy who kept looking at me and giggling. I pulled him to the side and said “Excuse me my friend are you laughing at me? Are you being stupid with me? Because I’m not really into you taking the piss out of me.” He was nervous; Maxinquaye was the soundtrack to his youth. How can you beat that? People have always been saying it’s a comeback but I really haven’t been anywhere.
On performing Maxinquaye in full last year:
To be honest with you it was someone else’s idea and I was in a situation where I was being sued for a lot of money. I should have just dealt with it in a different way it was a quick way of getting cash to get this guy off my back. I wouldn’t have done it that way I would have rather just paid the guy, right, but my manager at the time (who I don’t work with now) he said it was a quick way of paying off this guy. All I know is about music, business I don’t really think about, you know?
I sometimes don’t have time to think about things. All I want to do is be in the studio and do shows. I could be on tour and just getting off stage and you phone me “We should do this blah blah bah” and I’ll go “alright” and then totally forget that I’ve committed to it. If you’re a good manager (it’s my fault really) but I expect them to have a good point of view as well but this guy didn’t and it was a big mistake. I never had time to see that it was a mistake until I walked on stage. As soon as I walked on stage I realised that this manager took me back 15 years and not in a good way. He fucked me up really to be honest with you. It’s not his fault, he wasn’t doing it maliciously, but it was just a very bad idea.
On False Idols:
I think that people can probably feel that this [ False Idols ] is more me, than say my last two albums for instance. This is more my vibe. Not that the last two albums were bad but they were not my thing. They weren’t what I’m known for. It think it’s good to come out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself as an artist but this album is more my thing.
I think it was because I had no one looking over my shoulder so it was just easy because I didn’t have to think. I wasn’t recording demos thinking about Laurence [Bell, Domino Records]. I was more relaxed, more comfortable, less stressed. Just me using my natural instinct, rather than thinking. It was just really simple, this album, because it’s all about me and what I wanted to do. I didn’t have to think, “Well he’s going to be over in a few weeks and he’s gonna want to hear what I’m doing, then I’m going to have to get permission” … everything was a struggle. I was left to my own devices and that kinda put me back to where I was.
On False Idols collaborator Francesca Belmont:
She’d done a rehearsal that I’d seen that was just like wow. Incredible. She’s an old soul. We got her out singing live and she’s been recording with me ever since. She’s just a rare talent. I don’t understand young girls doing soul music or music what’s come before them, obviously you can be influenced, but a young girl trying to sound like Billie Holiday or do a jazz standard doesn’t really work for me. There’s not many people who can do that. Sade is one, she can do that, but there’s not many out there. It sounds like second-hand emotions. Fran is influenced by blues and jazz but she takes her influences and turns it into something else.
On False Idols collaborator Pete Silberman from The Antlers:
I met him at a festival. [The Antlers] were having trouble with a coffee machine so I went over and helped them out and we started talking. I was really impressed with how normal they were, how down to earth they were. That was very impressive to me. That is more impressive than talent; someone who is doing well but still has their feet on the ground. Just being normal and not being a dick, not playing “popstar”. Just being a normal person is very impressive to me.
On his last two albums 2008’s Knowle West Boy and 2010’s Mixed Race:
I wasn’t “compromised” but I was being watched. For instance, I would record demo tracks then the owner of Domino would come and come over to Paris [where he lives now] and to listen to everything and tell me whether I’m ready to mix. My whole vide was, “How would this guy who’s never made a record, he’s just a company owner, how would he know if I’m ready to mix?” It was like doing homework and then showing it to your teacher to get permission to go to the next level.
I was all about doing it really fast. Getting it over and done with. I work fast anyway but it was like, “Get it done, get it out.” This one song from those albums, which got lost in the shuffle: ‘Bristol to London’. That is new hip-hop, new urban music. I think that should have been massive. We did ‘Murder Weapon’ [the lead single from 2010’s Mixed Race ] at a show, we did it for about 30 seconds, but it was just not good. It didn’t seem real. After playing the new stuff ‘Murder Weapon’ just didn’t feel real. A lot of that stuff just ain’t really me to be honest with you.
On his troubled relationship with Domino Records:
There are certain people like [Island Records founder] Chris Blackwell who can tell me cause he’s done it. He’s sat in a studio; he can have an opinion. But Laurence Bell from Domino – he’s a good guy, a very nice man – but there’s no way he can have an opinion. But he did have an opinion when he doesn’t know nothing about music. He’s a very good businessman, and he’s got a very good label, but he knows jack about music. He knows what he likes and what he don’t like but you can’t critique someone like me, for instance, I’ve been doing it too long. When I was doing demos I knew I had to deal with this guy, it was always in the back of my mind, so those albums weren’t fun at all. I had to go along with the game and I had to be positive with the album. “Yeah, I’m in good form and I feel good” but that wasn’t really the truth of it. I was really getting to dislike the dude our relationship was getting worse and more and more strained and then I got lucky because they dropped me.
“I got lucky because they dropped me”
My relationship with him [Laurence] was getting worse and worse and worse. I don’t think he liked me and I didn’t like him. I’m not into the game thing. For instance I’ve been doing this press saying this stuff in England and he heard about it. I’m not saying anything bad about him, I’m just being honest. He texted me saying “I love the new album blah blah blah kiss Laurence” (Not kiss, you know an “x”.) To me that’s just taking the piss right. I never had a problem about being dropped I wanted to get off the label. I worked with for two, three years but the guy never sent an email saying, “Hey, it was good to work with you, good to meet you.” Now he’s texting me saying my new album’s fantastic. Dealing with someone like that and doing music for someone like that … Music is a love thing; I had no love for him at all. I just didn’t understand his character and I didn’t understand who he was. Our relationship was just rubbish.
On his relationship with Bjork:
I wasn’t good in that relationship [Tricky and Bjork dated briefly in the mid-1990s]. I wasn’t good for Bjork. I wasn’t healthy for her. I feel she was really good to me, she gave me a lot of love and she really was a good person to me. I think she cared about me, right? By sampling that [Chet Baker’s ‘My Funny Valentine’ on False Idols ‘Valentine’] is me trying to give something back to her good. I wasn’t a good boyfriend. This is my way of giving something back to her. I haven’t talked to her in years, I haven’t seen her for many years. I hope she hears it and she finds the song beautiful cause I don’t think she could see anything beautiful when I was with her – there was nothing beautiful in my way of dealing with her. So it’s almost like me trying to be nice to her, which I didn’t do. Showing love, which I didn’t do back then.
On joining Beyonce on stage at Glastonbury:
That’s so perverse. The biggest artist in the world asking me to go on stage with her; that’s kind of perverse because I’m just so opposite to that. I’m not in that popstar lifestyle. When I was living in America I was on Hollywood Records and the A&R woman – one of the coolest women ever – when I used to walk in there with shopping bags she’d go, “Let me take that, you don’t need to be seen carrying that.” I’ve had people say to me, “Wow, it’s Tricky and you’re in the supermarket. What are you doing n a supermarket?” What do they expect me to do? Hover over the supermarket in a spaceship and then get my groceries to come up through the roof? I live a very normal life. I go and buy my own food, I cook my own food. If I need something from the shop I walk to get it.
So I just thought it was very perverse to be on stage with her. It’s one of those things – I’m not a Beyonce fan, I don’t really know much about her music – but she’s a very nice lady though. It’s one of those lifetime experiences, it’s like … mega. Mega. In front of a hundred thousand people there’s something perverse about it. So I just had to do it. I was just really surprised that they asked me to be honest with you I was shocked, I would have thought that they’d have gone for a more commercial English artist. I was very surprised that they even considered me.
On his political inspirations:
Obama has been a big inspiration for [ False Idols ] because he’s such a liar. That guy is so much more dangerous than Bush; Bush was just obvious we could see through him. But Obama has promised change and Americans really want change. It’s not good over there. People are desperately needing change especially the black community and the ethnic communities. This guy has gone and used the word “change” and just manipulated, with the media, “change, change” so you think you’re getting change. And because he’s black you really think you’re getting change; it’s a deception … His policies are the same as Bush. And he’s got the same people running the show as Bush. The same people who controlled Bush control Obama. So he’s been a big inspiration because he’s such a devil.
“Obama is an inspiration because he’s such a devil”
[Jesus] is another major false idol. Maybe it’s good for some people, they change their life and see god. I don’t know, there’s so many wonderful things in the world to see rather than looking for this fictional character. False idols come from way back in the Egyptian days. It’s a way to control people and medicate the masses. You control their lives by giving them false idols, false gods. We’ve had all the pagan gods and Jesus, now it’s becoming musicians and actors. I think Jesus is one of the biggest false idols.
On what makes him happy:
Simple stuff like going to the shop, buying food and cooking it. Being in the studio. Talking to my family. Very simple. I’m a very, very simple guy. Extremely simple. I’ve been talking to a girl on the phone; she’s got this boyfriend and they’re always doing something. He’s really a good boyfriend. I said to her, “If you were with me you’d be bored to death.” I don’t do anything. I might go out and have a drink sometimes but I’m really a quite simple guy. Simple, borderline boring. Smoking a spliff and then having a coffee outside somewhere and just watching people by myself, that I love. Stuff like that.
False Idols is out now through Tricky’s False Idols label and K7!.