“I’m English property again…” Tricky talks about his new album and much more…
The maverick, renegade, and musical visionary that is Tricky has been responsible for some of the defining moments in British music over the last two decades. Five years since his last offering, his new album Knowle West Boy is a triumphant return, a diverse LP that veers from bar room blues one minute to rampant punk the next, with pit stops in the darker realms Tricky is more commonly known to inhabit. We managed to hook up with the Bristolian for a lengthy chat that belied his prickly reputation and found him an open, insightful and engaging interviewee, happy to talk about everything from his experiences in film, to the artists on his new label, to how he rates his own work, to knife crime in Britain…
Endclub.com: Many people have said that they think Knowle West Boy is the best Tricky album in years. How would you personally compare it to previous works?
Tricky: Well, it’s less dark. But writers are bound to say that. It’s like, if you do something that doesn’t sound as dark, people say it’s your best stuff. I mean I could’ve done this album any time, I could’ve done it after Maxinquaye, I just didn’t choose to. If they hear something that’s dark, they think it’s not as good, so I think it’s just like, a really obvious thing to say, you know what I mean? I’ll just get a bit more radio play on this one… I think when they say better, it just means more accessible.
Endclub.com: So what do you think constitutes a better album?
Tricky: Well I think if it was down to better, 'Vulnerable' and 'Blowback' were better. It’s less obvious, but it’s new music, and on 'Vulnerable' and 'Blowback' there’s new music on there, do you know what I mean? It’s stuff you’ve never heard. There’s stuff like that on this album, it’s just a bit more obvious. So I would just say it’s more accessible, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best. I like things like 'Blowback', albums where you hear stuff and you’re like "I’ve never heard anything like that before."
Endclub.com: You worked with Switch on a couple of the tracks on the new album, how did you find working with him and how did the hook up come about?
Tricky: Well I didn’t really work with him, he just mixed. To be honest with you, he did a bit of co-production, more sound-tech. He’s got a good mixing sound, but I’m not really a fan of his music – it’s not really my stuff. I’ve never really been into house music as such, there’s only a few artists that I’ve ever really listened to, and to me some of Switch’s stuff sounds quite generic, just a breakbeat with lots of house sounds and lots of big noise. I don’t rate it to be honest with you, but as a mixer he’s great.
Endclub.com: So what kind of stuff are you into then?
Tricky: Loads of different stuff. I really like MGMT, they’re really good. I like Be Your Own Pet, she writes some good songs, but most of the time I listen to old stuff, you know? The Specials, Rakim, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Public Enemy.
Endclub.com: There are quite a few different vocalists performing on the album, all of whom are new or as yet unrecognised talent. Were you not tempted to draft in any ‘big name’ vocalists?
Tricky: A lot of these people are around me and are friends. I always work at home – I don’t like commercial studios, there’s no vibe in them – so if I’m hanging out at my house, I usually know a singer or a friend who plays an instrument, so I just call up and say “Do you want to come round and do this vocal for me?” So it’s a lot easier than working with artists where you have to go through their managers and schedules and all that shit. I got so many talented people around me that it’s just easier to use them.
Endclub.com: Do you think it’s also a more creative way to work?
Tricky: Yeah because when you’re working with someone who’s got a name brand it’s like they know you’re making an album, this way it’s more like you’re just vibing, almost like the soundsystem days. You put on a track, give someone some lyrics and a vocal and they just run away with it, it’s just more of an instant vibe.
Endclub.com: A few of the vocalists you were working with are signed to the record company you launched last year, Brown Punk Records. What inspired you to launch the label?
Tricky: Me and Chris Blackwell were sat down discussing an internet thing I’d started with Emily Taylor, and Chris said “What’s it called?” I told him Brown Punk and he said “Let’s do a label.” He really liked the name. So we started signing artists and stuff, and then we did a movie for the label, which has got the artists featuring in the movie playing themselves.
Endclub.com: So did you write and direct the movie?
Tricky: Yeah I directed it. We had put out a compilation album, so I took twelve tracks, and wrote the movie around the lyrics of the songs, so the lyrics are part of the narrative. It’s basically like Spinal Tap, but not that funny. You think you’re watching a documentary but you’re not, there’s lots of fictional stuff in there too… you kind of go back and forth, like, is this real? Is this not real?
Endclub.com: How did you find directing?
Tricky: I had the best fun! To watch other people do their thing… as a musician the camera’s on you, the mic’s in your hand, you’re in the studio, the TV camera is on you, so being behind the scenes and watching other people show their talent was just really incredible. People think they can’t act, a lot of the people didn’t want to be in it but I had to persuade them. Sometimes people say they haven’t got talent for music or for acting, and then you just see them do some brilliant, genius things. It was so nice sitting back and letting people do their thing, I really enjoyed it. And the thing is, them not wanting to do it gives a nervous edge to the movie. Persuading people to do it and then seeing them do it so well was great, really great.
Endclub.com: So is the directing something you’d like to do more of in the future?
Tricky: Yeah, do you know what, Chris wants me to do part two of this movie, so we’re going to get on that at the beginning of next year.
Endclub.com: What about scoring movies, is that something that interests you?
Tricky: I find it quite boring. I write music through instinct, I’m not very good at planning. You have to watch the movie over and over, and actually write music while you’re watching visuals, which seems weird to me. So not really, not unless I could work in the same way as I did with Jerry Bruckheimer. He basically said to me, go and do me 20 one minute tracks, and then he chose the stuff he wanted. So if I could do it like that, yeah, but not if I had to sit in front of a TV and watch the visuals over and over again. It’s too much like maths. I really respect the guys who can do it, but it’s just not my thing.
Endclub.com: Going back to the label, what’s the vibe musically of your artists?
Tricky: Alex Mills’s stuff, we actually have to go back again with her. Basically we had six demos which were really wicked. One of them reminded me of ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, but a bit more ghetto. But after ‘Puppet Toy’, she went in and changed the whole album to make it sound bluesy, and it didn’t really work for her. After ‘Puppet Toy’ she’s thinking that’s the best way, so she’s tried to kind of do what I’m doing and it doesn’t sound right so we’ve got to take it back again and not let her forget the old songs. What I really like about her is that I’ve never really worked with a soul singer as such, because it’s like second hand emotions. But she manages to sound authentic, which a lot of young artists can’t do anymore. I love her vibe, she’s like a throwback.
Endclub.com: So you’ve spent some years living in LA and New York, are you back in Britain now?
Tricky: I was in New York for ten years, and LA for seven, but I’ve just moved back to London…
Endclub.com: How are you finding getting back into British life, does it feel any different from when you left?
Tricky: It feels different but it’s great. It feels more European to me, it’s funny. LA’s a bit isolated, I like the fact that I can be in Paris in two hours on the train and stuff like that, so I’m enjoying being back here. But all the bloody knife crime and all that stuff you hear about all the time gets a bit fucking tedious, you know what I mean?
Endclub.com: Yeah, what's your opinion on it all?
Tricky: I think instead of spending all this money on CCTV cameras, they should put the money into youth centres, base it around music, sports, art, after school education. You’ve got to get the kids young. It’s Gordon Brown, and the Conservatives, I don’t understand how it’s not plainly obvious to them. If you’ve got a group of kids, I don’t care where they’re from – whether they’re from Knightsbridge or Brixton – hanging out nine or ten kids together with nothing to do, they’re going to get in trouble. I used to get into a lot of trouble, and then the youth club got a set of turntables, as soon as we got those turntables my life changed. That was it, as soon as I got into music I never got into trouble again, so I think it’s obvious what needs to be done. These kids are bored, they haven’t got no money, it’s really expensive to live in England now, there’s kids giving birth to kids… You’ve got to get into schools, I think musicians and artists should be doing more, going round to schools. If someone sees me on TV it looks like a million miles away, but I come from the same place. So if I go into a school and talk to kids, they can go “Fucking hell, he’s just like me, I can do this”. When they can see you in the flesh and meet you, they can see it’s not impossible. I think people just have to take responsibility.
Endclub.com: Do you think things are worse now than when you were growing up in Knowle West?
Tricky: I think so, because the kids are full on now. In my day kids might have a fight, but the serious stuff was done over money, now kids will stab you over an argument. There’s always been stabbings and shootings, but it was over something. Shootings and stabbings were usually based around criminal activities, now you can get stabbed up just for fucking looking at someone wrong. I’m not saying it’s right, but you can understand why violence would be around drug dealing and money, because it’s business. But now it’s got nothing to do with business. The other day I was walking through Westminster, and there were two kids, one about ten one about eighteen, and they were following me for my phone. And I don’t look like the guy to rob!
Endclub.com: What did you say to them?
Tricky: I just turned round and said “What are you doing?!” And they just stopped and started talking amongst themselves, one started punching his fist into his palm like he’s a tough guy, and I just find that ridiculous. I had a vest on, and all my tattoos out, not the kind of guy to rob, obviously they don’t care. When I was growing up, even if an older guy was an idiot, you respected him, because he was older. Now these kids don’t respect anything! When I was 14, if a man was 30 I’d give him respect, because my grandmother taught me to respect your elders; that was a very big thing in my family. These kids don’t fear anything, they don’t respect anything. They’re not scared of the police and they’re not scared of prison, so I think it’s a lot harder.
Endclub.com: Apart from that though it’s good being back in Britain?!
Tricky: Yeah, ha ha, real good.
Endclub.com: So, musically, do you still feel despite living in America for so long you can still connect with people here?
Tricky: Yeah, yeah, it’s funny, being back with the new album out as well, I’ve been walking round and scaffolders are shouting “Tricky!”, and taxi drivers, and there’s kids coming out of school and going “eh you're Tricky aint you?” and I’m like “yeah, totally”. I think what happened after the first album, I moved, and I was totally disconnected. Already, with this album, I’m English again, and guys are shouting out of car windows, and girls, it’s almost like I’m English property again which feels really great.
Endclub.com: Final question, you’re playing a special gig at the Barbican later in the summer, what can we expect from the new live show?
Tricky: A lot of energy. I’ve got more comfortable in myself so it’s more of a performance without the bullshit, a lot of energy, and not so shy on stage now. And big, it verges on the rock anthem kind of thing!