Tricky Makes Imperfect Music For Imperfect People

Despite boasting collaborations with Alanis Morrissette, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ed Kowalczyk from Live and Cyndi Lauper, Tricky’s Blowback failed to live up to the hype in 2001. Tricky released the critically panned Vulnerable on Epitaph in 2003 and left the label because it didn’t have much of a UK presence. He eventually signed to Domino, the label that broke Arctic Monkeys. Tricky’s eighth solo album, Knowle West Boy, was released last month in the UK and will arrive on US shores next month. The album doesn’t have a duet with Alanis, and the Peppers can’t be found either—in fact, it’s filled with collaborations with newcomers you’ve never heard of. But if you ask me, the album is his best effort since 1995’s Maxinquaye.

I interviewed Tricky—who now divides his time between LA and London—in July. Previously, I had met him at a bizarre lunch in a South Beach hotel before he dropped Blowback, and later interviewed him at his home in New Jersey, where I met his extended family. It was a rather surreal experience, one that I’ll never forget. Even though Tricky didn’t remember meeting me, I wasn’t hurt. But the one thing I did notice was that this time around he didn’t have a posse or cell phone that was ringing off the hook. The Tricky I met a few weeks ago seemed far more grounded; I like the 2008 incarnation much better.

“What the press says about me is disposable. When the magazine is faded and gone, my music will still be here.”

When I asked him what other journalists were saying about his new album, Tricky told me that he doesn’t care what critics say about his music (“What the press says about me is disposable. When the magazine is faded and gone, my music will still be here.”), and said fans around the world keep him going.

Why does he reckon his blend of trip-hop, rock, ska and pop has touched so many? “I share my mistakes. Some things I shouldn’t have released. Now if you look at music [today] it’s perfect—the videos are perfect, the people are perfect, the songs are perfect ‘til the end, the visuals are glossy, and everything is mixed so well. I put out demos. We’re not perfect as people, and I put out my mistakes and blemishes and things some artists wouldn’t want to show about themselves. We all want to be perceived as being cool, especially for musicians. I’m clumsy. I bump into things. I have bad relationships with girls. I’m not totally honest sometimes. I think people see that in my music as imperfect music for imperfect people. I think they like the fact that I put my warts and scars out there.”

In addition to his music, Tricky launched an Internet label called Brown Punk with music industry icon Chris Blackwell. He’s also helping to get a nonprofit in England get off the ground with John Stokes, the mentor who he credits as helping him discover music at a local youth club in Bristol.

Tricky told me a story about a gig in Canada or maybe in America (he couldn’t remember). He was hanging out at his merchandise booth before a show and a guy walked up to Tricky and told him that his parents played his music for him while he was in a coma. Tricky took a drag from his spliff and his eyes widened in a this-is-so-amazing way. “I realized that this is why I’m in it,” he said. In Philadelphia (it was definitely Philadelphia), a woman who said she was a nurse gave something to his drummer to sign. “She told him they played my music in a children’s burn unit. If I can touch a few souls, everything else…. There’s not a lot I like about myself, but that’s the only pure part of me—to get into people’s souls.”

A full interview with Tricky appears in Issue 23.

Darren Ressler