Read the unedited transcript of Mark Fisher's interview with Tricky
The Wire: The big theme on the record seems to be return – return to your past, return to Britain, return to your background...
Tricky: It’s not just return. When I was at school, there was one certain teacher who said, when you go for a job, as soon as you put your postcode down and they know you’re from Knowle West, you ain’t gonna get the job. So lie, if you’re going to fill in your application forms, lie. Calling it Knowle West Boy, one of the reasons is ... it’s like “Council Estate” the chorus, people think I’m famous now, that I’m a successful musician. But when I grew up in Knowle West, it ain’t as if someone all of a sudden sprinkled me with success dust. I must be the same person. So it’s like, if you’re coming from Knowle West, or Southmead or wherever, you can do what I’m doing or whatever. So basically it’s a return, but it’s almost trying to say... Teachers used to tell me I wouldn’t amount to much, it’s just to say that some good stuff can come out of Knowle West, and where I come from, if you work hard enough and do the right things, success is out there for you.
The Wire: So it’s return as revenge and vindication?
Tricky: Yeah, and saying I’m so proud to be a Knowle Wester. There are generations of families there, a very old school mentality. When I was growing up, you could ride around on bikes all night, without fear of paedophiles of being abducted. There wasn’t any rape in my community because families controlled the community, so if you done certain things, you’d have to answer to certain people. So it was a really safe place to grow up in. There doesn’t seem to be much community left any more. It was a community then. I was always in my friends’ house, my friends were always in my house. My grandmother knew my friend’s grandmother. Generations, there was that kind of community, which England’s lacking a bit now.
The Wire: Has a lot of this come back to you from being in America?
Yeah, and coming back to Bristol and missing the community vibe, and going back to Knowle West, and things have changed. It’s almost like it’s the end of an era. This is to remind me of the good stuff. I’ve got a picture of my uncle and my granddad on the back of the CD and it’s like those days are over. I was lucky enough, that until I was about 12 or 13 my grandmother’s mother was alive. We used to go there. I could visit anyone in the family in ten minutes. I could walk to school, I could walk to my grandmother’s, but as people get older they have their own families, things split up.
The Wire: ‘Superstar’ seems to be an important word for you – you used it in “Tricky Kid” and you used it in “Council Estate”...
Tricky: Yeah, because it’s such a stupid word in a way. Say, for artists like Pharrell, I’m not really into his thing, so I can’t say whether he’s talented or not. His whole thing, and Justin Timberlake, is more than their music. I think there’s something wrong there. What used to happen is that you make an album, and if you’re album’s successful, fame is almost part of the game. You don’t want the fame, that’s business. Right now, I think people are more interested in being famous than making a good album. When I was starting off, I just wanted to make a good album, I wanted to make something that no-one’s ever heard before, I wasn’t interested in anything else. If I had to take pictures, that was business, and it ain’t hard work. But I’m not gonna have a persona, I’m not gonna have secondhand emotions in a music video. You know, it’s all secondhand emotions. You see these people singing and dancing and I think it all comes along with the superstar quality, you have to look a certain way, you have to act a certain way. I was watching a Pharrell and Justin Timberlake video two days ago, it’s just ridiculous. C’mon man, I’m forty years old, I can’t see through that? And it ain’t an industry of just twelve year old girls. So you’re looking in the camera being sexy. Marvin Gaye was a good looking, sexy man but women found him sexy. He didn’t pull faces on stage and like get dressed up so it's like 'yo, I’m a sexy beast', women just liked him. It’s like Clint Eastwood, women just liked him but now it's like the facial expressions, it's just all real fake and for 12 year old girls. Actually, my daughter is 13 and she don’t like none of that shit.
The Wire: You’ve said that you can’t make your music without women – why is that?
Tricky: My lyrics are written from a female perspective a lot of the time, like “Puppy Toy”, like a man-female. If you think about “Broken Homes”, it almost could be written by a woman. This is gonna sound stupid, one day I was in LA and some guy sat next to me and said, I feel you have two souls. I thought the guy was crazy but I find out he is a famous comedian Robin Williams ripped off, can’t remember his name. So I go and see him in the Comedy Factory, whatever it is and he’s like, I just can’t explain it and, where are your parents? And I said my mum committed suicide, he goes, ahh that’s it. My first lyric ever on a song was “your eyes resemble mine, you’ll see as no others can”. I didn’t have any kids then – Maisie wasn’t born – so what am I talking about? Who am I talking about? My mother. My mother, I found out when I was making a documentary, used to write poetry but in her time she couldn’t have done anything with that, there wasn’t any opportunity. It’s almost like she killed herself to give me the opportunity, my lyrics. I can never understand why I write as a female, I think I’ve got my mum’s talent, I’m her vehicle. So I need a woman to sing that.
The Wire: You’ve said that you find lyrics quite easy to write...
Tricky: Yeah they just come to me off the top of my head. One
day I was in New York. I came out of the Tai Chi place and there
was a bus and I see a girl’s profile and she took her hair and
tucked it behind her ears, I’ve seen that a million times, but I
was like wow so straight away I took that and used that image. It
just come from one word, noticing something or saying something. I
was in a studio in LA and this guy’s friend who died choking on
steak and I’m like, that is fucked up wrong breath at the wrong
time and I’m like wow, we all say hundreds of great things a day
but we don’t notice them. Basically I observe, I listen, I watch if
I’ve got one line like ‘tuck your hair behind your ears’, the song
is written. All I’ve gotta do is remember that and the songs
written, I might not write it for a year, one lyric and I write the
song in like 20 minutes.
The Wire: Do you write lyrics without music then?
Tricky: Alone a lot of the time, sometimes from music, but a lot alone. I start from one word like ‘tuck your hair behind your ears’ I have to write that by itself, cause if I try and get a melody to it I lose the contents of the lyrics so if I take that ‘tuck your hair behind your ears’ and start writing that to music its gonna change, but if I’m doing ‘tuck your hair behind your ears’ all I’ve got to do is rhyme, then the melody can fall in afterwards.
The Wire: Religion is a subject you’ve kept returning to in your lyrics...
Tricky: I don’t know why cause I’m not religious at all, I think its just the image we grew up with, you’re plastered with it. I used to love the biblical films when I was a kid, I’m not at all religious but I used to love watching those films. I think he’s a fascinating guy, interesting, and like I don’t know whether it's all true or not but there is something, I don’t know there is something bred into me through films, pictures.
The Wire: Was there any religion in your family background?
Tricky: None whatsoever, not one religious person in my family. Not one. I can’t think of one.
The Wire: Where did “Cross To Bear” on the new album come from?
Tricky: The Passion Of the Christ, the scene where he doesn’t want to die. I just took that one scene and thought it was interesting the fact that Jesus doesn’t want to die, he don’t wanna do this, he wants to have kids, you were brought up thinking he went to the cross, like ‘take me to the cross, nail me on the cross’, he must have had fear he must have thought ‘fuck this I just wanna have kids, I don’t wanna die’ it was basically about that, about him wanting to stay with his woman, and his father saying 'nah, you gotta do this' and him saying 'nah, I don’t care, that is you not me, I can’t do this for you'.
The Wire: Once again, it’s sung by a woman...
Tricky: Yeah, I like putting women in a male role, have the woman play the strength and the man be the weak. I was brought up, one of my uncles was in jail for 30 years and the other for 15 years. I didn’t see my Dad, I was brought up by my grandmother and my auntie so I’ve seen my grandmother fight in the street. I’ve seen my auntie and my grandmother have fistfights, I’ve seen my grandmother grab my Auntie’s arm and close it in the door and break her arm fighting over meat. So I see women as tough. They fed me, they clothed me, my grandmother taught me to steal, my auntie taught me to fight, she sent me to boxing when I was 15. For instance, if men go to war you stand in one field, I stand in another, we shoot each other, but what’s the hardest? When you are at home and you gotta listen to kids cry and you gotta feed em. That’s tough, I’ve seen no men around. I’ve seen my uncle go jail for seven years, then 10 years my other uncle, my Dad never rang. Women keep it together, keep the food on the table, defend us, defend the children, like if anyone fucked with us they would be down the school, I’ve never seen men do that for me, I’ve never seen men there for me like that. All I know is women.
The Wire: Why did The Specials mean so much to you?
I grew up in a white ghetto. My Dad’s Jamaican, my grandmother is white. When I was growing up, until I was about 16, everything was normal. When I moved to an ethnic ghetto I had friends there and my friends would say, why do you hang out with those skinhead guys, the white guys? And my skinhead friends were like, why you hanging out with those black guys? I couldn’t get it, I couldn’t understand it. Things started to change for me when I was about 16, I just couldn’t understand, I could always go to both worlds, I could go to a reggae club and then a white club and not even notice it cause my family is all different colours, different shades. So at Christmas, you got a white person, black person, African looking person, Asian looking person. We didn’t notice it, my family are colour blind. But all of a sudden things started moving around, learning bad habits, people whispering to you like, why you hanging around with those white guys? These are kids I grew up with since five years old, the guys I grew up with saying, why you hanging out with those black guys? Then I see The Specials on TV, then I was like now I get it. I was at home watching TV and see these white and black guys getting together and was like that was it.
The Wire: You’ve said that you wanted to go back to your early influences on Knowle West Boy – The Specials and also Blondie and The Banshees.
Tricky: If you listen to those songs now, Blondie, “Heart of Glass”, the lyrical content, it actually means something. Now I don’t hear great songs. People seem to think I’m anti-pop or Mr Darkness. Nah, I love pop. Blondie, that’s pop music, Buzzcocks, that’s pop music, The Specials, but it’s real pop music. I haven’t got anything against pop music or commercial music but I don’t think people write it as good as Blondie did. The Cure were the last great pop band I think. You get bands around now that think they are The Cure and they’re not as good, they haven’t got lyrical content.
I’ve got influences but I can’t do an album as good as The Specials so I have to do my thing. A lot of artists now... indie music hasn’t grown since Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. You got Oasis tried to be The Beatles and kids then trying to be Oasis, it just gets weaker and weaker and weaker. It's like Liam from Oasis to me, is like Shaun Ryder crossed with Stone Roses, Shaun Ryder’s attitude and The Stone Roses vocal vibe. It's getting weaker and weaker, same with Urban music, weak copy of the American, like do a video in London in swimming pool in Chelsea and have loads of girls and it's cloudy, you’re not in LA, you can see it's not LA. I don’t know much about Dizzee Rascal, but I see a video one time of a London cab, black cab, that’s what we know about. I don’t know his music at all but I thought his video was really interesting, the fact he did it with a black cab. It’s like, say with my album now, one of the reasons this album is like it is because whether people like it or not there is nothing like it in the music industry, it's an individual album, it’s a good time for musicians, if you do yourself and be true to yourself you are going to stick out like a sore thumb, and you’ve got everything to gain cause there is nothing out there.
If I turned up today in a pair of tight jeans, hush puppies, a shirt, I’d have looked like an indie kid, if I turned up with baseball cap, trainers. I’m not part of anything, I’m me, I like hiphop, I like indie music, I grew up through all of that so its like all I can do is represent myself and trying to be part of anything right now its all been done before unless you’re going to be a punk rocker, a mod, or a rudeboy it ain’t worth it. It's basically about being an individual, it’s a very good time to make individualist music and to grow, you’ve got the internet, myspace, all this, you can do what you want now. Artists have lost their punk rock. They’ve lost their fuck you, when I first started, it was like Maxinquaye was a benchmark of groundbreaking, that was my fuck you to the world, there’s nothing like that in the world, I was like fuck you, I was like punk rock.
Now it’s the fame game, kids are more interested in being on the front cover of the magazine than doing a good album. It’s about success, we are bred by success by all this Pop Idol and all this stupid shit, all we think now is success. Success has got nothing to do with happiness. It’s like making a record, if you sell 30,000 records of your album, the fact that you have done an album and the fact that you have got it out there to 30,000 people is fucking great. It’s great, being on the front cover of a magazine, that’s business, its good business, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that you’ve got the album done – you’re successful, you are already successful.
One time I was in Canada, and this guy came up to me, I was just
stood by the merch, talking to my t-shirt guy, the guy come over to
me and goes, I was in a coma, and my mother and father played my
music to me and I was in a coma for 2 weeks. And I said, I don’t
know what to say. If I can do that once a year. There was a burns
unit in Philadelphia, where they play my music to the kids, if I
can do stuff like that – I’m very successful.
The Wire: Many of your songs sound dream-like. Do they actually come from dreams?
Tricky: I’m a dreamer, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t play anything but the stuff starts off on keyboard, and then I look at it and write one thing, then I press another, then I take a bit of rizla and put it on there to remember which one it was and then find another sound, those sounds I do one finger. It’s like meditation, speaking in tongues. My grandmother used to keep my at home because my step-grandfather used to be out working and she used to watch all these black and white horror movies, vampire movies and it was like growing up in a movie and she used to sit me in the middle of the floor, because she lost my mum, her daughter. She’d be playing Billie Holiday, smoking a cigarette and would say things like, you look like your mum, watching me, I was always my mum’s ghost. I grew up in a dreamlike state and my uncle was a well-known criminal like movie/gangster, I’ve seen my uncle in the local papers and stuff. One time I’ve seen a suicide off an NCP car park and the police took me down to see what I saw and the next day in the Evening Post there was my name in there. I woke up and it was on the fridge, my grandmother had put it on the fridge like I was famous.
The Wire: Then there was that Rosemary’s Baby thing...
Tricky: I saw that when I was a kid and I was watching it and it was like, “and he shall be called Adrian” and I was like fuck – I’m the devil. I always thought where does my name come from? Adrian. My name is Adrian Nicholas Matthews Thaws, there is no-one in my family named like I’m named so where the fuck does my mother get that name from?
The Wire: Did you use a group on the new record?
Tricky: I had two different bass players, just people who were around at the time. I never really arrange things, I’d be at my house recording and think, this song needs a bass, call a friend, this guy Poncho, can you come round in 20 minutes? It was all done through, not arrangements, friends. I know someone who can play bass, or sing, or play guitar, I’m not fussy cause I got a lot of melodies in my head so if you don’t gimmee what I want I’ll get it off of you. As long as you can play. Timing. If you are around and can play guitar, I don’t need a famous guitarist, just someone who can play to get the melodies out of my head. If you can play you can come on my records.
The Wire: “Bacative” really sounds like Roxy Music’s “The Bogus Man”. Was that deliberate?
Tricky: I do like Roxy music, but I’ve never been able to copy anything like that. I found out that I can for the first time this year but the trouble is when you rip something off, you sound generic. “Council Estate”, when I first did that you could have named the song from The Specials it come from – “Concrete Jungle”. I was like I like it, but it sounds like The Specials so I took it and redid it, kept the vocals and made it into me. The Roxy Music thing I never had a clue. I like it cause if I wanna sound like someone, Roxy music is good people.
I’m a punk rocker at heart, when I do an album its not so much whether people like it, I want it to be different and like nothing out there. Punk rock attitude wasn’t just about spitting on people in the crowd, it was about being different, being individual, not being part of the rat race.
The Wire: How is your label, Brown Punk, going?
Tricky: It’s going real good. We are just doing our distribution deals now. I had to do a movie, I directed a movie for the label, we found about 12 different artists, got their deals done, me and Chris Blackwell and this girl, Emily Taylor. So we are just starting to do the distribution, end of this year we should have a compilation out and a movie. Chris wanted me to do a documentary about Brown Punk and I chose 12 tracks of different artists and that was going to be our first release, a compilation album. Then I was listening to it in bed one day and I always think visually, when I listen to music I always get visuals, and then I said to Chris, for this money we could do a movie. So I took the lyrics of the songs and wrote a movie, took 12 songs and wrote the movie around the songs. I listened to them every night and wrote how it made my feel, made it into a synopsis, and we made the film in London, Manchester, Bristol, LA and Scotland.
The Wire: You’ve been living in LA for the past few years?
Tricky: I thought I was living in New York forever. It’s the
only place I’ve ever been, where as soon as I’ve flown in, I think
I’m home, I never felt that even in Bristol. I was in LA for four
weeks with Jerry Bruckheimer. Four weeks turned into two months and
then I was supposed to tour Europe and go back to New York, then
9/11 happened and I was stuck in a hotel. I couldn’t get hold of
anyone on the phone for three days then someone told me that it’s
fucked here, it’s not good. Two months later one of my friends
said, stay in LA, it’s still fucked here, there are soldiers
everywhere. Five months went by and my manager said, you’ve been in
a hotel room for five months, get an apartment until you get back
to New York. Three years had gone, I never went back to New York.
I’m gonna move back to the UK – it’s time to move back now. I need
to put some roots in and I don’t think I can do that in America.
I’m not American. I want to live somewhere in Europe. It’s a good
time to be European at the moment. It’s easy travelling. LA is
hard. Six hours to New York and I’m still in America. It makes you
lazy, you don’t wanna do a 12 hour flight, LA is isolated.
The Wire: Who was “Council Estate” aimed at? Who were the people saying you wouldn’t succeed? Teachers?
Tricky: I had some good teachers, the press – no, it’s the police, the powers that be. Same thing with all this ASBO thing. What have kids got to do except hang out? No youth clubs, kids hanging out on the streets are called ASBOs. The government, press, people who have no real knowledge of the world. Judges, magistrates. I’ve seen a judge put a pregnant woman with two kids in prison. She was in court before me, she couldn’t pay her fine, he still put her in jail. He doesn’t get it, what it is like to struggle. These people are the ones that call us council estate, say we are destined for prison, can’t get jobs. To an extent there is a truth to it. If I go to a school and it’s all magistrates, judges and lawyers’ sons, I’m going to become a lawyer. If I’ve got no money and I grow up around villains and that’s the only way to get money, I’m going to become a villain. That’s not bad or good person, that’s opportunity, one person had an opportunity, the other didn’t. The powers that be, Tony Blair, they haven’t got a clue. They don’t get what's going on. For people to live here, others have to live here. If you don’t keep me hungry and I don’t have to break the law, how do you pay for judges, police, locksmiths, insurance? Breaking into a house or car = locksmiths, insurance, it's all making money off me. The longer I’m in prison, you’re making more money. Modern day slavery, instead of slaves, they turn them into criminals.
“Council Estate” is the first single I’ve done a vocal by myself, it’s unusual. I get a lot from my fanbase, use your vocals more. But the women thing is really important to me, like I was saying about my mother. My mother used to write poetry and I didn’t find out until they did a documentary about me. I was watching it then I see my auntie read my mum’s poetry. I call my auntie and say I didn’t know my mum did any of this and in her time. I’ve been writing lyrics from a baby since I was a baby, 5-6 years of age and I don’t know where that comes from. My first single “Aftermath”, that’s someone who has gone and left and had children. I was having a Tarot card reading from my auntie Sandy, I’d had Aftermath written for about eight months I had it on a cassette and she goes in the Tarot, you’re going to be very successful and its got something to do with eyes and I think my auntie is crazy, off her head. The first words of my first single “your eyes resemble mine”.
The Wire: Mark Stewart helped you out with “Aftermath”...
Tricky: Mark Stewart got me the studio. I used to hang out in a squat with a group of people and Mark Stewart decided to grab me and hang out with me and say go into the studio. He asked me if I wanted to go in the studio and I said yeah. He just took me down there, for some reason he’s seen something. I was a young kid, he’s the one who pushed me in the studio. I just wanted to smoke weed and go out drinking having fun and chasing girls. For come reason he picked me and said, he was very casual. Mark is a bit crazy the way he says things and said do you make music? I said I’d like to, I’ve got a friend we’ll go in the studio. With my first single I was in a bar with a group of friends and this guy said if you ever need money to do stuff I’ll sort you out. I said I wanted to release a single, give me money to make 500 copies. We went to London give them out to radio stations. Six weeks later I had a record deal, I’ve always been lucky like that.
I met Martina sat on a wall, wrote lyrics there and then and sang it with Martina. I was trying to show her how it was done, we would hold the mike together so she would get the same lyric as me. People said it sounded good so we started doing all the vocals like that. Me trying to go over the melody and words with her. Mark just got on the mike and did rants so I kept some of it in there.
The Wire: You’ve used many different female singers, yet they always sound like you. How does that work?
Tricky: I know what I like, I’ve got the lyrics and the melody I don’t need acrobatics to show me you can sing, I’ve only done that with Alex Mills with the wailing on “Puppy Toy”. All I need is your voice as an instrument, don’t show me you can sing every note in the book just do my melodies and my lyrics so it's still gonna sound like me.