20 Questions With Tricky: The U.K. Icon on His 14th Album, Black Lives Matter & Influencing Billie Eilish

Tricky
Erik Weiss

Tricky

Out today (September 4), Tricky's new album Fall to Pieces is dark, sophisticated, subtle, often sexy, instrumentally eclectic and in possession of a deep well of emotion -- as expressed in both Tricky's vocals, and those from heavily featured Polish singer Marta Złakowska.

What the album isn't is trip-hop, the genre label that's been applied to much of the iconic UK artist's work since his 1995 debut LP, Maxinquaye.

"What's annoying about it is, why do people need labels?" Tricky says on the phone from Berlin, where he now resides. "You can't think further than a label? People say the words 'trip-hop' like they've been told to say it, so it sounds like a sheep to me. It's saying to me that you don't know f--k all about music."

Out via his own False Idols label, Fall to Pieces is Tricky's first full-length album since 2017 and also the first since the death of his daughter Mazy, who took her own life in May of 2019. He seems to acknowledge the situation on the plodding spoken word track "Hate This Pain," on which he states "Baby girl she knew me most; I hate this f--king pain." Meanwhile, BPMs and spirits are higher on the hypnotically pretty  "Fall Please."

Here, Tricky discusses the criminally-minded advice he got from his grandmother, Black Lives Matter and how he kinda, sorta influenced Billie Eilish.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

I'm in Berlin. I'm in my manager's little office. It's like, 27 degrees [Celsius] out. Humid and hot as anything. So I'm looking out of a big window at these trees. It's like this really old cool building. Really nice building.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium? 

That's easy. That is The Specials' album, and that was...oh wait, no no no. That's a lie. The first album I bought was U.T.F.O., a rap album, the one with the "Roxanne, Roxanne." That was the first album I spent my own money on. It was vinyl.

3. You were raised by your grandmother. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from her when you were growing up?

That's an easy one as well. Once I was walking out of the gate, and she used to watch me walk up the road, and for some reason, she goes, "Your problem is that you have a problem with reality. That's your problem." I don't know why she said it. We weren't even talking. She's dead now. I wish I could ask her what she meant.

She did used to teach me loads of good little lessons, like life lessons. She used to tell me "Never tell a policeman your real name." And, you know how you come home from school sometimes in a uniform? I'd try to get out of mine so quick and she always said, "Empty your pockets. If you get into trouble, most people leave something behind, like a school report, so people can find you." Or she said, "Don't leave certain things in the house, because the police will raid you." So, little life lessons like that, that were a bit criminal. And she always said, "Be careful who you have children with."

4. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

That's a difficult one. I would say Prince. Even though he used a lot of live instruments, he had a different sound. You couldn't tell sometimes if it was electronic or if it was live. He had a certain sound about him. I think he manages to cross over, where he doesn't just sound like a live band, the way he writes. So even if it's not electronic -- like for example, "Darling Nikki," that's not electronic, but it could be. Even songs like "Kiss." So I say Prince. All of it. The guy was so unique. Way ahead of his time.

5. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

I bought everything -- that's why I ended up with no money. I bought a house in New Jersey, jewelry. I bought a $5,000 antique chair in Manhattan, because I was looking in this window and it was a vintage African chair and the woman gave me a dirty look, as if to say, "Come on, you can't afford anything in here." And I went and bought it just so I could show her. I bought loads of rubbish. Half the stuff I don't even have anymore.

6. What’s the last song you listened to?

One by Dave East, a New York guy. Really with it. It's a hip-hop song. It's wicked. Wicked. I hear new music by accident. I came across him by accident. I don't know about new music, but do you know about Billie Eilish? I'm not on the Instagram anymore, but when I was on Instagram, like a year and a half ago, a few people tagged me on her page with comments saying, "Sounds like Tricky" and "Basically Tricky." So I went and listened to her, because people kept saying she sounded like me on one of her songs, but I only listened to that one song. So I hear things by accident, usually.

7. Did it sound like you? 

I don't remember the name of the song and it's hard to say, but yeah, it did. It did sound like me, but... no, it did. No disrespect to her at all. She's doing very well. I don't know her music; fair play to her. But it did sound like me, yeah. But she might not even know me.

What I've noticed is, years go past, I've seen artists who've been influenced by me, but they've been influenced by another artist. It's so watered down. They've been influenced by me, but they don't even know I exist, because they've been influenced by another band that sounds like me, so it gets diluted. So some of these people who sound like me may not know me. I've seen certain artists who don't know that they're making my music.

8. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?

The thing is, the place where I grew up is called Knowle West, it's a white ghetto, or was a white ghetto but it's changing. It's different from Bristol. Everyone talks about the sound of Bristol. My cousin, she's got kids with a guy from the Black ghetto area, and when he knew where I was from, because he's been in prisons all around England, he goes "Knowle Westers are always Knowle Westers whatever prison they're in." That, I think, is the best thing about where I'm from. It's not Bristol. It's Knowle West. They're real characters. That's one of the best thing Knowle West gives me. I'm myself wherever I go.

9. So you're still a Knowle Wester?

Definitely. Definitely a Knowle Wester. Last Christmas I was there, and I was in a pub with some guys, some of my old friends and some people I didn't know, and this guy says to my friend, "F--king hell, he's such a Knowle Wester." It's an amazing place with an amazing history as well. When the mines closed down people went there from Wales, Ireland, Scotland for work. My granddad is an American soldier, because there was an American base there, so it's a unique place. You have a lot of people there with American ancestors, because the base was there.

I never met my granddad, because after the war he went back home. All I know is his name was Quay, which is African. I think that name's from Ghana, so he's properly Ghanese, but he was born in and grew up in America, but I don't know where from.

Two Black soldiers got kicked to death outside my great grandmother's house. It's known as a racist place, so even to this day...we were one of the first mixed race families in there. In that area. My mum was half-white and half-Black American, and then her mum was quarter, so it's all mixed. My great great great grandmother is from Cornwall in England, she's a white woman. She married a Jamaican guy who was a sailor -- then my mum's dad is an American soldier, so there was no Black people there.

That's why I think some of my family were quite violent, because they had to grow up in that. Tough times make tough people. It wasn't like that when I grew up. I had it easy there. My uncles did all the work for me before I came along. It was known as a very racist area.

10. But you didn't experience that racism yourself, is what you're saying?

No. Not at all. I didn't experience racism until I got money. I'd go on British Airways with a first class ticket. You know, you go left for first class and right for economy, and I go left and the stewardess goes, "Excuse me, you're going the wrong way," and I was like, "Why?"" And she goes, "Economy is that way." They gave me a bottle of champagne to apologize.

11. Have you felt connected at all to what's happening in the States with the Black Lives Matter movement?

To me it's all about divide and rule. Empires have been using that tactic for hundreds of years -- divide people by ethnicity, religion and they're easier to control. I don't take any notice of it to be honest with you, because I just think it's divide and rule.

12. What's the first show that really blew your mind?

The first show I went to that blew my mind was Lee "Scratch" Perry. It was in New York when I used to live in New York. I saw him in a small little club. I didn't understand what he was doing, and then all of the sudden I was watching him and I realized he was just way ahead of me and everything clicked in. He was playing this keyboard that you kind of blow into, and when he started playing it didn't make no sense, and then it just all of the sudden kicked in. It was mind-blowing.

Tool as well. When I toured with Tool years ago I went out front to watch it, and it was just like, "Whoa." it was intense. Intense.

13. What is the first thing you do when you get back to your hotel room after a show?

If I'm not drunk, I just go to bed. But sometimes it's hard not to drink on tour -- it really is, because of boredom. Touring, you're waiting for that one and a half hours you go on, and all day is just based around that show, so it's boring. So sometimes if I'm drunk, I'll be going out and I won't get to the hotel.

But otherwise if I'm not drinking, I think a tour is actually a real downer. When you do a show and go back to the show, it's slightly depressing. You go back into the real world really quick when you're in a crappy hotel, even if you're in a good hotel.

[So to fight that depression] I train. I have a trainer. So on my rider I have a boxing coach, or a Muay Thai coach, or a so and so coach. And then I cook because I take hot plates with me. So I cook and I train. And write lyrics.

14. You released your autobiography, Hell Is Round the Corner, last year. What was the hardest thing about writing a book?

I was talking to my friend Whitley, right, and I did a little trailer for the book. I wanted to do a music trailer for the book because I haven't seen that before. So I did a little trailer and sent it to Whitley, and he watched it once, and then he watched it again with a few drinks, and he was depressed, like, "Oh my god, that's our lives in two minutes. Gone like that." I can't watch the trailer now -- because it is our lives in two minutes. Things go so quick.

Writing it wasn't hard, but I'm telling stories in there when Whitley and I were 15 years of age. Now I'm 52. It seems like yesterday, and we both remember exactly how we felt in that moment. So it wasn't hard writing it, it's hard thinking about it -- like, where does life go?

15. I was going to ask how you celebrated after it was done, but it sounds like it wasn't like that?

I didn't celebrate it. I wrote it and it was done. I don't know how it's doing now. I don't know if it's selling. I don't know if it's come out in new territories. I don't know what is going on with it. For me, it's done. Last thing I heard was a release for America, but I can't see how that's going to do any good. In the moment, with what's going on in America, do you want a book on your coffee table with the title Hell Is Around the Corner? Do you want to get up and look at that every day? Maybe it will get better when Kanye West is president. [Laughs.]

16. Would you vote for Kanye?

I have no comment.

17. Do you feel connected to the label "trip-hop"?

No. It's so ridiculous. I'm sure there is a thing called trip-hop, probably, but I've done 14 albums and not one of them sounds the same, so how I can I be a part of that movement? What I know of trip-hop, it all sounds the same. It sounds like hip-hop, with different elements. So I can't see how I could be connected to that at all, to be honest with you, because all of my music sounds different, and nothing in my music could be considered trip-hop really.

18. Do you feel connected to modern electronic music culture?

What I feel closer to musically -- even though our music is nothing similar -- is Lee "Scratch" Perry. Because even though his music is reggae, he's got an aura... I've just done a song with him and his voice is... it makes no sense but makes all the sense in the world. Some people might think he's a strange guy.

I think that's for me as well. Some people will hear my music and think I'm strange or I'm weird, but it's just different. Even though our music is nothing alike, I can see we're both different, in a time when most things are the same. All music has morphed into each other, so everything sounds the same to me now.

19. What does success for Fall to Pieces look like for you?

Success is a weird thing, because success has nothing to do with happiness. So success for me with it is, going on tour and recording another album. Success is still being able to make music after this many years. I've never really had to have a job. I've done whatever I wanted to. Most artists have to play the game musically, and if not musically, a persona. I don't have to make radio songs, and I don't worry about it. Radio either plays me or it doesn't. I'm lucky that way, I think.

20. One piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

Get therapy. I just started doing therapy like, a year ago, and so I would say get into therapy and sort your mind out. Definitely. Yeah.

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