Photo by Aldo Belmonte

Tricky: “I’m in people’s souls”

Short Profile

Name: Adrian Nicholas Matthews Thaws
DOB: 27 January 1968
Place of birth: Knowle West, Bristol, United Kingdom
Occupation: Musician, rapper

Tricky's new album, Maxinquaye: Reincarnated is out now via Universal/Island Records.

Tricky, would you describe yourself as a reluctant icon?

Yeah, I would say that, definitely. There’s a woman called Florine Delcourt, she’s a French writer, and she recently published a book about me called Tricky: Anti-Star Superstar, and I think that’s pretty true because I really was not expecting to have this kind of success. I was expecting to be an underground kind of producer, an underground artist. I didn’t imagine the kind of success that honestly happened overnight. I did the album, it was a success, people went mad for it, I got famous… And it totally messed up my head, being successful so quick. Martina [Topley-Bird, Tricky’s longtime collaborator and former parnter] tells me that’s when I started to get paranoid.

You didn’t want to be famous?

I just wanted to make something that no one had ever heard! All the music I loved growing up, stuff like Public Enemy, Pixies, Gary Numan, I’d never heard anything like that, that’s always what I’ve been attracted to. So when I left Massive Attack and started working on my first album Maxinquaye, I wanted to make something completely unique and different to what was out there.

“I try not to think about that too much! Thinking too much is the musician’s biggest enemy.”

How did you go about cultivating that unique sound with that record?

You know what? I think it has to do with naivete. I’d recorded this white label version of my track “Aftermath,” that was what started everything. But when we were putting out Maxinquaye on Island Records, I recorded a different version of it with this flute player. When we were going through the piece, the flute player, he said to me, “This is two blues notes next to each other. Musically, that is not correct.” (Laughs) I’m not classically trained, so I didn’t know that. And if I had known that, “Aftermath” would have never happened to begin with. So naivete is definitely helped me out because I might have approached things differently if I’d had that knowledge.

Are you doing something to keep that spirit alive after so many years in the industry? Is it essential to fostering the kind of career you want?

I try not to think about that too much! Thinking too much is the musician’s biggest enemy. I just make an album, and then I choose whatever I want to be its singles, and hopefully the radio plays them. If they don’t, it doesn’t really make any difference to me. My listeners are really supportive either way! The people who listen to my music, I don't see them as fans. I see them as people we have something in common with me. I’m not worried about getting a hit single on an album, or getting on the charts, or having to generate so much money for my label, or selling so many albums… I am not trapped by my success in that way.

What does define success for you then?

I’m aiming for a different thing. Recently when I was on tour, I met this young guy who had been in a coma, and when he was in the hospital, he told me that his family played him my music. In the end, nothing else matters because I’ve been lucky enough to meet people who have told me that my music is affecting them. That’s my end game. It’s incredible to know what these albums mean to people, which is why it’s been great working on the reincarnated version of Maxinquaye this year. I went on a press tour for Maxinquaye: Reincarnated, and it inspired me so much meeting people who love my music, even young people who weren’t even born when the original album came out, who weren’t even born when Nearly God or Blow Back came out. That’s success for me, in terms of my career. I wouldn’t say I’ve had a successful life.

How come?

There’s been so much tragedy, you know, a lot of hard times in my family. I've had a crazy life. Of course I've been able to do what I want to do, I could’ve been working in a factory! I could’ve never traveled anywhere, like my grandmother had never even been on a plane, you know? So yeah, I've got to see the world, I've gotten to meet a lot of good people. But there’s also been a lot of darkness. Martina and I, we lost our daughter and that was the catalyst for a lot of stuff…

“When you record, nothing else really matters. When you’re creating, your mind goes somewhere else, you’re miles away.”

Does music feel like a relief for some of the darkness you’ve gone through?

When you're actually recording? Yeah, it does. Because when you record, nothing else really matters. When you're creating, your mind goes somewhere else, you're miles away, it’s almost like a form of meditation… Writing lyrics, making music, you get lost in what you're doing.

You once said that every time you make an album, you’re fighting against something. Does it ever get scary, the kinds of emotions that can come out when you’re really letting things flow creatively?

No, I would say it’s more on stage where it gets scary. In the studio it's alright. But when you perform the songs, they become what they're about, if you know what I mean? The emotion gets a bit heavy. It gets heavy for me before a show sometimes, I can’t sing, I can’t dance, it just gets so raw, and that can be scary.

Have you ever cried during a show?

Oh, yeah, definitely. It happens quite a bit, just because of those raw emotions. The thing is that even when I’m making a song or writing lyrics, I sometimes don’t even know what it’s really about — I’ll realize later on that this song was about my daughter, this song was about my mum’s suicide, this song is about my grandmother. Sometimes that moment happens on stage, you realize and that’s a big moment. Other times I’ve cried on stage because of the love you get from the crowd. That can be really affecting for me; when people get involved with the performance, they know what you’re about and they understand your music… That can be overwhelming, it just makes me want to cry, knowing that I’m in people’s souls like that.