Thirty years and ten albums into the game, trip-hop originator Tricky shows no sign of slowing down. His upcoming record Adrian Thaws, titled after his birth name, contains all the trademarks we’ve come to expect from a prime Tricky release (moody, downtempo beats, cooing female vocals) with a significant twist. The album presents a jarring mix of club-ready bass thump, screeching UK garage, and leftfield rap aggro alongside Tricky’s codeine-slow R&B, that perfectly complements its intense political message. Righteous anger permeates the record, with blistering attacks on social inequality and gun crime assailing the listener on its most heavy tracks. This is Tricky at his most outraged, yet also his most tender. Collaborators like future bass weirdo Tirzah and Irish vocalist Francesca Belmonte add an ethereal sweetness to what would otherwise be an unremitting listening experience. We sat down with Tricky for a sweeping discussion about this chimera of an album, music industry nihilism, and why he doesn’t call himself a trip-hop artist.
What made you use your own name as the title of the album? Is it a more personal record than your previous ones?
It’s not really personal. My first album was Maxinquaye, my mum’s name, and I’ve come almost full circle since then. I thought Domino Records was the right place for me but as time went on it wasn’t working out. Now with my own label, I don’t have to answer to anybody. I do my records, mix when I want to mix, I don’t have to ask permission to mix and all that rubbish. I had to play demos to people when I was on Domino. So it’s about finally sorting out years of bad management. An artist is better having no manager at all than a bad one causing damage. Now I’m more comfortable and sorted my head out. Finding the right people around me and signing the deal with !K7 has made my music stronger, so I thought now was the perfect time to call it Adrian Thaws.
So it’s more about being comfortable in your personal situation, then?
Because I got a record deal when I was fairly young I didn’t have to work on myself. I went to number three on the charts in England with my first album so I’ve never really had to have a job. I’ve had things quite easy from when I was twenty-seven so I’ve never really looked at myself, but, now that I have, my music is getting stronger. I think musicians more than anybody really need to look at themselves because we have so much space and free time to do what we want. You’ve got to be more disciplined as a musician. Fame causes mental illness, it’s proven. I was just watching music TV, flipping channels, and it’s all secondhand emotion. They’re not really being them; they’re playing a character. Where does that character stop? Losing your humility is one of the worst things that can happen to you. You can have the most successful career but if you’re an idiot you’re an idiot. I’m not insecure. I don’t need fame to make me feel better about myself. I just want to make music.
For me, one of the most striking lines from the album is “we need a positive revolution.” Was that a direct response to these changes?
Definitely! Scarface used to be my favorite film of all time. Al Pacino was my favorite actor of all time. And now I notice that ten years ago, hanging out with Al Pacino would’ve been cool as fuck, because what he did in Scarface was the best acting performance ever. But now Al Pacino has nothing to say. If he does an interview, he talks about acting. Now we’ve got a lot of shit going on, so I don’t really respect anybody who hasn’t got anything to say. Al Pacino used to be one of my heroes. Now my heroes are Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. Ten years ago I’d have loved to meet Al Pacino. Now I’d love to get a coffee with Lyndon LaRouche so he can educate me about humanity, about how things work. My whole perspective has changed now. We have too many problems for someone to sit back and be famous. Say something, do something.
Is that why you chose to work with Bella Gotti? She definitely delivers strong messages about inequality on the album.
She’s very tough and she’s had a bit of a fucked up life. This is gonna help her. She’s got a name in England but she’s not surviving off of her art. If I can help her do that by putting her on my record, I’m happy. She’s just the best female rapper in England, better than most men to be honest, and she’s still talking about things that are relevant. A lot of her songs are ghetto but they’re still positive. She talks about gun crime and it’s gangsta but in a positive way. Ghetto kids can relate to it but she’s telling them that life they’re living ain’t good. She’s got a good strong message, sometimes.
Francesca Belmonte has a similar message on Lonnie Listen when she sings “my kids are hungry and I ain’t got shit.”
That’s from an old Jamaican ragga song. That’s what I’m on now. The music industry is so ‘me, me, me,’ ‘money, money, money, money.’ I don’t how you can be like that. I was in Greece a few months back doing a show, and outside the club we were playing in, there was a guy with the contents of home right there. How can that not affect you? How can you just be ‘me, me, me, me’? But I think things are starting to change. People are not stupid, so I think they’ll get fed up of that pop bullshit. Those musicians are playing characters and they don’t give a fuck about you. Artists like Miley Cyrus are just an ATM card. This girl’s generating huge amounts of money but what’s that got to do with the music? If you wanna touch people’s souls, you have to take control of your career. But if you wanna just be rich and famous, just do a Miley Cyrus. Hopefully things will change and people will start seeing through it.
Do you think you’d have been able to release a political song like “My Palestine Girl” when you were signed to a major?
Nah. I either wouldn’t be able to do it or I wouldn’t want to do it. Some of these huge artists love their fame and they love their money, so if it comes to a choice between fame and money or giving out a message they’re gonna choose fame and money. I wonder if Miley Cyrus or Jay Z could get away with that. I’d say they’d be advised against it: “You don’t want to be talking about Palestine, it might hurt your record sales.” The record companies just wouldn’t promote it. So I think it’s about control and personal choice. Take the Pharrell song “Happy.” I’ve never met him, he might be a great guy, but “Happy”? Happy about fucking what? I go on YouTube and see kids dying or starving. What the fuck am I happy about? But that song is the biggest record he’s ever done, and that’s his personal choice. I hope he’s happy, but that’s not for me.
What would you say the message of Adrian Thaws is?
I’d like to really see a better world. I’ve given up weed and smoke cigarettes, so “Nicotine Love,” for instance, says that even with my bad habits, I still bring love. I can be moody, people say my music’s dark, but I still bring love and I’d like to see better things for people. I’m in this nice hotel, but around the corner you see people begging for money. You’re not human if you don’t feel something. I get guilty sometimes. Going back to Bristol I see people I know struggling still and going in and out of prison. So my message is there’s them and us. You’ve got the oligarchy, the elite with money, and then there’s us. I’m into human rights. I’m about love, really.
Few of your fellow trip-hop artists from the ‘90s are still around. Why have you endured?
I’m not a trip-hop artist. I’m just an artist. I’m not involved in any genre. People say I created trip-hop. If that’s true then let those people go on and make trip-hop. I’m the creator but that’s where it ends. I’m still there because I never got involved. You can’t follow something; you’ve to find your own sound. It’s like being influenced. If I say I love ‘60s music but can’t make it my own, what’s the point? That’s why I like Francesca. She takes something from the past and brings it to the future. You can be involved in a movement but you have to create your own sound.
Adrian Thaws hits stores on September 8. Photograph by Paige Silveria