Photo by Erik Weiss
Tricky Reflects On His Musical Legacy: "No One Sounds Like Me. And I Sound Like No One"
"Hate This Pain," from Tricky's new album Fall To Pieces, may be the most affecting track of his career. Over a repetitive piano loop and Marie-Claire Schlameus' cello, Tricky half whispers lines about his daughter, Mazy Topley-Bird, who died in 2019. "What a f**king game/I hate this f**king pain/Was crying on the coast/Baby girl, she knew me most." Singer Marta Złakowska repeats the chorus, as if trying to lift the song out of Tricky's head. But it's no use; it falls down into his voice again, a grinding cycle of grief.
Topley-Bird's death winds through Fall to Pieces. It's in the dark clatter of "Chills Me to the Bone," the REM-like melancholy burr of "Take Me Shopping," or the wistful drag of "Thinking Of," where Zlakowska sighs, "Goodbye my love/always thinking of." But as much grief as there is in the record, there's also a lot of hope.
Tricky's been making music for more than 25 years, and virtually invented the trip-hop genre on his 1995 debut Maxinquaye. You can still hear his love of creating, as he grabs a Middle Eastern tune for "Running Off," or soars into pure pop bliss on "I'm in the Doorway." In his 2019 autobiography, he said that if he knew the book would end with his daughter's suicide, he wouldn't have started it. But Fall To Pieces, one of the loveliest albums of his career, shows that despite his grief, he didn't stop creating.
Tricky understandably did not want to talk about his daughter for this interview. But he answered other questions about his career, his album and what he plans to do next.
One interesting thing you say in you autobiography is that you hadn't really experienced racism until you became wealthier.
Yeah. Because there's different kinds of racism, right? I experienced racism when I was younger from police in Bristol. But then I've got white friends who also experienced not racism, obviously, but because they are from Norwest, they have a hard time from the police, or they have a hard time, like getting the job because they're from the wrong area. So, classism.
So that's one kind of system of classism and racism. But the first proper racism I had is when I had money. Like, going on British Airways, and I had a first class ticket. And the stewardess said to me, "Excuse me, sir, you're going the wrong way." And I'm like, "Why," and, she goes, "Economy's that way."
Or going into a hotel in Boston, and the guy would open a door for everybody except me. And I have to say to them, "Listen, I'm staying here." I don't care about someone opening the door for me. I don't expect that kind of service. But if that's your job, and you're doing it for everybody. Why aren't you doing it for me?
I experienced racism when I was young. But when I had money I noticed it more.
Have you been thinking about or following the Black Lives Matters protests?
No, I don't watch news and I don't have social media. My manager runs my Instagram and my Facebook.
But to me, it's divide and rule. You've got poor white people who vote for Trump because they feel like things ain't good for them in America. To me, they're being f**ked by the same people you're voting for.
But it's business. You've got to demonize a race of people for other people to feel better about themselves. If I'm poor and white and I can't get a job, it kind of makes you feel better if you hate the n*gger, you feel better about yourself even though you ain't got anything better in your life. You're in the same position as a Black person, you know.
I don't watch the news. I don't do social media or anything. But I don't need the news to tell me what's really going on. I've experienced racism for real, I'm Black. And watching this stuff with the police is too upsetting. I just can't watch it.
Can you talk about your main singer on this album? I'm afraid I'm going mispronounce her name, Marta Złakowska.
I still can't say it! I've been with her two years, and I can't say her last name.
How did you meet her?
Really she's on this record because of a promise. I was touring in Poland. And we did one show. We did a rehearsal with a girl. I can't remember her name now. But we didn't rehearsals and she sounded great in rehearsals. But when it came to the show—not that she didn't sound good. It was just the vibe didn't work.
So I said to the promoter, "Do you know any singers?" And Marta was working in a bar. They knew she was a singer. So she came, and she did one of the songs. So we did it in sound check. And she sounded great. And I'm like, can you learn a couple more today?
Look, looking for a singer live, it's difficult sometimes, you know, I can't be bothered with it. So I said, if you do all this tour for me, then you could come on my album and I don't have to look for a singer. So she ended up touring with me for two years, and now she's on the album. It's all kind of an accident.
What do you like abut her singing?
There's no bullshit about her.
She's from a little place in Poland. She ain't trying to be a superstar. She's just a really down to earth girl. And for me, that's more important because when someone is trying too hard you can hear it, or trying to be someone they're not, you can hear it.
So [she's] just really natural. All she wants to do is sing. If I did a tour next week and it was 10 people, she'd still love it. She isn't doing it to be so-called successful, and that comes across.
I was curious if there are artists you're listening to currently who influenced the record?
No, I'm lucky I don't have to keep up with things, I think it was about two years ago. I heard about Billie Eilish because a couple people kept saying one of her songs sounded like me. The last person I heard was Dave East, a rapper from New York. He has some wicked tracks.
I've always been like that to a certain extent because I come from a subculture. We used to go to illegal reggae parties in houses. When I got into hip-hop, it was underground. So I've always been doing my own thing.
So what are you doing with yourself, since you're not paying attention to media?
I live! I walk, I cook, I'm just living, you know.
The song "I'm in the Doorway" is a really lovely, catchy song. Do you feel like it's a bit of a change from some of your earlier music?
"Fall Please" and "Doorway" are from about 10 years ago, when I was living in Paris. But I didn't put them out because I thought they sounded too poppy. So they're well old.
Even now like a year ago I said to my management, "Come to my house I want to play something." I played [it for] them and they were like, "It's a hit record!" And I was like, "Yeah, that's the problem."
But Rachel my manager kind of explained to me that like, the drums in "Doorway," which I think of as poppy—they're weird. They've still got my vibe, right? She's like, look, someone would want to play this straight away. But it don't sound like a pop song.
So these are the same tracks that you had 10 years ago? Did you rework them?
With "Doorway," nothing's changed except for I think I put a bit of cello on there. And "Fall Please" is the same except for Marta's on that. Originally, that song there was sung by Oh Land, the same girl on "Doorway."
Oh Land must be pleased to have the song finally come out.
It's probably a good thank you because she wanted to do an album with me and then they dropped her. I can't see any other reason why she would have been dropped, because she was doing well until I produced her album.
So you know, she deserves a thank you.
What are you working on next?
I don't understand waiting seven years to bring an album; I'd go nuts. I'm recording constantly. I've got another two albums, waiting to be finished now once I get this album out. They just need a week or so of finishing. It's a difficult thing for me—the waiting.
Your management doesn't want you to put them out right now?
We can't because I've got to promote this album! The mechanics of things don't work out, just throwing music out there.
Has your approach to making music changed? I mean, you've been in the industry a long time now.
No, I don't have to change my approach because I've got my own sound. I'm lucky.
No one sounds like me. And I sound like no one. I think when you have to change your approach is when you don't have your own sound. Then you have to keep reinventing yourself. I don't have to do that because my music sounds strange.