Tricky may still be a West Knowles boy at heart but Doug Johnstone finds him to be a genial, musical adventurer grown older, wiser, funnier and smarter.
Tricky is difficult and moody, right? That’s the perception of the Bristol-born rapper that still persists, 14 years after he was launched into the nation’s musical consciousness with his startling, groundbreaking and bestselling debut, Maxinquaye.
Well over a decade and eight albums later, the musician born as Adrian Thawes still carries that reputation before him. So who the hell is this funny and chatty guy chortling throatily down the phone?
‘I take no notice of the press when they say I’m dark,’ he says in a thick West Country accent unaffected by years living in the States. ‘People who meet me on the street don’t see me as dark, that’s what’s important. When journalists meet me they go, “Woah, you’re a nice guy, you’re not moody.” I don’t know what they expect. I just did a radio show in Dublin and the DJ was shocked because we were having a laugh together.’
Some of that misrepresentation no doubt comes from early interviews in which Tricky was admittedly confused and tetchy about his sudden rise to fame. Over the years the man has mellowed considerably, although his music remains undeniably dark and twisted, as his latest album Knowle West Boy testifies. A confident mash up of everything he’s done before, it’s one of his finest releases, its title a tribute to the area of Bristol where he grew up.
‘Hopefully there’s something for everybody on this one,’ he says. ‘I did it almost like a mixtape or CD, like for a friend, that’s how I wanted it to sound, with a huge variety of stuff on there.’
Tricky is now living in London, having spent several years in New York and then Los Angeles, where the album was recorded after some abortive early sessions in the UK. Ending up in the City of Angels for six months, Tricky was itching to leave.
‘LA is good but very dangerous,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to be smart with where you’re going and stuff. It’s a good place, but you’ve got to watch yourself there.’
He found himself there in the first place at the behest of film and TV über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
‘He’s a really good guy,’ says Tricky. ‘He’s a real music fan rather than a business guy, so he was easy to work with. I did some soundtrack stuff, but I told him at the start I didn’t know how to make music to visuals. He said to just bring him ten pieces of music and we sat down and decided what was any good.’
When pushed on what exactly he worked on, Tricky becomes amusingly vague and confused.
‘Er, a film called Bad Company, I think, maybe some CSI stuff … and a few other movies I can’t even remember the names of.’
Knowle West Boy is released by Domino Recordings, who usually deliver spiky indie à la Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys – not an obvious musical home for Tricky but a kindred spirit in terms of independent attitude. In the meantime, he’s co-running his own label, Brown Punk, with former Island head honcho Chris Blackwell, and has made a movie of the same name, which he describes through more laughter as ‘basically Spinal Tap, but not funny’.
Difficult and moody? Try funny and creative. That about covers it.
The Arches, Glasgow, Thu 19 Feb.