Tricky on “ununiform”

Gender Flex

Nov 15, 2017 Issue #62 - Julien Baker Bookmark and Share


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Tricky looks like he's carved out of teak wood, his visible body parts scribbled with tattoos. He cuts an incongruous figure in Berlin, his home of the last two years. Once he starts holding forth about his adopted city, however, it sounds like he's getting paid by the Berlin tourist board. It would seem that the Bristol, U.K. native has finally found the place in the world that works best for him. Living in London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and now Berlin has done nothing to temper Tricky's West Country accent, which is as pronounced as it has ever been. He fluctuates between not speaking for long stretches of time to talking nonstop.

What many don't realize is how musically active Tricky is. From when he first came into the public's consciousness as a revolving member of Massive Attack in 1991, and later with his groundbreaking debut album, Maxinquaye in 1995, he has released 13 albums under the name Tricky. The latest is ununiform, on which Tricky's signature darkness, paranoia, shuddering rhythms, and singular spine tingling whispering rapping style-highlighted on the emotionally wrenching ballad, "The Only Way"remains as identifiable as ever.

"I don't see any darkness or paranoia," he says flatly. "But Björk did say to me once, 'Never take a singing lesson.' She said it was because I have weird [timing] and melodies. It makes my voice stand out because there isn't anything like it."

It is the female vocalists who bring the emotional relief on ununiform. Most notably, Tricky's original cohort (and the mother of his eldest child) Martina Topley-Bird on the juxtaposing dark and light "When We Die" and another former girlfriend, Asia Argento, on the intimate and revealing duet "Wait For Signal." As has always been the case with Tricky, the male and female roles are reversed in the delivery.

"It's obvious for the girl to be singing the nice words," he says. "I don't want to go down that route. I like hearing women singing my words. It's a compliment. The first time I heard Shara Nelson from Massive Attack sing my lyrics, it made me feel like I'm not just a rapper, I'm a poet or a lyric writer. Their melodies slightly change from my melody, almost bringing a magic to it. It takes it somewhere else."

Even all this time later, it is hard to articulate exactly what it is that Tricky does. Whatever it is, it is always unmistakably him. "I don't have anything in my head," he says of his working process. "I never get writer's block. I go into my studio and I have no idea what I'm going to do. I don't want to confine myself to any idea. What if that idea doesn't work? Where do you go from there? If I go in with no idea of what I'm doing, anything that happens is a blessing.

"Traditional musicians have rules. They can play everything, but they're more confined than they know. If I have a live musician on one of my songs, it's only cool if they don't think about what they're doing too much. There are a lot of mistakes in my music. My music is not music you can correct. You have to go in with that attitude. Things aren't perfect, and I don't mind that."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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