This seems to be a year of rebirth for the original Bristol, England trip hop triumvirate: Portishead delivered a fine record, Massive Attack directed this summer’s Meltdown festival in the UK, and now Tricky has released his eighth album, Knowle West Boy. Former Massive Attacker Tricky is best known for his paranoia-drenched, open-ended raps on the stunning 1995 masterpiece Maxinquaye, as well as working with Björk and popping up as a bad guy in sci-fi movie The Fifth Element. With Knowle West Boy, Tricky revisits his Bristol youth – in a sleazy kaleidoscope of roughhouse electro, reggae, dancehall, punk and aggro hip hop. We spoke with him by phone as he ate dinner in St Petersburg, Russia.
The new album shows a bit of the two-tone-era influence – The Specials, ska filtered through punk. Was that something you grew up with?
I used to dress like that, walk like that. That was everything for us. It was more than just music for us; it was a lifestyle. And it caught me at a point when there wasn’t a lot for you in England. We were living for the factories, and it was something we all related to. All we had was the dressing, the music, the clubs. That was our lives, really. Almost like the hip hop movement.
You had the suits and accessories?
I used to wear the Sta-Prest trousers, button-down shirt.
You don’t wear those anymore, do you?
I still do, actually. I still wear the bracers. I still rock it.
Chris Blackwell, the Island Records founder, served as your advisor. What has he helped you figure out?
He told me once, ‘If you’re on the stage in front of 200,000 people and you’re not having a good show, walk off.’
And have you done that?
Only a couple of times – when it’s unbearable.
This new record is the first since 2003. What’s been going on in between?
It was 9/11 that kinda took me out of my stride. I was in a stride of doing an album, tour, album… I was supposed to fly to London to record an album, then do a European tour, then record an album. And then [September 11] happened. I had to move from New York to LA. I got stuck there.
Did living in New York and LA bring different influences and sounds compared to living in Bristol or London?
No, I’m a bedroom artist. I do everything in my little room. I could be anywhere, unless I go somewhere totally foreign. I’m in St Petersburg at the moment. I’ve got a girl speaking on [a track] yesterday in Russian, and I’ll probably use that, put that to music. So unless I’m somewhere where it’s a totally different world, it’s just me, you know?
So your next track might have a Russian, post-Cold War theme to it?
Yeah, and she’s a good-looking girl.
Well, that’s always inspirational.
I just ate a hot pepper. Sorry, mate.
John Dugan. Knowle West Boy is available at www.warchildmusic.com