Music is all about geography, and it tends to be pretty obvious about it. In Nashville, for example, you can almost hear country jams waft up from the dusty shuffle of an old pair of cowboy boots. In Los Angeles, you can see the reflection of radio pop in the shiny smattering of gloss across a Hollywood doll's lips. And in the '90s in the soggy U.K. town of Bristol--which birthed acts like Massive Attack, Roni Size, and Tricky--you could hear trip-hop in the rain that fell from nearly always sullen skies. A heady but streetwise combo of spacy electronica, subtle hip-hop beats, and whispered rhymes, the icy down-tempo sound ruled the cool-record-store stereos, movie soundtracks, and chill-room turntables for the middle part of the decade. You couldn't mention trip-hop without Tricky.
Known as first as the vocalist behind Massive Attack's best tracks ("Karmacoma," "Daydreaming") and later for delivering album after album of his gruff, thought-provoking poetry on solo projects (Maxinquaye, Pre-Millennium Tension), Tricky took a five-year hiatus and now finds himself in his 40s and wincing in the spotlight with the release of Knowle West Boy (Domino). And as it turns out, Tricky is all about geography, too: He's turned into a bit of a vagabond in his mature years. The self-described gypsy moved from Bristol to New York to, oddly, Los Angeles, which would be sort of like if Dracula moved to Barbados. It's a strange home for this gangly loner attached to a sound that tends to be much more gloomy and intricate than L.A. might know how to accommodate.
Burning with questions, City Pages tracked down Tricky (known as Adrian only to his family) via telephone before his upcoming stop in Minneapolis and got him on the record about what he's been up to and where he's going next. Perhaps he'll settle in the Twin Cities for a while after his Fine Line gig--but something about what he says first makes us think that's an unlikely scenario:
Tricky: Is it freezing cold out there?
CP: Yes, it's like -20.
Tricky: Are you joking? Will it be that cold when we get there? I better get my thermals out for this. I need vests and underwear.
CP: Yep. So where are you calling from today?
Tricky: We're in Glasgow, Scotland.
CP:Heard you're leaving L.A.
Tricky: I've left it but with nowhere to go, kind of. Usually when I stay somewhere, I end up there. Now i just wait and I end up somewhere eventually. I've got all my stuff in storage. I'm a bit of a gypsy but I don't mind it.
CP: I don't think a lot of people can live that lifestyle, but it seems you'd end up learning a lot.
Tricky: Yeah, When I was in New York, I loved it--I really felt like it was my home. I'd end up driving across the Brooklyn Bridge and would be like, 'WOW! Look at that!' After six years, I didn't even look out the window. When I was living in L.A., I would be like, 'Wow, there are palm trees outside my house,' and now I don't even notice. You stay somewhere too long sometimes and your eyes close. I love being a stranger.
CP: Did you--"The Dark Prince"--really ever feel at home in Los Angeles?
Tricky: I felt welcomed in L.A. but didn't feel like it was my home. I was going out with a French girl at the time and that's why I went out there. But it's really a lonely place, L.A. You're either in clubs, restaurants, in the car, or at home. It's hard if you get sucked into the lifestyle. You can go out every night in L.A. Every night. Same 400 people that all go out to the same clubs everywhere. It takes all your energy.
CP: So you have a new album out--the first one in five years since all of this traveling. It seems you really need to listen to a Tricky album many, many times before you can really peg it down, and I love that--but this one really came across right away as more aggressive.
Tricky: I think you're right--it has a bit more attitude while some of my other albums are more ambiguous. This one was more in your face, more like, 'Here I am, listen to me!' It's not so spaced out.
CP: You've made so many albums--what will you remember about this one?
Tricky: I really realized how much I love being in the studio. I really, really love it.
CP: The title Knowle West Boy has a lot of people intrigued about where you come from. If you could compare Knowle West to any U.S. city or neighborhood, which would it be?
Tricky: It would be like Hells Kitchen in New York; it's prominently white ghetto, lots of generations of families. My one grandmother lived 10 minutes walk away from the other, and I could visit my whole family in 30 minutes.
CP: Lots of crime?
Tricky: Some top villains come from Knowle West. A friend of my family, Willie Lomax, got shot in his head and disassembled--his arms and legs were cut off and he was buried in a concrete floor. Lots of organized crime. You have families who were like, the top dogs there. My uncles were at one point.
CP: You've talked about your uncles in interviews before. Do you still talk to them?
Tricky: I'm with my uncle right now, actually. I love them. My grandmother used to say, 'Many a good soul do bad things.' When someone in your family is a criminal, you don't look at them as a criminal, you look at them as your family. [Yells to uncle] Hey uncle? There's not many of our family in Knowle West anymore now is there? Nah, there's not. We have distant cousins there who are related but we don't see them. A lot of my family have moved on to another ghetto called Arcliffe.
CP: On the same note of geography, clearly there was a lot of interest surrounding Bristol in the '90s. What's something about that area that the media didn't touch on when trip-hop was big?
Tricky: Everybody thought there was just one big scene when really no one hung out with each other. I remember I was going to do vocals with Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack were well against it. They were like, 'You are with us, you can't go do vocals with anyone else.' Maybe everyone thought we were all one big crew, one big clique, but no one worked with each other or got along with each other. I didn't even hang out with Massive Attack. I went in the studio with them but I never hung out with those guys.
CP: What? Really?
Tricky: Yeah. Where I come from they couldn't go. They couldn't go to Knowle West--it's never gonna happen. If they went drinking in a pub there they'd get beat up. It's not beause they're freaky or whatever, but because they're strangers and strangers aren't liked. I went there months ago to film. I was there ten minutes and two kids come up on a bike and two cars come up. They wanted to know what we're doing there. We got recognized and it was cool, but you just can't turn up there.
CP: So on the same note of misconceptions--what were some about you? That you were a brooding guy who sat in dark corners all day?
Tricky: Yes! I'm a joker. I'm really silly and really clumsy. I'm a kid. When I'm with my kids and their mum she gets a bit angry sometimes about that. My kid even tells me to grow up. I'm just a true little boy. People think I'm really serious or really moody and that I'm really cool--but I'm not, I'm a child.
CP: So, what next, then?
Tricky: Well...maybe Minneapolis. How cold did you say it was?
With the Floacist at the Fine Line Music Cafe. 18+. Sat., March 14, 2009, 8 p.m., $26.50 in advance, $31.50 day of show.