Chances are, if you ask anyone familiar with Tricky to name a song of his, they'll probably pull something from his much-adored 1995 debut, Maxinquaye — an album so genre-defying it (along with works by Portishead and Massive Attack) helped define an entirely new one: trip-hop.
What lots of people have failed to notice is that the native of Bristol, England, is now nine albums deep into his career, the most recent effort being October's impressive Mixed Race — an eclectic record that incorporates elements of jazz, funk, classical, rock, hip-hop, and even Middle Eastern music, all while still providing a showcase for Tricky's trademark sinister sensuality.
Truthfully, the albums between Maxinquaye and Mixed Race haven't always been memorable for positive reasons. Blowback, from 2001, saw Tricky misfire with some rock experiments. He collaborated with the likes of Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers and got critically panned in the process (Pitchfork memorably used the phrase "No, No, No, please god, No" in its review). Vulnerable, from 2003, didn't fare much better, with many critics happy to declare the 42-year-old irrelevant. But that didn't bother him then — or now.
"Success has got nothing to do with happiness," he states matter-of-factly. "It's easy for me to keep recording, because I love doing it. I love what I do, and as time goes by, I realize how lucky I am to still have a career. I think a lot of artists should remember how lucky they are. All the celebrity bullshit doesn't mean anything. Most people have to do a job to pay bills, and I just get to travel. I draw inspiration from new places, so traveling is the best place for creation."
It's this desire to keep moving that prompted Tricky to recently relocate to Paris, where he recorded Mixed Race. "Paris is a melting pot," he says. "It reminds me that you can be who you want to be — that London is hard." He first moved to England's capital at 20, but found life difficult, particularly because of the financial strain put on artists living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. That prompted a move to the U.S. "When I lived in New York, I used to go over the Brooklyn Bridge and be like, 'Wow!'" he says. "But after being there for so many years, I stopped seeing anything. In L.A., I was like, 'Fuck, there's palm trees outside my house!' Then I stopped looking, too. When things stop becoming exciting, that's when I fuck off. Places became too familiar. I like being a stranger in Paris."
It's reasonably surprising then, that living in one of the most romantic cities on earth prompted Tricky to make what he refers to as "the most urban album" he has created, brimming with social commentary and bleak imagery. The record "is more direct, more in your face," he explains. "It's definitely the most uptempo album I've ever done. This is edgy. I wanna show the ghetto without ghetto, with the hearts of many good people — hearts that get pushed in the wrong direction." The final product conjures a vision so vivid and sprawling, it has an almost cinematic quality. Which makes sense, since Tricky professes an admiration for the way moving images set a mood.
Tricky credits an uncle and his cousins with giving him a broad musical knowledge from a young age. He absorbed Al Green, Sam Cooke, and "everything from Parliament to T-Rex" while staying in their home — influences which fuel his explorations now. "I've been blessed," he emphasizes, "because no one can put my music in a box — it's not black, it's not white, it's not female, it's not male."
Confidence and self-belief have no doubt contributed to Tricky's relatively new-found love of performing for an audience — something he once struggled with. "I used to hide in the shadows when I played live," he says. "Now I perform. What a crowd gives you is so amazing. Sometimes I just stand onstage and cry."