“There’s a guy going around Bristol apparently saying that he invented trip-hop. My friend told me.” Tricky, oft credited himself with creating the genre in question, is chuckling at the idea from his Berlin abode. “It’s just really weird. Even the name ‘trip-hop’, it’s such a stupid name. It’s just so people can label, because when you label something, it’s easier to sell. If I was a trip-hop artist, if there’s such a thing as trip-hop, I wouldn’t be around now. I wouldn’t have a twenty year career if I was a trip-hop artist.”

“I’m lucky, I’ve got my own sound,” he explains, “When you’ve got a genre, if you’re hip-hop or you’re jungle or you’re this or that, it makes it difficult because you’re putting handcuffs on yourself. I’m not involved in anything. All sorts of people listen to my music, so I don’t have to conform to anything – I got no rules.”

He’s probably got a point. Whilst every record he’s produced thus far has been seductively dark, Tricky has always straddled genres, albeit including one he doesn’t believe exists. Case in point, only last year he released a rap album under the Skilled Mechanics moniker. He shapeshifted his career from the outset, deliberately releasing the radio-unfriendly post-punk-hip-hop fusing Nearly God to divert attention from Maxinquaye, his first solo long player. That debut, of course, was huge, named after his mother, who committed suicide when Tricky was only four. Although he barely remembers her, his mother’s presence has always been felt in his work, and new record Ununiform is no exception.

“I write music now and it’s still about her,” he confides. “It’s like, on ‘When We Die’… Back in the day, you’d have the coffin at home, so the family could come in and say goodbye. My mum was next door to my bedroom, in an open coffin. I would go in there and stand on a chair and look at her, and that’s the first memory I have. ‘When We Die’ is a conversation with that kid. It’s that kid saying, ‘where do I go?’ And me saying, ‘it’s gonna be alright’.”

This particular album track has fans extra excited, because it features Tricky’s other famed muse, Martina Topley-Bird, the first time they’ve worked together in years. “That was accidental to be honest,” he admits, “We’ve got a kid together, so we’re always in contact. She wanted to do an album, but I was like, I’m busy right now. So I sent her that track but I didn’t put my vocals on there, I just sent her the music. I wanted to see what she came back with. And it just happened that it totally suited what I wrote, without her hearing it. She wrote the melody, and the vibe really works. It’s not like it used to be, where I wrote for her, I gave her the melody. So, that could be something new, that could be the start of a new way of working with her…”

There’s no denying that Ununiform is a lighter offering than his past records, and we can’t help but wonder whether making peace with his history, both musically (lead single ‘The Only Way’ was immediately dubbed as ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’ Part II, an apt description, but one that he’d have balked at a few years ago) as well as personally has anything to do with that. “Yeah, definitely,” Tricky agrees readily, “I’ve been going back to Bristol a lot more. Making excuses to go back there. I’ve got a relationship with my Dad, the first proper relationship I’ve had with him.” His father left his mother before he was born, and Tricky bounced between his maternal relatives from most of his youth. “I moved around, I didn’t really have a stable home. I had good homes, and people who really loved me because my mum was the favourite. But I weren’t stable.” Although he recently realised that maybe his dad didn’t so much as leave, as be chased away by his mother’s family. “It wasn’t his fault… my uncles, they were really dark dudes. I saw a letter that my uncle wrote from prison, saying my dad’s got a lot to answer for. My dad said, ‘if I would have seen you, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be here now’. He did try and come and see me, but certain parts of my family made it difficult. If my uncle had said to me, don’t come round, I wouldn’t have gone round because I know what he’s like and what that means.”

“He didn’t have no choice,” he considers, “My mother committing suicide was nothing to do with my dad, but when you lose someone you love to suicide, it’s easy to put the blame on someone. My personal view is that my mum committed suicide because she was epileptic. And it was hard to look after. I think she did it because she was worried about me and my sister. I think she did it because at that time you couldn’t look after someone with epilepsy. But the family; you lose someone you love, it’s easy to blame my dad. But I’ve heard stories that my mum used to terrorise my dad, my mum wasn’t an easy woman. But back then, he got the blame for it.”

“All sorts of people listen to my music, so I don’t have to conform to anything – I got no rules.”

Given his start in life, it’s not totally surprising that he spent so long not wanting to look back, even though he’s happier now to stop and take stock of what he’s achieved. “Before I was moving 100 miles per hour. It was like the world was going to end, I was moving so fast. Now I’m moving forward but I’m a lot slower now. Everything happened for me so quick, and it became like, work. And you forget that this is all I’ve wanted to do, since I was a kid. When everything got crazy, after the first album, it went so mad, so mad. And then the last few years I’m realising; I’m doing exactly what I wanna do.”

Previously, what he wanted to do was always the pursuit of something new, something different. “I’m always difficult. I don’t want to give people what they want. ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’ is one of people’s favourite songs, and I never do that on tour, because whenever it starts people go crazy, and I haven’t done anything yet. I’m like, nah… fuck that,” he emphasises. But the last few years have started to see an acceptance of where he came from, to the point of appearing on stage again with Massive Attack at their Hyde Park show last year. “To be honest, I did it because I wanted to see what it was like. I wouldn’t do it again. It just wasn’t my scene. It was great seeing them all and everything, but I’m not a ‘guest artist’. Me and them are cool. I mean, we’ve had disagreements but when you’re in a band with someone, you’re bound to. Because I don’t know their music anymore, people think we’re not cool. I still talk to 3D now.” Do you ever ask him whether he’s Banksy, we enquire jokingly. “I think 3D secretly likes that people think he’s Banksy,” Tricky laughs, “How do I know, it could be him, I don’t really care. If he pulled that off though, that’d be great. But I’ve got a feeling that he’s not…”

Tricky – Ununiform
September 22, 2017 – False Idols
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