“Fame Does Cause Mental Illness…” Tricky Interviewed

In 2013, Tricky spoke to MOJO about how success and an undiagnosed illness nearly ruined his life.

Tricky 2011

by Dorian Lynskey |
Posted on

Tricky’s biggest-selling album made him thoroughly unhappy. 90s fame and success made him ill, while an undiagnosed illness nearly ruined his life. In 2013, however, MOJO found him upbeat, candid and having just completed his strongest album in years. Here, he looks back on darker times...

NEW YORK, 1998, A CHAOTIC TOP-FLOOR APARTMENT AT THE OMINOUSLY NUMBERED 666 GREENWICH STREET. The musician known as Tricky is considering drastic measures.

For the past couple of years he has been unravelling. He feels sick all the time. He flies into volcanic rages, gets into fights with strangers, and stokes minor grudges into baleful vendettas. He has alienated friends and family members, including Martina Topley-Bird, his musical partner and the mother of his baby girl, Mazy. The music he’s made since the surprising success of his 1995 debut, Maxinquaye, has been increasingly impenetrable and confusing even to him. His live shows are almost comically hostile. He used to get annoyed when journalists labelled him “dark” or “mad” but now he thinks maybe they’re right. Maybe he is going insane.

After fruitless visits to several doctors and psychiatrists, he has decided that he will only get the medical attention he needs in hospital or in jail, so it comes down to this: either he goes out and commits a serious offence or he throws himself out of the window. This is how his brain works.

Tricky was mad, in a way. He was suffering from the personality-altering effects of candidiasis, a fungal infection brought about by excessive use of asthma medication. According to the US National Candida Centre, symptoms include dizziness, hyperactivity, headaches, depression and mood swings. As soon as it was diagnosed and treated, around May 1998, his behaviour began to normalise but the old image of a paranoid, volatile bruiser lingers. That’s a shame because the 45-year-old man MOJO meets in a London private member’s club one bright spring morning is Tiggerishly upbeat and irrepressibly candid. He’s short but imposing, densely packed, with corkscrew dreads and a motorbike jacket. One tattooed hand clutches a smouldering spliff which sprinkles ash onto his baggy black trousers. When a question is asked his raw-boned face softens and he leans forward, grinning and nodding with enthusiasm.

I don't need to be this Tricky guy...

“That nearly ruined my life,” says Tricky of the candidiasis. It certainly brought to a close one phase of it, when he was the next big thing, courted by the likes of Björk and Bowie. Notwithstanding a bizarre cameo appearance with Beyoncé at Glastonbury 2011 (“strange enough to be interesting,” says Tricky), subsequent years have been more low-key and itinerant. After spells in London, New York and New Jersey between 1996 and 2001, and a near-decade spent lying low in Los Angeles, he now resides in Paris.

“Because the nightlife’s shit!” he explains. “I’ve got no discipline so it’s better for me to be in a place where there’s nothing going on.”

His career has been equally episodic. Having passed through Island, Epitaph and, most recently, Domino (“a great label but it wasn’t right for me”), he has his own imprint via Berlin-based independent label !K7, False Idols, which is also the name of his confident, compelling 10th album. It refers to his relentlessly dim view of celebrities. “I’ve seen how artists act,” he growls. “When I see artists who are full of themselves I hate ’em. It makes my stomach churn.”

For five years in the mid-’00s in LA, Tricky dropped out of sight. When strangers asked him what he did he lied, because he hates talking about music. “I still felt good about myself,” he says with pride. “There’s some artists, without their celebrity, their success, they’ve got nothing. That scares me. I need to be in a position where if this all went tomorrow I’d still be happy. My grandmother always used to say to me: ‘Be prepared to clean toilets one day if you have to.’ I don’t need to be this Tricky guy.”

The candidiasis, he says, was particularly destructive because it compounded his existing discomfort with sudden fame and success. “Fame does cause mental illness,” he says, jabbing his spliff for emphasis. “It has to. If you can feel people looking at you, that affects the way you walk, they way you talk. You can’t be your natural self and that’s what causes sickness. I realised at the beginning that it wasn’t healthy.”

“There’s only two people left in Massive Attack because 3D wants to be the boss…” Read MOJO's full interview in which Tricky discusses his traumatic childhood, how music saved his life, Massive Attack and more.

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