Bristol Hop: Laptop in Hand, Tricky Hits the Road to Record Knowle West Boy

Though Tricky’s Knowle West Boy references the tough Bristol, U.K., town of his youth, the musician/producer says he doesn’t currently have a home base from which to draw inspiration. Truly a resident of the world, the trip-hop pioneer is busy crisscrossing the globe, supporting his newest album, and writing and recording his next record in the same manner that he tackled Knowle West Boy: On a laptop loaded with Pro Tools LE. Outfitted with an Akai S1000KB and an MPC3000, as well as an unspecified Korg keyboard, the self-proclaimed “anti-musician” says he can create anywhere he damn well pleases.
Publish date:

Always in capture mode, Tricky says he has a track in Pro Tools armed at all times as he programs beats and constructs loops wherever the day carries him. “I’m a one-finger-at-a-time programmer,” he says. “I’m like a kid drawing a picture. You give a kid crayons, and it starts with one line. Then another. Then a bit of color. Next thing you know, you have a picture. It’s one finger and one note at a time. One kick at a time. One bass note at a time. It’s even one note at a time for string parts. If I like it, I’ll loop it up, and play another string note on top of it. By the time I’ve finished, you’d probably think I could play keys, but I can’t.”“

Tricky came to LoRusso’s studio in Los Angeles with relatively finished recordings of Knowle West Boy—tracks he felt were too straightforward and too quantized. The decision was made to deconstruct the tracks, and rebuild them so they more closely resembled the musical genres Tricky had called upon as influences for Knowle West Boy: blues, reggae, country, punk, and rock.

“It was like being someone else for a day,” says Tricky. “One day, I was the Specials, one day I was Kate Bush, and one day I was Gary Numan. But everything was almost by mistake. I was just sitting at the keyboards, not knowing what I was going to get out of them. For example, I’ve got a thing for weird time signatures, but that’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. A lot of my stuff is just me being naïve. That’s my sound—lack of knowledge.”

“Tricky likes to track things, cut them up, move them around, rearrange them, and get new patterns from those elements,” explains LoRusso. “I took into consideration the palette of sounds he likes to work with and his approach. He likes organic elements, but he wouldn’t want a straight-up guitar part playing top to bottom. He’d rather sample a little guitar riff, flip it and cut it up, and play with that. It’s whatever makes his ears stand up that day. There are no rules.”

LoRusso used Drumagog to replace the original sounds Tricky applied to his sequences with more organicsounding samples, and also called in human players (such as guitarist Mark Thwaite) to lay down licks live.

“Most musicians tend to play a song top to bottom three, four, or five times, and then save the best take or start comping,” says LoRusso. “We’d go back, lift one or two notes, and start building the rest from there. Or Tricky would hear something he liked, and then have the players jam something completely different in order to build variations on patterns and loops on the fly. We’d later listen through the takes, find the pieces we liked, cut them up, and then put them in his MPC so he could play with the source sounds.”

LoRusso says that Tricky’s vocals were recut to ensure sonic consistency, but that he decided to adhere to Tricky’s historically lo-fi approach to tracking his voice. “Tricky’s voice sits in this strange high-end range, and no matter what mic you put on him, nothing seems to mellow it out,” says LoRusso. “I find cheaper mics tend to work best, and a Neumann TLM- 103 was as high end as we would even try. A Røde NTK is what he really responded to. It usually produces a brighter, yet more brittle high-end, but it works for him.”

Whether Tricky is recording in his bathroom using the preamps in a Digi 002 rack, or at LoRusso’s place through an SSL AWS 900, the standing order is to avoid vocal booths. Background noise is the name of the game. “The noise adds to the raw feel,” says LoRusso. “When you compress his vocals along with all that extra noise, it makes for a very aggressive sound. In addition, whatever we have in front of us is what we will use. If there are some spoons and a box on the floor, then we’re playing spoons and a box that day. It’s guerilla style, and it comes across in the recordings. Of course, Tricky will never claim to be a typical musician. He wants to do it his way. He does not think about music like anyone else I have worked with.”

“I’ve always been told that I work backwards,” admits Tricky. “But I’m going to make sure you give me what I want. All I need you to do is what I say. It’s really simple.”