Born and brought up in one of the roughest parts of Bristol, he has lived in Manhattan for most of the past five years, but recently moved to a small town in New Jersey. "I didn't like it first of all - went a bit stir crazy. But it's become good for me." He is already friendly with the Italians in the store "where I go to buy my olive oil", and with the local barber, though "he's real foul-mouthed". The only problem is the lack of street lighting.
| Tranquillity: 'I have my routine,' says Tricky. 'In the evenings I watch Seinfeld and Frasier. That finishes about 11.30 and then I go to bed'|
"I don't like it at night. I'll walk down any street in the world - I know my way around those situations. But out in the woods, it's really scary. You don't know what's out there."
It's hard to reconcile such a picture with the rococo horrorshow of Tricky's last four albums, but then he has always revelled in confusion and contradiction. His debut, Maxinquaye (1995), named after his mother, Maxine Quaye, an epileptic who committed suicide when he was four, announced the arrival of a singular talent in British pop. Shot through with foreboding, it tore up the rulebook, mixing oblique raps with stumbling beats in a fashion christened "trip hop" - a label which Tricky railed against.
His next three records developed the darker side of things, dispensing with recognisable melodies, turning up his rasping croak of a voice, building a sense of growing paranoia. Though the albums were critically feted, fair-weather listeners started switching off. Q magazine recently called them his "career suicide" trilogy.
It didn't help that in an increasingly conservative business Tricky was generally perceived to be trouble. He admits that he has never been happy rubbing shoulders with other celebrities ("McDonald's superstars"), and that he hates meeting record company people. "I don't fit the profile pop stars have," he says. "I'm not very clean-cut; I don't play the game very well."
Before leaving Polygram records recently, he recorded a song attacking a senior executive there, and he has physically assaulted two journalists for allegedly misrepresenting him in print.
Yet this was also the man who used to wear dresses to photo-shoots and used his records, which touched on political and psychosexual themes, to talk about his feminine side.
It might all be different now. Today, sitting in his publicist's office in west London, he certainly seems full of beans, though red of eye. Chain-smoking spliffs, dressed scruffily, he laughs and jokes as he talks with candour about his career.
In Europe he is now signed to Epitaph, while in the States he has joined Hollywood records, a subsidiary of Disney. "It's perverted!" he says. "You go there and there are Disney characters carved out of stone holding the building up. The Seven Dwarfs!
"Everyone thinks it's such a corny company. But I'm going to make them not corny. I want to bring them nothing but success." His fantastic new album, Blowback, is his first since Maxinquaye to receive significant radio airplay in the US, and is certainly his most accessible since then.
For one thing, the record features some starry guests, including Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alanis Morissette, and there are some cracking tunes. "This is what my music is starting to sound like," he says. "It's really weird: I never considered myself a pop producer, but I've started making pop music."
Characteristically, however, an unknown ragga vocalist called Hawkman crops up on half the tracks and Eighties icon Cyndi Lauper makes an appearance. ("She's very bossy," Tricky confides. "She fixed my toilet. It kept making this horrible noise and she came round to my house and fiddled with the ballcock.") It's also, as he says, "not a soft record. There are some dark passages, some angst." It's this that continues to mark him out as a fascinating artist.
That angst won't ever go away. "I don't really know where it comes from," he says, "but I think it's Knowle West, where I grew up. If you see footage or photos of Knowle West, I think it looks like my music - that energy."
He once visited a psychiatrist, at the request of his former manager and an ex-girlfriend, but though he found himself in tears ("when he said I'd never mourned any of my losses"), he is dismissive of the experience.
"I've analysed this over many years to myself. I think it's quite logical that with the upbringing I've had, I'm going to have certain things wrong with me, that I'm going to be dysfunctional in certain ways. It doesn't take a psychiatrist to tell me that. My mum's suicide - that's bound to affect me. I've never had a dad - that's bound to affect me. I have trouble sitting round the table and having dinner with the family. It's obvious why: because I never really did that."
Following his mother's death and his father's departure from his life shortly afterwards, Tricky - born Adrian Thaws, "circa 1964" according to The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music - was brought up by his extended family.
"I grew up around a lot of angry men. I've seen a lot of violence when I was very, very young. I never got hurt, but I've seen women hurting men, men hurting women. A lot of physical stuff."
In some respects, Tricky's whole career can be read as an attempt to escape this kind of life and to assert a sense of his own individuality. We discuss Eminem during our interview, and Tricky says that while he admires his talent, "he wants to be ghetto, and I've been trying to run away from the ghetto".
Talking about success, he also says that he's not interested in money, but wants to be able to pay his mortgage and provide for his family. The reason he moved out from Manhattan to the sticks was to provide a safer environment for his young daughter, though she spends most of her time in this country with her mother, Martina Topley-Bird, who sang on his first three albums. Tricky helps pay the fees for her public school.
Similarly, he recently "fostered" his two brothers, who "were getting into trouble in Bristol. One's only about 22, and he's been in prison about five times." Now they travel and tour with him. Indeed, 10 minutes into the interview, one of them crawls out from underneath the table in the room we are in, where he has been sleeping, jetlagged, previously undetected. It's a very Tricky sort of moment.
If he is "happy . . . real cool with myself," now, it's also because he has discovered that he suffers from an extreme yeast allergy called candida, which provoked his fearsome moodswings. Since starting a strict dietary regime (no bread, sugar or dairy products) two years ago, he has calmed down a lot, and is able to deal with criticism more easily. Recently, a journalist from an American hip hop magazine told him he hated the new album. "Two years ago, he would have had his head kicked in, but it's OK now."
In many senses then, he lives a life of tranquillity. "I have my routine," he says. "In the evenings I watch Seinfeld and Frasier. That finishes about 11.30 and then I go to bed. I get up at eight o'clock every day, and I'm on the phone straight away, doing business."
There's something admirable in the way in which this misfit has made this life for himself, without sacrificing his art or becoming another victim of celebrity culture. The only sad thing is that he hasn't room in his life for a girlfriend. "I miss having someone, definitely," he says. "There are certain things you can talk to a partner about and it's someone to lean on. But I refuse to get into a relationship just for the sake of comfort."
Still, he has his idiosyncrasies. The final track on the album turns out to be a song of unrequited love, dedicated to a girl from his Japanese record company. It includes the line: "For you I'd put a dress on."
"Oh, I still like dresses," he says. "I've still got plenty of them. It's just that I don't put them on specially for photo-shoots anymore. It's just part of my everyday life."
Tricky plays the 'Meltdown' festival on June 23. 'Blowback' (Epitaph) is released on Monday
29 July 1999: Tricky customer [review of Tricky]
24 July 1999: Inside-out man [interview with Tricky]
30 May 1998: Drugs, violence, hip-hop... knitting [interview with Tricky]
19 April 1997: Tricky to see, strange to hear