How did the hodgepodge of musicians that includes Alanis Morissette, Live's Ed Kowalczyk, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Cyndi Lauper end up on trip-hop wizard Tricky's new record?
"They wanted to work with me," the Bristol, England-bred producer said in his thick accent. "I'm very easy."
"Easy" is not a word usually associated with the former Massive Attack contributor whose moniker describes the bizarre beats he made famous with his 1995 debut, Maxinquaye, and as a producer on Björk's Post.
Tricky claims his collaboration process is straightforward, but he admits his music never has been. Following the critically-acclaimed Maxinquaye, he released a succession of deep, dark records swollen with multi-layered noises and lyrics of self-destruction. His most recent LP, 1999's Juxtapose, was the work of a man literally on the brink of insanity.
After Juxtapose was released, Tricky went into severe depression and began seeing a psychiatrist. "I was sick," he said last week from his New York City home. "The psychiatrist was useless. And then I found a doctor who straightened my diet. I don't eat no dairy, no sugar, no yeast, nothing out of cans."
Fortunately, Tricky was able to put the depression behind him. Along with it went his creepy tunes. On June 26, Tricky will release Blowback, what he calls "the album everyone thought I wouldn't make."
"It's definitely the most ear-friendly of all my albums," he said. "I feel like I've been sitting around for a couple of years complaining about what's on MTV and the radio. You can only do that for so long. If you want to hear good music on the radio, you need to make an album."
For the first time in years, Tricky is getting airplay. "Evolution Revolution Love," his elevating new single with vocals by Kowalczyk and Jamaican prodigy Hawkman, is getting early love from VH1 and stations such as Los Angeles' influential KROQ.
Wait until programmers hear "Excess," the contagious opening track from Blowback, featuring a surprisingly funky Morissette doing backing vocals. Or Tricky and Chili Peppers Flea and John Frusciante's "Wonder Woman" theme. Or the haunting take on Nirvana's "Something in the Way."
"I don't really care [what my label releases as singles]," Tricky said. "I'm happy with everything on there."
One song that won't be released is the original version of "Diss Never" Tricky did with Morissette that her label, Maverick Records, would not let on the album. (He recorded a drastically different version, called "Diss Never [Dig Up We History]" with Hawkman that is on the album.)
"Maverick is being really funny about it, which is weird because they're supposed to be an artist-friendly label run by an artist," Tricky said. "It was one of my favorite songs on the album."
Guy Oseary, who co-owns Maverick with Madonna, said they did not want to give out a song that prominently featured Morissette because at the time of negotiations, Maverick had not worked out her contract and were not sure when her next album would be released.
"It was nothing against the song or the artist," Oseary said. "We let them have another track instead."
Tricky has collaborated with artists before everyone from Blur's Damon Albarn to Neneh Cherry to Garbage but this album has fans a bit perplexed. When word got out about Kowalczyk's contribution, Tricky chat rooms were flooded with bitter messages.
"He wasn't very well received for some reason," Tricky said. "But I don't know Live's history. I don't care if they're credible or not. What he does with me is going to be different than what he does with his band. If you're a good person, I'll go into the studio with you. I don't know much about the Chili Peppers either. I'm a fan of their aura, how they proceed as a thinking band, but I don't got none of their albums."
Along with Flea and Frusciante on "Wonder Woman," Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis and Frusciante contribute to a track called "Girls." It is one of the few guest spots on the album aside from Hawkman's lyrics, which are mostly his own that Tricky didn't write himself. "But [Kiedis] kind of copied my style and I was cool with that," Tricky said.
Tricky wrote "Evolution Revolution Love" with the intention of having a female sing the chorus. He changed his mind the minute he heard Kowalczyk's version.
"It's a song about different people from different planets and how they all feel the same thing," Tricky said. "Me and Hawk and me and Ed are very different, but we come from the same experiences. Everyone's alike in some way."
That must explain Tricky's connection to Kurt Cobain.
"I don't know much about Nirvana, but Kurt's words have stuck with me for a long time," he said. "All through the years I can still remember lyrics to certain songs. There's not many artists that are like that."
Tricky plans to support Blowback with a North American tour in the fall. Prior to that he'll head to Los Angeles to play the Playboy Mansion on June 14 and the Palace on June 15, and then he'll do a show at New York's Irving Plaza on June 18.