I really hope Moby wouldn’t be mad at me if he found out that I am eating a prosciutto and cheese sandwich as I’m writing up this interview. My stomach’s not mad at me, but my stomach’s also not a successful musician. So maybe just don’t tell Moby if you see him, okay? And I bet you’re thinking, yeah right, like I’m just going to a) bump into Moby anytime soon, and b) strike up a conversation with him about how some dumb bitch who interviewed him is eating lots of animal products right now. But I have a detailed account of Moby’s whirlwind plans for DC, so chances are you may run into him. And if you get nervous and awkward around people who are more important that you like I do, you might find yourself unable to think of anything decent to say. And then that little conversation starter will pop up in your brain so you can stop being dumbfounded that you are in the presence of your favorite bald musician. So you can thank me later, and I can hate you later for destroying my rapport with Moby that I worked so hard to build during this interview. Here goes our conversation:
BYT: Hey Moby, how’s it going?
Moby: I’m fine, how are you?
BYT: I’m good, I’m good. Happy belated birthday, by the way.
BYT: How’d you celebrate?
Moby: I was actually in France doing a TV show, so it wasn’t a big crazy raucous birthday celebration. It just involved having some subpar vegan birthday cake backstage at a TV show.
BYT: Yeah, well, those happen some years. So tell me about the process of making Wait For Me in more of an organic, DIY way instead of working under a lot of controls.
Moby: Yeah. Well I mean, for starters I never really expected to have a record contract or a career as a musician. You know, I thought that I’d probably spend my adult life maybe working at a bookstore and making music that no one ever listened to. And so part of having a career as a musician for me, is trying to figure out what exactly that means, and what I’m supposed to do. And a few years ago, I mean, I’d been signed to Mute Records worldwide, and Mute for a very long time was a completely independent label. And then Mute was bought by EMI. So a few years ago I started getting more pressure from EMI to make records in a more conventional way. And so I made an album about five years ago called Hotel that was recorded and produced in a very sort of slick, professional, conventional way. And when it was done I realized I don’t like slick, conventional, professionally produced records. So with this record in particular I wanted to make it at home, and, I don’t know, working at home I can be a little more experimental. And I mean, you give up something in terms of like, professional sound quality, but as I said, records that are overproduced just mean nothing to me. The records that I like tend to be a little more humble and more vulnerable and more lo-fi. So I think that was what I was trying to accomplish with Wait For Me.
BYT: It’s great that you were able to do that. So the sound I’ve heard is, maybe not depressed, but definitely not the type of record you’d put on at a dance party or something like that. So maybe tell me a little about the inspiration behind that?
Moby: Well, I’ve made a lot of different types of records in my life; I grew up playing in punk rock bands and then I’ve made dance music and ambient music and, just, lots of different types of music. And I realized that the music that I’ve made that means the most to me is the music that is more vulnerable and quiet and emotional, so that’s what I wanted to focus on with this album. Because I mean, it’s certainly not a dance record; if you were a DJ and played this record you’d get fired.
BYT: And what about album artwork with the little guy on the cover? Who is he? What’s his story? His hopes/aspirations?
Moby: Well, years and years ago I worked at a tiny little record store in Connecticut and every bag that left the store had to have a drawing on it, so that’s when I started drawing him. And then when I started making my own records, every now and then someone would want an autograph. And it just seemed too cheap to just write my name, so I started drawing this little picture instead. So this record, basically I wanted the whole thing to be very unprofessional and very homemade. You know, so I recorded the record in my bedroom and drew the artwork on my kitchen counter. So I guess, you know, this might sound strange, but I just wanted everything about the record to be as honest as possible. You know, so in making the music and making the artwork there’s no artifice, there’s no…I’m not trying to be cooler or tougher or more, sort of like, esoteric and removed than I am. You know, hopefully it’s just a very honest record.
BYT: Yeah, definitely. And so no commercial licensing on this one probably, then, right? That’s what I’ve been hearing.
Moby: No, I mean, I’m not opposed to licensing music to movies or commercials. It’s funny because I always thought it was cooler to take money from a big corporation than give money to a big corporation. But no, I figure at this point…I mean, it’s kind of ironic that I still get criticized for licensing music to advertisements when it’s not something I do anymore. I guess it’s also ironic because every other musician on the planet is bending over backwards to license music to advertisements. So there’s that strange irony of being criticized for something I don’t do. (laughs) And being criticized for something that I don’t do that every other musician on the planet is trying to do desperately.
BYT: Right. And so how about the tour? Are there songs that we might not hear due to difficulty of recreation in a live setting?
Moby: Yeah, well, when I put on a show I try to put onstage what I would want to see if I was in the audience. And, you know, for example, if I was to go to see Radiohead live, you know, certainly you’d want to hear songs from the new record, but you also want to hear your favorite songs from old records.
Moby: And I get kind of annoyed if I go to see a band and they only play music from the most recent record. So the tour that we’re doing, the live set is very eclectic. I mean, it’s some things from this record, there’s some old rave tracks in there, there’s, you know, some more punk rock songs, there’s some more quiet balads…I mean, it’s a really, just sort of strange, eclectic show. And I’m really curious to see how people respond to it. Hopefully they’ll like it but it might even be just a bit too eclectic. I’m not sure.
BYT: Well I hope it works out well, that sounds like something I would enjoy anyway.
Moby: Well, hopefully other people will feel the way you do.
BYT: Yeah, I hope so. Now, you opened up, or you co-owned anyway, TeaNY in New York. How is that doing? Because it burned down in an electrical fire recently, right?
Moby: Yeah, well about two years ago, two or three years ago, I realized that I didn’t want to be involved with TeaNY anymore. Because it was just…I’m not a very good businessman, and it was taking up a lot of time that I could otherwise spend working on music. So I haven’t really been involved for two years, but a few months ago I got this very brief email from my ex-girlfriend who runs TeaNY, saying, “Oh, if anyone asks, TeaNY has burned down. I hope you’re well, talk to you soon.” (laughs) So as far as I know, it burned down, and I don’t know if they’re going to reopen it or not. I mean, you know, in some ways…I mean, I’m glad no one was hurt, but in a weird way it’s almost better to have a dramatic ending to something than to just sort of let something die slowly.
BYT: Now, are you still living in Little Italy?
Moby: Yeah, I’ve lived in the same building since 1991. And it’s a strange building, it has a really weird history. It was a prison hospital during the Civil War, it was a meat processing plant in the early 20th century, and then a lot of bands used to either live here or rehearse here. Sonic Youth had their studio here, the Beastie Boys, Iggy Pop, the Butthole Surfers, and Helmet. So it used to be really strange, I would walk out in the morning and see Iggy Pop and Mike D having a cup of coffee on the stoop.
BYT: Wow! And Civil War hospital? Is it haunted? That’s terrifying.
Moby: It doesn’t seem like it is. And I’ve been here for a long time, and if it was, you know, I’m a wussy and I’d be terrified of ghosts, but thus far I don’t think I’ve seen any.
BYT: Well that’s good, that’s like, my worst fear, moving into a haunted house. (I really want to continue on the topic of hauntings and ghosts but I resist.) So If I beamed over to your house…wait, are you even at your house right now? I don’t know. But if I beamed over to your house at some point, what would you make us for lunch? Because you’re vegan and I’m sort of borderline vegetarian trying to move into that direction. Slash can I come over to your house for lunch? Okay, cool.
Moby: (laughs) I mean, I’m not such a good cook, so I would never want anyone to judge veganism based on the food I made. I guess one of the only things I can do relatively well without…well, I guess anyone can do this relatively well…is just like, simple rice and beans with salsa and guacamole and tortillas.
BYT: Yeah, you can’t go wrong with that.
Moby: Yeah, and I mean, no one can fuck that up.
BYT: No, no way. Oh, and while you’re in DC actually, I mean, I don’t know if you’ll get a chance, but you should pop into this place called Hello Cupcake that I worked at this summer. They have excellent vegan cupcakes, so if you’re still celebrating the birthday with some cake, you should definitely hit that up.
Moby: I would like to, but it might be an issue of loyalty to some good friends of mine who have a bakery called Sticky Fingers. And so I think they would be very cranky with me if I went to another bakery in DC.
BYT: Oh yeah, you can’t cheat on them with Hello Cupcake then.
Moby: Yeah, it’s sort of like cupcake infidelity.
BYT: Definitely, definitely. Okay, so what do you think about the current electronic/dance music scene? It seems to be manifesting itself everywhere.
Moby: I mean, I like dance music a lot, but to me it’s very, sort of context-specific. You know, I love hearing dance music in a dirty bar at 1:00 AM. I don’t necessarily want to listen to big banging club tracks at 10:00 AM when I’m making breakfast. Like, it sort of freaks me out when people listen to dance music at home.
BYT: Yeah, I can’t ever do that. (false, I do that all the time but I wanted Moby to semi-like me still…)
Moby: To me, dance music sort of only makes sense in nightclubs. And then it’s amazing. Like, you know, especially a lot of the new productions. Like at 1:00 or 2:00 AM in a club or a bar, the music just sounds amazing. But when I’m home, personally I like to listen to the things that are a little more quiet and subtle.
BYT: Do you have any predictions as to where electronic music is headed in the future?
Moby: Well, what’s nice is that, I mean, music has become so hybridized. I mean, you think of, you know, someone like Dan Deacon or a group like Animal Collective and I wouldn’t even know where…like if I worked in a record store, where do you put their records? You know, because there are a lot of electronic dance elements, and then there are some more folk elements and almost experimental classical elements; I really like that fact that music has become almost uncategorizable. And that, you know, rock musicians happily borrow from the world of dance music and dance musicians happily borrow from the world of rock music. And in my own records, you know, as I said, like this record Wait For Me, it’s mainly strings and quiet pianos. So if I was working in a record store I certainly wouldn’t put it in the dance section.
BYT: Yeah, I would say probably not. And so are you still doing your slow dance parties? And if you are, can I come?
Moby: The last one we did was actually about eight years ago.
BYT: Wow! You should start those up again!
Moby: Oh no, yeah, they were amazing. You’ve never seen…I mean, because basically slow dancing is how white people were born to dance. There’s literally no skill involved. You just sort of stand there and wrap your arms around someone and move a little bit. You know, so you don’t have to be able to dance, you don’t have to have a funky bone in your body. Yeah, they were really fun. I used to throw them with my friend Fancy who then went on to have a little fame because he started the band Fannypack. I don’t know if you remember Fannypack…
BYT: Oh yeah, for sure.
Moby: Yeah, so Fancy and I had these slow dance parties, and basically every song was like the end of the prom.
BYT: That’s so fantastic. That’s genius. Now here’s a really theoretical question for you. If you lived in an alternate universe where music didn’t exist, what would you be doing? Besides sobbing your eyes out, because that would be the worst alternate universe of all time.
Moby: I mean, I think the ideal job in that alternative universe would be to lead whitewater rafting trips through the Grand Canyon. So maybe I’d be a guy leading whitewater rafting trips at the Grand Canyon. Or maybe a professional skydiver.
BYT: Those both sound pretty intense and awesome. And getting back to the real universe, do you have any big plans for while you’re in DC? I don’t know how much time you’ll have, but…
Moby: I’m actually only there for a day, and I have a lot of different NGO’s and charities that are based there. So I have quite a lot of friends who work in DC. So I’ll go visit my friends at Baby Cakes, and there’s a vegan restaurant there called Java Green that’s pretty nice, and so I’ll get some food there. And I mean, the 9:30 Club…this is going to make me sound painfully, painfully old, but the first time I went to the 9:30 Club I was 18 years old and it was…1984? 1985? I think it was a Black Flag show. So for me there’s all this like, really interesting history in going to DC. And Baltimore, I mean, I think the last time I played…I haven’t played a solo show in Baltimore in ten years. So this North American tour is weird, because the venues are all for the most part quite small, and it’s a very humble little tour.
Want more? Check out Moby Friday night at the 9:30 Club w/ Kelli Scar (provided you have a ticket, because that shit is SOLD. OUT.) Doors @ 10 PM.