Interview: Moby for LiveDaily.com
Published in LiveDaily.com, July 16, 2009
It was a balmy spring day in West Hollywood, CA, when Moby arrived for his interview with LiveDaily. Taking advantage of the nice weather, we ushered the affable, bespectacled musician up onto the roof and into a shady spot overlooking the billboard-laden Sunset Strip.
As locals know, the Strip is more than just a road; it's a veritable visual assault of towering images and words officiously touting what movies to watch, clothes to wear and music to listen to--a strange backdrop for an artist who often decries the blatant commercialization of the arts, but somehow also fitting for a music icon who (controversially) brought the once-underground genre of electronica to the radio-listening masses.
He inspected our recording equipment when technical difficulties arose ("Once a sound engineer, always a sound engineer," he quipped), and once all was up and running, we spoke about his favorite TV shows (and recent cameo), his new record, his hero and friend David Lynch, and a strange encounter with right-wing pundit Bill O'Reilly.
Despite his music being an airwave mainstay in the '90s and early 2000s, he claims to not care a whit whether his latest effort, the dark and melodic "Wait For Me," draws airplay or attains commercial success, as he really only writes music for the smallest of all possible niche markets: himself.
LiveDaily: We'll get to the music, but first, was that you I saw on the "30 Rock" season finale standing behind Michael McDonald?
Moby: As a matter of fact, it was the weirdest bunch of musicians. I think they called every musician living within a 10-mile radius of the studio in New York and said, "Are you a fan of the show? And if so, please come sing." So it was myself, the Beastie Boys, Clay Aiken, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Cyndi Lauper--I mean, like, the most random assortment of musicians. But it was so much fun. We got there in the morning and basically had all day to hang out. And the cast and crew were so excited that we were all there. So I got my picture taken with Kenneth the page [actor Jack McBrayer] and I accidentally almost killed Tina Fey's baby.
I was playing with her child who's about 2 years old and I got a little bit too excited, and it started choking and threw up on itself. I've never felt more embarrassed in my entire life. Tina Fey is, I think, the world's most perfect woman. She's so smart and so funny--so to almost accidentally kill her baby! The day was wonderful, but that was a low point in the day for me.
But it had a happy ending.
Is there another television show that you'd like to make a cameo on?
Well, for a long time, my goal was to be on "The Simpsons," and that sort of happened. They used my music in one of the episodes, and then there's an episode where Marge and Homer win tickets to go to the skybox at a hockey game, and Marge walks into the skybox and says "Oh, it's so modern and contemporary here, just like Moby's house on 'Cribs.'" That was nice. Now what's left is "The Family Guy." I'm 43 years old, but I've got the tastes of a stunted adolescent.
Alright, Seth McFarlane, get Moby on the show! So about your new album, "Wait For Me," you've said that David Lynch is a direct inspiration for it. What was it that he said that struck a chord with you?
David Lynch has always been a hero of mine and I love 99% of the movies that he's made, especially the darker, more experimental ones. And about a year and a half ago, I was in England and he was talking at BAFTA, which is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, he was talking about creativity and how--I'm paraphrasing, but essentially, how creativity shouldn't be judged by how well it accommodates the marketplace. Creative expression shouldn't be judged on how much money it generates. It shouldn't be judged on gross revenue or record sales. Creativity should be solely judged on the intentions of the artist who is creating it and how it affects whoever is experiencing it. Music should be judged on how the listener responds to it subjectively, not necessarily how big a billboard is or how much money it generates. And that's what I truly believe. And it's difficult, living in this climate. The onus, so often, is put on creativity to generate a lot of money. And when people talk about art and music, they don't talk about its artistic merits. They talk about its ability to make money for people. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, I'm just saying that that's a world and process that I don't really want to be involved in. What's precious to me is being able to spend my life making music and having people who are sometimes willing to listen to what I do. And that's honestly pretty much all I care about.
These should be words to live by for all artists.
Well, the old antagonistic punk rocker in me wants to judge other people who do devote their professional lives accommodating the marketplace. But at the same time, it's not my place to judge what other people do. If other people love fame for the sake of fame and love money for the sake of money, God bless 'em. I hope it makes them happy. I just see fame as being a corrosive institution. If you think about it, famous people are miserable. The number of famous people who become alcoholics, addicted to drugs, in therapy five times a week, on anti-depressants--I don't know why everyone in the world wants to be famous, because rock stars and movie stars have a short life expectancy and, for the most part, are pretty unhappy.
You've said that this album is the most personal album that you've ever made. Do you find that you're a lot more self reflective at this time in your life?
When I was much younger, I had this irrational assumption that youth lasted forever. When I was 25, I thought to myself, "I'm 25, I've been young my entire life and I will continue to be young my entire life." I thought that youth was perpetual. And at some point you realize, you get a little bit older, and then you start realizing that life is short. And the moment anyone realizes that life is short, it's an existential crisis. How do you respond? Do you panic and buy a Hummer and get hair implants and start dating D-list actresses? Or do you try and figure out what actually could give a life meaning and substance? Which, ideally, should be a spiritual grounding, work that you love, spending time with your friends, and, in my case, trying to make music that I really love.
I've listened to the album and it's very beautiful.
I love "Shot in the Back of the Head," for which David Lynch directed that amazingly creepy video. All the songs, in fact, are very moody. What does this say about where you are right now?
I think, simply, what it says is that I really like personal, emotional music. I mean, I love a good, fun, party song. At 2 o' clock in the morning, if you're in a bar with your friends and "Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones comes on, it sounds great. But the music that I really care about is more introspective, more emotional, more melodic, more personal. So [this album] certainly is not a party record. It's not a nightclub record. It's not a bar record. It's a record for someone to listen to pretty much on their own. You know--Sunday morning, 9 a.m., it's raining outside, you lie in bed, you put on this record, and hopefully that's when it makes the most sense.
It's a very moving record, and producer Ken Thomas, who famously worked with Sigur Ros and Throbbing Gristle, seems to be the perfect fit. How did he help you achieve the sound that you wanted?
There are a lot of modern records that I find to be unnecessarily bombastic. Even ballads that are produced like speed-metal songs. It seems oxymoronic: a loud ballad. It's because there are a lot of insecure people at record companies who think that everything needs to be mixed for radio. And radio is not a medium that responds well to subtlety; radio is inherently unsubtle and bombastic. And I wanted to make a record that was quieter, that had dynamics, that had subtlety, that had nuance, and that, production-wise and mix-wise, would be a lot more experimental. And Ken Thomas, luckily, since his background is experimental music, he was thrilled to do this. So when I was mixing this album, I wasn't mixing for pop radio. I wasn't mixing for nightclubs. I was mixing for someone who was going to listen to this record at home pretty much by themselves.
There are gorgeous vocals, too, on the album. Who do you have as guest vocalists?
I've worked with a lot of singers over the years and I love to sing myself, but I don't have the greatest voice in the world. So, if I want to have beautiful voices on my records, I have to work with people who can really sing, and that means either working with famous professional singers or my friends. And famous people are a pain in the ass. I mean, not always, but for the most part, famous people take themselves a little too seriously. They take their image a little too seriously. You have to go through lawyers and managers and so I'd rather just make records with my friends. So all the vocalists on this record are basically friends of mine [e.g. Amelia Zirin-Brown, Leela James] and it just makes the process so much more fun. You invite them over, they sing the song, you go out and get some spaghetti. There are no lawyers, there are no managers. At some point you pay them but it's not this long, drawn-out process involving hotel rooms and makeup artists, etc.
And do you write songs specifically for a certain vocalist in mind?
When I write the songs, I usually, at first, sing them myself. And if I can't do a good enough job singing the song, I try to figure out who else should sing it. And in a place like Los Angeles or New York, there's no shortage of people who can sing well, but what I really love are people who can sing well but also have very distinctive voices, and that's harder to find. Luckily, there are a lot of musicians in New York and a lot of them have very interesting voices. So, I feel like I got lucky to be able to have my friends sing on this record.
David Lynch actually has a great voice. Would you ever consider inviting him to be a vocalist?
Oh, yeah. Not to be a namedropper, but David has his home and studio fairly near here and I was over there and he played me some of the music he was working on. I think he had a song in "Mullholland Drive" and I think he might have had a song or two in "Inland Empire." I'm probably the only person on the planet who's seen "Inland Empire" four times in the theater. I think it was only playing in four or five theaters worldwide, but it was playing at the IFC Theater on 6th Avenue and I went and saw it four times because I loved it so much.
Did it make more sense the third or the fourth time around?
It does. The first time, I loved it, but it seemed like it had no--it didn't seem cohesive in a narrative way. And the second and third time, all of a sudden, it started to make a lot of sense. Especially since I saw it four times in the course of a month, it made a lot of sense. But yeah, I love the way he sings. He sings in that very halting falsetto.
I was reading your journal online and you spoke of a concert you were part of for David Lynch's transcendental meditation program, Change Begins Within. How does his transcendental meditation differ from the Eastern variety, and do you practice it yourself?
Well, the way I met David Lynch--as I said, he's been a hero of mine forever-- he was hosting a weekend in Iowa called the David Lynch weekend about quantum mechanics and transcendental meditation. And so if David Lynch invites you to Iowa to talk about quantum mechanics and transcendental meditation, you go! So I went and we spent the weekend together and I learned TM. And I thought TM was this ancient, mystical form of meditation. But it's actually quite simple. You close your eyes for twenty minutes and you repeat a sound to yourself and that's it.
And what is your mantra?
Oh, you're never allowed to share your mantra.
Oh, you're not allowed to? So that's the first rule of TM?
Yeah, it's like Fight Club. The first rule of TM is that there is no TM (laughs). But, yeah, it's a very simple, effective form of meditation. And David started an organization, the David Lynch Foundation, that teaches meditation to school kids. And it's really very effective because the kids who learn meditation, their test scores go up, their absentee rates go down. In general, they're a lot happier. So we had a concert to raise money for the David Lynch Foundation with the weirdest collection of musicians like Paul McCartney and Ben Harper, Eddie Vedder, Donovan, and me, and Jerry Seinfeld was one of the hosts. It was just a really wonderful, interesting event.
And you bumped into a very unexpected guest who was there that night.
Oh yes, that's right. So there was the event itself, which had the most random bunch of people, and it was fun for me because I got to play some of my own songs, but I also got to play drums next to Ringo Starr during a Beatles song. And then at the aftershow party--I normally don't go to aftershow parties these days, but I thought, "David Lynch is gonna be there, he's my friend, I'll go and support the organization," and Bill O'Reilly was there. And we were just sitting there staring, thinking "Why was Bill O'Reilly at a David Lynch aftershow party for transcendental meditation?" I wanted to go up to him and talk to him and just ask, "Why are you here?" I didn't want to be confrontational, but I was just really curious as to why Bill O'Reilly would be at a David Lynch party. Then Bill O'Reilly came up to David Lynch in a very humble way and said that he was very impressed with the concert and really impressed by the message and that he was going to talk about transcendental meditation on his show. I don't know if that happened or not but, I don't know, the Berlin Wall fell down and Bill O'Reilly is interested in transcendental meditation. It's like a paradigm shift.
That's really hard to imagine! Well, it's kind of a strange segue, but ...
Oh, speaking of segues, do you know what's funny? I never knew how to spell segue. I thought that segue was spelled like the crappy little wheelie machine that they have. It's S-E-G-U-E.
S-E-G-U-E, that's right.
My entire life I've read it as "seeg." So I was reading a book and I said that there was a "'seeg' between this and this," and an ex-girlfriend of mine said, "You're kidding, right?" She said, "You're 42 years old, you're a philosophy major, your mom was a literature major and you don't know that that's segue?" But it's still hard for me to not read it as "seeg" (laughs).
I'm sure there's a huge amount of the population you've just schooled right now on the subject! Anyway, speaking of political commentators, I know you're very involved in politics, so I want to give you an opportunity to tell us about the organizations you're involved with and the causes that you're behind.
Well, I work with a lot of different, very disparate organizations. I've worked with Moveon.org on and off for a long time. I've worked on a lot of individual political campaigns like the John Kerry campaign and Al Gore's campaign and different senatorial campaigns. And at first I thought that the politicians wanted me around because of my trenchant insights, but, no, you realize they want you around because you can raise money. So on the Obama campaign, I actually didn't open my mouth that much, I just tried to raise money where I could. And then I work with the Humane Society because, specifically on a legislative level, they're really effective legislative advocates for animal rights. And there's this great organization that was started by Oliver Sacks called Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and they do a lot of brain research but specifically looking at the neurological ramifications of music therapy. It's pretty miraculous that music in addition to being fun and emotional and powerful can actually be a quantifiable source of healing.
Published July 16, 2009 on LiveDaily.com.