Interview Date: 05/18/2009
Run Date: 06/23/2009
It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 20 years since Moby released his first single “Mobility,” which was the first in a long line of tracks that tore up the dance floor throughout the ‘90s. And it's even harder to believe that it's been 10 years since he helped bring electronic music to the mainstream with his multi-platinum smash Play. After flirting with commercial popularity for a few years, Moby's back to making records on his own terms with Wait for Me, a quiet, nearly ambient collection of somber and meditative music that he recorded in his home with some of his friends. Recently Moby spoke with Bullz-Eye about the recording and creative process, his waning popularity in America, and what he thinks the future of the record industry holds.
Bullz-Eye: I was listening to this album while driving late one night and it's really good music to listen to at 2:00 AM when you're lost in the middle of nowhere.
Moby: Yeah...that makes sense.
BE: This is a departure from Last Night, which was a dance record. Did this record just naturally become a more meditative album on its own, or was it a conscious decision?
Moby: I realized I love loud punk rock and I like loud dance music, but if I go through my record collection, the records that really mean the most to me are things like Nick Drake, or Joy Division, or even like the recent Bon Iver record. Records that tend to be quieter or more personal, or more introspective. With this record I just wanted to make…instead of making a record that you would play at a party at midnight, you'd play it on 9 o'clock on a rainy Sunday morning.
BE: So it's the record you'd listen to after Last Night.
Moby: Yeah, it's a hangover record.
BE: I saw that you recorded it entirely analog.
Moby: Well, I used ProTools, but apart from ProTools every aspect of the recording and mixing was analog and quite lo-fi, using a lot of old synths and a lot of old drum machines. A lot of times when people record drums now, they use about 15 different microphones and they try to make the drums as big as possible. With this record, I only used two microphones, because I wanted the whole record to sound much more atmospheric and spacious.
BE: Do you do most of your recording analog?
Moby: I've done some records that were much more professionally recorded. I made an album a few years ago called Hotel, and I just wasn't happy with the way it sounded, because it sounds too big and too professional. And I just realized I don't like big, professional sounding records.
BE: I read that you were inspired after hearing David Lynch talk at the BAFTAS and talking about how artists should create art just for the reason of creating it.
Moby: Yeah, the world in which we live, especially living in New York, so often art and music and literature are judged not by how they affect people but by how much money they make. And I find that really kind of unhealthy. And so for myself, it was really nice to David Lynch talk about creativity because he was just talking about creative expression being fine in and of itself. And not necessarily being valid because it makes money, but being valid because it's made with good intentions and it potentially affects people emotionally. And the truth is, if I look at the world of commercial music in 2009, it's really depressing. A lot of people making tons and tons of compromises just to make some money. Sometimes some musicians can be good at compromising that can actually lead to an interesting record, but I think more often than not compromising just ends up watering down the end result.
BE: You think that's happening more and more because record sales are down?
Moby: Yeah, the major labels are all really desperate. The major labels are doing anything they can to try and generate some money, and unfortunately musicians are being given a lot of pressure to not necessarily make great albums but to try and generate money for their record labels. I guess I'm grateful for the fact that I somehow seem to be exempt of that.
BE: Did you produce [Wait for Me]?
Moby: For better or worse, I do the engineering and producing and play the instruments and write the songs. I mean, the good side of that is just having the autonomy, but the bad side is if a song isn't very good or if record doesn't work out, I don't have anyone else to blame.
BE: I watched the interview online between you and Lynch. Are you two friends?
Moby: Yeah, we're friends. He's probably my favorite American film director of all time. I've seen every movie he's made two or three times. It's interesting becoming friends with your heroes. His movies are quite dark, but as a person he's very friendly and very kind and very supportive.
BE: What does he think of “Go,” which samples the “Twin Peaks” theme?
Moby: As far as I know he likes it. Legally, I had to get his approval to do that, and he gave his approval so I can only hope that means he liked it.
BE: One track that really stuck out for me on Wait for Me was “Mistake.” Who sings on that track?
Moby: That's me.
BE: That's you? I didn't recognize your voice. I thought it was Bowie at first.
Moby: A few people have commented in similar ways. Someone we work with actually called up my manager and asked how we got David Bowie to sing on the record. I have to say that's probably the biggest compliment I ever got in my entire life. I love David Bowie and I think David Bowie has an amazing voice and I really don't think of myself as a singer, so to be compared to David Bowie is about the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me.
BE: You recently did an ambient show. How did that happen?
Moby: The ambient show was really just a one-off fundraiser for a place called the ISSUE Project, which is an experimental theater out in Brooklyn.
BE: How is an ambient show different from your other shows?
Moby: The ambient show was just me on stage with a bunch of electronics and a laptop, and it was just [me playing] some new unreleased things, and a lot of older more instrumental pieces that I've made in the past that have never been performed live. Visually, the only thing going on were the projections, normally when I'm playing live I'm playing guitar or I'm playing keyboards or I'm playing percussion. But this, there really wasn't anything to look at expect for me playing with some electronics and some really lovely projections.
BE: Are you going to do any more of those shows?
Moby: I don't know, actually. As much as I enjoyed it, I felt like the audience might have been a little bit bored because parts of the show were very quiet and it wasn't like there was a band to watch. It was just a bald guy with electronics and some nice visuals.
BE: Do you think you might record more music like that?
Moby: Yeah, I love, I mean, even on this album, there's quite a lot of quieter more ambient music. I really love music that instantly creates an interesting atmosphere. And the same was that I love some of David Bowie's ambient work and Brian Eno’s ambient work. I guess I've always wanted it be part of what I do.
BE: The song “Study War,” is that a sampled voice?
Moby: Yes, it's a sample, but unfortunately I really don't know where it comes from. I sampled it and I forgot to write down where I sampled it from, so I don't know who it is.
BE: Is that the only sampled vocal on the album?
Moby: There's a song called “A Seated Night” that has a sampled vocal choir on it. As far as I know those are the only two samples on the record.
BE: Is that something you've tried to get away from after Play and 18?
Moby: Maybe. I guess I have. At least half of the songs on Play were based on vocal samples, and I don't really do it so much anymore. It wasn't a conscious choice; it just kind of ended up that way.
BE: I don't think Hotel has any vocal samples on it.
Moby: Hotel was just a completely produced, very professionally sounding, almost like a rock record. I almost wish I could go back and re-record it, because I just think the way I recorded and produced it was very professional and slick, and I don't really like professional and slick records. I just kind of wish instead of working in a big outside studio, I just made it at home by myself and made it sound a lot rougher and more lo-fi.
BE: Do you record most of your stuff at home now?
Moby: Everything. I have a studio at home, but it's really just a small bedroom that has a bunch of equipment in it. It doesn't resemble a professional studio in any sense of the word. Normally you walk into a professional studio, and it’s big and it has big fancy equipment and leather couches and a big room with drums, and this is really just a small New York bedroom that has a drum set and some equipment in it.
BE: What does that add to making the record?
Moby: It's just me working by myself, so I can work at anytime and it doesn't cost me anything to record, so I can be a lot more experimental. If you're working [in] a professional studio, the clock is always ticking and there's all those people around, and I find that to be very inhibiting. Working at home, I can experiment more, I can try out new strange things, and if they don't work, they don't work, but at least I haven't wasted any money trying it out.
BE: Is that something that's easier to do nowadays than it was 10 years ago?
Moby: It's definitely become a lot easier, especially with ProTools. With ProTools you can experiment as much as you want, and you can just document everything, and then at some point you can go back and edit and find out what’s worth keeping and what’s not. What I like to do is find a nice balance between new technology and old technology. Old technology tends to have really interesting sonic characteristics, and new technology is great for something like ProTools because it enables [you] to record everything.
BE: What was some of the old equipment you used?
Moby: My favorite old synthesizers are by Korg and Univox, and I think Univox actually became Korg, I'm not sure. (Note: Korg indeed bought Univox’s parent company Unicord in 1985.) Most of the synthesizers on the record are pre-1979, 1980s. So some old Univox and Korg synthesizers, some old Roland synthesizers like the Juno 106 and the Jupiter 6.
BE: Are any of those modular?
Moby: One of the Korg synths I have is an old modular synth, and I have this very strange homemade synthesizer called a Serge because it was made by a Russian guy named Serge. It’s hard to even call it a musical instrument; it's more just a strange electronic sound-generating machine. A lot old guys in the world of electronic music have a Serge. I know Vince Clarke from Erasure has one, and Martin Gore from Depeche Mode has one, too.
BE: Will you be touring America this year?
Moby: I think so. Right now all I have planned is two months in Europe. The truth is I'm a little bit apprehensive about touring America because I don't know how many people will come to my shows. As sad as this might sound, I sell more records in Belgium than I do in America. Even though I was born in the United States and I live in the United States, in terms of status or in terms of record sales, it’s quite a small [percentage of my total sales]. The last couple records I made, I actually sold more records in Canada than I did in America. I'm probably going to tour in the States, but I have visions of standing on stage with, like, 10 people standing in the audience.
BE: Electronic music has always been more popular in other countries than it has been in America, and given the tastes in America right now, maybe you don't want to be popular in America.
Moby: There's a lot of good music coming out of America, but the music that I like that's coming out of the states these days tends to be small and independent. There isn't too much in the pop charts that inspires me in the States.
BE: Speaking of pop, I heard you wanted to do a record with Britney Spears.
Moby: I had this idea when she was having her meltdown. I actually contacted her management and said maybe she and I would spend a week in a studio somewhere and make a really strange, interesting lo-fi dance record. Not a slick pop record – bring in some old drum machines and some interesting percussion and make a minimal dance record, but I don't think her management was too excited with that idea.
BE: Ever have the urge to try something completely unexpected, like another record like Animal Rights or something under the Voodoo Child pseudonym?
Moby: I like working under a pseudonym, but there's so much music out there it's become really inexpensive and easy for people to make music and release music, so I almost feel like if I'm going to release a record, I have to think about it beforehand. It would be easy to put out a record every three months. I think I have to edit myself more and be a little bit more selective. And also I got mobygratis.com. It's a website I started that gives free music away to filmmakers, so a lot of the more really odd experimental stuff I do has gone up on Mobygratis.com.
BE: I would think also that a lot of people would know now.
Moby: Yeah, I read books that are written by authors that work with pseudonyms, but on the author page they tell you who the author is. And I wonder to myself, it sort of defeats the purpose. I'd almost rather just put out a record once a year under my own name, and make the records a bit more experimental and idiosyncratic.
BE: Will there be remixes to Wait for Me?
Moby: There are, and they're going to be dance-oriented, but the idea is to have remixes that someone would play at five in the morning than one in the morning, like quieter, more experimental, not floor-filling dance remixes.
BE: Are those going to be released on an album?
Moby: I think so, I just don't know how. With remixes, especially because the record business has fallen apart, I feel that on one hand people can sit back and cry about how people don't make money off of selling records anymore, or you can see it as almost as emancipating and a way to release records in a more creative way. If we were gonna put out a remix album, maybe I would just rent a record store in Iceland and just sell it in that store. Bjork and Sigur Ros could come by and get their own copy.
BE: Didn't you release an album for The Times in England?
Moby: Yeah, they do these things called cover mounts, where they put a CD on the cover of the Sunday magazine, and it’s interesting because it reaches a lot of people who otherwise might not hear the music you're making. It's almost like a weird personal greatest hits record so doing things like that – the music business has changed so much so musicians, we can kind of do whatever we want as long as we're willing to not make money off of it.
BE: So how do you make money?
Moby: Well, I got a pretty simple life. I own my studio in Manhattan, I bought my apartment quite a while ago, it costs me $300 a month to keep it up and running, maybe $400-$500 if you add electricity. My expenses are simple; I don't have a car, I don't a have swimming pool, I don't have alimony or child support to pay, so the nice thing is that it means I can make decisions, the decisions I make professionally almost never have anything to do with money. Like, putting out this album and doing the promotion. I'm not trying to make myself more famous, I'm not trying to make myself more rich. I'm just trying to draw attention to an album I made that I really care about. I was asked how I felt about piracy. Honestly, I'm just flattered if anyone makes an effort to listen to my music. If they want to pay for it, that's great, but I'd certainly rather someone steal my music than not listen to it. If someone wants to buy one of my records of course I’m happy; it means my friends at Mute Records can continue to go to work, but at the same time I make music for the sole reason that I love making music and I'm really flattered and thrilled if anyone makes the effort to listen to it, so I really don't care how they listen to it.
BE: I'm sure you get asked this a lot since Play, but are there any plans to license to anything off Wait for Me?Moby: It's funny, I was so criticized for licensing music from Play that I really don't do that much licensing, the irony being that I still get criticized for it. But having said that, if there's an interesting movie or interesting TV show and they want music and they want to use my music I'll probably say yes, because I'm selfish and I want people to listen to the music I make.