An Interview with Moby

During the early 1980s, Richard Melville Hall, like many other disgruntled teenagers, found solace in punk music.

He would frequently take the Metro-North from Connecticut to attend concerts in New York City, and was inspired by Lou Reed, Dylan Thomas, and George Maciunas’s Fluxus scene.

Punk was an all-encompassing genre at the time, incorporating various sounds such as reggae, country, hip-hop, new wave, Afropop, and disco.

Moby acquired his moniker in honor of his ancestor, Melville. Before opting to utilize machines instead of bandmates, he was part of a few punk bands.

His fifth album, Play, which was composed mainly of samples of old blues and gospel music, wasn’t noticed at first, yet his music’s insertion in advertisements caused it to be inescapable.

His baldness also enabled him to attain fame, which provided him with invitations to art-gallery openings, but also made himself a target of ridicule from people including Joan Rivers, Eminem, and Will Ferrell.

On a gorgeous April day, I visited Moby in his Manhattan apartment while he was in town to promote his latest record and a collection of photographs depicting the remote feeling of performing in front of a massive audience every night.

I was reminded of an episode of MTV’s Cribs as I entered his spartan bathroom, which had been altered since then with a shower curtain and mirror. It was plain to see that Moby had evolved over time too.

Andy Beta’s words:

“Life is nothing more than moments and experiences.”


When you return to New York, what is it like? Being a prototypical New Yorker, must it be disorienting?

MOBY: I was born up on 148th Street and have been living near or in lower Manhattan my whole life. Back in 1978, I went out and got drunk for the first time in the East Village.

Being a drunk in New York City is one of the best experiences in the world. Certain places are great for certain activities, such as Perth, Australia which is perfect for surfing.

For the 30 years that I was a drunk, lower Manhattan was the ideal place because you don’t need to drive anywhere. Now that I have stopped drinking, I have noticed that lower Manhattan isn’t the ideal place for sobriety.

People come to New York to get drunk and listen to “Walk on the Wild Side” and it was perfect for me for those years.

BLVR: What prompted your decision to no longer consume alcohol?

M: I used to think I had a connection with famous writers such as Dylan Thomas and Charles Bukowski when I was hungover in my twenties.

However, as I got older, the hangover symptoms became more and more intense. I thought alcohol was a good way to combat my depression and anxiety, but I ended up creating more of those issues.

I kept drinking to make the hangovers go away, only to make them five times worse. Eventually, the negatives outweigh the positives, and I had to stop.

BLVR: Did you experience social unease?

Growing up poor in Darien, Connecticut, I believed that everyone else knew how the world worked and was comfortable in social situations, leading me to drink in order to fit in.

In hindsight, I realized no one knows how the world works and that drinking was not the answer. Through sobriety, I have a love life and feel comfortable, but it isn’t as exciting as it used to be.

I remember when I was younger and I would do whatever I could to sneak into NYC, where it seemed like the Velvet Underground, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, and Fluxus were everywhere.

Lower Manhattan was filled with artists and crazy people, and I wanted that to be my life. The Mudd Club was my first experience in this world and it was all I wanted.

In 1981, my friend and I drove from Connecticut to TriBeCa–before it was TriBeCa. We snuck into a Fear show and drove back out, only to find the car wouldn’t start.

We had to call my friend’s dad in CT at 4 a.m. – an embarrassing situation. We were waiting for a paneled station wagon to come and save us.

New York City is expensive and the degeneracy has taken on a new form. Artists can get away with misbehaving since they’re creating something.

During the day they work, while at night they partake in degenerate activities. Wall Street professionals and hedge fund managers are also degenerate, but it is narcissistic and entitled.

In the past, Lou Reed and other musicians were the cultural touchstones, but now Friends and Seinfeld are the references.

Then, came the Strokes and a new wave of NYC. When I come back to visit, I still love it, but there is an entitlement as well as desperation.

Wall Street friends are rich and entitled, while Brooklyn writer and musician friends are scared – they can’t even afford to own an apartment.

On the other hand, East L.A. has a relaxed weirdness that New York does not have. Even the people in Beachwood Canyon are all former New Yorkers.

Section 2: Karl Rove

Did you grow up as the only offspring in your family?

M: Yeah, I had this odd experience. It was six years ago at a screening of Nancy Pelosi’s daughter’s movie in D.C.

Afterward, I found myself in a bar and got to talking with a journalist about being an only child. As a joke, I said one of my half-brothers could be Karl Rove.

Much to my surprise, he wrote a light-hearted article about my comment. Then two weeks later, I received a handwritten letter on White House stationery. It read: “Dear Moby, It’s not me. I’m seventeen years older than you and I have no musical ability.

Have you considered James Carville as your brother since he’s bald and plays the guitar, too? Sincerely, your pal, Karl Rove.” This is now framed in my closet, but at the time, it really shook me up.

The fact that he had a sense of humor, read his own press, knew who I was, and had the time to write me a letter– all of it was disturbing.

It certainly didn’t help my paranoia that the powerful people in D.C. were out to get me.

BLVR: Growing up as an only child, did you ever find yourself entertaining yourself? If so, what was the first activity you did that was creative?

When I was five years old, I had a passion for writing and used to create stories and poems. My mother, a pianist and painter, rented out her loft to a few bands and while she painted I would fiddle around with their instruments.

On occasion she would invite her musician friends to our home for rehearsals, which would drive me crazy. I became so aggravated with my mom’s partners that I decided to learn how to play the guitar one of her boyfriends had left behind.

I started taking classes for classical guitar and music theory, and when I was thirteen I stumbled upon punk rock.

Was there a defining moment when you realized you were into punk-rock music?

M: It was Devo that was my punk-rock epiphany, though they don’t fit the genre. When I was in my early teens, my mom took me to a movie called Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video.

Mike O’Donoghue, a writer for Saturday Night Live, had made the movie with some of his favorite video clips.

We went to the theater and there was Sid Vicious doing “My Way” and shooting at the audience, which was the coolest and most frightening thing I had ever seen. But I didn’t realize that it was punk rock.

It was none other than Frank Sinatra!

M: When I first heard Devo, I was at a friend’s house and the album cover scared me. I wanted to resist it, but in the end, I decided I liked it.

Recently, I had a comical Devo-related moment. I was picking up my Soho House membership card in LA and Jerry Casale from Devo was there doing the same.

After all these years, I still remember how seeing a punk rock band gave me the feeling that I could do this too.

I saw bands like The Exploited and couldn’t relate to their culture and style, but when I attended hardcore shows with people my age wearing jeans and sneakers, I knew I understood.

Seeing bands like Void made me realize I could play and be part of the punk rock scene.


BLVR: When did you have your realization about dance and music? Are they seen as contradictory nowadays, or did you see a connection between them?

In the early 80s, the punk rock and new wave scene in New York City was thriving.

Clubs like Danceteria hosted bands like Bad Brains and Echo and the Bunnymen, and the DJs were known for their eclectic and obscure mixes, playing everything from Johnny Cash to Liquid Liquid to the Tubes.

Being exposed to this musical variety inspired a young man to be just as weird and eclectic in his own music.

His first epiphany came from hearing Liquid Liquid’s “Optimo” in 1981, and it made him realize he was dancing to music made by fellow New Yorkers.

This planted the seed for a lifelong passion in music, and in 1984 he was able to express it when he acquired a 4-track and a synthesizer.

Creating music alone–even while being a celebrity–seems to be a solitary artistic undertaking.

M: I’m uncertain about using the word “lonely,” since it is so often used in a negative way. I’d rather refer to it as “monastic” or “ascetic.” I have an interesting view on personalities.

It’s like the rolled-up carpet theory. When you buy a carpet that’s been rolled up for a while, and then lay it on the floor, it tends to stay rolled up.

I think it’s the same with our personalities and psyches; they tend to take on their shape during childhood.

As adults, we try to change them, but they always want to return to that original form. When I was fifteen, I used to just sit in a room making music.

Now at forty-five, I’m still doing the same thing. It’s almost like a case of déjà vu. But at least I can show something for all the time I’ve spent as a perpetual adolescent.

BLVR: What type of music are you into right now?

M: For a long time, the notion of being an elderly man and listening to the music he was familiar with did not appeal to me.

However, now I find great joy in hearing music from the 1940s and 50s. At the time, those making the records had no idea what they were doing.

Every single record was a trial and error process. Engineers were simply thinking “Maybe we can put the microphone here, or move the tape heads far apart from each other.

Could we invent a reverb tank?” I take pleasure in listening to oddly produced records up until 1972, after which I do not have as much interest. In the 70s, they sounded too polished. With punk….

It seems that in the 1980’s, when rock was fading, people began to make music with whatever they had on hand.

This resulted in some strange, yet amazing, early house music that was collected with eagerness. In comparison, contemporary dance music is great, but the fact that everyone uses the same software to create it makes it difficult to be excited about unique techniques.

Old Chicago and Detroit records, however, were made by people who were unaware of what they were doing and that is something to be appreciated.


BLVR: At what point did you recognize that you would pursue a professional music career?

M: I never anticipated having a career in music. The last two decades of making records are still quite bewildering to me; I was not expecting to have success.

Since Play was so well-received, I went through a phase of wanting to be a successful musician. After that, it became obvious to me that I am not very good at striving for success as a musician.

Any attempt I made to present myself as a successful artist was simply shameful.

For example, I decided to stand out at the MTV Awards by wearing an all-red suit, and Joan Rivers selected me as “the worst-dressed person”, which was an eye-opener for me.

BLVR: You have a knack for making people incredibly angry.

M claims that there is no other place where people hold as much animosity towards them as New York.

They question themselves, wondering what it is that they did to elicit such strong negative feelings from the locals.

Journalists often ask what it is that they have done that is so offensive and they can’t seem to figure it out. Is it the fact they are too vocal with their opinions or that they are seen out and about too frequently?

BLVR: DJs like David Guetta, Paul van Dyk and have become celebrities in the dance music scene. No longer are these individuals anonymous figures.

When M’s record Play came out, the artist was already considered a “has-been” and many journalists refused to review the work.

It was assumed to be a modest, obscure project made by a middle-aged man in his bedroom.

Yet, it ended up being a huge success, and there was no strategy in place to make it happen. As a result, they had to take desperate measures to get the music out there, such as licensing it.

Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon to hear of musicians licensing their tracks, and they don’t tend to get criticized for it.

Even so, it is strange how journalists can criticize musicians for doing the same thing they themselves benefit from, as magazines are funded by advertising.

A possible solution is for journalists to not write for magazines with advertising. Alternatively, musicians can license their music in other countries, such as South Korea and Portugal.

BLVR: In what ways has the process of creating music evolved for you from your previous album to Destroyed?

M remarked that the only thing that had shifted was the increased ease of creating higher-quality records.

On their most recent work, they opted to use vintage drum machines, synthesizers, and effect-processing, with only a few digital elements, and mixed it on a BBC desk that can now be found in Magic Shop studio on Crosby Street.

They added that in spite of the passing of more than two decades, they hadn’t managed to improve at anything all that much.

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