Moby
Richard Melville Hall on the power of music, and his need to create...

Of 2016 book, Porcelain: A Memoir – recounting his journey to creating multi-million selling album ‘Play’ through the birth of the rave scene in 90s New York – Harlem-born Richard Melville Hall, a.k.a. Moby, states on his website: “I’m not a cool narrator or a disaffected anti-hero. I’m just a clueless and panicked human being trying to make sense of the strange worlds in which I found myself.”

It’s a self-reflection that seems to hold true of the musician as I listen to him chat over the phone from LA about 15th studio album, Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt. He’s refreshingly candid about how he sees himself today, where his pursuits of activism - “My goals are pretty simple: I want to end the use of animals by humans and get every single human on the planet to stop making destructive, terrible choices” - and running non-profit vegan restaurant Little Pine, seem to consume greater swathes of energy than his ongoing career in music: “The stress around that is completely different - I have no idea how to run a restaurant. So everyday it's open is kind of a miracle.”

- - -

- - -

Despite having sold over 20 million records worldwide over the last three decades, he has zero expectations for new music material to generate revenue in today’s industry. However, with the usual commercial pressures entirely removed, Moby feels strangely uninhibited to simply follow his artistic whims: “Oddly enough these days I don't see myself as having a music career. I make music and I release music but I don't think of it as a job per se. It’s partially due the fact that it's 2018 and I'm a 52-year-old man making his 15th album and no one really pays that much attention to albums anyway. There's something kind of liberating about making music at a time when there's absolutely no commercial pressure around it.”

He professes a certain cynicism about the demise of a more “monolithic” music business and move toward “the democratic chaos of the internet” - “The Rolling Stones spent a year making 'Goats Head Soup'. Now someone can make something in 30 minutes and release it. The quality is not bad but it's not necessarily transcendent.” But it hasn’t stopped him embracing new modalities, often using Facebook to launch new music and run polls for fans to decide which singles should come first. This time round he is encouraging fans to create their own remixes for new tracks ‘Like A Motherless Child’ and ‘Mere Anarchy’ and has curated a playlist of artists that influenced this latest album.

Self-confessedly, the musician now enjoys something of a lone existence through both the work and leisure aspects of his life and as such is a reluctant live performer, with only five live dates in LA and New York (already sold out) booked to showcase his new music. Though this is partly driven by a moment he recalls seeing a bunch middle-age musicians getting ready to fly back to the States from Heathrow back in the early stages of his career: “They were chubby and sad and exhausted and sick and I thought: ‘Well, I never want to be that.’ Some middle age musician doing another tour because he doesn't know what else to do. If I go on YouTube and someone writes a nice comment about a video to me, that's the goal.”

- - -

It wasn’t stylistic progression as such. They just kept trying to make something great.

- - -

An important figure in the history of electronic dance music, Moby is commonly attributed with helping to lift the genre out of the underground and into the mainstream with his experimental techno and house-influenced material, such as the bestselling 1999 album ‘Play’. His career has taken in eclectic and unexpected turns since, from dabbling in the rock genre with 2007 band ‘The Little Death’ and heavy metal in 2010 with ‘Diamondsnake’, featuring on a litany of movie and TV soundtracks from James Bond to The Bourne Identity.

In turn, Moby founded his own festival Area:One and ran New York club nights such as Degenerates, before collaborating live with legends such as the late Lou Reed and David Bowie, writing with and for a multitude of artists from Britney Spears to Public Enemy, plus producing countless chart-topping hits and performing endless high-profile gigs from Glastonbury’s pyramid stage to DJ sets at Coachella.

Interestingly though, he doesn’t see that his music has necessarily evolved over the course of that time or that he wished it to: “I have never really been that interested in creative progress. I grew up loving writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Kurt Vonnegut and I don't know if they necessarily evolved - they just worked really hard and kept putting out books. It wasn’t stylistic progression as such. They just kept trying to make something great. For me I'm more interested in trying to make something beautiful or trying to make something emotional than trying to make something new or unique.”

- - -

For me the goal is to wake up everyday and try to make music that I love.

- - -

His approach is borne out of a belief that being experimental or reaching for innovation for its own sake is not what great music is about: “One of the things that's frustrating for a lot of musicians is sometimes the simplest music is the most powerful. Think of ‘After The Goldrush’ by Neil Young - it's just a couple of cords with two instruments and it's really powerful. If he had been experimental and tried out weird abstract chord progressions or brought in different instruments it might not have been. If I accidentally evolve or progress that's fine. But for me the goal is to wake up everyday and try to make music that I love. And hope that someone else will love it as well.”

And that approach is perhaps evident in this trip-hoppy new album that presents a meandering return to the the laid-back, transcendental electronica particular to Moby’s trademark sound. Sonically Moby describes drawing nostalgically on the past: “The biggest inspiration was the studio based albums around in the 70s and early 80s - Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Broken English’ - pre-digital, where people would still use the studio like an instrument. Where they were playing around with synthesising and techniques but they were still working in the analogue realm. Also post-punk records like Liquid Liquid and a lot of things coming from the R&B/soul/reggae genres where vocals were still very prominent but they were creating sounds that were at times experimental.”

- - -

- - -

Thematically, he dwells on the small scale issues of the fate of the planet and human race, sharpened by recent political events: “The question I'm really horrified and fascinated by lately is the question of ‘Why do we as humans keep making so many terrible mistakes?’ It's an unfolding apocalypse.”

At once euphoric and gently unsettling, tracks such as single 'This Wild Darkness' reflect this existential pondering, alternating between despairing confusion and optimistic longing for a better future, that pervades Moby’s own consciousness and is given expression through his music. Moby’s spoken-word-style vocals contrast to spiritually-minded gospel choir refrain, “Ooo in this darkness, please light my way.” While ‘Mere Anarchy’ is described in his promotional material as "post apocalypse, people are gone, and my friend Julie and I are time traveling aliens visiting the empty Earth.”

- - -

We have no idea if our lives have meaning, if we have significance.

- - -

Single ‘Like A Motherless Child’ offers a complete reimagining of a spiritual song originating in the slavery-era Deep South featuring guest vocalist LA soul singer Raquel Rodriguez. Not the first to put his own spin on it - Odetta, Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson, Laura Mvula and Van Morrison have all produced interpretations - he explained his inspiration for the reworking as a “good name-dropping story”: “I was having dinner a few years ago with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, and Bill T. Jones, this remarkable choreographer, joined us. During dinner he stood up and sang ‘Like A Motherless Child’ acapella in the middle of the restaurant. It was really powerful and beautiful.”

But the song also hangs heavy with meaning for Moby on multiple levels: “On a personal level I am a motherless child, because my mother died a while ago. But also it's more about who we are as a species - just floating along on this planet in the middle of the solar system in a universe we know nothing about. We have no idea if our lives have meaning, if we have significance. So on the one hand it's about me but then it's also just about who we are as a species.”

Long forming an integral part of the artists’ output is Moby’s accompanying visual art, from album covers made up of his own photography on ‘Destroyed’ and ‘Innocents’, to carefully-crafted videos, such as 2009 David Lynch-directed ‘Shot In The Back Of The Head’ and 2016’s ‘Are You Lost In The World Like Me?’ created by animator Steve Cutts. The videos for his new tracks are no exception to this tradition, with ‘Like A Motherless Child’ presenting powerful black-and-white haunting images of an unsmiling Moby amidst shadowed, empty concrete spaces and ‘This Wild Darkness’ plunging us into a retro-vibe cosmic world of “eschatology and space travel.”

- - -

It’s remarkable music can affect us so strongly...

- - -

Despite brooding on the “unfolding apocalypse” we face, and fast-paced changes in the music landscape, Moby also has a strong sense of the underrated power music itself holds “as a legitimate and viable healing modality”, referencing neurological research that looks at how music “actually transforms people. Can change their endocrine system, reduce stress hormones and can promote neurogenesis.”

It can also allow people to access their deepest, most vulnerable, emotional selves: “It’s remarkable music can affect us so strongly. Music has technically never existed. It’s just air molecules that already exist being pushed around a little bit differently. But yet it can make us cry and jump up and down in a field with a hundred thousand other people. Can make us drive or fly thousands of miles to go to a concert. Think of how many people in the UK who in the last year the only time they cried is listening to a piece of music?”

And that’s one thing he believes will always remain: “The technology we use, how we produce music, how we listen to music, how we consume music - everything has changed. The only thing that hasn't changed is the individual's emotional relationship to a piece of music that they love. And to me that's the most important aspect of it.”

- - -

- - -

'Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt' is out now.

Words: Sarah Bradbury

Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

Buy Clash Magazine

 

-

Follow Clash: