Nada Mucho

Classic Nada: An Interview with Moby

Posted by July 2nd, 2003 No Comments »

Back in 2001, just before Moby released Play and subsequently became one of the most influential and recognizable music-makers on Earth, was so disinterested in the DJ we sent an intern to interview him. Mike Bederka didn’t ask as many potentially insulting questions as we work normally like, but he did hit all of the relevant themes and keep us from passing on the opportunity to interview the man who is arguably the most popular celebrity we’ve gotten our greasy little hands on. And as you’ll see by the time you finish the ensuing review, Moby has no problem looking like a jackass without our help.

In his CD player, Moby doesn’t discriminate. Rapper Jay-Z, punkers Bad Brains and rockers Credence Clearwater Revival are all represented. Over the course of his own career, Moby’s pioneering electronic music has equaled the diversity seen on those three albums.

This DJ slammed into the dance scene with the 1,000 beats-per-minute techno single “Go.” The track not only launched his career, but also attached a face to a previously nameless genre.

The Christ-loving, semi-straight-edge vegan made a spin into the mainstream short years later with the more radio-friendly, Everything Is Wrong. And in 1997, the distant relative of Moby Dick author Herman Melville (from whom he got his nickname) surprised audiences with the guitar-heavy Animal Rights.

One James Bond theme remix later, the jack-of-all-trades is back with Play. Out in stores in June, this album, tinged with soul, blues and hip-hop, shows who is in control.

“When I make a record, I do everything, pretty much,” Moby says. “I write the songs, play the instruments and do all the production and engineering.”

“So really, for better or worse, all you’re hearing on a Moby record is … me.”

NM: Is the world any better since you wrote the album Everything Is Wrong (1995)?
Moby: If I was to make that record now, I think I would probably change the name to “Everything Is Complicated.” As I get older, I just see the world as being a lot more ambiguous. When I was younger, I saw things in very black-and-white terms. I tended to be very arrogant and didactic — I don’t see things that way anymore.

NM: How did it feel to be one of the first American artists to have electronic dance hits over in England?
M: The first successful single I had in England was “Go” in 1991. It was really bizarre to me because I made the song in my bedroom. I remember looking at a British music chart once and seeing it at No.10 in the charts between Phil Collins and Michael Jackson. I assume neither one of them made their songs in the bedroom.

NM: Why do you think that for the most part, techno never became commercially successful in the U.S.?
M: Record companies here have a vested interest in developing more conventional forms of music — something like the Dave Matthews Band for example. I’m not implying any sort of value judgment, but it’s a lot easier for a record company to sell a Dave Matthews album than an Aphex Twin record.

NM: What do you think about the rave scene now? Is it just about the drugs and not the music?
M: In the mid ’90s, the rave scene got really too drug-focused. But now when I DJ or perform, it seems quite healthy again. Dance music and club culture have always been linked to drugs. You just have to accept that whenever you have a dance party, some people are going to want to take drugs. And if someone is an adult and wants to take drugs, that’s their choice.

NM: How does religion influence your music?
M: I don’t know if it has. My religious beliefs are very strange. I love Christ, but I can’t consider myself a Christian by any sort of conventional definition.

NM: Why is that?
M: When you say Christian, do you mean Roman Catholic? Do you mean Eastern Orthodox? Do you mean Baptist? Do you mean Calvinist? There are so many different forms of Christianity, and they really don’t agree with each other.

I’m just a little guy alive for 33 years on a planet that’s five billion years old in a universe that seems to be 15 billion years old. How dare I be so presumptuous as to say anything about the nature of existence? I just don’t know. God might be some old guy with robes and a long white beard. He might be a woman. Or he might be 18 billion different creatures. He or she or it might be anything. I have no idea. Given the information presented to me, I don’t see how I can make any sort of meaningful statement of who or what God is objectively.

NM: What do you say to the people who criticized “Animal Rights” for straying from your usual style?
M: I think there are two ways to criticize that record. One is someone who just doesn’t like harder guitar music. They’re being almost reactionary — and that kinda frustrated me. But then other critics who actually took the time to listen to it and still decided they didn’t like it — I find that more respectful.

What’s really funny is when it first came out; critics almost universally didn’t like it. But as the years have gone on, I have had a lot of people come back to me saying the more they listened to it, the more they liked it. And for some, it ended up as one of their favorite albums.

M: NM: Were you going for more simplicity with the new album title of just Play?
M: Some of my old titles are pretty long and heavy — Everything Is Wrong, The End of Everything, I Like to Score. This album I wanted a nice simple title. There is this school right near my house and they have a playground. And on the wall painted in giant letters like 10 feet tall and 40 feet wide, it says “play.” I saw it every day, and it kind of started to percolate into my conscience.

NM: Did you follow UConn [the college he attended] in the NCAA basketball tournament?
M: I don’t know anything about sports. UConn — they have a basketball team? I don’t mean to be ignorant. I was really into sports when I was young, and then I became a punk rocker. And then it was punk rock or sports — so I ended up choosing punk rock.

NM: Do you think being a role model is an unwanted pressure put upon musicians just because they’re put in the spotlight so much?
M: I would be uncomfortable with being a role model. I wouldn’t want people to emulate me because I’m me. I like being a public figure, but I certainly wouldn’t want a bunch of people changing their life because I changed my life. I make lots of mistakes. I’m wrong most of the time..

For information on the University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball Team click here.  

Originally published in winter 2001. Reposted July 2, 2003. 

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