Saturday, October 12, 2013

Moby: emotional rescue

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A moment with Moby

We catch up with Moby during his time in Sydney promoting his new album Innocents.

PT5M36S 620 349 September 20, 2013

If ever a visual dictionary carried an entry for the phrase ''reluctant star'', it should be accompanied by an image of Moby.

The American electronic artist - real name Richard Melville Hall - comes without the physical presence or the bluster of many stars, which makes a refreshing change. But to this day

I never expected to have a career as a musician. 


Moby, 48, struggles to understand the success of his enormously popular albums Play and 18, which sold more than 17 million copies between them and topped charts around the globe.

NEWS/ UNWIND: Moby in Sydney Thursday 19th September 2013. Photo:

Contrasting vision: Moby says his new album responds to his Los Angeles environment. Photo: Danielle Smith

''In 1999 the charts were ruled by 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit - very big, obvious pop records, things built to become hit records,'' he remembers. ''Play should never have been successful … It was a weird low-fi record made by a bald guy involving vocals that had been recorded 40 or 50 years before that … [and] I mixed it on a $4000 mixing desk in my bedroom, which is not really the way hit records are made. It really shouldn't have been a hit record and I'm still kind of baffled that it was.''


Next came 18, which Moby says was a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. Moby lived nearby and was woken by frantic phone calls that morning which he dismissed as eager birthday messages (you guessed it: September 11 is his birthday). ''I ran up onto my roof in time to see the second plane hit the tower and it was just seared into my memory.''

Lower Manhattan at that time, he says, was ''a war zone''. Usually uneventful streets were filled with military checkpoints and armoured trucks filled with edgy gun-toting soldiers.

''Everyone I knew who lived in Lower Manhattan was desperately grabbing for anything to give them a sense of comfort … [18, released in 2002] has some songs on it which have a disconcerting sense of comfort to them.''

Moby hasn't matched the global sales of those albums since. Not that it bothers him. ''The lack of commercial success would only be depressing to me if I had been trying to have commercial success.''

Which makes the criticism he faced seem all the more unfair. He was accused of all manner of musical crimes, usually some variation of being a dance-music sellout.

''I never expected to have a career as a musician in the first place,'' he says. ''Any commercial success I've had has been completely accidental.''

Fortunately then, the income from sales and licensing (Play was the first-ever album where all tracks were licensed for use in television, film and advertising) allowed him the freedom to pursue his very modest goal of ''making the music I love''.

Why the nostalgia trip now? Play and 18 have been cited by many critics as a point of comparison for Moby's newest, Innocents. He doesn't see the comparison but if there is a consistent thread to his music it's an ability to make warm and emotional songs. It's present again on Innocents in songs like The Perfect Life and A Case for Shame.

''I love how music affects me emotionally. I love fun music, I love ironic music, but I really love powerful emotional music [and] I love trying to instil my music with some of the same emotional qualities of some of my favourite records by other people.''

Like 18, Innocents is a record that responds to his surroundings. ''LA [where he lives] is so giant and uncohesive and very chaotic and very odd, so in a way I feel like I've made a more quiet, almost more provincial … record because living in this big, strange, uncohesive city made me want to make something a little smaller, almost [an] emotional contrast to the city itself.''

Whatever the critics make of Innocents, Moby says he doesn't want to find out. ''I've stopped reading what's written about me because almost no good can come from [it]. I don't know that I've ever made a record in response to criticism or in response to praise. In my own clueless way I just keep making records in the hope that I'll make something good.''

Innocents is out now.
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