Rising Swiftly to the Surface: An Interview with Moby

Posted: November 15, 1999 by Sean Flinn in Interviews, Music
Tags: , , ,

Moby @ Coachella 1999

Moby rocks bodies on Day 2 of the 1999 Coachella Valley Festival. Photo by Sean Flinn

True story — a confession, if you will: Prior to interviewing Moby, I knew very little about the man. I mean, I’ve read the occasional article about him, knew he was a born-again Christian, a descendant of Herman Melville (hence his moniker) and a vegetarian. I knew as well that he made electronic music but occasionally lapsed into fits of punk rock (as on his album Animal Rights) and movie soundtracks, e.g., I Like to Score. What’s more, I didn’t know I would have an opportunity to interview him until the evening before I was to chat with him. V2, his record label, approached me in the media tent at the Coachella Festival while I awaited an audience with Rick Smith of Underworld and told me I could speak with Moby on Day 2, if I so chose.

Ignorant but not idiotic, I seized the opportunity. With 24 hours to prepare myself, I took advantage of the Tower Records booth set up on site at the festival and purchased his most recent album, Play, which was released in June. Coachella’s fine media relations folks had provided journalists with a packet of bio information on the artists on the bill, so I figured I could use that and the album to bring myself at least partially up to speed on my subject. Except … guess whose bio the packet didn’t include. Bingo. Moby. And I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids, I thought to myself.

Tense but not entirely panicked, I figured Play and the festival itself would give me enough to talk about to spark some sort of dialogue. That much I foresaw accurately. I didn’t anticipate Moby’s magnetic personality. Mild mannered and articulate, Moby also conveys the impression that he has a hard time sitting still. He doesn’t exactly fidget. He just exudes an energy that seems wasted on conversation; he belongs, I found out later, while watching him perform, on stage.

[Editor’s Note: This interview originally appeared on the now defunct streaming radio / music portal, RadioSpy.com]

Sean Flinn: My first set of questions have to do with the Festival. How much time have you been able to spend here? What are your general impressions of the way things are going?

Moby: I just arrived this morning, so I haven’t seen that much. But what I have seen leads me to believe that this is probably the nicest festival I have ever been involved in.


I’ve been playing festivals for at least the last eight or nine years in Europe, and I did Lollapalooza. I’ve done Woodstock. I’ve done tons of festivals in my life, and this is a really special event.

It feels really good. Last night had a good vibe to it. Are there any bands in particular that you’re interested in seeing at all or interacting with?

It’s interesting for me that, when I look at the lineup, every single artist I like. Either I like [them], or I have respect for [them]. I’m kind of floored. I’ve never done a festival like that. Like, when I did Woodstock, I found half of the acts to be — either I wasn’t interested in them, or I found them distasteful. Like, at Woodstock, I loved being on the same bill as Willie Nelson. But all the sort of generic alternative-rock stuff, the sort of testosterone-driven macho rock …

The sport metal …

Yeah, I hate that stuff. I mean, sometimes it’s kind of like — it’s cool if there’s a snowboarding commercial and you hear that kind of music underneath. That can be cool. But it doesn’t do anything for me.

Do you think the bands and the way they chose the lineup at that festival contributed to some of the problems they had?

I understand that, for Woodstock, they were trying to attract as many people as possible, so they had to appeal to the lowest common denominator. So they had a lot of aggressive, macho rock bands. But the problem is, when you have a lot of aggressive, macho rock bands, you attract a lot of aggressive, macho rock people — fans. And I think all the problems at Woodstock were the result of the bands that they had there. Exclusively. I mean, like, you can blame $4 waters, you can blame the weather, but if you didn’t have Insane Clown Posse, Limp Bizkit, Korn, etc. — all these aggressive, macho rock bands — you wouldn’t have had so much aggression.

To change track a little bit, I wanted to make sure we could get some time in to talk about Play, specifically some of the inspirations that you found for composing the different tracks on that — especially the more gospel- and blues-tinged tracks.

My only inspiration when making a record is to make music that I like and that, hopefully, other people will like as well. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I just wanted to make nice music. I wasn’t thinking about whether it incorporated old elements or new elements; I was just trying to make something nice.

I’ve noticed over the course of your albums that people try to pigeonhole you as a purely electronic artist, and then they’re very surprised when you put out something that’s more rock-oriented. Do you see yourself as having to rebel against being pigeonholed at all?

When I make a record, I’m not really thinking so much about genre; I’m not thinking about the elements that go into making the record. I’m really just thinking about how the music makes me feel when I listen to it. So when I made Animal Rights — which two thirds of it is, like, a really hard punk, almost metal album — that was just, on a very selfish artistic level, the record I wanted to make. But I wasn’t rebelling against electronic music. I mean, I love everything. I love jazz and punk rock and classical and house music and hip-hop and R&B and everything. So it’s like, I just have all these musical styles at my disposal, so I like to incorporate them into the records to make the types of records I want to make.

I’m kind of the same way insofar as my listening habits go. Do you find this is causing you space problems with regards to storing your record collection?

I don’t have that many records. I have one CD booklet — you know, a book that holds 50 CDs or something? I just keep it filled, and if I get new records, I put those in and have to get rid of the old ones. I have a drawer that I throw all my old CDs in.

So you’re just constantly bringing in the new blood?

It’s kind of like my bookshelf. My bookshelf is quite small. If I get new books, the old ones that I don’t like leave.

To change track again, our site, RadioSpy, is devoted to streaming media and SHOUTcast servers and things like that. What are your opinions on how online media is affecting the record industry and how bands approach marketing their music and getting their music out to fans?

I think that one of the nicest things about the Internet is that people can have access to any information that they want to have access to. Like, when I was growing up, the only way I could find out about Joy Division was, like, hoping that someone would write about them in a music magazine. The only good thing about that was that it made it really precious when I found something out. Like, if I found an article on Joy Division when I was 16 years old, it was a coup because they were so hard to come by. But now that people have access to information, I think it’s wonderful. As far as how bands use that to market to people, I don’t know. I just use it on a sort of organic level. Like, I communicate to the people who run my Web sites, and they’re my friends. It’s interesting to hear what people have to say about people and my music.

So you’ve been in touch with some of the people who have Moby fan sites?

Oh, yeah. There’s this one Web site, moby.org, which is sort of the mother of all Moby sites, and it’s completely unofficial. The guy who runs it, Daniel Cerman, if he doesn’t like one of my records, he’s free to write that he doesn’t like the record. If he wants to write about a bootleg, [he can] write about a bootleg. So it’s very unofficial. We’ve met a couple of times. He actually came to New York once.

Wow, that’s terrific. That’s really good to hear because so many times you hear about some bands, like Oasis, really clamping down on some of the fan sites that are out there.

No! My feeling is that if someone is going to go to the effort to do anything regarding me and my music, I’m flattered. If someone buys a T-shirt, I’m humbled and flattered. If someone starts a Web site, I’m completely humbled and flattered. So, I would never in a million years think of clamping down, even if they’re giving away bootlegs, even if they’re doing — whatever — it’s very flattering.

At that, Moby’s publicist signaled that my interview had to wrap up, so I stopped tape and wished the man well. Like many of the other artists at Coachella who were gracious enough to give time to the media, Moby had almost overtaxed his supply of pre-performance free time in order to accommodate as many journalists as possible, and I didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity. Despite a grueling travel schedule and a long, long session with various members of the music press, Moby went on that night to deliver a highly energetic, upbeat set as the Festival’s second-stage headliner.

Buy Moby’s music at Amazon.com

Visit Moby’s Web site

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