- 17 May 19
To mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Play, we're revisiting Stuart Clark's interview with Moby, originally published in Hot Press in 2003.
I first realised that Moby is not like other people when his PR person asked me to take him out for dinner back in 1993.
Vegan meal ordered, the conversation turned to such hot topics as Lemmy’s warts, S&M mummification and what not to say to 3,000 E’d up techno nutters (the previous week had found him telling the regulars at a German gabba club, “This track is dedicated to Jesus Christ and if you don’t like it you can fuck off!”).
Everything was going swimmingly until, concerned that his butter bean dip had a touch of the dairy products about it, he downed cutlery and embarked on an impromptu kitchen inspection.
It wasn’t until half-an-hour later that he re-emerged, pronounced the cooking facilities “satisfactory” and tucked into a plate of complimentary hors d’oeuvres that had been rustled up by the starstruck head chef.
After another totally surreal conversation about rat poison, I asked – hospitable-sort that I am – where he’d like to go next.
Pausing to think about it for a couple of minutes, he said: “Somewhere where there’s no drugs, drinking, smoking or background music. Oh, and no bright lights.”
This being Dublin at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night, I knew the perfect place – Moby’s hotel room.
Fast forward nine years and it’s a rather more rock ‘n’ roll Richard Melville Hall that’s sat in front of me.
“Don’t tell anybody,” he confides, “but I’m actually the lead guitarist with Slipknot. The reason for the masks is that we’re all famous people leading a parallel heavy metal life (laughs).
“No, it dawned on me a while ago that my reason for not drinking and taking drugs was so that I could look down on people who do. A thought process that was not only dumb, but denied me a great deal of pleasure.”
The 1.24 cents having dropped, Moby set about doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel.
“It wasn’t exactly Mötley Crue, but yes, there was a period when my life could reasonably have been described as ‘hedonistic’. Central to this was me deciding that I didn’t have to bond on a spiritual level with everybody I went to bed with. ‘I like them, they appear to like me… that’ll do!’”
I’d never ask such a personal question but, knowing what filth-hounds Hot Press readers are, would he mind listing his current vices?
“I believe in God, but not organised religion. I’m still vegan and fervently pro-Animal Rights. I have sex, though probably not as often as the people who buy my records do. I drink, mostly in moderation but sometimes to brain-melting excess. I no longer regard drugs as a terrible evil, although my own intake pretty much starts and finishes with ecstasy.”
Moby’s embracing of E is interesting given that it comes 15 years after the pharmaceutical explosion which propelled his strain of ‘repetitive beat’ techno to the top of the charts. Has his own larging it changed the way he views dance culture?
“When I’ve taken ecstasy, the only thing I want to do is be intimately involved with the woman I’m really attracted to. That’s it. I’ll be with one woman and the rest of the world ceases to exist. I don’t even know what’s going on around me, I’m so focused on this person. The idea of going out to a club – I see how it could be fun, but to me it’s all about intimacy.”
Plans to spend 2001 in “the monastic solitude of my own little studio” went out the window when Moby was invited to spend a Saturday afternoon with Lord Henry Mountcharles and 80,000 of his close friends.
“Forgive the namedropping, but I’d been out with the U2 guys on the last night of their American tour, and Bono asked if I’d open up for them at the second Slane Castle gig. And even though I wasn’t in live mode at the time, I said, ‘Yes, of course’ because it seemed like such a wonderful thing to do. And then I had this idea of seeing if Ardal (O’Hanlon) would come and sing ‘My Lovely Horse’. He agreed to it but said that he wouldn’t miss the Ireland vs. Netherlands football match, so we had to send a helicopter for him! It was one of my only examples of rock star largesse.”
I was busy watching England demolish Germany at the time, but I’m told the crowd reaction to Macca’s goal was something special.
“Yeah, they delayed the gig for an hour so that everybody could watch it on the big screen,” he reminisces. “I sort of got caught up in the moment of it, even though my knowledge of football is cursory. I know it involves a bunch of guys running around a field trying to kick a ball into a net, but outside of that it’s nuclear physics to me.”
Keen sporting psychologist that he is, Moby has noticed a fundamental difference in the way our two cultures react to defeat.
“The European attitude towards football is, like, you see grown men weeping when their team loses. In America, nerrrrrr, you’ve been out to the stadium and had some beer, so who cares?
“I find the idea of getting emotionally involved in the athletic prowess of complete strangers a bit odd. I was with Pulp in Portugal when England got knocked out of the ‘98 World Cup, and Jarvis and the guys were devastated. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m so glad I don’t care about this ‘cause right now I’m emotionally fine and they’re going to go to sleep – and wake up – depressed. Just because a bunch of people they’ve never met failed to kick a ball into a net.”
If he’d devoted 32 years of his life to Everton, he’d realise that being a football supporter has nowt to do with logic. But the mention of Pulp reminds me of something I read about Moby and Jarvis Cocker being kindred spirits. The m.o. certainly fits – nerdy guys with an eclectic taste in music, who’ve both become unlikely sex symbols.
“I’m not sure about ‘kindred spirit’, but every time I’ve talked to Jarvis we’ve got on really well. He’s been in New York a lot lately, DJ-ing, and used to go out with this actress, Chloe Sevigny, who I grew up with in the same small town.
“It’s weird, though, ‘cause whenever two public figure musicians meet up there’s always this, like, sycophantic mutual back-scratching which hinders you becoming that person’s friend. I have a lot of celebrity acquaintances but not too many celebrity friends.”
While he “wouldn’t flatter myself by saying we’re bosom buddies”, Moby likes what he’s seen of Bono.
“The guys from U2 should be the most arrogant people on the face of the earth because they’ve been one of, if not the most successful rock band in the world since 1981. As it is, they’re all still so nice and into the music. No way are those guys going through the motions.
“Bono’s a remarkable man. People expect us to talk about religion and stuff, but most of our time together has been spent getting drunk and stupid.”
Has he ever witnessed a tired and emotional Mr. Hewson clambering on the bar and belting out a selection of his favourite arias? A sight for sore eyes, and ears, that was witnessed last year by the Stereophonics.
“No, but I’m sure he’d be awesome. You have to have a larger than life personality to be an opera singer, which no doubt about it, Bono’s got.”
Somebody who he sees on a regular basis – their Manhattan abodes are just a street apart – is David Bowie. Indeed, one of his most treasured possessions is the black Man Who Fell To Earth trilby that Bowie gave him for Christmas. In lieu of a “thank you” note, Moby volunteered for guitar duties when the Jones boy performed ‘Heroes’ at the 2002 Tibetan Freedom Concert.
“In the last year, I’ve played with David at Carnegie Hall; did a Joy Division song with New Order; sang with Ardal O’Hanlon; trio’d – if that’s a word – with Bono and Michael Stipe; and shared a stage with Mission Of Burma.
“The other night – this was so odd – I went to the Groucho Club in London and ended up in this very small bar drinking with New Order, Mick Jones from The Clash, Tony James from Generation X and some of the guys from Blur. When I was growing up, The Clash and New Order, along with David Bowie, were my heroes.”
Having hung out – and got mouldy with both – how do Bowie and Bono compare character-wise?
“(Prolonged mull) With Bono you get the feeling that there’s no artifice. When you hang out and talk to him he’s just being himself. David’s very guarded. You always get the sense that there’s a slight detachment. The key difference being, he’s made a career out of playing characters, while Bono’s made a career out of playing himself.”
Which of Bowie’s various personae is Moby’s favourite?
“The Thin White Duke. The records he made while he was in Berlin, Low and Heroes, are among the most influential of all time. Are you a Bowie fan?”
“What’s your favourite?”
Turn the tables, why don’t you? Sucker as I am for men in slap, Ziggy.
“The theatrical aspect of popular music is something I love,” he nods understandingly. “Unfortunately I’m really bad at it. If I try to wear make-up, I just look daft. But people who can, like Marilyn Manson and Kiss, I’m all for them.”
Yer’ man is less enamoured of Eminem who, perhaps sensing the bad vibes, slags him off on his new ‘Without Me’ single.
“Moby? You can get stomped by Obi,” raps the Real Slim Shady. “You 36-year-old bald-headed boy blow me. You don’t know me. You’re too old, let it go, it’s over. Nobody listens to techno.”
“You can’t buy that kind of publicity,” the object of his scorn beams. “His diss of me is so gentle. He criticises me for being too old at 36, and says ‘no one likes techno, anyway.’ I don’t have the heart to tell him that I haven’t made a techno record in eight years.
“I was very flattered. In the song, he singles out me, N’Sync and Limp Bizkit, which is interesting company to be keeping.”
Is it a retaliatory diss, or a preemptive strike?
“Retaliatory. I personally find music that glorifies misogyny and homophobia very disturbing – and I’ve said it publicly. It’s one thing if you’re talking to adults, but his fan base is very young. The average profile of someone buying an Eminem record is male, aged 11 or 12. I don’t think it’s healthy to have millions of pre-teens thinking that sort of prejudice is cool or funny.”
It’s a sign of Moby’s self-effacement that we’re half-an-hour into our chinwag and he’s yet to mention his new album, 18. The recipient of a stonking ‘10’ on the hotpress dice, its numerous stand-outs include the Sinéad O’Connor-assisted ‘Harbour’. How did the two of them hit it off?
“Well, we never actually met,” he divulges.
“She was supposed to fly to New York to record the vocals, but after September 11th she was, understandably, afraid to fly. So I sent her the tapes and she sent them back to me. We did speak on the phone extensively and we stay in touch via e-mail.”
Living as he does on Manhattan’s Lower Eastside, Moby had a depressingly close-up view of the World Trade Center attack.
“I woke at 8.45 with my friend, Damian, calling me on the phone. He was screaming, ‘The World Trade Center’s been attacked’, so I ran up to my roof and saw the Twin Towers in flames. It was something that I never, ever expected to see and I think I’m still in shock.
“For the first month or so after September 11th,” he continues, “New York was depressed. People were afraid that we’d be attacked again, but over time the city’s got back to normal.”
Indeed, there’s a new live for the moment decadence that’s embodied by bleep boys Fischerspooner.
“The electroclash scene? Basically, a lot of people in New York kind of rejected popular music. If you were 19-years-old in 1997 and your choice was listening to grunge music or going back and checking out Devo and the Buzzcocks, a lot of them went for the latter. That’s how you get The Strokes, how you get The White Stripes, how you get Fischerspooner, Peaches, Princess Superstar etc. etc. They basically gave up on contemporary music and said, ‘You know what? The stuff that was being made in the ‘70s and ‘80s was so much more interesting. It wasn’t coming out of major labels and it had integrity, so let’s just skip popular music and go back to that.’ So that’s why The Strokes were influenced by Lou Reed and Holly Rock and The Velvet Underground, and Fischerspooner are influenced by Suicide and the No Wave scene.”
Given the scale of the World Trade Center tragedy, Moby can be forgiven for “not being concerned right now about radio plays and platinum discs.” Not that the saturation coverage and 10 million sales achieved by his last album, Play, has had a profound effect on his daily existence.
“Well, apart from staying in slightly fancier hotel rooms, my life hasn’t changed much at all. I still have the same friends, still eat in the same restaurants, still shop in the same supermarkets.
“I spent some of the money buying new equipment for my studio, but most of it I just put in the bank. I lead a pretty simple life, actually. I love my apartment in New York and I’ve never been much of a clothes-horse, so whatever I make I put aside for a rainy day.”
Forget rainy days, it’d take a monsoon season to make a meaningful dent in his finances. Along with the standard royalties, there’s the added moolah that comes from tracks being licensed to over 500 films, TV shows and commercials. An eye for a deal which many feel has cheapened the music.
“When I first released Play, it largely fell on deaf ears,” he responds. “It wasn’t getting attention from radio or from the music television channels or from the press, so the only way for me to get people to hear the music was through licensing. I have a rule that my music can’t be used to sell tobacco products or meat-related products. I might license songs from 18, but not as frequently as we did from Play. It might be selfish of me, but I love my music and want people to hear it.”
A hopeless fan who lists Nevermind, Mezzanine, London Calling and Public Image Ltd. as “just some of the records I’d have to rescue from a fire”, Moby decided last year to try his hand at this promoting lark. Not a one-off show, you understand, but a coast-to-coast jaunt, Area: One, which featured the diverse talents of Outkast, Incubus, New Order, Paul Oakenfold, The Roots and The Orb.
“It was inspired by a lot of the European festivals, which are by definition quite eclectic. There are a bunch of travelling tours in the States – Ozzfest, the Van Warped, TRL – but they’re all one-dimensional. This year we’re doing Area: 2 with myself, Bowie, Ash, Busta Rhymes, Digweed, Tiesto, The Avalanches and Carl Cox.”
Said Mr Cox recently told us about the gig he did in Toronto, which ended with the promoter topping himself. Has Moby had a similarly dark night of the performing soul?
“Nothing as severe as Carl’s, but there was a show in Boulder, Colorado with The Prodigy that ended badly. The monitors went and then came back, only for the PA and most of the instruments to fail. I started berating the soundman, who responded by turning the whole system off in the middle of my encore. I was so angry – this was back when I was a bit more petulant than I am now! – that I went backstage and kicked this huge full-length mirror. I didn’t mean to break it but it shattered, and the owner of the club who’d been doing coke for three days straight without sleeping, flipped. He smashed a bottle on the table, held it to my throat and threatened to kill me unless I paid him $20,000 for not just the mirror, but the ‘pain and suffering’ he’d incurred. Normally in that situation you’d have your friends and the people you’re traveling with to back you up, but they all scarpered.”
Moby will be hoping for a calmer time of things in November when he plays Dublin and Belfast. There’s also talk of him coming back in the summer of 2003 for a major outdoor gig, which will be “as much pleasure as business.”
“When you look at an itinerary and see Dublin, Cork or Galway, those are the dates you get excited about ‘cause you know they’re going to be great. With Irish audiences, there’s a balance between sophistication and enthusiasm. They’re jumping up and down and having a blast, but at the same time you know they’re very bright and getting the nuances.”
The partying was closer to home at Christmas when he threw a little – actually, huge – bash for his chums in a New York bathhouse. Needless to say, there was much merriment and not a little rumpy pumpy.
“It was remarkable,” he beams. “I honestly believe it’s the best party that anyone will ever have gone to. Just imagine, 250 of the most beautiful people scantily-clad and often times naked in this labyrinthine place where you had a swimming-pool, jacuzzis and hot tubs. And there was a dancefloor and a bar. Of course, I just sat in the corner and talked to this woman I’d met for four hours, so I didn’t even experience my own party.
“For months after, I had people coming up to me on the streets and saying, ‘That was the best time I’ve ever had!’ And it was nice ‘cause I paid for it all myself, so no one had to worry about bringing liquor or buying drinks. It was so special.”
Life isn’t just one big naked jacuzzi, though, with Moby venturing into the restaurant trade.
“My ex-girlfriend, Kelly and I, are opening a vegetarian tea-shop and café on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan called Teany. I’m looking forward to it ‘cause it’ll be a nice place for me to go and eat.”
Is he the sort of man you could entrust a soufflé to and not worry about it sagging?
“No, I’m a culinary disaster area,” he rues. “My involvement in Teany is that I’m the silent partner. Kelly’s the cook and manager and designer. It’s basically her restaurant, I’m just paying for it.
“The next time you’re in New York, you should drop by.”
And carry out a pot-by-pot inspection of his kitchen facilities?
“Oh, I’d hoped you’d forgotten that! Like I say, I was a lot more petulant in the old days.”
But still a contrary-minded genius.