Interview with Moby: Work Is Play

When Moby’s Play became a massive success, it made the friendly New York transplant something akin to the face of electronic music, and in a slightly inaccurate way, dance music. Few electronic musicians before him received the adulation of both the public and the press, as Moby was ready and willing to talk (as he kindly did with us), something of an anomaly in the genre.

But with fame and success came pressure, and the idealistic, eager-to-please Moby’s work was changed by it, whether he was aware of it at the time. Then, after watching a speech by filmmaker David Lynch (who directed Moby’s most recent single, “Shot In The Back Of The Head”) at a BAFTA event, where Lynch rather poetically outlined his stance on creativity in the marketplace, Moby came to a realization that he had been trying to please everyone all of the time, and that wasn’t why he wanted to make music in the first place.

The result was the ambient Wait For Me, a calmer, more reflective Moby that stands in contrast to last year’s Last Night, a dance-oriented record. Moby talked briefly over the phone about his aforementioned pressures, his taking Wait For Me on the road in the U.S. and his quirky apartment/recording studio.

I couldn’t resist watching your David Lynch interview because it is related to your central headspace for the record—that creativity is beautiful and what you create should be in service of that and not in service of the marketplace. Did you feel you had been in service of the marketplace?

Basically, I spent a long time being confused because I really never expected to have any sort of career as a musician. When I was growing up I thought that I would spend my entire life just working in music in obscurity that no one would ever listen to, except for maybe a long-suffering girlfriend. If we were talking 25 years ago, I would have guessed that I would probably end up working part time in a bookstore and maybe teaching a couple of classes at community college.

So in the ‘90s I had a strange career as a musician, sometimes things worked out, sometimes they didn’t. Then when Play became successful, I suddenly started thinking that I had to do things more conventionally. It seemed like if every other musician on the planet made records in big studios with very established engineers and producers, then I thought that’s what I should do. The only problem being when I did that, I ended up with records I didn’t really like that much. The album Hotel that I put out, I think the songs themselves aren’t bad, but I just did a really bad job producing the record because I created something anodyne and conventional. And when I look at my own record collection, I’ve never really been drawn to conventional, anodyne records.

So you do in hindsight feel that your art has been affected by market pressure?

A little bit of almost everything pressure. With an album like that I was getting pressure from my managers and from people at the record company—because originally I’d been signed to Mute Records and then Mute was bought by EMI—and so for that album in particular I was getting a lot of pressure from the people who ran EMI. I was sort of naively hoping that I could make a record that I liked, that somehow the people at EMI would like, that somehow fans would like and my friends would like, and I realized that unfortunately it’s just not possible to do that. Every now and then there are those fluke records that have credibility and have artistic merit and also manage to sell well.

I think I was reading an interview with Kings Of Leon, and I actually don’t know their music at all, but they were talking about how—at least my reading of it—they were being quite candid and they were saying that the reason they had success is they basically did what the record company asked them to do. I realize that the music that I care about that I’ve made or that other people have made is music that probably does not have such a broad appeal and that is more personal and more idiosyncratic and sonically more interesting.

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