By louis tanguay
First of all,
I just wanted to say it's an honor for me to talk to you, because
I was a vegetarian and I read the notes on your last album, Everything
Is Wrong, and was persuaded to go vegan. Your essays changed my
whole outlook on everything.
an intelligent person. Is it a challenge to believe in a higher
No. In fact,
I don't see why being intelligent would be at cross-purposes with
It seems to
me like it's really hard to scientifically explain the existence
(laughs) I think if you look at the intricacy and complexity of
the world around us, I think it's really difficult to say that
it just happened by accident. Just look at a human being and physiologically
what human beings are capable of. From our immune systems to sight
to reproduction to instantaneous neurological response to stimulus,
it's really hard to say that it just sort of happened by accident
with a few chemicals in the ocean a few billion years ago. To
evolve into such an intricate system, and the perfect, well-ordered
way in which life works. I think that, to me, all that screams
out that there is some sort of guiding intelligence behind it.
How long have
you been vegan, and what made you make a change?
a vegan now about ten years. I became a vegetarian about twelve
years ago, and it was mainly just ethical reasons. That simple,
inescapable realization that if you like animals it's kind of
difficult to justify eating them. The more I found out about the
way animals were treated and raised, the more it made me realize
I didn't want to be a part of it. On a broader level, it made
me realize that I think it's unjustifiable to try and use any
creature for human purposes. Every creature has its own will,
and to try and harness that will for human reasons I think, if
you can avoid it, it's something that should be avoided.
Do you think
people are hypocritical when they say they could never eat their
dog, yet they will go and eat a hamburger?
Yeah, I think
it's extremely hypocritical, but at the same time, you're removed
from what's really going on. If someone goes to McDonald's and
eats a hamburger, there's almost no obvious connection between
the hamburger and the cow that it came from. If you go to the
supermarket and there's meat that's wrapped in styrofoam and saran
wrap, it's really hard to make the connection to the fact that
it was once attached to a sensitive, living, suffering creature.
When you used
to play live with less people than the band you currently use,
did some people give you flack for having to use prerecorded material?
I would put a lot of the stuff on hard-disk and people would criticize
me for it. My feeling is that a large number of musicians touring
today use prerecorded material. When you go see Nine Inch Nails,
Depeche Mode, Madonna, the Prodigy, or the Chemical Brothers,
there's a lot of stuff that's prerecorded you just might not know
it. Take a band like the Prodigy or the Chemical Brothers; everything
you're hearing is on DAT. Personally, I have no problem with that
as long as the show is interesting. If you enjoy the music, it's
an entertaining show, and you have a good time who cares where
it's coming from? The shows that I'm doing now, nothing's prerecorded.
That's more of a personal, creative choice. Oops, my phone is
being weird, hold on. (He fixes the phone and returns.) Hello?
Um, because you have so much more flexibility just playing live
and not using a hard-disk. As long as people enjoy it, they shouldn't
let the fact that it's being generated by prerecorded stuff concern
you're still playing the stuff, it's just that you can't physically
play everything at the same time.
the ironic part is that when I was criticized for it, the ironic
element is (laughs) I was actually the one playing all the instruments.
If there are keyboard parts and drums parts that are on tape,
you know prerecorded stuff, I'm the one playing it. So, it's strange
to criticize a musician for actually playing more of the music.
Sep. 12, 1997
You started studying music in '76?
Moby: I first
started playing instruments when I was nine, around '74 or '75.
got you motivated?
Moby: At that
point, probably just pop music – the Beatles, the Rolling
Stones, Donna Summer, early Aerosmith...really, just whatever
was on the radio. I was nine or ten years old, so I guess that
my musical palette hadn't developed all that much.
PSF: Did that
change when you starting playing in bands?
first band I was ever in, I think I was thirteen years old. We
played cover songs, anything that we could figure out, anything
that we could get our respective guitar teachers to show us. I
don't think it changed anything. We didn't play out – we
just played in a basement. Then, when I was fifteen, I started
a punk rock band with some friends of mine. We played out a lot
as part of the New York and Connecticut hardcore scene.
PSF: How did
that affect your music?
Moby: I think
if anything, it just gave me a sense of...when you put something
on stage, it should be entertaining. At the time, the hardcore
scene was really dynamic. You'd go to shows, and they'd be just
the most entertaining things you'd ever seen. Now, I think that's
instilled me with a sense of performing and making an effort to
be dynamic, engaging, and entertaining.
PSF: You lived
in an abandoned factory for a while, right?
exactly abandoned – quasi-abandoned. It was in Stamford,
Connecticut and it was slated to be destroyed. I had a really
small space on a floor, and the whole floor was abandoned. I was
the only tenant there, so my space was maybe 400 or 500 square
feet. The rest of the floor was 40,000 square feet. I had my little
studio there and lived and worked there. I loved it. It was wonderful,
even though I didn't have running water.
changed when you started DJ-ing in '84?
that, I'd always been interested in dance music. One of the first
singles I ever bought was "The Message," by Grandmaster
Flash. I always loved Donna Summer, Kraftwerk and New Order and
a lot of dance music. I didn't know it was dance music –
I thought it was new wave or whatever. When I started DJ-ing,
I started getting interested in stuff that was exclusively dance
music. Hip-hop, dancehall reggae and early house music.
you seem to be going back to your roots.
I really don't have any roots.
you seem to be playing more rock music now.
I first started playing guitar, I loved lots of different types
of music and I still do. Even now, with a record like Animal Rights,
which, granted, has a lot of guitar stuff on it, but...while I
was making that I was making the Voodoo Child record, which is
exclusively electronic. I've never seen the point of doing one
thing to the exclusion of anything else.
PSF: So you
see a difference between your different projects?
Moby: I see
lots of differences between the work that I do, but they all come
from the same person.
said that the difference between "intelligent techno"
and other techno is that you can't dance to "intelligent
techno." What did you mean there?
was a period in '93 and '94 when the British rave scene had become
very blue collar, very working class. I think that offended a
lot of more middle-class music journalists in England. So they
started championed things like Orbital and Aphex Twin and B12
and Autechre – basically, it was techno but it wasn't dance
if that's what they want to listen to, but they took it upon themselves
to disparage dance music. Essentially, when you have one record
that's a dance record being made with the same exact equipment
as what's being used to make an "intelligent techno"
record, it's really hard for me to set up distinctions between
the two and say one is inherently better or worse than the other.
Things are just different. I don't know why people are always
trying to set up these musical hierarchies. It is quite possible
for lots of different musical genres to peacefully coexist.
taken several strong positions on social issues. How do you think
an artist can make a difference in peoples' lives?
Moby: I think
that there are a few ways. One is trying to do a little bit of
personal research and share what you find out with other people.
Another is by just being an example. I think that's my case –
someone who's striving to figure things out and striving to live
well and live without too much environmental impact. I think that
it's probably the best thing I can do.
PSF: Do you
think your lyrics bear out these sentiments?
The lyrical stuff that I deal with is exclusively emotional. With
my political, social and environmental interests, I feel much
more comfortable dealing with them prosaically, in an essay format.
always talked about how you thought that culture should be challenging.
How do you see that?
Moby: I think
that not all culture should have to be challenging, but occasionally
challenging culture can be really nice. The Sex Pistols were wonderful.
The Clash were wonderful. Bad Brains were wonderful. Public Enemy
were really wonderful because they were really in your face, and
challenging, and very political. There can be other things that
can be aesthetically challenging. I just don't think that culture
should retreat from being challenging. I think a lot of music
and a lot of culture does that, it just sort of trots out the
same old stuff slightly repackaged. I think that's a shame.
PSF: How do
you see your work as going against that?
Moby: By trying
to be honest, for one thing. Experimenting a lot, and trying to
be vulnerable a lot. Trying to invest what I do with a lot of
sincerity and a lot of emotion.
kind of hobbies or interests do you have outside of your music?
Moby: My hobbies
and interests are actually kind of dull. [Laughs] I like to read
a lot. I read the the New Yorker and the Economist cover to cover
every week. A lot of fiction, non-fiction...I hang out with my
friends and occasionally get drunk out of my mind. Swim, play
tennis, go canoeing on occasion. Basic mundane stuff, but it keeps
PSF: You were
talking before about putting on a good show. A lot of techno today
isn't too exciting live, but you really make an effort to do a
Moby: I think
that's one of dance music's weakest points – the way that
it's presented live. At this point in my life, I've never seen
a good live dance act or a good live electronic music act. Never,
ever, ever. It either veers to the cartoon-ish or it's the same
old thing with two guys on stage not doing anything. The lights
may be wonderful and the music may be wonderful but there's no
reason why the performers themselves can't be more dynamic and
can't make more of an effort to be entertaining and communicate
with the audience.
PSF: Why do
you think that is?
Moby: I think
that's because they're all really shy. [Laughs] A lot of electronic
dance music comes out of England, and there are a lot of shy,
reserved English musicians. I think that with electronic music
also, because a lot of these guys aren't singing, they haven't
figured out ways to present themselves in a live format.
making a distinction between English dance music and dance music
from other countries, then?
Moby: I don't
really know. I wouldn't say that you could break down differences
between countries. Scottish dance music is very different than
dance music from Manchester which is very different than dance
music from London. I certainly wouldn't get into any sort of nationalism
or nation-orientated distinctions between dance music.
PSF: Are there
any particular artists you hear now which you like?
Moby: In most
cases, with electronic dance music, it tends to be singles-based.
I'll be out dancing and hear a great single and never know who
did it, and it's more anonymous then. I like a lot of the more
commercial stuff like the Prodigy and Tricky. I like them a lot.
done a lot of remixes and production work. How do you find that
kind of work?
Moby: To be
honest, I like doing it but I prefer working on my own. Working
with other people can be really interesting but at the end of
the day, I like doing it on my own better.
do you see as the future of dance music?
Moby: I think
one of most exciting things in electronic music now is this sort
of hybridization that's going on. You have rock bands collaborating
with dance acts. You have people experimenting with musical traditions
in a very open-minded way and combining things that have never
otherwise been combined. I love that. I certainly have very little
time or patience for the more purist approach to dance music.
I think what makes dance music exciting is making it functional
and investing it with an air of experimentation so that people
feel free to experiment and express themselves in more unconventional
you talk about your work with Trophy Records?
it's just a way for me to put out records under different names.
The stuff on Trophy is the stuff that I really wanted to do but
it didn't bother me if it was successful or not. It's more self-indulgent
dance stuff. More underground things I guess.
PSF: You studied
philosophy while you were at college. How do you think that's
affected the work that you do?
Moby: I think
it's compromised my ability to be really, really successful. [Laughs]
I think in general...it's hard to explain. It's a double-edged
sword. It tends to be a good thing and a bad thing. I tend to
see a lot of different things. I don't see very many things as
being inherently right or inherently wrong. I think a lot of great
pop music is made by people who approach the world in a very one-dimensional,
monolithic way. Unfortunately, I tend to look at broader cultural
contexts and I think that sometimes limits my ability to write
a really great pop song. [Laughs]
Many Faces of Moby
By Blair Jackson
Mar 1, 2005
You once described
recording as “an intuitive craft.” I wonder how it
has changed for you during the years, as technology has advanced
and you've learned more about making records.
I think when
I was talking about it being intuitive, what I was referring to
was having a home studio. One of the nice things about working
at home is you become so familiar with your equipment and your
setup that if you want a certain sound, you don't really have
to think about how to accomplish it; you do it almost instinctively.
But how recording
has changed! The first recordings I ever made were with a home
mono cassette recorder I borrowed from my grandfather when I was
10 years old. I think my first-ever recording was the sound of
my mother chopping a cucumber. It turned out really well. When
I was 16 or 17, I borrowed a friend's Tascam 4-track Portastudio,
and at the time, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.
Then, when I was 18 or 19, I bought my own Portastudio.
I think people
forget what an important invention that was. It really was the
gateway for so many musicians to get into recording.
To suddenly have the ability to record on multiple tracks at home…and
bouncing — I used to bounce tracks like crazy so you'd end
up with this terrible-sounding mess [Laughs] but you had nine
or 10 tracks on there and it was a fun way to record. I still
have hundreds and hundreds of songs that were recorded on the
period, I had a combination of a Portastudio with a MIDI setup.
My first MIDI setup was an Alesis sequencer with a Casio keyboard
and an Alesis drum machine. That Alesis sequencer was really fun;
especially for playing live, it was great to be able to manually
punch tracks in and out. That was probably the mid-'80s. Then
in the early '90s, I finally made the switch to using a computer
and got into using [Steinberg] Cubase.
I know that
through the years you've primarily recorded in your own home studio,
but have you also spent much time in conventional recording studios?
on this new record. I'd say about three-quarters of it was recorded
at home. I did all of the electronic stuff at home and the vocal
at home. But we recorded the live drums at Electric Lady [New
York City] and most of the guitars and some other things were
done at Loho Studios on the Lower East Side. We mixed at Electric
Lady, as well. We recorded everything on Pro Tools, but we mixed
onto half-inch tape.
most of his new album, Hotel, at his ergonomically correct home
Loho is a
Neve room, right?
have this great Frankenstein Neve that has parts from four or
five different Neves cobbled together.
What do Electric
Lady and Loho have that your own studio doesn't have? Is it the
live rooms and fantastic-sounding microphones. Especially for
mixing, too…mixing in Pro Tools is fine — if you don't
care too much.
What do you
I love Pro
Tools, but I personally don't like recording and mixing in the
digital domain. There's something you get being able to go through
an analog desk that I really love. We mixed all of this on an
SSL J Series at Electric Lady. Obviously, I love plug-ins, but
I think they're best for special effects; I don't like them much
for compression and EQ and things like that. They just don't sound
as good to me as the onboard EQ on an SSL or a Neve, or as good
as outboard EQs. As time has passed, I use plug-ins less and less.
Again, I mainly use them for special effects — creating
sounds you could never create in the analog world. Some plug-ins
are nice, but a lot of them sound sort of thin to me.
some really gorgeous, fat guitar textures on the new album.
were recorded through a Matchless amp, I believe. It was owned
by the guy who engineered and mixed the record with me, Brian
did you mostly use?
I have this
crappy old guitar; I don't even know what it is. Let me go look…Oh
yeah, it's this Carlo Robelli $180 guitar. Actually, it sounds
pretty good. Years ago, when I was touring and breaking a lot
of equipment, I developed this ethos of buying the cheapest equipment
I could find so when I broke it I wouldn't care.
sworn I heard a Les Paul in there somewhere.
You did. Brian
had a gold-top Les Paul that we used, as well. There was also
a really nice acoustic guitar, and Brian set up this complicated
miking system with a Neumann over the body and something else
on the neck. It ended up sounding really good.
Were you familiar
with Brian's work through the years? I know he worked with Patti
Smith, Guided By Voices, Orbital…
I'd seen his
name cropping up on a lot of different records, either engineering
or producing. We worked together fantastically. It helps, too,
that we live in the same neighborhood. He's obviously very good
at what he does and very meticulous, which is good because I tend
to be kind of lazy. It's nice to have someone focusing on the
guitar being in tune and everything sounding good. I like making
good-sounding records and I like good performances, but I guess
I'm of the old school because I really can't think of too many
parts that require being played more than two or three times.
Brian told me about working with other bands that do things like
spend a week working on one guitar part. That doesn't interest
me. I mean, you go back and listen to an old Rolling Stones record
and it sounds like it was written and recorded in about 20 minutes.
really nice cohesion and continuity to the record. The songs flow
together well sonically and thematically — one seems to
lead into the next in a thoughtful way. I'm assuming most of the
songs were written around the same time rather than being from
I think some of that continuity and cohesion you're talking about
is accomplished, hopefully, through the sequencing of the record,
which is something I really spend a lot of time on. I can work
fairly quickly writing and recording a song, but actually finishing
the record and deciding what should be included and what the order
should be can take months.
On the new
album, a song like “Beautiful” has so much going on.
I hear at least three acoustic guitar lines — left, center,
right — two electric guitars, drums, electronic rhythm,
keyboards, all sorts of vocals. How would you typically construct
a song like this? Is it something you would've demo'd on, say,
an acoustic guitar and then built from there?
Yes, I wrote
it on acoustic guitar and then I recorded a version at home with
guitars through Amp Farm and then re-recorded everything [at Loho]
and added live drums. This record, from a production perspective,
was a lot different than records I'd made in the past.
Part of it
was influenced by some Michael Jackson remixes I did years ago:
“Thriller”; things that Quincy Jones produced. Those
were 48 tracks and I was really impressed with the way the sounds
were recorded and the fact that so much was doubled and tripled.
Then I was reading an old interview with [Cars and Queen producer]
Roy Thomas Baker and he was talking about layering and layering.
So I figured with Pro Tools and a huge SSL board you can do that
and you don't have to use the layers if you don't want to. So
on all the “big” songs on [Hotel] — things like
“Beautiful,” “Raining Again,” “Lift
Me Up” — it's tons and tons of layers. I have three
kick drums, three snare drums. There are probably about 30 background
vocals on those songs, four or five acoustic guitar parts, six
electric guitar parts, seven or eight stereo string pads.
[Laughs] I put it all in there so that when we were mixing, rather
than taking, say a single low-end synth sound and giving it bite
[through processing], it makes more sense to record the exact
same string part with a different patch that has the bite you
want. And when you need high end, you bring up the string patch
that has high end built into it naturally.
made the mix a little nightmarish, no?
No, it actually
came together really nicely. On paper it might sound excessive
to have so much stuff in there, but it wasn't gratuitous because
everything was serving a purpose and there wasn't the ego of,
“Oh, I have to record this perfect lead guitar and make
it as loud as possible.” Everything was in service of making
the songs as nicely produced as possible. I know some people go
crazy with all the options they have in Pro Tools, but I had a
clear idea of what the music should sound like so it didn't feel
to me like I had “extra” parts; I needed them. Songs
like “Beautiful” and “Spiders” I think
are about 96 independent audio tracks. But even if there are 20
or 30 background vocals, they're mixed so they give you a sense
of space and don't draw too much attention to themselves.
What is your
primary string synth?
I use a lot
of them. Some of the big string parts are a combination of an
old Roland F5080, an old Yamaha SY-22 and this Pro Tools plug-in
called Atmosphere that's really big-sounding. I can get pretty
much anything I want from those three.
have influenced how you use string sounds? There are so few hip
ones from the rock world — Tony Visconti, Paul Buckmaster…
A lot of it
is just taking a real simple approach. Like if I'm using a G-major
chord, I would probably leave the fifth out and focus on the root
and the major third. I like the strings to have an emotional quality
but still maintain that sense of space, without getting claustrophobic.
Angelo Badalamenti [of Twin Peaks fame] approached his strings
natural simplicity to the chord progressions you write. They move
in logical ways and you can sort of feel how they're going to
go, both in your pop tunes and in your ambient work.
I can see
that. When I first started playing music, when I was nine or 10
years old, I had a guitar teacher who only liked complicated music.
His criteria for evaluating music was, “How difficult is
it?” If it was difficult, it was good; if it was simple,
it was bad. And for a few years, I tried to go along with that
so I'd listen to Larry Carlton and all this complicated music,
and the truth was, I didn't like it very much. Then I discovered
punk rock and I had this epiphany that simple songs played simply
can be a lot more effective than really complicated songs. Then,
maybe 10 years ago, some friends and I started a cover band and
it was playing in that band and seeing how other people write
songs that made me realize that the majority of great classic
songs are painfully simple. Look at [Lynyrd Skynyrd's] “Sweet
Home Alabama” or [Lou Reed's] “Walk on the Wild Side.”
I can't count the number of great songs that have two or three
chords to them.
that all the music you write — whether it's instrumental,
based around vocal samples or whatever — is very personal.
But when you come up with a set of songs like this batch —
you singing your lyrics — do you feel more emotionally exposed?
it used to make me very uncomfortable. But as time has passed,
I've developed this strange comfort with being vulnerable and
emotional in front of strangers. It used to make me profoundly
uncomfortable. There's also the notion that when you're writing
these emotional songs, you have to, on one hand, care about how
people are going to respond, but on the other, you have to say,
“If people hate this or hate me because of it, that's too
bad because I can't completely base my self-worth on the opinions
any producers whose work influenced the sound of your album? There
are some touches that remind me of Tony Visconti's work on the
great Bowie albums of the '70s or the ones he did with T-Rex —
like the way he used Flo & Eddie for backing vocals on Electric
Warrior and The Slider.
of the songs [on Hotel] are almost paying homage to that sound.
one of those?
so, and also “Beautiful.” There's something about
the glam-rock way of producing records — everything is very
tight and defined — and to an extent I wanted to incorporate
that ethos into some of this record.
Did you like
that kind of music at the time?
I was a little
too young to “get” glam rock too much. I liked what
I heard on the radio — The Sweet and Marc Bolan, and whatnot.
As for other
producers, obviously one of my biggest influences would be Brian
Eno, from producing the Bowie records, to My Life in the Bush
of Ghosts, to U2, to Devo, to the Talking Heads.
Eno is where
I probably heard ambient music for the first time. I used to lie
with my head between the speakers listening to Discreet Music
over and over back in the mid-'70s.
buying Ambient 4: On Land and thinking it was just amazing —
taking these non-musical sounds and making something very musical
and powerful with it was very interesting.
Tell me about
how Hotel and the Hotel Ambient disc intersect. Were you making
these two discs at the same time?
Yes. As far
as ambient music goes…I just love really quiet, bucolic,
melodic music. And the nice thing about working on the ambient
music is that most of it is really simple.
Not 96 tracks.
Oh, no. Toward
the end of the ambient disc, there's even a song that has two
tracks, I think. It was almost kind of like a palate cleanser
for me. If you're spending your days recording tons of tracks
for more conventional songs, it's nice to then go home and work
on more quiet atmospheric music. I'm not sure if there's actually
any thematic relationship between them. It was more like show-and-tell:
I've made these two records I like and I'm going to put them out
together and see what happens.
on turning 40 later this year?
one thought is that there's an epidemic in New York and probably
in a lot of big cities where people get to a certain level of
success and then they continue working and driving themselves
crazy even though they don't need to. So my hope for the future
is that I'm not one of those guys who's 55 years old and having
a triple-bypass and peptic ulcers and screaming at your assistant.
I see so many people who are making tons and tons of money and
they still wake up every day angry. I'd much rather wake up and
go ride my bike and play with dogs and write music.
So much of
your music has that sort of optimism to it.
I make records, I want to make them so that people can find a
place for them in their lives. I like the idea of records that
are warm and inviting.
Do you have
a sense on how this record will be received? I guess “We
Are All Made of Stars” was pointing in this direction, but
I think a lot of people might be surprised by how song-oriented
the album is.
I'm sure there
are some people who are going to think it's too commercial. There's
a whole underground music world that for the most part has very
little interest in what I do. And that's okay.
time in that world!
I did. But
I don't want to be 39 years old and vying for the attention of
a 21-year-old indie rock journalist. They have their own world,
and I really like the music that comes out of that world, but
it would be disingenuous for me to suddenly make a really obscure
indie rock record. I love the music, but it's not where my heart