The electronica artist tells Vanessa Juarez about choosing songs for his greatest-hits album, hating the word ''blog,'' and dreaming of a beer with George W.
Moby is the quintessential New York man. He drinks lots of tea (or so we assume, since he’s a co-founder of Teany, a Manhattan tea shop). He bites his nails (or so it seems). And he’s always busy DJing, blogging, or speaking at various events. Before taking the stage at the second annual multiple-artist ULTRA.NY electronica gig in Central Park last week, I caught up with Moby in his dressing room. As we sat down for a chat, Moby, who was donning a hipster-approved pair of jeans, hoodie, thick-rimmed glasses, and face stubble, motioned for my tape recorder. ”I used to tape my dreams when I’d wake up in the morning,” he said, giving me some pointers on tape speeds. Ironically, the recorder was on pause for the entire interview, a journalist’s worst nightmare. Moby was a good sport about it, though, and we spoke again earlier this week. Excerpts:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us about your greatest hits album [Go: The Very Best of Moby, hitting stores Oct. 24].
MOBY: I was having a conversation with Daniel Miller, who owns Mute Records, and he thought that it would be a good idea to consider putting out some sort of career retrospective. And I said sure — I thought that would be a good idea. But at the same time, I knew that my criteria for determining what my best music has been is quite different from everybody else’s criteria. The music I’ve made that I like the most is the music that most people would never, ever want to listen to. So Daniel is the one who picked the music to go on the best-of, because he has so much more objectivity about it. All of the songs on there make sense to me, but luckily someone else was given the job of picking what went on there.
Do you ever intertwine your old stuff — say, from your days in the early-’80s punk band Vatican Commando — into your new music?
I made a record in 1996 called Animal Rights that was a very difficult, very dark punk-rock record. Of all the records I’ve made, it’s my favorite one. It’s also the one that got the worst reviews and sold the worst.
For the best-of album, you worked with Debbie Harry on a new single called ”New York, New York.” What was that like?
I had written this song and it was sort of an ode to degeneracy in New York City and inspired thematically by things like ”Shattered” by the Rolling Stones or ”Walk on the Wild Side.” I wanted it to almost sound like an electronic disco song from 1984. I thought how great it would be if I could find an iconic New York singer who could do the vocals for it, and Debbie Harry, from my perspective, is the most iconic female New York singer. And I was just incredibly lucky because she agreed to do it. I mean, it took a lot of work to talk her into it, but eventually she did agree to it.
There’s also a Spanish singer on one of the tracks, right?
Here’s the thing: The track listing is different in every different country. Like the song ”Southside,” which was the biggest single I ever had in the United States, was never a hit single anywhere else. And the biggest single I ever had in the rest of the world was a song called ”Lift Me Up,” which was never a hit single here. So every country has a different track listing. And I did a Spanish-language version of one of my songs with a singer named Amaro. My uncle is from Argentina, so I grew up hearing Spanish. My Spanish isn’t very good but my pronunciation isn’t terrible. So I sang this Spanish-language version with her, but it’s not being released in the United States.
So these are all divvied up based on each country having its own subjective taste?
Well, part of it. One of the reasons is it has to do with what radio will play. As we all know, radio in the United States in the last 10 years has been incredibly conservative and rigid and formatted. The rest of the world tends to be a lot looser, a lot more willing to play different styles of music. ”Lift Me Up,” in Europe and in South America, is a huge, huge hit, but it’s a dance-oriented song, so there’s nowhere in the United States it would get played.
We talked about your blog and politics at the Central Park gig. Do you ever get comments from your fans saying that you’re too political?
Whenever I write a political update, some people agree with me, some people disagree with me, some people think musicians shouldn’t have opinions about politics. I have my journal section on Moby.com and a journal that goes up on MySpace, and there are also message boards and plenty of ways for people to respond, so it becomes much more of a back-and-forth dialectic and much less of just information flowing in one direction. I mean, yeah, I’m sure that I’ve alienated a lot of people by writing about politics too much, and I’m sure I’ve alienated a lot of people by being so opinionated. But at the same time, I’d rather sell fewer records and be true with my opinions. There are a lot of public figures who, before they take a stand on a issue, they talk about it with their publicist and they figure out how it’s going to affect record sales. Life is really too short to worry about that sort of thing.
Do you ever feel that you evoke your political views in your music, sort of the way Jimi Hendrix does with his rendition of ”The Star Spangled Banner”?
Uh, no. I mean, I’ve tried to write political music, but I’m just not very good at it. So unfortunately, I just have to sort of compartmentalize and make music that’s more personal and emotional and then leave the politics to interviews and essays that I write.
You also talk about being addicted to the Internet. Are you still blogging, which by the way, is a word you don’t like, right?
I think the word blog is an ugly word. I just don’t know why people can’t use the word journal. Yeah, I was spending four or five hours a day online and doing e-mails. I really wasn’t getting that much out of it. So now, I’m on a strict mail diet. I’m only allowed to spend 30 to 40 minutes a day doing e-mail and that’s it.
Do you feel like you were totally saturated reading all of the political stuff? It all seems to be regurgitated every week.
Yeah, I would look at the Huffington Post 10 times a day, and I would look at Google News 10 times a day, and I was just almost way too informed. You know, like whenever anything happened, I knew the moment it happened. And I realized, you know, it’s okay to maybe be a little less informed and not necessarily check the news 20 times a day.
If you could have a beer with anyone, who would it be?
George W. Bush. And I would ask him very earnestly, if he calls himself a Christian, how can he justify being pro-death penalty and pro-war and pro-tax policies, and take money from the poor and go to the rich, and pro-environmental policies that decimate the environment? I mean, on the one hand, I don’t want to judge, but he calls himself a Christian, and his legislative priorities and what he’s done in office seem to be egregiously contradictory to the teachings of Christ.