The iconic electronic artist reflects on the role he played in the iPod's debut
Shortly after Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPod during a keynote address on Oct. 23, 2001, Apple shared a seven-minute promotional video touting the revolutionary device. The clip is a blast from the past — longtime Apple execs Phil Schiller and Jonny Ive both appear — and it features testimonials from three musicians: Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell, the crooner Seal, and electronica luminary Moby.
“Do you remember how magical it was?” Moby tells EW 15 years later of the first iPod, which hit the market at $399 for a 5 GB model. “It felt like absurd, alchemical magic that you could, instead of having your big wallet with CDs, [have] thousands and thousands and thousands of songs available.”
Moby’s role in the iPod’s folklore might add to that magic. The 51-year-old wistfully remembers the launch of iTunes and how useful it was for cataloging his music. “But at the time,” he explains, “the only MP3 players were the Diamond Rio and these other MP3 players that didn’t sync up with iTunes.” So, he told a friend of his “who was a bigwig at Apple” over dinner that the company needed to develop a device that was compatible with the software.
Though the friend demurred — Apple’s mid-’90s experiment with the Newton PDA had made it reticent to produce devices — the company soon summoned Moby to a New York hotel room for a surprise. “They gave me one of the first iPods and said, ‘Steve really wants you to have this,'” he recalls. “Clearly, they would have come up with the idea without me. But I still very presumptuously and absurdly think I had the tiniest little thing to do with the creation of the iPod. Because they really didn’t want to make devices, and I just kept pushing them to.”
Now that a decade and a half has passed since the iPod’s introduction, Moby readily contextualizes it with global events and history. “Culturally, it felt like the culmination of this incredibly optimistic era,” he says. “We’d just had eight years of Bill Clinton and the world felt so largely benign. It all, in a weird way, kind of made sense.”
From a personal viewpoint, he can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. “It’s a little disconcerting when I look back at the past, but the past still sounds like the future,” Moby says. “I remember when 2002 seemed like an unimaginably far time — like, really far away. Now it’s like a distant past.” Technology is, obviously, the perfect physical encapsulation of this: “Remember those multicolored clamshell laptops that Apple had?” he says. “Now they seem old and clunky, like a weird pair of sneakers. But at the time, they just represented the future. The same thing with the iPod, at the time it was so futuristic, and now it just seems like an adorable relic.”
And while Moby still uses his multiple iPods — “I just have a lot of music on them” — he’s changed with the times and embraced streaming. “I got Spotify on my phone, and at first I tried to be a responsible, 21st-century citizen,” he says. “But then, there’s these playlists with David Bowie and T. Rex and all my favorite post-punk songs and early Devo records. It’s just so hard to not succumb to that [urge] to go back and listen to my favorite records from when I was 16 years old. I was, thanks to Spotify, reacquainted with a lot of old records that I either didn’t own or had forgotten about.”