Tuesday, 27 May 2008
There seem a lot of preconceptions around about Moby. Though the 42 year old DJ has sold multi-millions of records, achieved a place on Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘top five hundred albums of all time’ with 1999’s ‘Play’, and managed to survive over two decades in the fickle music industry, his professional credentials are still somehow overshadowed by his extra-curricular opinions. They vary from speaking out against George Bush to his born again Christian beliefs, encompassing veganism, the war in Iraq, energy use and pro-choice views, and appear in numerous forms: in the folds of album covers, on his prolific blog postings, and in interviews. Now, on the eve of the release of his eighth studio album, ‘Last Night’, Moby tells Gigwise why he’s keen to put the focus back on the music…
Moby’s latest album, ‘Last Night’, is strangely devoid of political and environmental opinion. For an artist who is perhaps better known for his outspoken beliefs than his music (which says a lot about a man that has sold over 10 million copies worldwide of his biggest success, ‘Play’), this is perhaps surprising. “This record is a record about my life,” he explains, “so it’s an excuse to leave politics at home and just have a party.”
A very specific kind of party, in fact. ‘Last Night’ is a concept album, describing an eight-hour night out in the lower east side of Manhattan, condensed into a sixty-five minute record. Moby describes it as “a very eclectic dance record. There are hip-hop tracks on there, and there are house tracks on there, and old school rave tracks and some very quiet atmospheric tracks. It’s just a diverse, eclectic dance record.” He talks nostalgically about the early eighties in New York, citing it as his inspiration for the album, a time when disco was cool and meant “Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger and Liza Minelli getting into a limousine and going to Studio 54 and drinking champagne and doing coke and whiskey until five in the morning,” rather than “sad people in leisure suits dancing in the local pub.”
“One of the reasons I wrote this record is because one of the first times I went out in New York to a nightclub was in 1981,” he says of ‘Last Night’, “and one of the reasons I continue to go out in bars and clubs is that I really like every aspect of the night. There’s the innocent beginning to the night, and I like the third or fourth drink around midnight or 1am, with that euphoria, and I really do sort of like the chaos, where things start to go wrong at 3am or 4am, and then that sort of calm, bucolic nature of going home at 7am, I also really like that.”
Moby has tried to encompass every part of the night into the album, from the anticipatory ‘Ooh Yeah’ to the ambient comedown of the title track. Though he admits that ‘Last Night’ does hark back to the heyday of New York disco, the middle-aged vegan DJ wanted to achieve a forward looking dance record, too. “Dance music is going through this really interesting period,” he explained. “There’s a lot of nostalgia and a lot of diversity, but it’s not the kind of nostalgia where people are tied to the past, I think it’s more a celebratory nostalgia.”
I ask where dance music is heading, if DJs like himself are now having to delve into the past to find inspiration for new material. “The genres might change, but the way that people respond to the music is the same,” Moby ruminates, his years of experience in the industry almost audible in the tone of his voice. “People drink, and they take drugs, and they stay out until late and they have a wonderful time and the music can be a part of that, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s hip-hop, or house music or punk-rock or whatever. What matters is the emotional reaction of the person listening to the music.”
‘Last Night’ is evidently much more preoccupied with art and music than much of Moby’s previous work. Whereas ‘Play’ contained five essays in the sleeve on veganism, fundamentalism and humanitarianism, and 2005’s ‘Hotel’ was preoccupied with love and loss, ‘Last Night’ not only musically explores a party, but also playfully invokes rock and roll through the semi-naked, nubile models on the album cover. Moby explains that he chose the artwork partly in homage to Hulmut Newton, a fashion photographer from the 1970s, and partly because he “figured people would much rather look at beautiful women on the cover than a 42 year old bald guy.”
The absence of opinionated commentary on the album might well come as a response to the criticism Moby has received in recent years in response to his beliefs. His outspoken nature has riled more than a few critics in his time. I ask Moby about this, and he is resigned and detached, but there is still a hurt questioning about his response when he replies, “some people seem to like me and some people seem to hate my guts, which is strange. I mean, it’s a very strange phenomenon being hated by people you’ve never met. Every now and then someone will forward me a review or something, and it will be by some journalist that just seems to hate me and everything I do, and it’s disconcerting because I’ve never met this person. I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I can inspire such loathing in people I’ve never met.
“It seems a particular problem in the UK,” Moby continues, of his critics, “because a lot of people in the UK seem to think I’m some kind of self-righteous moralist, and actually nothing could be further from the truth. In terms of being self-righteous about veganism or whatever, I challenge anyone to find anything I’ve said in the last ten years that’s self-righteous or moralising. I mean I am honest, I am outspoken about politics, but if you go to any bar you can find a drunkard that’s self righteous about politics.” I quietly point out that your average bar-prop isn’t capable of transmitting his views to millions through the medium of music, but Moby simply reiterates, “I have no problem if people hate me, but it seems a little strange when people hate me for the wrong reasons.”
Moby attributes the absence of political opinion on ‘Last Night’ to the capacity of the modern world to transmit news and raise political awareness without interference from musicians like himself. But it might be that he’s reluctant to provoke the critics, too. He can’t even muster a bad word to say about the music industry, saying of the leakage of his album, “I’m of the opinion that being upset about the changes in the music business is kind of like being upset at the weather. If an album’s leaked it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It bothers the record company and I don’t like to bother the record company because they’re my friends, but at the end of the day all I ever really care about is that people get the chance to listen to music.”
Of himself, humility is the order of the day. His chosen epitaph as “a bald musician from the lower east side of New York that makes records in his bedroom” is almost infuriatingly modest, and unlikely to placate his critics. But his latest long-player, with its disco preoccupations and playful emphasis, just might.