Moby wants to talk about miracles.
The survival of the species is on his mind. Global warming, nuclear cataclysm—the prospect of disaster looms large over his new album, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt. “In a way, one of the biggest problems that we have as a species is how comfortable we are with miracles,” says the musician, aka Richard Melville Hall. “I mean, like, the miracle that you eat an orange and your body knows how to turn those calories into optic nerves and hair cells.” Humans, thinks Moby, are all too happy to coast along, entirely too invested in the idea that things will probably turn out fine, that someone will come along and fix this mess for us.
But miracles have a flipside. “The other miracle is that you’re in the back of a taxi and you put on ‘Station to Station’ by David Bowie, and the air molecules haven’t changed, they’re just hitting your eardrum differently. But your entire world is transformed. It’s so miraculous, and it costs nothing, and we just sort of take it for granted. You know, you put on ‘Immigrant Song’ by Led Zeppelin, and all of a sudden, the L train becomes a Viking longship, and you’re storming a castle somewhere.”
Those are the feelings that he’s chasing on Everything Was Beautiful, an album at once sad and energized, melancholy and bracing. Spotify for Artists spoke to Moby by phone recently to talk about the new record, the importance of artists following their conscience, and his own cameo role in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Spotify For Artists: You've had a productive couple of years. Do you feel like you're in a particularly energized moment in your career?
Moby: Sort of. I have a weird aversion to the word “career.” I don’t want to sound like a clichéd hippie, but I realized a while ago that making music is something that I love deeply, and the only criteria by which I should judge the music that I'm working on is, “do I love it and do I think it has integrity?” So I made a very concerted effort to not employ any sort of career-based criteria to anything I do as a musician. To my shame, there were times in my past when I did really try to bolster my career, and the end result was music that was slightly compromised. That feels almost like a sin, to compromise music which has the potential to be sublime and beautiful in the interest of a career—which, you know, is necessary if you want to pay the rent, but otherwise is kind of tawdry.
Spotify: It must be paying off, because you’ve done a lot in the past few years.
Moby: I got sober about 10 years ago, and one of the first things I learned in sobriety was how much extra time I had. When I was a crazy alcoholic drug addict, I was spending between 50 and 100 hours a week either being drunk or hungover or going out to get drunk, buy drugs, etc. So sobriety, especially if you don't have a family—you know, I'm not picking up kids at soccer practice—I have a lot of time to work on music. What really frustrates me is there is so much music that I haven't figured out how to release.
__Spotify: This is something like your 15th album. Does making them get easier or harder? __
Moby: In a way, it's so much easier. There's no commercial pressure at all, because there are no commercial expectations at all. I'm a 52-year-old musician making albums, and really, the commercial opportunities for 52-year-old musicians making albums are pretty limited, so it'd be foolish to pretend otherwise. There was a time, after the success of Play, that I was worried about radio play and ticket sales and all sorts of seemingly arbitrary things. Now it's so nice never to have to think about that.
Spotify: You put together a Spotify playlist of inspirations for the album. What are the threads connection your selections? Is there something that they share in common?
Moby: To me there is, though someone else might not fully understand what Brian McKnight has in common with Marianne Faithfull. When a song creates a world, those are my favorite recordings. Whether it's Joni Mitchell singing “California” or Suicide or Blind Willie Johnson, these recordings are worlds unto themselves. For moving air molecules to transform an environment, that's magical. All of these songs do that. They also find this weird balance between a dark rhythmic component and an almost sad human vocal component. If you were to strip out the vocals and some of the melodic elements, almost every song is sort of dark and a little bit sexy, but then when you add in the vocals and the keyboards, all of a sudden there's this element of pathos and atmosphere, and that's what I love.
__Spotify: You have been both celebrated and criticized for taking strong stances on everything from animal rights to presidential politics. How would you advise younger musicians who have strong ethical or political beliefs? __
Moby: It’s a question I get asked quite a lot: What do I think of musicians and public figures who aren’t more outspoken? If you have $50,000,000 in the bank and you're protecting your career, there's something wrong with you. The people who don't need more should be the ones who use that as a license to be really outspoken and courageous. But if there's a bass player in an indie-rock band who has two kids in school and a mom on dialysis, I fully understand like why they might not want to be too outspoken. But I’m a single musician and I truly don't care about my career. I guess my advice would be to let your conscience be your guide. More often than not, we know the right thing. Look at history: Rarely are the people we revere the ones who were cautious and self-interested.
__Spotify: On “Go,” you sampled Laura Palmer’s theme from Twin Peaks. Then last summer you actually had a cameo in the new season. What was that experience like? __
Moby: The strangest thing about being a public-figure musician is meeting your heroes, becoming friends with them, and working with them. Almost on a daily basis, I text with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols. If you had told me when I was 15 years old that at some point “Steve will be your friend,” there's no way I would've believed that. Or when I was 14 years old and spent the money I made from caddying one summer buying David Bowie records, if you'd said, fast forward 20-odd years, “he'll be your neighbor and you're going on tour with him,” again, there's no way I would've believed it. But especially with David Lynch.
There are few creative luminaries from the 20th century who in any way rival David Lynch. And we've become friends, which is disconcerting. He's also a lovely human being. Having the cameo on Twin Peaks, even though it was really minor and marginal, what made it especially disconcerting was that they recreated the Roadhouse on a sound stage in a suburban neighborhood in Pasadena. To put it in context, I drove from my house in Los Feliz, stopped at Whole Foods and bought groceries, parked, and then walked in a door, and all of a sudden it was the Roadhouse—the light, the smoke, everything. So that was really disconcerting. And a bunch of the original actors from Twin Peaks were there. So seeing James Hurley in Pasadena in the Roadhouse, in the middle of the day after I had gone to buy groceries at Whole Foods, it was like, it's altogether possible that every part of my life has never happened and it’s 1991 and I'm just on mescaline in the desert.
Spotify: What do you think happened at the end?
Moby: In Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway and Inland Empire and even the original Twin Peaks, there's this recurring theme, which is that time can be broken and that our actions, especially violent and unethical actions, create schisms and breaks in time. It happens really directly in Lost Highway. In Twin Peaks, they're trying to exist within these broken timelines. So at the very end, the last line, (it’s Dale Cooper) saying, “What year is this?” And it's all pertaining to the idea that there are these broken timelines and these characters somehow skirt between them. But if you're going to watch one episode from it, watch episode eight, because it's possibly the greatest thing that's ever been on television.