In mid-September 1965, the day the Beatles' "Help" album went #1, Richard Melville Hall was born on 148th Street in Manhattan. Moby, as we know him today, the singer-songwriter-DJ who brought electronic house to the mainstream some 15 years ago, just dropped his latest album Innocents. Co-produced with Mark "Spike" Stent – whose Grammy-laden résumé includes collaborations with Madonna, U2 and Björk – the new album, as Moby describes it, was "made in living rooms, to be played in living rooms." Before his stripped-down performance, we got all caught up.
STANDARD CULTURE: This is your first album since moving to LA. Did your new West Coast surroundings inspire the sound?
MOBY: If cities are animals, New York is a falcon – single focused, sleek, and ruthless. LA is like a golden retriever. It rolls over on its back and lets anybody rubs its stomach. It’s kind of dumb, but goodnatured. Creatively, there’s a domestic quality that inspired me. There’s a humility to going to someone’s house and sitting in the backyard with the dog.
Do you feel nostalgic coming back to New York?
That’s a good question. Coming back is SO complicated for me. I was born here and from 1980 up until three years ago the longest that I had been away from Manhattan was a month. It’s really odd and disconcerting to come back. On one hand, neurochemically my brain thinks it’s really familiar, but it’s not my home anymore. New York looks the way it used to look, if I stare at some corners it’s the same as 1986 and then you turn your head a little bit and suddenly there are buildings like this, which are beautiful, but are so foreign to the New York that I grew up with.
What was it like collaborating with "Spike"?
Most of my records I’ve made on my own. I’ve maybe had a guest vocalist or someone to help me mix it, but I’ve gotten tired of working without objectivity. I think some of my records, to an extent, suffered from being solely produced. So I wanted to collaborate on a deeper level and see what happened.
The nice thing is that now no one buys records, so it just becomes a labor of love that is a weird social experiment. You make a record. You put it out in the world and just hope that people will give you feedback.
Moby's new video, which he directed and shot at his home in Los Angeles
Who are the titular "Innocents?"
Because of our position of cluelessness, I feel like by definition, we are all innocent. All we know is our subjective experience, but on an objective level we just don’t know anything. Everything we do is a hand-fisted clueless response to this baffling human condition. That’s where innocents comes from.
What would you hope people think when they think of Moby?
Ideally, I would like to be thought of someone who made music that people responded to emotionally. Not even whole albums, but if someone had heard a song of mine and had an emotional reaction to it, that is more than I can ask for.
A still from Moby's Destroyed
What would stand in the way of someone having an emotional reaction?
In some cases it’s prejudices. If someone tells me that Nickelback has a new song that is profound and emotional, there is a good chance that I’m just not going to listen to it. That type of prejudice affects me as well. There might be a bunch of hipsters that no matter what I do they are just not going to like it and that’s ok.
Beyond prejudices I think very few of us are comfortable with vulnerability. We find lots of ways to defend ourselves against any emotion that has a quality of vulnerability to it, whether it’s through cynicism, being dismissive, being haughty, angry or bitter - these are all defensive emotions.
How would you describe the role of artist/activist?
I have learned that just because I think something should change doesn't necessarily mean that it should. History is filled with incredibly smart well-intentioned people who made huge mistakes. I think there are myriad ways that as a culture we could be less stupid, there are so many things that we do that are really dumb. Look back 100 years ago. Women couldn't vote. Children worked in factories. Blacks and whites didn't share drinking fountains. Animals were being abused. We look back and say, “Oh, all of that stuff was so stupid, isn’t it good that we’ve evolved past it.” I think it’s incumbent upon a culture that we ask each other, “What are we doing now that will be seen as equally stupid 100 years from now?"