Moby Talks About His Love for Los Angeles
Credit: Eleanor Stills Photo
Moby really likes L.A. The producer/DJ/photographer and blogger moved here from his native New York three years ago, and the city, he says, suits him. He likes the people, the domesticity, the community, the aspirations, the artistic tendencies. He lives in Beachwood Canyon (in, he says "a modest castle"), and it was here, in relative solitude, that he made his forthcoming LP, Innocents.
Last night at Sonos Studio, Moby played a set featuring songs from Innocents, as well as a few of his best-known hits and a cover of Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." The acoustic show included Moby on guitar, along with a cellist and singer Mindy Jones, who was stunning. It was a simple, stirring performance (one that included an audience sing-along) and an apt reminder that while Moby is perhaps best known as a producer of electronic music, his work, at its core, is emotionally resonant, gospel-inspired soul.
Before the set, Moby chatted with KCRW's Chris Douridas about music, art and spirituality ("I am a New Age Southern California cliche," he admitted) before screening three new music videos, one featuring him and the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne roaming downtown Los Angeles in mariachi costumes and then hanging out at a rooftop rollerskating party.
We spoke with Moby about his career.
How have you changed since you first began releasing music?
When I first started selling albums, I thought I was just some weird accident person who was meant to teach philosophy at a local community college and be in a loveless marriage and make music in the basement that no one listened to. Instead, I somehow found myself making records. I spent years figuring out what that meant.
My career kind of bottomed out in the late '90s, and then the album Play happened. That made me think that I needed to figure out how to be a professional musician, so I forced myself to do things that didn't seem natural. Like there's this one album I made called Hotel that was very overproduced, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I did it, and I didn't like it, and I toured constantly until I finally admitted I didn't really like that either.
So, now, it's sort of like the personal and professional realization that life is short and there's no reason, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, to be disingenuous towards yourself and other people. Which all begs the question, on your deathbed, what do you want to remember? I would much rather remember being in the studio making beautiful music as opposed to looking back to worrying about how I looked at a red carpet event.
Did that stuff bother you?
To my great shame, it did. There was a time when I was concerned about those things. My Saul on the road to Damascus moment of revelation was in England five or six years ago listening to David Lynch talk at BAFTA. He was speaking about the creative process and said, "creativity is beautiful" and I was like, "He's right! That's why I do what I do." As hokey as it sounds, I don't do what I do to sell records or increase fame, I do what I do because I love that moment of creation when you make something that feels beautiful and wonderful.
Are you alone when you're making music?
It is a very sort of monastic and solipsistic process. I live up in Beachwood Canyon, and I have my studio in my guest house. Ninety-nine percent of the time it's me there by myself.
Does being alone affect you?
It probably does. As a species, we're not designed for it. I sometimes worry that if I spend too much time by myself I'll end up like Ted Kaczynski, but I'm an only child and I grew up alone and I've always lived and worked alone, so that's what feels normal to me. I love working with other people, but that's the anomalous exception.
You've lived in L.A. for three years now. Do you find it to be a lonely city?
It's easy to find stuff in New York -- bars, restaurants, community, everything is right there. You don't have to make to much of an effort to find what you're looking for. L.A., because it's such a weird petri dish of a city, in a weird way offers more, but requires so much more effort to find it. But also, in an interesting way, L.A. offers more community and more cultural opportunities, and I feel like people appreciate it more because it's so spread out.
I find L.A. to be lonelier and less lonely at the same time, and in equal measure. It's almost that it's inherently lonely that makes it less lonely.
Do you pay attention to things people say about you on the Internet?
I used to. When Gawker and Gothamist first started, I was very seduced by it, until I started reading so much negative stuff that had been written about me. Every time I read it, it upset me. I read this one comment on Gawker like, ten years ago, that said, "If I see Moby walking down the street, I will stab him to death and watch him bleed in front of me." At that moment I was like, "I'm done."
Innocents is the first album you've released since moving to L.A. How has living here affected your work?
I think L.A.'s bewildering vastness led me to make a more domestic, provincial record. This album is certainly not a club record. It's not a big festival record. It's a quiet, domestic record.
L.A. does many things well, but it does domesticity really well. People have homes here, and most people really value that. People leave London or New York or Tokyo where they have no space or backyard or washer and dryer, and suddenly, in L.A., they have a house and a fireplace and a yard and a dog. I think people really treasure the simple domesticity they can have here.
Moby at Coachella 2013
Your sets at Coachella this year were really well-received. What was your experience playing the Sahara tent?
I played the first-ever Coachella, which was clearly considerably smaller than this one. As a musician, it's funny to sort of be seen as an electronic dance guy. I love electronic dance music, but my background is in classical music and punk rock. The music I make tends to be more quiet indie music. It ends up confusing a lot of people, because I'll DJ and play big crazy techno songs and then play really quiet records, so someone who loves my DJ sets and goes out and listens to my records might be baffled.
See also: The Sahara Tent Kicked Ass This Year
What's your take on modern EDM?
I love how egalitarian and democratic the world of dance production has become. Anybody can do it. You don't need a computer or musical background. Not to be pejorative, but it's really easy to make electronic dance music these days.
The entire tour for Innocents consists of three dates on the Fonda. Why?
I found myself professionally doing a lot of stuff that I didn't really like all that much. Long promotional tours and concert tours. All I want to do is be in my studio making music, and so the main reason the tour is so short is simply so I can spend more time at home. It drives my manager insane.
Where do you hang out in L.A.
My favorite thing in L.A., hands down, is the Angeles National Forest. It's a million acres, and it's beautiful, and I don't know anyone except for me who goes up there. The Museum of Jurassic Technology is just about the greatest thing on the planet. I like the 826 L.A. Time Travel Mart. Trails Café is where I take people who claim to hate L.A.
For the most part, every city has its iconic building. Rome has the Colosseum, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and L.A. has the Griffith Park Observatory. Every building tells you a lot about that place. The Empire State Building in New York represents big, financial commerce, whereas in L.A., our most central iconic building is designed to look into outer space.
I think that's perfect, because L.A. is such an aspirational place. It is, for better or for worse, a city of weird, aspirational artists. I think this town deserves more credit than it gets, simply for that.
Moby plays the Fonda Theatre October 2-4.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.