Moby

The veteran musicial releases Wait For Me.

MOBY DEEP The musician ponders success and its perils.

MOBY DEEP The musician ponders success and its perils. Photograph: Jessica Dimmock

Considering he’s one of electronic music’s all-time biggest artists, Moby’s Nolita digs are surprisingly unpretentious. He lives in a loft, but a loft of the decidedly old-school variety: no doorman, unadorned hallways, a distinct lack of buffed hardwood, and walls constructed from Sheetrock and two-by-fours. “My bedroom is my studio,” the man born Richard Melville Hall, who’s just released a new album, the placid and personal Wait for Me, happily reveals. “And I sleep in what’s supposed to be the closet. I bought this a long time ago, and—I guess I’m bragging when I say this—my monthly maintenance is $250. When I first moved here, I can remember thinking that if I was shooting up with rusty needles and living off of collecting cans and bottles, I could still afford to live in this place.”

Of course, that’s not exactly the path Moby’s life took. Having burst into the ravey early-’90s scene with tracks like the Twin Peaks--sampling classic “Go” (more on TP auteur David Lynch later), the 43-year-old has been one of electronica’s most visible presences for nearly two decades. He’s also been one of the most talked about, and not always in a nice way: In 1999, the onetime punker—as a Connecticut high-schooler, he played in a hardcore band called the Vatican Commandos—released Play, an album known as much for its bevy of licensing deals and worldwide sales of 10 million as for its music, largely a fusion of blues and gospel samples with down-tempo beats. This, in a world where people tend to equate sales with selling out.

“When Play came out, it actually was this weird record that no one liked,” Moby recalls. “When I was first touring with that album, I was playing to like fifty people. And when it slowly started becoming this massively successful record, it confused me. I didn’t know what to do. Do I comport myself in a way that will continue that success? Do I make some weird underground music that will alienate everyone? I was getting all this pressure from the label, much of it subtle and insidious, to keep the machine running. So I kind of compromised—I figured I would try and make music that would satisfy me creatively, but also would keep the record company happy. And the end result was music, especially on the album Hotel, that was very compromised.”

Enter Lynch (again). “I was in England about a year and a half ago, and David was giving a talk, something to the effect about how creativity—in and of itself, and removed from market forces—is a beautiful thing,” Moby says. “And that was my Saul-on-the-road-to -Damascus moment. Living in New York, you’re acutely aware that when someone is looking at an artist’s creative output, they’re usually looking at commercial metrics. How much has this movie made? How many units has this record sold? I found myself buying into that, and I realized how unhealthy that is. It’s hard to talk about this and not feel disingenuous, but I realized if I sell ten records to ten people who truly love what I’ve done, that’s more successful than selling a million records to a million people who could care less. When you’re lying on your deathbed and looking back on your life, do you want to remember a great marketing partnership with Wal-mart, or do you want to remember trying hard to make music that somehow reached people emotionally?”

The epiphany was reflected in his work. Last Night, from 2008, was essentially a simple party album. (“I was like, You know what? I go out a lot, I like dance music—I’m just gonna make a fun dance record, whether it sells or not,” Moby says.) Wait for Me, on the other hand, is another down-tempo affair—not so far, stylistically, from Play, but much less glossy and somewhat melancholy. “A lot melancholy,” he corrects. “This is a straight-up mournful record. It was just a case of, when I started to work on this, thinking about what I like to listen to. And I really like sad music. I like happy music—I could listen to Rozalla’s 'Everybody’s Free’ all night long—but I like Nick Drake, Joy Division and Massive Attack. A lot.”

Talk again returns to David Lynch, who directed the moody animated video for “Shot in the Back of the Head,” the new album’s lead single. “Every year he hosts a thing called the David Lynch Weekend in Fairfield, Iowa,” Moby says, “which is all about transcendental meditation and quantum physics. He asked me to play there last year, and of course I said yes. How often do you get to hang out with David Lynch in the middle of Iowa? So I had this crazy week, where by day I was with him and these scientists talking about all these things, and by night I was hanging out at local dive bars and doing crystal meth with gangbangers and going to raves. It was a very odd weekend. But not only did I get that video, I also got to play his wedding. So it worked out rather well.”

Wait For Me (Mute) is out now.

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