Time Out with musician and architecture blogger Moby

Moby, electronic musician and recent L.A. enthusiast, sits down for a chat about the city’s lovable quirks and architectural oddities.

 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
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Photograph: Michael JulianoClick through our slideshow for Moby’s own words and photos about L.A. architecture and landmarks.
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Photograph: MobyOne of my favorite things about living here is the weird integration of urban and natural. There’s no other big city in the world that has honest to goodness nature and urban inches away from each other.
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Photograph: MobyOne of the reasons I moved here was about five years ago I was at a Fourth of July party in Tribeca, and I was standing on the roof of this building and had this beautiful view of almost all of Manhattan. And all of a sudden I realized I couldn't see a single living thing. Looking at all these square miles of iconic beautiful buildings and I couldn’t see a single plant or living thing, and I thought that doesn’t seem all that healthy, to live in a place where it’s just buildings, people, cockroaches, pigeons and rats.
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Photograph: MobyIn a way—maybe I’m reaching here—you can almost understand a city based on its most iconic buildings. In Rome it’s the Coliseum and the Vatican. Which is sort of like bloody ancient history and the Catholic Church. New York is the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, which are like spires of commerce and industry. And here, we have the Observatory. Which is so emblematic of the weird overall ethos of LA. Especially an observatory that sort of doesn’t really function. It is still an observatory, but I don’t really know how much science they’re doing there anymore.
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Photograph: MobyI find it to be a very unstatic city. New York, and Chicago to an extent, and other more established cities, you feel like they are literally cast in stone. Whereas here, stuff gets moved around and changed and morphed all the time, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
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Photograph: MobyOne of the reasons I like—nothing against West LA, it’s beautiful but it doesn’t surprise me—but around here [on the Eastside], every little side street has some weird bit of architectural, moviemaking or music history. Or around here weird spiritual cult history. I love that.
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Photograph: MobyThe Mount Wilson Observatory, if I had to pick an absolute favorite thing in LA County that would probably be it. It’s just so… the history of it, how beautiful it is, the fact that you can look around and just see thousands of acres of pine forest in every direction and you're sort of in the middle of the city.
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Photograph: MobyYou look at the strip malls or the uninspiring buildings, but a friend of mine has a recording studio and from the outside it looks like a place where someone would store water damaged mattresses. And so you walk by it, and it just looks like nothing. And then you go inside, and there are like ten different musicians and producers who each have studios and they’re producing great records and writing great songs and from the outside you have no idea that any of this is going on. And I don’t know of any other city in the world that exists in that way.
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Photograph: MobyWhen tourists go to any city in the world, they don’t have to work too hard to find the good stuff. You come to LA, all the things that are really beautiful and remarkable in LA are hidden for the most part. Except for the Observatory and a few other things, but the great residential architecture—and what makes LA nice—is usually peoples’ houses.
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Photograph: MobyOne huge thing, literally, is the Angeles National Forest. That it’s in LA County, it’s 900,000 acres and no one—people rarely go there.

Step inside of Moby’s Hollywood Hills home, a bonafide castle with a mid-century John Lautner guest house, and it’s clear the singer-songwriter-DJ holds design in high regard—so much so that the former New Yorker took to Tumblr to catalogue L.A.’s architectural oddities and treasures. Moby’s architecture blog tackles technical points with transplant naiveté and gut reactions—not all too different from the emotional immediacy on his latest, lo-fi bedroom record, Innocents. We caught up with Moby after his world tour (which included three shows down the road at the Fonda Theatre) to talk about the unique experience of living in L.A.. And make sure to click through the slideshow of Moby’s own photos for his thoughts about L.A.’s landmarks and quirks.

Time Out Los Angeles: When did you first fall in love with L.A.?

Moby: I assumed I wouldn’t like Los Angeles. I don’t know why, but I guess living in New York, I just assumed that L.A. wasn’t for me. And then I came here and even the banal stuff seemed charming to me. I was staying at a hotel somewhere in West Hollywood and even just walking to Urth Caffe had a strange charm to me. And the fact that every person I encountered was involved in doing something creative. Even if it was schlocky. Even if they’re working on The Fast and the Furious 47. They’re still waking up in the morning to make something. No grand experience, just that simple understanding that this is a weird, warm desert city that’s populated by weird artists and being reinvented every day.

Time Out Los Angeles: Your house right now is literally a castle. Is this your dream home?

Moby: It is. My real dream, though, is at some point to build my own house, so I feel like I’m living here for a while until I figure out where I want to build a house.

Time Out Los Angeles: In L.A. somewhere?

Moby: I would imagine. I mean, to me the only downside to L.A. is that it’s so dry. I love that, but I wish there were a few more trees and maybe if it would rain more than five days out of the year.

Time Out Los Angeles: A lot of your architecture blog posts start out like, “I was walking and randomly encountered this oddball thing,” and I think that’s so typical of the L.A. experience.

Moby: It’s one of the reasons I like [the Eastside]—nothing against West L.A., it’s beautiful but it doesn’t surprise me, there isn’t that element of stumbling on a side street and being surprised by something. But around here, every little side street has some weird bit of architectural, moviemaking or music history. Or around here [in the Hollywood Hills], weird spiritual cult history. I love that.

One of the weirdest things about L.A.—and it’s so unlike other cities in this way—is that the function of a space is rarely represented by its facade. There’s a recording studio, Sound Factory, just down the street from here in Hollywood, and I’ve recorded there a couple of times. From the outside it looks like it could be a crack den and inside it’s this phenomenal recording studio. You drive up and down Gower and it looks like nothing. It just looks kind of dumpy and run-down for the most part. But then there are so many odd, interesting, creative people doing really odd, interesting things behind these doors.

Time Out Los Angeles: I think it speaks to the fact, too, that a lot of L.A.’s great architecture is private, for better or worse.

Moby: That’s the tricky thing. When tourists go to any city in the world, they don’t have to work too hard to find the good stuff. If you go to Rome, you can’t not see the Coliseum. You go to New York, you can’t not see the Empire State Building. You come to L.A., all the things that are really beautiful and remarkable in L.A. are hidden for the most part. Except for the Observatory and a few other things, but the great residential architecture—and what makes L.A. nice is usually peoples’ houses. 

When people from the rest of the world malign Los Angeles, I just sort of shrug my shoulders. I’m like, oh you needed someone to show you around. I had a friend come here for work and he was staying at some shitty hotel on Highland and sitting in traffic, and after being here for two days he emailed me angry. And he told me that he hated Los Angeles, and he didn’t understand why I lived here. And so I drove to his hotel, and I picked up him up and we went and had lunch at Trails Cafe in Griffith Park. And then I drove him up to the Ennis House, and we looked at a few other houses in Los Feliz. And then we ended having tea at Casbah. At the end of this little trip, he loved L.A.. All of a sudden it made sense to him. But unless you have someone taking you to show you these things, you’re never going to see them.

Time Out Los Angeles: Are you quicker to defend L.A. now that you live here?

Moby: It doesn’t make sense to me, like you meet people from San Francisco or New York or wherever who are so quick to malign Los Angeles. And objectively speaking, I sort of want to say to them, “How is it that you’re maligning this warm city filled with odd artists that has been this crucible for weird experimentation for the last century in terms of architecture, art, literature, music, everything?” What is it that they find so distasteful? But at the same time, I understand that people come here, and the easy L.A. experience is: stay in West Hollywood, see the Pink Dot on Sunset and sit in traffic. And if that’s your experience, of course you might find it distasteful. But, as we both know, there’s just so much more that’s really odd and remarkable and—insofar as you can qualify the word unique—it’s just utterly unique.

Time Out Los Angeles: As you work on your new music, do you approach it like, I’m going to make an album? Or are you just recording songs and compiling them later on?

Moby: I have my studio just around the corner. I just go in there and write music and hope that something good will happen, because one of the nice things about having my own studio is there’s no time pressure.

Time Out Los Angeles: That sounds like a pretty solitary process.

Moby: It can be. I sometimes call it like Ted Kaczynski disorder. I sort of worry about that, where a couple of days will go by and I’ll realize I haven’t left the property. I think a lot of people who write or musicians or artists who work for themselves, you have this experience where you go to a party and you realize you haven’t had contact with humans for a long time and you almost have forgotten how to talk to them. So you’re standing around trying to remind yourself how to have a conversation with someone.

Time Out Los Angeles: There’s a scene in the music video for “The Perfect Life” where you and Wayne Coyne are riding on the front of Angels Flight. After its recent derailing, I’d like to think you’re a daredevil.

Moby: For getting on the 3mph Angels Flight funicular? Yeah, it felt kind of rickety. It’s sad, but I kind of appreciate that it goes from nowhere to nowhere.

Time Out Los Angeles: I don’t know if you’ve ever walked through Grand Central Market, but that’s right there.

Moby: When we were shooting the video, at one point I desperately had to go to the bathroom. I had tons of coffee and I really needed to pee. So I’m in my mariachi suit, running through that market trying to find the bathroom.

Time Out Los Angeles: That’s probably not the first time that’s happened.

Moby: And I couldn’t find the bathroom.

Time Out Los Angeles: You’ve had a lot of collaborations with other performers, but I think the most interesting one was Mayor Garcetti at one of your shows at the Fonda. How did that come about?

Moby: We did lots of different fundraisers together, and when they had the inauguration he asked me to come play a song. And he’s actually a very gifted pianist. So we were doing this concert and I was like, “Why don’t you just come down and play piano on a song?” I guess now he gets to go around in a bulletproof armored vehicle, so he got in the bulletproof armored vehicle and came over and played piano.

Time Out Los Angeles: I think you might be the first person ever to walk to all dates on your world tour.

Moby: I think that might be true. I mean, I love the Fonda, but part of why I chose it was because it was within walking distance of my house. I feel a little bit like a sellout: I didn’t walk home from it.

Time Out Los Angeles: Well, that part’s uphill.

Moby: My ex-girlfriend lives just down the street from here, and she was playing keyboards with me on these three shows, so she’d give me a ride each night. But walking up here, the main reason was there are no streetlights, there are no sidewalks and, unfortunately, I think it’s safe to work under the assumption that the majority of drivers in L.A. at midnight are either drunk, medicated, exhausted or mentally ill. So I just thought maybe it was for the best that I not walk up these windy dark streets. And, there’s also the chance that you get attacked by coyotes. 

One time, I was going for a walk at night and I brought a little stick with me in case the coyotes showed up, just to fend them off—not that they would ever attack, but I’d rather be safe than sorry—and a police car pulled up, put a spotlight on me. And they’re like, through the microphone, “What are you doing?” “I’m going for a walk.” “Why do you have a stick?” “In case I encounter coyotes.” [pause] “That’s a good idea.” And they drove off. 

I don’t want to be the first Angeleno in a really long time to be fatally attacked by a herd of coyotes.

Comments

1 comments
Robert T

Moby walking with a coyote stick in L.A.....sounds about right...