Richard Melville Hall, a.k.a. Moby, is one of the most important dance music figures of the early '90s, helping bring the music to a mainstream audience both in England and in America.
Born in Harlem, New York in 1965, and raised in Darien, CT, he played in a hardcore punk band called the Vatican Commandos as a teenager before moving to New York City, where he began DJing in dance clubs. During the late '80s, he released a number of singles and EPs before, in 1991, he set the theme from David Lynch's television series Twin Peaks to an insistent, house-derived rhythm and titled the result "Go." The single became a surprise British hit single, climbing into the Top Ten, and was named one of Rolling Stone's top 200 records of all time. Moby, his first full-length album, appeared in 1992. Since then, Moby has recorded eleven studio albums, including his multi-platinum breakthrough Play (1999), 18 (2002), Hotel (2005), Go: The Very Best of Moby (2006) and Last Night (2008).
In addition to his musical endeavors, Moby is the proprietor of teany cafe and teas. He is also a well-known advocate for a variety of progressive causes, working with MoveOn.org and PETA, among others. He actively engages in nonpartisan activism.
Question: What is your legacy?
Moby: Ideally my legacy would be that I have somehow figured out how to make music that people could find a place for in their daily lives. And I mean there are lots of different types of music. There’s music that you put on on a Friday night if you’re getting ready to go out or if you’re having a party. There’s music that you put on if you’re trying to fall asleep. The music that I make, it comes from a very emotional place. And my hope is that it will, in turn, reach people on a very emotional level.
Question: What has been your proudest achievement?
Moby: Hmm. My proudest achievement in music. Well there’s a piece of music that I wrote about 12 years ago called “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters”. And it’s a quiet, classical piece. And then it was used in the movie Heat – the sort of ________ – the very end of the movie. And I’d say out of all the pieces of music I’ve made, that’s still the one that’s closest to my heart.
I don’t know. There’s just something about it that seems. It’s very emotional, at least for me. And it’s quite powerful, but it’s also very delicate. And it’s one of those pieces of music where, when I’d finished writing it, I had no idea where it came from. Like I don’t know where the inspiration came from. I mean I know it’s a tried cliché, but I really just felt sort of like a conduit. Like I wasn’t actually the one writing the music. I was just the weird puppet/conduit through which the music came.
Question: What impact does your work have in the world?
Moby: Well, I mean, my criteria for evaluating my music is a lot different than the criteria that other people would use to evaluate my music. And from my perspective, I’ve had a lot of instances where I’ve ended up making music that’s affected me very; on a deep emotional level. That doesn’t mean that it always affects other people emotionally.
Question: What is the biggest challenge music faces?
Moby: The biggest and most recurring challenge facing music – or facing musicians – is how to make music that people will love. You know? Because irregardless of how people create music, or irregardless of how it’s distributed and marketed, at the end of the day people listen to it on headphones or on two speakers or in their car. And it doesn’t matter how music is produced or marketed or distributed. The ultimate litmus test is how it affects people emotionally.
Question: How would you propose to overcome it?
Moby: Well my advice to other musicians first and foremost would be to make music that they love. Because if you spend your life working on something that you love and you never have success with it, well . . . at least you spent your life doing something that you love. And by doing something that you love, you vastly improve the chances that you will have success with it. Because the worst case scenario is to give up your entire life to work on something that you don’t love and end up having no success with it.
So then at the end of your life you look back and you say, “Oh. I compromised and had no success.” So basically make music that you love, and be open-minded in your approach to other people’s music. Because I think a lot of people . . . A lot of musicians – a lot of artists in general – tend to be very rigid when evaluating other people’s music or other people’s art. And then simple things like word hard and be diligent. And don’t drink too much and don’t take too many drugs. And allow yourself to be influenced by interesting other interesting musicians. And study the history of music, ‘cause I think a lot of contemporary musicians, their understanding of music goes back 20 years or 30 years. And that’s just sort of a shame because I think musicians do their best work.
When you think of George Gershwin and “Rhapsody in Blue”, the inspiration for that and the influences for that are so diverse going back 50 to 100 years before he was actually writing it. And that’s one of the reasons that’s such a powerful piece of music.
Question: Is there advice you wish you had received?
Moby: For better or worse, I’m sort of an autodidact. You know? I’ve never really had a mentor, and I never really had teachers. I sort of had to learn everything myself. And I, in some ways, wish that I had had a mentor . . . someone who could have given me advice.. I wish someone had told me that if you’re having a degree of success and people are being nice to you, it doesn’t mean they like you. Because they’re being nice to the success. They’re not being nice to the person.
Again, it’s a cliché. And I wish that someone had told me to realize that making records is not a life or death situation. I tend to take my work a little too seriously, and I almost feel like I need some, like, old crazy Mediterranean grandmother to sort of like say, “Oh relax. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Life’s supposed to be fun.”
May 29, 2007