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Just before he played to a packed audience at the KCRW-streamed listening party for his new album, Innocents, at Sonos Studio on Sept. 23, Moby gave The Hollywood Reporter a brief, cheery interview. He was exuberant about his forthcoming release, the intimate venue, his accomplished accompanists (cellist Adrienne Woods and singer Mindy Jones), his new videos (“The Lonely Night” with Mark Lanegan, “A Case for Shame” with Cold Specks and “The Perfect Life” with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips), and his three years of blissful, clean living in Beachwood Canyon after more than a decade of hazy nights in New York City.
“New York is a great place to be drunk, and not to be sober,” he said. “Walk down a street in New York and you know what you’re gonna get behind every door. L.A. is this Byzantine, odd place where everything’s hidden. Walk up to a gate by an ugly strip mall on Gower, and it’s like a tropical paradise inside. Behind the most innocuous storefront, you think it’s a meth lab, but it turns out to be where John Williams writes.”
Sonos Space, located between storefronts, is one such space — a hidden outpost of cool shows, betrayed only by the line outside. “It’s so much fun,” said Moby. “It’s like one time when I got auctioned off for $1,000 for, like, an animal rights organizations or a school, and I played some acoustic songs in this guy’s living room. Such a lovely experience, a concert of me playing music for ten people.”
Over 100 people were at Sonos for Moby’s acoustic set, but it felt comparably snug.
“I grew up playing classical music, then punk rock, new wave and hip-hop for a while,” he continued. “It’s funny — I’ve been seen as this big electronic music person [his 1999 Play sold 12 million copies], but I love playing acoustic shows.”
Of the loose vibe at his Sonos show, he said: “It’s the product of cluelessness and enthusiasm. I remember in Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, he’s having a quasi-psychedelic experience and he meets Mozart. A Mozart concerto is playing on a crummy transistor radio, and the Steppenwolf is driven crazy by this. Mozart is laughing. He says, ‘How can you laugh? This is your creation being bastardized.’ And Mozart kind of says, ‘Yeah, life is messy.’ And that seems to me, especially in this digital age, a much healthier response. Do your best.”
“Why do people never include the process of creation in the criteria of success? he asked. “How can you say it’s a success if it sells but everyone involved in making and promoting it is miserable?”
For instance, Moby was successful when he was on tour with David Bowie in 2002, but he didn’t totally feel it. “I was drunk or hung over every day. He’s my favorite musician, a hybrid of royalty and a demigod. I’m doing a photo shoot with David Bowie, I’m at a barbecue with David Bowie, on tour with David Bowie, trying to keep my shit together. Whenever I was with him I’d just pretend that it was normal. Whereas inside, I was the 13-year-old kid listening to Heroes, beside myself. Yet I somehow worked with him.”
Now, though, Moby feels great, like The Doors making L.A. Woman. “I love every Doors record, and especially L.A. Woman, because it’s so egregiously dysfunctional, like that moment where it starts getting faster. ‘F— it, we’re gonna all play faster if we feel like it!’ Like letting the process happily inform the creation as opposed to imposing an anodyne version of perfection that will erase or exorcize all the human elements and disregard the human emotions of the people who worked on the production.”
In fact, the set Moby and company played, which included such favorites as “Natural Blues,” “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” and “Porcelain,” was pretty tight, but it was shot through with human emotion, both from the musicians and the crowd. Afterwards, attendees got to ask questions, moderated by KCRW’s Chris Douridas. Among them: “Whom would you rather be?”
Moby naturally answered Bowie — but Robert Plant circa 1973 and Tommy Lee circa 1987 were his second and third choices, respectively. Mostly, though, he seemed happy to be himself. His only dissatisfaction was the inexplicable lack of a record deal for Mindy Jones, who rocked out and fused perfectly with his performance and Wood’s soulful cello. “Anybody want to sign her?” said Moby. There was a whole lotta love in the room, even before the last number.
Moby will do only three more shows to promote Innocents — at Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre on Oct. 3, 4 and 5 — just “down the hill,” as they say in SoCal, from his house. Special guest performances from album collaborators are expected.
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