Last night Moby debuted his 11th studio album, Innocents, at a listening party in Los Angeles, at the Sonos Studio gallery space. “It’s got a whole bunch of weird collaborations,” he told us as a glamorous crowd started to arrive. “Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, and Mark Lanegan, and Cold Specks, who was born in Somalia but grew up obsessed with Nick Cave in Toronto. I wanted to make a record differently than I had in the past, so I started thinking of who had not just a great voice, but an idiosyncratic voice.” We talked with Moby while he reclined on a couch in a back room, waiting for his kettle to boil.
Why did you make this album?
It’s really great and emancipating to be a middle-aged guy making a record at a time when people don’t buy records. About eight years ago, I had a friend who put out a book, and another friend who was directing an off-off-off-Broadway play. The book sold 20,000 copies, and that was a success. My director friend had about 800 people come see his play, and he was thrilled. And I started thinking, why, in the world of music, is success judged in hundreds of thousands and millions? I started thinking about my own records that way, and then the world reinforced that. Not selling that many records enforced a degree of purity: I’m making earnest, heartfelt music and hoping people are willing to listen to it. As opposed to in the Nineties, when a band no one cared about could sell millions of records.
Why did you move to L.A.?
I thought I was going to live in New York forever. Growing up, I thought New York was the greatest place in the world – the land of Lou Reed, the land of Dylan Thomas. I moved back to New York from Connecticut in the Eighties, and it was amazing. Rent was cheap. New York was filled with weird artists and musicians. I started drinking again in 1995, and I realized New York was the best place in the world to be a drunk.
Was there a moment when you decided to start drinking?
I remember it very well. New Year’s Day, 1995, I was visiting some friends in San Francisco. I’d just had a really contentious breakup with my then-ex-girlfriend, but I called her to wish her a happy New Year’s – and some guy picked up the phone. I hung up the payphone, walked to a bar and started drinking. And then the next 10 years were spent drunk and crazy in New York.
The period detail there is the payphone.
Yeah, and my AT&T calling card. So I spent 10 years drinking, touring, partying – all sorts of crazy uptown and downtown degeneracy. As I got older, the consequences of drinking started to kick in: anxiety, depression, sickness, etc. So around five or six years ago, I decided to stop. I sobered up, looked around and realized that New York had become the domain of hedge-fund managers. Artists I met were either scared and bitter because they didn’t know how they were going to pay the rent, or they were parentally subsidized. I started thinking, maybe it’s time to be less provincial. Maybe it’s time to leave the city of my birth and see what else is out there.
I went out on tour, and every city I went to, I asked myself, “Could I live in this place?” I crafted a short list of criteria. It needed to be warm in the winter. It needed to be filled with weird artists, writers and musicians. It needed to have easy access to nature, and it needed to have real estate where I could have a guest bedroom. I thought about Sydney, but it was very far away. It came down to Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Austin and L.A. Seattle-Portland-Vancouver I love, but 300 days a year of cold and gray and rainy, I couldn’t handle. Austin is amazing, but I felt like it was a bar town. L.A. is this weird mix of hiking and movies. I said, “I guess I’m moving to L.A.”
Off the record, where in town do you live?
Beachwood Canyon. But that’s not off the record – it’s easy enough to find out. I bought this crazy old house and spent a couple of years renovating it.
Does living in L.A. color what you do musically?
A lot of people move to L.A. for domesticity. They’re coming from London; they’re coming from Tokyo. In New York, they have a tiny apartment in Bed-Stuy, where they’re living with their significant other in 60 square feet. And they move to L.A., and suddenly they have a house and a backyard and guest rooms, and they have a dog. New York’s good at public life; L.A.’s really good at domesticity. I think the domesticity here is a response to the sprawl. Since coming here, I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to live in a city that is vast and utterly lacking in cohesion.
So the album I just made is a very domestic record. It’s made at home, for home. It’s a record for making breakfast, for listening to in the living room at 11 p.m. before going to bed. It’s quieter and more intimate. It’s not a big, bombastic, dynamic urban record. Maybe if I were 24 and living in Highland Park I would make that, but I’m 48 and living in the country, in Hollywood.
And you take the pickup truck into town when . . .
We’re out of barley and sorghum. Time to drive down the hill to the general store!