Mining New Wave, disco and electro, Moby has taken a trip back to 1981 on Hotel. The ambitious album, which hits stores this week, is two CDs of sample-free tracks, with Moby on almost every instrument. The first disc, a mix of high-energy dance tracks and quiet meditations, is his most personal to date. The second set features ambient recordings perfect for, well, driving to. Moby explains, and confesses his love for Joy Division . . . and his respect for Ashlee Simpson.
What was your greatest inspiration as you were writing this album?
A big part was living in New York. I would find myself going out to bars on the Lower East Side and the DJ would be playing Joy Division, and I’d go see bands who sounded like the bands I played in in high school. I almost felt like I was being given license to bask or wallow in my early influences. It’s kind of a New Wave record. “Temptation” is a cover of a New Order song, and the song “Spiders” is very much an homage to David Bowie. And “Where You End” sounds to me like Depeche Mode meets New Order meets the Pet Shop Boys.
Were you concerned about bringing something to the record that was a little newer?
I look at bands like the Killers, Interpol, the Faint, and even if they look and sound like they should have been around in 1982, I don’t think that’s cause for criticism because they’re all making really good records. This is the music and the culture that they like, and they’re not going to worry about the fact that it might be a little bit retro. This current wave of Eighties nostalgia is very much a function of the fact that rock music in the Nineties was so dreadful.
You think so?
Oh, boy. Pre-Nirvana, alternative music was never something that bands got rich off of. So bands in the Eighties — a band like the Pixies or Mission of Burma or Husker Du or Television or the Chameleons — none of these guys expected to get rich. They were just making music because they loved making music. And then suddenly with Nirvana alternative rock became huge business. Everything that came after that, it just had that sheen of the major-label, corporate, mercenary approach to making music. The Nineties was a very homogenous and uninspiring time for rock music. That’s why so many musicians now, in looking for inspiration, act as if the Nineties didn’t exist, given the choice between Joy Division or Limp Bizkit.
What made you decide to not use samples?
In making a record, I record between 200 and 300 songs. A lot of the songs did have samples in them, but I just didn’t like them as much. It’s a more personal, more direct record than some of the music I’ve made in the past. And it’s also part of — I hate to say this considering that as a culture we’re collectively obsessed with youth — just getting a little bit older, learning to accept yourself even with all your flaws and foibles and idiosyncrasies. Like, ten years ago I desperately wanted to have a phenomenal, fantastic singing voice. I wanted to look like Brad Pitt and sing like Bono. But at some point you realize that life is short and it’s not worth beating yourself up over the things that you’re not.
What was the transitional moment for you?
When I released the album Play, I didn’t expect it to be successful. And then it went on to be very successful. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I did sort of get caught up in the trappings of fame and public figuredom. Then when the album 18 came out, the tour was so big, I thought that I’d arrived: suddenly I’m playing for 15,000 people a night, and we have four tour buses, and it felt like a Journey video. It’s this thing that on some level I’d always wanted — success, and playing huge venues — and really it was probably the most unhappy I’ve ever been in my entire life. It sort of forced me to reevaluate the things that my life was filled with, to sort of step back. One epiphany came at the 2002 MTV [Video Music] Awards, where I had the little altercation with Eminem. I don’t want to be a snob, but I look at a lot of the people involved in the creation of popular music and I just don’t feel much of a connection to any of them. I don’t have much in common with some nineteen-year-old manufactured, major-label pop artist.
Are you talking about Ashlee Simpson?
Actually, I have a weird respect for her. I think it was the whole Saturday Night Live thing — it’s endearing when someone fucks up in front of 50 million people . . . OK, wait, you know another epiphany I had? I don’t mean to keep rambling, but to some extent I do interviews as a form of therapy. Like everyone else, I like celebrity eye candy and gossip, and I was looking at a copy of US Weekly, and I remember thinking that, almost on a neurochemical level, fame is so addictive for so many people. They find themselves chasing after more and more fame, and if you stopped and asked them, “Well, why do you want to be more famous?” they wouldn’t have an answer for you. For me, at the end of the day, the litmus test has to be, “How does it improve the quality of your life? Does it make you happy?” At some point I looked at my life and said, “Going to celebrity parties and being promiscuous and being drunk and going to awards shows — are these things making me happy in a way that is sustainable?” And the answer is a resounding “No.”
Would you say this is a more personal album for you?
A lot of the songs are more emotional and more direct than some of the things I’ve done in the past. One of the themes of the record is relationships: In the last couple years, I’ve had two more serious romantic relationships, relationships that were filled with a lot of love and attraction — but also a lot of sadness, because it didn’t work out.
What was the idea behind the ambient disc?
I guess it’s my presumptuous belief that albums of nice, quiet, melodic, bucolic, ambient music make the world a better place. When I put on the ambient record, it calms me down — I can feel my metabolic rate slowing down and my anxiety fading away.
What do you envision people doing while they listen to this album?
This might not sound romantic or glamorous, but I envision someone who’s had a really bad day — whether it’s at work or at school — and they have, like, a forty-minute drive home that, because of traffic, takes an hour. They put on this album, and their mood changes. They get lost in the music.
But not too lost, right?
Yeah, I don’t want them to miss their exit.