Moby Plays It Again - Rolling Stone
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Moby Plays It Again

Studio maestro has recorded hundreds of songs for next album

Two full years have passed since Moby released his breakthrough Play. In that time the album slowly burned its way to sales in excess of 2 million copies, the first of his highly varied albums to reach platinum status. And while fans may be tapping their feet and checking their watches in anticipation for the follow-up, they’ll have to wait until next May.

But one can hardly accuse the stylistic chameleon of sitting on his duff. Last week, Moby launched his Area: One summer festival tour; taking a diverse crop of musicians — including OutKast, Nelly Furtado, the Roots, Paul Oakenfold and New Order — out on the road. He’s also logged significant time on a new highly interactive DVD (due this month) that he hopes will offer something more than standard tour film lowlights. And then there’s that next album, for which Moby says he has crafted between 130 and 140 songs, which will eventually be whittled down to twenty or so before its release next year.

With so many songs in the works, do you have any idea as to what the finished product will sound like?

A lot of the songs for the next record are kind of subdued . . . At this point I’m just like collecting and writing all these songs, and the record could take any form. It could be an instrumental experimental record, it could be a more pop-oriented record, it could be a punk rock record, it could be a dance record. I have all these type of songs written. I have to figure out which ones I love the most and which ones work best together.

Do you always end up with so many leftovers?

I’ve been recording music since 1982, and I’ve probably got about 600 albums’ worth of unreleased material. Most of it is not very good at all. Most of it is me in 1987 trying to sing like Morrissey, or me in 1989 trying to sound like Depeche Mode. There’s some really sketchy stuff there, but music is the only thing I know how to do, so that’s what I spend my time doing.

Have you established a timeframe for the album’s release?

What I think a lot of people aren’t aware of is it takes a really long time to do what’s called the setup for the record, which is the time where you travel around the world doing interviews and making videos and you get the radio edits done and you do the artwork for the album. That process takes about three or four months. So if I finish the record in November, give it to the record company in December, that means it can come out in May. Which might seem like a long time. I think some bands are lucky, where they deliver a record in April and will come out three weeks later. But for me I have to deliver it four months in advance.

Does that lag time affect your feelings about the record? Have you tired of them by the time they come out?

I work so hard on my records, like when Play came out, by the time it was released, some of those songs were two, three years old. But I still really liked them. And a lot of times what happens is I’ll work on records just by myself in my studio and lose objectivity completely. So when a record comes out, I don’t know if its good, I don’t know if its bad, and then it goes into the outside world and I start getting feedback from other people, which then influences the way I listen to the record. With the last record, I put it out and I didn’t know if it was good or not. And then people started to hear it and said it was good so I went back and listened to it to try and hear what other people were hearing. Luckily I never resented it. I never got tired of it. Then again, I never understand why musicians disavow stuff they might have done in their past. As much as I love Radiohead, and I think Radiohead are amazing and I’m thrilled that they’re making records, it kind of bothers me that they don’t play some of the older songs like “Creep” or “High and Dry.” These are wonderful hit songs. Depeche Mode just played recently, and I don’t think they did anything off the first three albums. They’re the ones that made these albums. They’re the ones that wrote these great songs. People want to hear them. Why won’t they play them? I’ve never understood that.

So you try to give ’em what they want to hear?

I’m such a populist at heart. If I was in front of an audience of 10,000 people and all 10,000 of them sent me a letter saying that all they wanted to hear was “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” played fifteen times in a row, I would play “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” fifteen times in a row. I feel like I can be self-indulgent on my own time. I’ve got my whole life to go into my studio and be as self-indulgent as I want to be. If I’m on stage, I feel the responsibility, because people pay money to come to the concert. They’re taking their time, which is so valuable, and making an effort to come and see me perform. I can’t take that responsibility lightly. I have to put on the best concert I can.

Much ado was made about the use of the Alan Lomax recordings on Play. With the upcoming digitization of the Library of Congress, can we expect more sampling from those vaults?

For the next record, I’ve used some old sampled vocals, just because I found some old beautiful sampled vocals. With my last record, my intention was never to make a treatise on American folk music or blues; I just found these beautiful vocals and the same thing with the next record. There will be some sample vocals there, but just because I found some amazing vocals.

Have you found the recording process to have changed much technologically over the past decade?

The way that I make music hasn’t really changed in the last twenty years . . . maybe in the last fourteen years. From when I got my first sequencer to now, it’s basically just been MIDI equipment and just trying to write nice music. Almost every album I’ve made has been done in a living room or a bedroom. I have some nicer equipment now, but, apart from that, the process is the same.

But it certainly seems to be more DIY than it was two decades ago.

There’s definitely a do-it-yourself egalitarian quality to contemporary technology, at least as far as contemporary music production technology. And that’s nice that there aren’t any inherent limitations. If someone has a musical idea, they should be able to express it to the best of their ability and they shouldn’t be limited by technology. In the past to make a record you needed a half-million-dollar studio.

How do you find the fit with V2?

With Play I got very lucky. Before Play I was on Elektra, and Elektra is a good label, and I have great respect for the people there. But V2 is a much smaller label, and you can actually have direct relationships with the people who work there — on a professional level and on a friendly level — and it helps that they’re only four blocks from my house. So if I have a problem with anything, I just walk over there and ask them, “Why is this happening?” Just being on a smaller label they work harder. If you’re on a huge label with hundreds of acts, and you put out a record that doesn’t do well, people forget about you. With V2 their roster is so small that nothing gets overlooked.

Can you tell us a little more about what to expect on the DVD?

It seems to me a lot of musicians put out DVD’s for gratuitous reasons. Someone says, “Oh, why don’t you put out a DVD?” And they say, “Oh, well, OK, sure.” For a lot of people it seems like not a lot of thought goes into it, or sometimes too much goes into it. The reason we’re putting out a DVD is we have so much really fun stuff to put on a DVD. We have ten music videos, we have this hour-and-a-half-long megamix, this twenty-minute movie that I made, six live songs, links to computer sites where you can remix my songs. It’s chock full of stuff. I think some bands will put out DVDs that have three videos and some interview footage, and that’s it. I’m like, “Someone spent $30 on that?” If someone is going to spend their hard-earned money on something — whether it’s a record or a concert or a DVD — you should do everything in your power to make it as worthwhile as possible.

What does your short film look like?

The little movie that I made is called Give an Idiot a Camcorder . . . and I would be the idiot in question. Before we started the tour, the people at the record company gave me this little Sony video camcorder, and I brought it out with me and shot lots of things. And when we edited it together the goal was not to make something long and pretentious and tedious, but rather something short and quick and stupid. Because there are a lot of backstage movies that are really dull, and no one in the world needs to see more footage of bands sitting backstage being sullen looking at their deli platter. So the idea with this movie was to make something that was fun and stupid — and it’s really stupid.


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