A slight figure wearing 1960s thick frame reading glasses sits cross legged in a yogi posture. Behind him jagged cliff faces sweep precariously down a gaping ravine to a Lapis Lazuli coloured sea. Atop, Mediterranean pine trees thick with lincoln and citrus green colour foliage are showered with high intensity blasts of chlorophyll. On the north eastern edge of Ibiza and far removed from the noisier environs of Ibiza town musician and artist Moby is holding temporary residence in the cliché Mediterranean paradise that is the boutique ‘Hotel Hacienda.’
Back in the spotlight with new album ‘Destroyed’, a soundtrack he created whilst cities he was touring in were sleeping and in Ibiza to DJ at Carl Cox’s club night, Richard Melville Hall tells me the friendship between Cox and himself grew from knowing each other “about 20 years” and touring together in “New York, Brazil, Miami, LA, Ibiza, London, Germany”.
It’s no small feat that Cox coerced the musician to fly from Madrid for a DJ set at ‘Revolution.’ Sandwiched between 2 gallery shows of photographs which accompany the album and a band show in Alicante in Spain the LA based artist explains “I actually don’t DJ that often. Normally when I’m on tour I’m playing live. So, nights like this when I can leave the band somewhere else and just go play records are really fun” and that he will play a set full of “big hands in the air techno and rave tracks” but If he were playing a smaller venue it would be “more experimental and have a lot more nuance.”
Electronic music stars are peculiar animals to profile and interview. Some overly PR themselves with their latest pitch others are cautious when asked hard questions or defiant to remain in the shadows as an ethic parallel to the ‘underground’. Not Moby is seems.
The man who broke with ‘Go’ in 1991 became a Mute records favourite and went definitively over ground with ‘Play’ in 1999, an album which sold 9 million copies and whose release was not without controversy. A section of fans deeming him to be a commercial ‘sell-out’ after he extensively licensed tracks for advertising to multi-national global brands such as Ford. Having sold over 20 million records to date, delivered over 3000 concerts and featured on film soundtracks such as I pursued a career as a musician because I wanted to spend my life making music and spend my life hopefully with an audience but I never thought it would pay the rent..'Heat', 'Any Given Sunday', 'Tomorrow Never Dies' and 'The Beach' Moby is long past the ‘underground’ moniker of 1991’s seminal track but remains full of insightful awareness and candid free speaking opinion which in past has caused arguments with more carnivorous artists such as Eminem.
Comfortable in his skin he projects as wanting to challenge and push the intellect boundaries. Complex knowledge is dropped in the interview and his social, statistical and political consciousness is somewhat startling. For a man who originally studied ‘Philosophy’ he balances statements with a pro/con approach and hits a raw nerve with his political, educational, philanthropic and social opinion on America. Not a read for those who may be politically faint hearted, patriotically blinkered or belonging happily in the right wing it’s an insight into the ‘left’ of America and a deeper look at the human and intellectual side to Moby. Take a breath and prepare to be educated by the man who may have been a university professor.
You came from a tough social background did you strategise to move your life forward or other?
The circumstances of my upbringing were very strange as I grew up poor in arguably the wealthiest town in the United States called Darien in Connecticut. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up poor in an environment where everybody is poor but I do know what it’s like to grow up poor in an environment where nobody except for me was poor.
In terms of wealth, was it a middle or upper class environment and you were below that?
Per capita the town I grew up in is the wealthiest in the United States. The first girlfriend I had in high school, her father owned a fleet of oil tankers the second girlfriend I had her grandfather was Bill Hewlett from Hewlett Packard so it was 100’s of millions, billions of dollars in wealth and we were on food stamps and welfare. I was born a third class citizen and I just fairly contentedly assumed I would always be a third class citizen.
Why do you use the term ‘third class’ rather than ‘second class’?
I’ve seen it so many times you can fake your way or bully your way in a lot of things through life but without education at some point it’s going to stop working...Well that’s how I perceived myself when I was growing up. We were poor. Our clothes were second hand, our furniture was second hand and I just assumed that was the natural order of things, some people had been born to privilege and some people had not. Everyone in my family was pretty comfortable with this we weren’t social climbers my aunts and uncles are all artists and there all pretty happy being poor.
That’s one of the reasons I became a musician, I love music but I never thought it would lead to a job. I thought I would spend my life making music and maybe being a university professor teaching what I studied in school, philosophy and never having money, never having an audience and being relatively ok with that.
So any success I have had has been completely accidental because I never wanted it or pursued it. I pursued a career as a musician because I wanted to spend my life making music and spend my life hopefully with an audience but I never thought it would pay the rent and I remember being very baffled when it first started to enable me to pay the rent.
Moby 'Destroyed' Album Minimix by Moby on MixcloudDo you believe in the power of education to change social circumstance?
Yes, because I grew up in such an affluent town I got really lucky the public school system there was amazing. I think the statistics are 98% of the kids who graduate from my high school go on to university and 50% go on to Ivy League schools. I went to a public (in the American sense) school where you don’t pay for it, the classes were small the teachers were amazing and in my family even though we were really poor there was so much emphasis put on art, music, literature, politics and education.
I’ve seen it so many times you can fake your way or bully your way in a lot of things through life but without education at some point it’s going to stop working. Or you often see some people lock into a lot of success but they weren’t well educated so they lose everything. Then some people don’t need education they have so much innate intelligence that education for some people will be a hindrance but for me I’m incredibly grateful that I grew up in a town that had a free school system.
Politics in America your current thoughts? Do you think Obama is impacting? I assume a free speaking opinionated man like you supported Obama?
Oh yeah I did all that I could to try and support his campaign and his office. He is a really interesting politician as he is quite centrist and quite independent and remarkably untroubled by public opinion. It’s one of the things I really admire about him you get the sense that he goes to work every day doesn’t pay much attention to the poll numbers and tries to do the right things. I don’t believe in public philanthropy for other people if they believe in public philanthropy that’s great but I don’t want to taint what motivates me to be philanthropic...I don’t think he is a superhero, I don’t think he is a rock star, I don’t think he is a demi-god I think he is quite an effective politician and legislatively he has accomplished so much that has not got attention. (Barack Obama’s legislative record in 2 years of office) so much stuff in terms of a civil rights perspective, in terms of gender equality in terms of wage earning. Its hard because the republicans in congress have done so much to try to thwart his legislative agenda.
It’s a conversation I have with some people because they wonder why I support Obama because he’s not left wing enough. What we saw in 2000 was 3 candidates Ralph Nader, Bush and Al Gore some people supported Ralph Nader because he was further to the left of Al Gore and the end result was George Bush won the election. I’m not saying a 2 party system is good but it’s what we have and with that comes a lot of necessary compromise not so much to keep your party in power but to keep the evil republicans out of power.
Are your police still stopping people and sending them for court appearance for cycling their bikes in main roads city centres like Denver?
I don’t mean to vilify them but the republicans have been experts at almost Orwellian double speak. Like George Bush and the republicans in the first year he was in office they passed legislation called the ‘Healthy Forests’ initiative which was legislation that allowed the paper companies to cut down more trees. They paid some scientists to say that by thinning out the forests it actually made them healthier. That’s what the republicans do it’s their evil genius at passing nefarious legislation. The republicans work for big corporations and it sounds like lefty conspiracy theory but it’s true they work for oil companies and the coal industry.
You work with charities a lot?
You see giving money to charity is the one thing I am a little uncomfortable talking about. All I can say is I do give money to causes I believe in non-profits and NGO’s. I won’t talk about how much I donate though. I could always give less I could always give more. The reason being I don’t ever want to do it for the wrong reasons.
I think it’s great when you have a billionaire who buys a university a new library and he puts his name on it, sure it’s motivated by ego and vanity but the university gets a new library.
For me personally I don’t believe in public philanthropy for other people if they believe in public philanthropy that’s great but I don’t want to taint what motivates me to be philanthropic.
Some music artists are very discreet and some use it as marketing tool how do you feel about that?
My thought is if there is a worthy charity and they end up with money I don’t really think it matters where it comes from or why the money has reached them.
But would you ever hock your music by saying “Oh look I’ve donated money from album sales to a lot of charities”?
Oh I’ve donated my music to lots of different charities and I’m thrilled to help charities draw attention to what they are doing. I believe in marketing but the marketing has to be for the charity not for me.
David Lynch has been one of my heroes and he has a thing called the David Lynch Foundation which teaches meditation to inner city school kids at risk and veterans with PTSD. It’s actually quite effective as meditation really benefits certain people like veterans who have post traumatic stress disorder. Especially in the United States where the armed forces don’t really do much to help people with PTSD so meditation has been proven to really help people. I’ve helped out David Lynch with this quite a lot as he likes people to do this publicly as it draws more attention to what he is doing and it helps them to get more press and give them legitimacy.