Moby is sat cross-legged in a sweet hotel suite in Marylebone in a grey hoodie and converse; glasses bold, head bald.
Moby is 46 now, and his signature album Play – of which every one of the 18 songs was licensed by a movie or an advert – is 12 years old. An affable, ego-less, entirely open guy, he couldn’t be more at odds with the grandeur of The Landmark Hotel. His new album Destroyed is the product of Moby “repurposing insomnia”, struggling with alcohol and drugs, being on tour and travelling through lobbies and airports, room after room after room. And then going to another hotel room and looking out across another city, and “thinking of everybody asleep, dreaming collectively, and feeling you are the only person left in the world.”
Moby has long been ahead of the curve, so as the music industry continues to freak out about the reality of a consumer who expects to listen for free, Moby is happily diversifying. Destroyed is as much visual as it is aural, accompanied by a book of photos taken during his time on tour. He has also just launched mobygratis.com, providing free music for independent filmmakers.
Here’s what the music man had to say about the ubiquity of the Internet, how he welcomes pirate music, and what it’s like to have insomnia…
Why did you decide to pursue photography as well as music with the Destroyed project? The photo book relates to the new album, because they were made at the same time. They are both products of living in hotel rooms and being in hotel rooms with insomnia at 3 in the morning, looking out at desolate streets and feeling that you’re the only person left on the planet. Because almost every city in the world at 3am on a Tuesday is completely empty. It’s about the solipsism that comes from feeling you are the only person in the world.
That idea seems inherently urban… That’s a good point. Being awake at 3am in the morning in the country terrifies me, because when you are alone in the country you feel like something has gone terribly wrong. It is very urban. I love the way cities look in the middle of the night, with all the lights on, but everyone is asleep. You wonder why everyone leaves the lights on. This perfectly illuminated cityscape for no one. It’s like an amazing set for one or two people who have insomnia.
You moved to L.A recently after spending most of your life in New York. How are you finding it? One of the reasons I moved to L.A is because it’s the strangest city in the Western world. It’s such a big disastrous mess of a city, but I like being warm in January. Even though it’s so big, it’s still a very affordable city for a lot of people. The artists in New York and London have to really struggle to pay the rent. L.A is a little more forgiving. It allows artists to relax a little bit.
Was the decision to make a photo book alongside an album motivated at all by the often referred to demise of the record industry? I am hesitant to say this because I run the risk of pissing people off, but rather than calling it the demise of the record business, I prefer the changing circumstances of the record business and I think that’s been great for music, for musicians, for music fans. One could argue that some musicians make less money, but I think it’s enabled more musicians to have decent middle class lives. It seems like when the record companies controlled everything, the music business was a bit like Paraguay – all the wealth was controlled by 0.1 per cent of the population. And now the music business has become like the Netherlands – much more middle class, much more egalitarian.
At what point did it become clear to you, as a musician, that the Internet was going to play such a central role in your career? I never expected to have a career as a musician. I thought that my life would be spent maybe teaching community college and maybe having a part time job in a bookstore, and making music that no-one would ever listen to. I never expected to have a career as a musician that lasted more than a minute, so all of it has been surprising for me. So I guess as the Internet has become more and more ubiquitous, for me it’s simply become a way of communicating differently to people, and more often. I think I first became aware of it in 1997 or 1998. And this is going back quite a long way but if you remember when people first started file sharing, and a friend of mine first downloaded a song from Napster, and it had only taken him 30 minutes to download a song, and he was so excited. You’d have that little grey progress bar moving incrementally. It seemed like magic.
A lot of musicians are campaigning against pirate music, or have simply retired, while you have launched mobygratis.com which provides free music. What’s the motivation there? I really like making music. To be honest with you I don’t really mind how people listen to it. So if someone wants to buy a CD of mine, that’s fine. If they want to steal the music I make, that’s fine. If they want to listen to it on the radio, that’s fine as well. For me, I’m just very flattered when someone makes the effort to listen to something I’ve done.
Moby’s new album was released on 16th May. His exhibition, Destroyed, has just launched at Proud Galleries, Camden, and runs until 19th June. The photo book is available to buy from moby.com