Moby has weathered a one-sided feud with Eminem and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, derision for his innovative licensing for Play, and reticence for most of his music not featuring Gwen Stefani. Rather than pandering to mainstream success or waving his middle finger out the window of his solid-gold car, Moby went looking for a reason to make music. He found inspiration in a lecture by film director David Lynch, retreated to his bedroom and recorded Wait for Me. The album marks a turn for Moby. No longer a club kid or vegan rock messiah, he is simply making the music he wants to hear.
Who is Moby?
I’m just a weird, bald, middle-aged man who makes records alone in his bedroom. I wish I had something more glamorous to offer, but that’s the truth.
Tell me about Wait for Me.
As time has passed, I have become less and less interested with all the machinery used to create music. I can appreciate the possibilities and the technical genius of production, but I find myself totally unable to relate to it. On Wait for Me, I wanted to create music to which I had a connection. That meant that instead of recording a full set of drums on multiple microphones, I was satisfied with tone drum and the two not very good mics in my bedroom.
Does the melancholy feel of the album come from this isolation?
I’ve always liked melancholy, mournful music. I wanted to make an album that meant something to me, so that’s how the songs sound. That’s not to say that I’m depressed or can’t appreciate a good dance song. I love Creedence Clearwater Revival; I’d just rather listen to Joy Division instead.
You brought in Ken Thomas to mix the album. What effect did he have on the process?
I think he first produced records in the mid-’70s. He has the amazing resume, with everybody from Throbbing Gristle and the Buzzcocks to Sigur Ros. His greatest asset as a producer is that he is willing to do whatever works in order to get the right effect. There’s a song on the album called “Ghost Return,” and in order to make it sound more atmospheric Ken basically removed all the drums and focused on a thinly, badly recorded ride cymbal. He knew that this was what the song needed, and found a way to do it. A lot of times there is pressure from the record company to make songs that sound good on the radio. I wanted to do something different, and Ken understood that. The songs on Wait for Me are designed for people to listen to them at home or with headphones on their personal stereos.
Why did you decide to make “Shot in the Head,” a song without lyrics, the first single on the album?
I’ve spent a good numbers of years accommodating the wishes of the record company. There was always pressure from EMI to make something that could be mass-marketed and packaged for sale to a wide audience. This time, when making a record that I wanted to listen to, choosing the creepy, atmospheric song without lyrics as the first single seemed perfectly natural. Life really is too short to worry about the commercial aspects of the music. I know that might sound disingenuous or overly simple coming from me, but when I’m a hundred years old (hopefully) on my deathbed, I don’t want to be thinking about all the money that I made or hits that I had on the radio.
How much did the end product resemble what you set out to create?
I really like this record, so I’m happy with the end result, but I wanted to make something that was really atmospheric and experimental. I think that I did get there, but maybe not to the degree I wanted. I was hoping for off-puttingly experimental.
How are preparations going for the tour?
Going out on tour has always been the tricky part of recording an album at 3 a.m. in the bedroom. We’ll try it. I’ve been in London rehearsing to work out what’s going to be possible in the live setting. Some songs we just won’t play. They’ll exist only on the album. At this point, I’m more concerned with the actual shows. I haven’t toured in quite a while, and I have no idea who is coming to the shows. I have visions of playing for ten people. I’m not just trying to be falsely humble, either; it’s a little scary to jump in with no possibility of predicting the end result.
Are you going to license the songs from Wait for Me for use in commercials?
Probably not. I got so crucified for doing it with my other records that I probably won’t do it again. It is one of my few real regrets in my career, because it shifted focus from my music and to the business aspect. I’ll still license to movies and television, but I won’t be doing any more commercials.
As a forefather of the licensing movement, what do you think about the iPod commercials that are basically being used to break acts?
We are living through a very strange time in the music industry. There are so many different ways to be heard that we’re almost at a saturation point. Ironically, it’s hard for musicians to get the one break that helps them take the next step in their careers. The ads are great in that respect, because these bands are able to move another rung up the ladder with all the exposure. On the other hand, they may not have a body of work that allows them to follow the commercial with something else substantial. They end up as an unknown, forever being judged on the basis of that one song. But for most groups, the temptation is just too great. Desperate times often lead people to make decisions that are not sustainable.
What is your guiltiest musical pleasure?
My friend Keith and I organized these slow-dance parties, where the music had to be just the most over the top imaginable. Every song was the last song at prom, and there would be a room full of New York hipsters in a full swoon. As much as I hate to admit it, the song that always got the best response was Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” But if you’re at a party and you see somebody like Russell Simins of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion just giving himself to the moment, you have to be something right, right?