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"If music is going to be the background sound of our life, then it makes sense that it would also find its way into TV shows, movies and commercials."

MOBY COUNTS TO 18

V2’s Multimedia Whiz Gets Set For Some Commercial Action on His New Album
"Music can be frivolous escapism," said Moby, "and it can be a form of communicating very serious ideas." In his remarkable career, Moby has succeeded in doing both. From a start in his home state of Connecticut to the nether regions of lower Manhattan, Moby, distant descendant of Moby Dick author Herman Melville, began a creative arc from DJ and underground electronic alchemist, to multi-Platinum international recording star. His phenomenal Play is owner of the most film, TV and commercial licenses from any one album in recording history. His new album 18 (V2), which comes out Tuesday (5/14), is certainly its equal, another selection of exquisite pop soundscapes, some serene and some soaring. Moby lost whatever serenity he had after chatting with HITS’own Far East correspondent, John "Geisha Boy" Sutton-Smith.

We first met at Slamdance when you came up there to pursue the film, TV and soundtrack market… I guess the strategy worked out.
It was, to some extent, an accidental strategy, and, to another extent, a strategy born of necessity, because before Play came out, I really didn’t find myself with too much support from more traditional media outlets. The support that I was receiving was from people who were putting music into films, TV shows and commercials, so that was really to a large extent the only way I had of getting people to listen to my music. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

You had some record number of licenses from Play.
Our approach was to do pretty much anything that was asked of us. If that meant staying on the road for 20 months, that’s what we did. If it meant licensing music to TV shows and films, that’s what I would do. Play was a record that I was really proud of, and I wanted to do whatever I could to better the chances that people would actually hear it. And if that meant radio programmers, great. If that meant music supervisors for film companies, great. And if it meant homeless, people passed out in the park, great. Anyone who was willing to listen, we’d play music for.

Radio seems to have warmed to you, though.
To be honest with you, I’m eternally grateful for that. I do understand I’m a very unconventional artist. And I know that a lot of people at radio have gone out on a limb for me, and I’ll always remember that, and appreciate it.

Is there ever an artistic conflict in the whole concept of corporate licensing?
The only time a piece of music really exists in its pure state is when it’s being made in a studio by a musician. Once it leaves the studio, music goes out into the world and has a complicated life. I don’t understand why people focus on music being used in TV shows or commercials when, for the longest time, music has been used in just about every context you can imagine. If music is going to be the background sound of our life, then it makes sense that it would also find its way into TV shows, movies and commercials. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just one of the myriad ways in which music enters a person’s life.

How was it different making this record after the success of Play?
The tour for Play was about 22 months long, and the day that it ended I just went home to New York, and started working on this new record. I wasn’t thinking about commercial pressure or making a follow-up. I was just thinking about trying to make nice music that I loved and hopefully other people would love as well. I knew that if I consciously tried to craft a follow-up to Play that it would end up being a compromised body of work. So, if anything, 18 is a very nave record, because I was simply trying to make an album that I could be proud of and that I loved.

You work in a home studio.
I have a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and my main bedroom is a recording studio and the smaller bedroom is where I sleep. I exclusively work there. I had to mix a couple of songs from Play in outside studios, because there were just too many tracks on them. My mixing desk at the time couldn’t accommodate it. But with this album, I’ve got a Pro-Tools set-up, so I can mix every song at home.

You literally immerse yourself in the process of recording.
My work life and my private home life are very integrated. I’ll work for a few hours, then hang out with friends for a little while, work for a few hours more, then maybe clean my bathroom, work for a few hours more and go out to dinner. My work is inextricably linked to the rest of my life.

How do song ideas come to you?
Every song develops in a different way. The genesis of some songs is really quite conventional, where it starts off with me sitting down, playing guitar or piano, and having a piece of paper in front of me where I write lyrics and chord changes. And then other songs start out quite unconventionally, where they might begin with a vocal sample and then I’ll start working on the musical bed for the vocal sample. Every song does have its own distinctive, idiosyncratic genesis.

Sometimes a piece of music can begin from a tabula rasa, or a blank slate, and other times I’ll hear a piece of music and be impressed with the way in which it’s effective and I’ll try to recreate that effectiveness on my own. For example, there’s a song on there called "Great Escape" which, it doesn’t sound it, but the music was inspired by a Leonard Cohen song, "Suzanne," even though it doesn’t sound anything like it. And even though it doesn’t have the same chords, but I listened to—I forget who—maybe it was Judy Collins’ version of "Suzanne" and just loved how plaintive and emotional it was, and so I sat down to try and write a song that could accomplish that as well.

The first single from the new album is "We’re All Made of Stars." What was the genesis of that?
The inspiration was the Blur song "Girls and Boys." I heard that song, and I hadn’t heard it in a long time, and I thought it was just such a cute little new wave song. Basically, "We Are All Made of Stars" is me trying to write a simple uplifting new wave song, and it was also a slight homage to a lot of the new wave I had grown up with.

There aren’t as many samples on this album.
It’s kind of an accident. When I’m working on a record, I’m not really thinking about where the vocals come from. I’m not thinking about whether it’s me singing, or whether it’s a studio musician singing, or whether it’s a vocal sample. What I’m really thinking about is the emotional effectiveness of a piece of music. If it can be emotionally effective with me singing, then I’ll sing it. But if a piece of music needs a guest vocalist or a vocal sample to be more effective, then that’s what I’ll incorporate into the composition.

You seem to dig pretty deep, and far and wide in looking for samples.
I'm kind of a dilettante as far as being a record collector… because the majority of music on my album is me playing different instruments. That’s my one minor bone of frustration—when people think that everything on my records is sampled. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter to me whether something’s sampled or whether something’s being performed in the studio, but if you’re listening to one of my records and you hear drums and guitar and bass and keyboards, it’s me playing all those different instruments.

How about recruiting the various vocalists for the album?
Musically and romantically, I’m not very good at being forward, so a lot of times other people have to make the first move with me. As a result, my romance life and my sex life are pretty dry, because I do tend to sit around and wait for other people to make the first move. Musically, the reason I have Sinead O’Connor and Angie Stone on the record was because I heard that they were both interested in working with me. In all honesty, I never would have had the courage to contact either, because I’ve been a Sinead O’Connor fan for a very long time, and I certainly love Angie Stone. The song that Sinead sings on the record, "Harbour," is something I wrote 17 years ago and it’s just been in the back of mind as something that I’ve been waiting on the right singer for. So I sent it to her and she liked it, and so she sang on it.

You started your career as a DJ.
I first started DJing in 1984, after I dropped out of college, and I saw the turntable as a way of playing cool records. When I first, I was playing industrial records, punk-rock and new wave. I didn’t do anything even approaching "scratching" or mixing. I’d play a Joy Division, then DAF, then Echo & the Bunnymen, then Tuxedomoon. It was just a way for me to play my favorite records.

Do you allow yourself when your creating a piece of music to consider the effect that it might have on a person?
Actually, I imagine that all the time. If I’m working on a song, a lot of times I’ll imagine the circumstances in which the song might be listened to. Often times I’ll think of a woman or a girl alone in her bedroom alone at 10 o’clock at night after a hard day, listening to a piece of music that I’ve made and hopefully be comforted by it.

You’re a big gospel fan.
I have a really deep, special love for black music in general, especially, really wonderful soul music, gospel and old R&B. Maybe it’s because it’s so foreign to me. I grew up in a conservative suburb where I wasn’t exposed to much black music. When I was younger, I started hanging out in New York City a lot, and was suddenly exposed to seminal hip-hop and dance music. I do get a certain sense of pride just thinking of all of the remarkable music that’s come out of New York City over the last hundred years.

You’ve grown as a live performer, tool.
Growing up, I went to a lot of hard-core punk shows with Black Flag, Bad Brains, the Misfits, Fear, Circle Jerks… just these remarkable concerts where the performers were so passionate. I think I’ve seen Black Flag more than any other band ever. Just seeing them in the early ’80s, how passionate and how dynamic they were, made me realize that if you’re going to put something on stage, you should make it as dynamic and passionate as you possibly can. A wonderful live performance can be one of the best things in the world, while a really boring live performance can be one of the most tedious things in the world, so I do aspire to put on a show that I would want to see if I was in the audience.

What are your touring plans?
The plan is, right now we’re sort of in the middle of a five-month long promotional tour, and after the promotional tour, we start was is supposed to be a 15-month long concert tour.

Things seems to be working out for you at V2.
It’s strange, because I’m signed to two labels, Mute and to V2. I feel a genuine sense of pride being signed to them. I mean, to use V2 as an example, it makes me really happy to be on the same label as Mercury Rev, Granddaddy, the White Stripes and Underworld. And V2 is such a unique label, especially in the current musical climate. They have this amazing roster and they have this very music-driven indie sensibility, but yet we’re still able to sell a few records.

The success of Play has made you a "pop star."
My musical heroes were people like Mission of Burma, Tuxedomoon, Brian Eno and Joy Division…marginal music, not marginal for me, but marginal in the broader commercial context. When I was growing up, I thought a record that sold more than 10,000 was a huge success. And I thought that a show that more than 50 people came to was a huge success, so when I started making my own records, I gauged success on a very small level. The first singles I ever put out sold 2-3,000 copies and I thought that was very successful. With Play, my hope was that it would sell a 100,000, maybe 200,000 copies, worldwide. It went on to sell around 10 million copies, which came as a complete surprise, and turned me into a very unlikely—for lack of a better word—public figure. But there is something about that which makes me really happy. I’ve made a body of work that I’m really proud of, and I want people to hear it. And if people hear it and are compelled to buy it and take it home, for me, that’s kind of like a pat on the back… People telling me they think I’ve done a good job.

There must be a surreal element to it.
Yeah, but I’ve lived in New York for a long time. And I’ve been hanging out in nightclubs, and being surrounded by celebrity culture for the last twelve, thirteen years, really. The only difference is now instead of going to parties and watching celebrities talk amongst each other, I sometimes get invited to be part of their conversations.

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