slow magazine the revolution will be photocopied
     

slow #5/winter 2001

There was a time not long ago when it was hard to escape from Moby. The tiny New York techno pixie had his album Play on all the coolest post-modern coffee tables from here to way over there, and his music would come at you in twenty second bursts nestled behind the most unlikely TV ads. After a decade or more† spent swinging wildly from genre to genre the theory is that he found a tape of some old blues tunes, dusted them down with his renowned eclecticism and soon found himself pontificating all the way to the bank. We met him on his never ending tour and found out that heís not just everybodyís favourite pocket-sized jingle composer — heís also an expert on feline dentistry.

You got nominated for a Grammy for best rock instrumental.
Actually I was nominated for two Grammies; one was for best rock instrumental which is very bizarre seeing as that song is neither a rock song nor an instrumental, and the other was for best alternative artist.

How did you get into the rock category — do Americans still not have much of a concept of dance music?
Um, I had nothing to do with what I was nominated for. I donít know how the process works, Iíve never been nominated for† Grammy before, Iíve never been to the Grammies before, so it does seem very odd that Iíve been nominated for best rock instrumental. I donít even know why the category exists. What seems to have happened is as the Grammies have gone on theyíve never gotten rid of categories, so like best rock instrumental might have made sense in 1971, and itís still there so you gotta fill it. So I think that what happened might be that different people in the music business write in their votes and they just write in for anything.
But your nominated song wasnít an instrumental anyway.
Itís Bodyrock — itís filled with vocals.
Would you have let Spoonie G (whose sampled vocals fill the track) pick up the award if you won?
Heís in prison, and I think that my contribution to the song was greater than his anyway.

We all know that every track from Play has been licensed for adverts and stuff — would it be true to say that youíve made more money from this than from sales of the record itself?
I donít know to be honest with you. This might not sound true, but it is true as far as I know it — as far as making records and selling records goes I never think of the financial aspect. The album went gold in the UK and the US and a friend of mine said ďWow! thatís great — now youíre gonna make so much money!Ē That honestly never crossed my mind. All these like licensing to movies, to commercials, to TV, selling a lot of records — the financial aspect of it never crosses my mind. I mean itís nice if I get big fat royalty cheques thatís great, I donít complain, but also I have everything I need. Iím lucky; I own my own house in New York and I have a recording studio, and then when I get money I just put it in the bank, I invest, and then itís like the amount of money I make is kind of arbitrary. Itís nice, itís exciting (kind of) and it makes the record company happy and my managers happy, but it doesnít really have much bearing on the way I live.
Do you have any interest or control over what products get promoted using your music?
I have two things in my contract with Mute: one says the music Iíve made canít be used to advertise cigarettes, and the other is that it canít be used to advertise weapons. Apart from that everything else is kind of fair game.
Iíve said this before but Mute is an independent label — the last of the big independents — and the people that work there are friends of mine, and Daniel Miller who owns the label is a friend of mine, and if by licensing my songs to commercials and movies and whatever it means that Mute can stay in business, and it means that my friends can have jobs then great — Iím happy to go along with it. Certainly when I write music I donít think about it being used to advertise chocolates or whatever, but we live in a messy world and we certainly live in a commerce-driven world and Iím grudgingly relatively happy† to go along with it.

So far youíve steered clear of the celebrity DJ circuit. Is there any reason for this apart from being a bad DJ?
Iím not really a DJ at all. I used to DJ as a way to make money and I DJ occasionally for fun, but Iíve been playing guitar since I was 9 years old — for better or worse I just think of myself as a musician. Thereís nothing wrong with being a DJ, just as thereís nothing wrong with being a musician, but by anybodyís definition Iím not really a DJ.

Do you ever get mistaken for Westbam?
Do you know Westbam? Max — heís a lot chubbier than I am, heís quite round. He looks sort of like a bald, chubby Napoleon. I love him, heís an old old friend, we first met in 1989. I really like him and heís a smart, very interesting guy, but if we were standing next to each other thereís definitely no mistaking us. I get mistaken for Michael Stipe occasionally. I got my picture taken with Michael Stipe, and from that... we could be cousins but we really donít look that much alike. But any white guy with a shaved head is bound to look pretty much like any other white guy with a shaved head.

You turned down production offers from the likes of Hole and GunsíníRoses — why do all these rock bands want to work with you?
I think because a lot of rock musicians see rock as a sort of dying entity, itís not particularly been a great couple of years for rock music — most of the interesting developments in music have come from this hybridised world of electronic music with other genres. Pure rock can be good but itís not very compelling, it doesnít ever really break ground, and a lot of those musicians are — like when I met Axl he said in the last five years he hasnít even bought a rock record. He likes DJ Shadow, he likes Nine Inch Nails, he likes me, he likes Josh Wink, he likes whatever. So I just think that hybridised electronic music is more interesting, and thatís why a lot of those guys find it compelling.
So why arenít you tempted to work with somebody like that?
Iím a musician and the main reason I make music is cos I wanna make my own records, so all the other stuff like producing and remixing and doing film work and whatever, itís like kind of interesting but my main interest is to make my own records.

Speaking of remixing — why were there so many remixes of Honey?
We fucked up. For example there were a lot of remixes for Natural Blues but we shelved a couple of them cos they werenít that good. With Honey I did like 3 or 4 mixes, then Rollo and Sister Bliss said they wanted to do a mix, and then Mickey Finn and Aphrodite did the drumíníbass mix. Then we needed a German house mix so we got Sharom to do a German house mix, and then thereís a Westbam mix — Westbam and Hardy Hard. And then thereís a drumíníbass mix and a big beat mix that were done on spec... so we had all these mixes and we kind of felt like we had to use them cos they were ours, so rather than be selective and say ďyou know, this oneís not really all that goodĒ we just put them all out which completely confused the issue. What Iíve found with most remixes is at the end of the day none of the remixes are ever as good as the original version. I canít think of a case where Iíve had a song remixed where Iíve liked the remix more than the original.

The popular view of Play is of you playing around with field recordings of old gospel and blues songs. Where does Spoonie G fit into that tradition?
Iím not quite sure. There are 18 songs on the record and six of them have old blues vocals on them, that still leaves 66% of the record that doesnít have old blues vocals on it. I just wanted to make a nice record, I didnít think of it as a record based around old blues vocals; I just wanted to make an emotional and compelling record.
Youíve never really been known for doing much in the way of hip hop/electro sounding stuff. Bodyrock seems out of context with the rest of the album anyway.
Hmm, the nice thing about living in a democratic culture is that everyone has a different opinion. Itís funny, just as like Natural Blues for example — I donít think of it as a gospel song even though it has gospel vocals in it, I donít think of Bodyrock as a hip hop song even though it has hip hop vocals in it. I mean Bodyrock doesnít sound like the hip hop I listen to, but yeah I guess...
The first hip hop record I bought was The Message in 1982 and from like 1982 to 1989 I loved hip hop — Eric B & Rakim, Jungle Brothers, Afrika Bambaataa — I thought hip hop was really exciting. Itís funny because all the people on my tour-bus all got into hip hop in like 90/91 which is when I sort of lost interest. When it became like NWA, Ice Cube, Eazy E — thatís when I just lost it — gangsta rap meant nothing to me and I found it really distasteful. I like Cypress Hill (I like some of their productions), I like A Tribe Called Quest, but a lot of that early 90s to mid 90s hip hop I just didnít like at all. Then around 95/96 it started to become really interesting to me again, because the only hip hop I like is soulful, RnB hip hop — I almost prefer RnB to hip hop. Stuff like the Wu Tang Clan just loses me because itís too aggressive, itís too mean, whereas stuff like Busta Rhymes I love because itís got a little dirty, soulful quality to it.

Are cats born with teeth?
(heís taking a long time to answer this one. I think weíve been rumbled) Cats are born with teeth. Whether or not the teeth are actually present below the gumline when theyíre born, they certainly have teeth in their bodies.

With reference to your hatred of cigarettes — is your performance affected by smokers at the front of the audience?
I donít like cigarettes but I have a sort of detante with them. Most of my friends in New York smoke. Itís all contextual, I mean if you were sitting here right now and you were smoking it would genuinely irritate me, but if this was a bar and you were smoking it wouldnít bother me in the slightest. Just because Iím irritated by cigarettes doesnít mean youíre a bad person if youíre smoking, it just means that Iím sensitive to it and I do think that theyíre kind of a waste of time, drugwise. My mother died of cancer and sheíd been a smoker, and it just seems like such a waste. I used to smoke when I was very young and I understand the nicotine high, but itís nothing. You do such damage to your body and to the people around you for this teeny little nicotine high — if youíre gonna do drugs shoot smack or something, at least then youíll ruin your body and youíll get a terrific high out of it, but cigarettes and cocaine just seem like the stupidest, most worthless drugs. Cocaine especially, I donít judge people that do it (maybe I do a little bit because it does seem like such a status-driven drug) but it doesnít do anything. It gives you a little lift, it gives you some endorphins and you feel like youíre on top of the world for ten minutes or half an hour or whatever, and all the expense... To be in a room full of people who are doing a lot of cocaine — theyíre the most annoying people in the world — what a waste.

If your house was burning down what two things would you save?
(taking a while to think about this one...) My passport and my laptop. The thing is like Iíve got the sequences for a lot of new songs on my Macintosh G3 at home, and then Iíve got all the sounds scattered on a bunch of different synths and samplers, so I couldnít just save one of them. I wish I had one hard disk with everything on it — thatís what I would save — but itís scattered on like ten different hard disks. One of the things that gives me great comfort in the world is having a passport and credit cards, so I know I can leave anywhere, just that sense of freedom like if Iím in Middlesbrough and itís cold and Iím depressed within 24 hours I can be anywhere on the face of the earth, and thatís such a comforting feeling. I get really claustrophobic if I canít leave anywhere — if Iím stuck somewhere and there are no taxis, and there are no cars, and there are no buses, and thereís no nothing — thatís my definition of claustrophobia.

Weíve noticed that youíve been tapping your feet throughout this interview — are you getting yourself excited for the show, or are we scaring you?
I always do that.

If you had a catchphrase what would it be?
Regarding what?
Thatís rubbish!
No, thatís not the catchphrase. But a catchphrase? In what context?
Donít know really, itís just a question we came up with earlier.
But a catchphrase for what? For going to a fast food restaurant? A motto to live by?
Yeah maybe. Something thatís instantly recognisable as you.
(finally getting the idea) Oh, like if I was a Simpsons character — my equivalent of ďAy Caramba!Ē...

Perhaps Moby doesnít need a catchphrase — he certainly canít think of one, thatís for sure — but we're sure youíd all recognise him anyway if he walked past you in the street. Youíd have to be looking down at the time though! Bless him though, he was a lovely fella and we look forward to hearing the contents of those ten hard disks some time soon.

 

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