It’s an early Monday morning, and Moby, in Clark Kent glasses, is drinking green tea at the Sunset Towers, former home to much Hollywood royalty.
It’s an early Monday morning, and Moby, in Clark Kent glasses, is drinking green tea at the Sunset Towers, former home to much Hollywood royalty. He’s here to hype his newest album, Wait For Me, a return to what he does best—haunting hip-hop-inspired rhythmic soundscapes of found and sung voices, vintage guitars and old synths revolving around crystalline melodic lines. Perhaps better than any of his peers, he’s mastered an enthralling fusion of warmth and cold in his work, of techno-mechanical layers wrapped around real human voices.
That he ever left behind this kind of music is surprising, since hardly anyone does it better. But after the immense success of Play (1999) with the haunting “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” he became disenchanted with the prevalent presumption about him—that he was a techno DJ guy, and not a real musician—an impression partially created because he doesn’t sing. And though establishing himself publically as a musician didn’t matter much back then, it does now. “In my concerts I play guitar, drums, piano,” he said. “And people come up to me after shows and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could play an instrument.’ Call me crazy, but I always thought playing an instrument was a prerequisite for being a musician.” And so Moby veered from his signature style to do other things—and left the home-made lo-fi sounds of his first work behind to work in a state-of-the-art studio. And he didn’t like it: “Big studios are great for making good sounding music, but they’re not good places to experiment.” So this time around he returned to the home studio in his Manhattan apartment, and had fun again making the kind of lo-fi music he’s made since the start.
The album is highlighted by “Pale Horses,” an elegiac journey through the ruins of the past punctuated by a lone female voice nakedly singing about “all the places where my family died,” and percussion like boots shuffling through dry leaves. As with all his work, its power derives from the compelling amalgam of elements he unites—chord pads on a “crummy sounding old Korg,” real drums with sampled loops, and a lyric inspired by a train ride from Belgium to France in which he reflected on his heritage, the plight of his ancestral Huguenots, who were slaughtered en masse here in the 16th century. This marriage of history with modernity epitomizes the variance of threads he weaves in his work, as does his reliance on old machines to make new music. His friend, the burlesque star Lady Rizo, sings the vocal, and he captured her wounded, broken vocal by recording her first take, before she knew the song, or even knew he was recording. A few weeks later, having learned the tune, she recorded it again, but he used the unsure one, the first take, primarily because he’s not out for slick perfection as much as emotion. “No one ever says, after hearing a song, how perfectly it’s recorded. They talk about how it makes them feel. My ability to embrace imperfection is one of my strengths.” His friend Melody sings the lead on “JLTF,” and to compensate for the “perfect bell-tone” quality of her voice, he used old effects and a cheesy delay to degrade the sound. “I love to take things that are recorded well and make them sound old and crummy,” he said with a sly smile. Although he’s famous as a techno-pioneer, he doesn’t consider himself an innovator. “The most interesting innovation comes from not trying to be innovative. If I ever did anything that was innovative, it was just by accident. I think innovation comes more from love and open-mindedness more than anything. If you love what you’re doing and are open to experiments, you can create really interesting music. And that’s what I do.”