Sobers up with a new album
Electronic superstar Moby never planned a life of fame, but it came knocking when his 1999 album Play sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. Up to that point, New York-born Richard Melville Hall played in clubs building euphoria through synth beats, gospel and the blues.
The six-time Grammy-nominated star pushed electronica to the mainstream with hits like ‘Why Does My Heart Feed So Bad’ and ‘Porcelain’, but was also at his most fragile while his career was peaking.
Now, at 52 and 10 years sober, he isn’t making music to please record labels—in fact if Moby’s latest studio album Everything Is Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (see facing page) is anything to go by—he’s on an existential vacant lot pondering what Albert Camus called ‘the absurd’ in The Myth of Sisyphus.
“It’s ironic that I was at my most depressed when from the outside it looked anything but,” says Moby, who lives in Los Angeles and has a home in upstate New York.
With chart success came a partying lifestyle of drugs, sex and binge drinking that created a monster within.
“I didn’t really like myself when I took it too far. I didn’t know when to stop drinking, I couldn’t stop with just one,” he says. “I would keep going until I couldn’t remember anything and that life isn’t really good for anybody.”
He wrote a memoir Porcelain in 2016 revealing the sordid detail of that debauched lifestyle—the title inspired by Bob Dylan’s Chronicles and Patti Smith’s Just Kids autobiographies.
“I was a notch in someone’s belt,” explains Moby of his drunken sexual encounters. “I didn’t like that feeling and wanted to end that pattern of having sex with strangers right away. I tended to date women who were emotionally unavailable—exactly what my mother [Elizabeth] was when I was growing up.”
Born in Harlem, Moby moved to Connecticut at the age of three—a year after his father died in an alcohol-related car crash in New York. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents.
“As odd as it might sound, my mother never mentioned my father growing up,” says Moby.
“I have pictures of him, but I know almost nothing about him other than he was getting a master’s degree in chemistry at Columbia University and had been in the military.”
His mother was a painter who worked in administrative jobs to pay the bills—they lived on welfare handouts and food stamps. She remarried a gentleman called Richard when Moby was 22—a year after he moved out of home.
“Richard was bright and very thoughtful, but prior to that my mother had questionable taste in men. She dated Hell’s Angels and out-of-work musicians. I remember she nearly got stabbed to death in the kitchen when she tried to break up with her motorcycle member boyfriend,” he says. His mother died from cancer in 1998 a year before Play came out.
The well-known vegetarian, who was raised a Christian and to this day still has a curiosity about religion and faith, owns a vegan bistro in Silverlake called Little Pine Restaurant and resides in the Los Feliz neighbourhood.
Moby admits he hasn’t been able to hold down a relationship longer than 10 months even though he’s been linked to some big names, including actress Natalie Portman, in the past. These days he spends his days focused on making music. “I don’t care if nobody is buying it, I will never stop making it,” he says.
He moonlights with the crème of the crop for intellectual conversation—from dinner parties with feminist Gloria Steinem, artist Laurie Anderson and celebrity crushing Hillary Clinton. Moby is anything but a bragger; in fact, the soft-spoken artist is more than personable and happy to get the conversation shifting from music to politics and feminism.
“If we don’t start embracing matriarchal values and almost exclusively allowing women to run the planet we’re doomed if women don’t take over,” he offers.
He’s a Democrat supporter with a bone to pick. “Patriarchy
I can’t stand on my own anymore I can’t stand in the stain of the broken and poor I can’t break what I held and it never was true In the mirror what I said was a lie to you And me and everything I see And everything I could Tried so hard to be good For myself, for you, for the hidden and divine For everything But I can fail just so many times In this darkness, please light my way —From ‘This Wild Darkness’
has run its course…look at some of the leaders around the world including the United States,” he says.
“These toxic men in power are angry, racist and misogynistic. If you ever need to see an example of patriarchy in its dying days just look at Donald Trump.”
His 15th studio album is a lesson in life’s doom and gloom, but Moby isn’t depressed anymore. His rendition of ‘Like A Motherless Child’ is a metaphor for the personal and political. He fell in love with the song 10 years ago while having dinner with New York friends Lou Reed and Anderson.
“A famous New York choreographer Bill T Jones joined us for dinner that night and spontaneously got up and did a dance while singing ‘Motherless Child’. That’s when I fell in love with that song,” he says.
“The new album is about the loneliness and dysfunction of our species—not in an academic or critical way. It’s a gentle look at the existential crisis that has attached itself to the human condition.”
This was life and this was safer Always strange, and always stranger A latent hate but so much later I’m never safe from all this danger The demon’s eyes and demon satyr I was bait but what would bait her? Don’t know my needs, don’t know my way sir —From ‘Like A Motherless Child’