Don't call Moby's new record a comeback — he's quite literally been here for years. The bald, bespectacled electronic music producer has been a pop culture presence for over twenty years now and his recently released eleventh album, "Innocents," ups the ante with a line-up of vocalists ranging from icons like Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne to Eminem associate Skyler Grey to Canadian up-and-comer Cold Specks (who discussed the collaboration here).
In a sit down at the Toronto headquarters of famed indie Arts & Crafts, his new Canadian record label — during which the politically minded icon also called Tea Party Republicans "batshit racist crazy" — Moby reveals his struggle with "full-blown" alcoholism, reflects unapologetically on his feud with Eminem and recalls the rave scene's early days and how it compares to the ongoing EDM explosion.
You're a famed New Yorker, so what prompted the move to L.A.?
I was born in New York and I've lived there forever. [But] when I stopped drinking about five years ago, I realized that New York is the single best place out there to be a drunk — and one of the worst places to be sober. Being sober in New York is kind of like going to a water park and being allergic to water because everything in New York revolves around drinking.
Were you an alcoholic?
Oh yeah, it was full-blown, Bill Wilson-style, cliched alcoholic. I mean almost comically so. Like, I would have a drink and then suddenly it would be seven in the morning and I would've had 15 drinks and I have 30 people in my apartment. It was really fun, but I was comically incapable of drinking in moderation. I would even try — I'd be like, 'OK, I'm only going to have two more drinks,' and I'd have 15.
The first line in your bio is about how the music industry is falling apart.
I think that most of those changes are incredibly positive. We're sitting at Arts & Crafts, which is sort of like a testament to how interesting a record label could be in the new millennium. Everybody here is happy, everyone is excited about music. Whereas if we went to a major label right now it would sort of feel like a wake. I'm not maligning them, but they are desperately hoping that things will go back to how they were, and they never will.
So, it's like the major labels are all kind of like Great Expectations and Miss Havisham and I'm trying to think of a good literary analogy for the new companies, but they've been formed in this current climate, and so they are all doing great. It's become an amazing, chaotic, democratic, egalitarian world where anyone can make records, anyone can distribute records, anyone can market records, as long as you have the computer, or even an iPhone at this point. It’s much more a meritocracy.
In the '70s, '80s, '90s, major labels could manufacture everything, literally and figuratively, and force it on people, and it worked, so you ended up with million-selling records that weren't very good. And now, we have no million-selling records but a lot of really good records.
Q&A continues after video slideshow
And what do you think about EDM? We're 23 years out from you're first hit "Go," and I interviewed you for a Mixer magazine cover story with Carl Cox back in 2002, so you're one of the rare people who's had a presence in all of these electronic music waves.
I would say I was even tangentially involved in the first wave, in the late '70s. I was around in New York, playing in a hardcore band, so we'd go out to Danceteria and Peppermint Lounge and Mod Club, and heard tons of dance music then. My introduction to this current huge wave was Electric Daisy Carnival 2008. I got asked to DJ and I had no idea what to expect. I showed up and there were 75,000 people and they didn't have a publicist and a media tent, so it was basically an underground party for 75,000 people. I walked in and all of a sudden it made sense to me, because the production was so huge.
So you take an 18-year-old kid, give them a hit of ecstasy, have them walk in to one of these events and suddenly it's this immersive, huge spectacle with sound and lights and visuals, it just would make sense that they are going to love it. I'd love it if I was 18 and doing ecstasy and going to these events.
When I was raving in the late '90s, people were always talking about how much better it was back in the day because that’s what people do, right? I don't want to judge one experience over the other, but it definitely seems more corporate now.
I can only look at it subjectively, so it's hard for me to say "things were better" or "things were worse". All I know is that in the late '80s I remember being at a basement in New York hearing "A Day in The Life" by Todd Terry and it was like an out-of-body experience, it was so great. Now a few years later in the rave scene I heard "Playing with Knives" by Bizarre Inc. and had the same experience.
So as long as I have that experience, I love it. It's that moment when it's just the crowd, the music, the lights, the production and I've been having that experience for decades now — sometimes I've had that at an underground party in a warehouse in Glasgow by an abandoned train station or in Berlin at 6am or in L.A. with 100,000 people around me. It's why people keep coming back — you feel like your entire body and soul have been opened up by the music and the experience.
And it's interesting how much it's permeated popular culture, because every single pop song sounds like a dance song, every hip-hop song sounds like a dance song.
It's weird talking about it 'cause the album I made isn't an electronic dance album, but I still DJ quite a lot. The interesting thing is you can have Rihanna and underground minimal German techno within the world of electronic dance music. They're making the records, the music, with the same equipment, they're both using Abelton, or Reason, or Logic, but one is a Top 40 record and the other is an underground piece of music that will only get heard in a basement in Berlin.
How did you pick your collaborators for the album?
When I started working on the record I wanted to collaborate with people because I've made a lot of music just by myself and I really wanted to introduce some other creative variables that were not me. So in collaborating with people I wanted to write their own lyrics, their own vocal melodies. I didn't want to influence their melodies at all just so I could see how other people would contribute to these songs.
And my criteria for vocalists was people who had really interesting voices and who had really good voices and who could write really interesting, smart, compelling lyrics, 'cause there aren't that many people who have all three. I started asking friends of mine. I asked [Mute Recrds founder] Daniel Miller and the only person he recommended was Cold Specks. Instantly sold, like there was no convincing. Then finding out that she was willing to actually collaborate on two songs made me really happy.
And why Skyler Gray? She's associated with Eminem, which is kind of amusing given your history...
Skyler's had two careers now, she's had her first career as a sort of singer/songwriter playing at the Hotel Cafe in L.A. to 20 people, and then accidentally has become a songwriter to the stars. So I sort of knew of her way-back-when and because she’s now more known for doing pop stuff I very intentionally wanted to do something with her that was not pop stuff. But my interest in Skyler was simple, she has a really beautiful voice and she writes really interesting lyrics.
Did you guys talk about Eminem at all?
What she basically said was, 'Oh, Em's really nice and he's a good dad.' That's her experience with it. The only time I met Eminem was at the MTV awards in 2002 when he tried to attack me, that's my only contact with him. And I don't know him, but he seems like a smart, interesting public figure who's written some questionable lyrics about women and gay people. That's what my original problem was, he might be aware of the fact that he's writing subtle, nuanced lyrics, his teen audience in the Midwest are not aware of that nuance. That was my issue with it.
It's a very tricky debate because one can make compelling reasons for both. Sociologists have done tons and tons of studies showing that violent media does actually lead to violent behaviour on the parts of people and I belong to the ACLU so I'm not a fan of censorship. But there are musicians who are incredibly racist and they're people who are writing racist music — radio would never play it and there are also musicians who are anti-Semitic, radio would never play that. So my question was simply replace the misogyny with anti-Semitism, replace the homophobia with racism. Would radio support it if Eminem wrote songs where he talked about killing Jews and killing blacks, would he have a record deal?
So why culturally did everyone agree to support artists who were misogynistic and homophobic when clearly other types of bias and prejudice are egregiously unacceptable? So it's not a censorship question. It's why do we have these horrifying double standards?