Clearing Samples

Moby returns to electronic music, and he's ready to Play

There is a strong possibility that all the quotes below are the fabrications of an impostor. The man who answered the phone claimed his name was Moby, but after speaking with him, it's difficult to believe he was telling the truth. For one thing, he didn't seem to know much about what Moby does or why he does it, only proffering a stream of apologies and I-don't-knows. Every question was met with a confused silence and a confusing answer; the replies sometimes completely ignored the query in order to answer one that hadn't been asked. It might have been his publicist, or maybe even someone who was willing to play along with a writer who happened to dial the wrong number. Whoever it was, it was most likely not Moby. The man on the other end of the line barely knew him at all.

Of course, it probably was him, but it's easier to believe it wasn't. It just makes more sense that way, after listening to the man who has filled the liner notes to each of his albums since 1995's Everything Is Wrong with screeds against everything from the horrors of animal testing to inhumane prison conditions offer no opinion on anything. He dismisses the essays, insisting they are simply part of the recording process for him, part of the routine of making an album. If it was indeed Moby on the phone, this much is true: He is, perhaps, the least active activist in existence, a rabble-rouser who is content to confine his demonstrations to his New York loft. Moby may have something to say, but he doesn't seem to like saying it much, or even discuss why he wanted to say it in the first place. If his music and writing don't say enough for themselves, he's not prepared to elaborate. He doesn't even think he could if he wanted to.

"I sometimes feel like an inadequate interview subject, because people will ask certain questions, like some of the questions you've asked, and I always feel like I should have some sort of deep, broad agenda behind things," he explains. "The truth is, it just seems like the most natural way for me to do things. For the most part, making records is a very automatic process for me. It's sort of an intuitive craft. It's difficult to retrospectively deconstruct a process that I wasn't too analytically aware of when it was happening. I certainly have an analytical streak to my personality, but when I'm working on music, it's much more intuitive."

When speaking with him, it helps to be intuitive as well, because Moby doesn't give you much to go on. Maybe he's simply in a bad mood. He has never made it hard to find a way to his scorn, including another piece of the map with each new release. You could perhaps noisily scarf down a cheeseburger in front of him. (He's a devout vegan.) Or offer him some literature from the Christian Coalition. ("The Christian right make me sick," he says in the CD booklet that accompanies 1996's Animal Rights.) Or maybe you could inform him you work in a research laboratory at a cosmetics company and inquire about whether he has any spare pets available to participate in some product research. ("To make sure that pouring nail-polish remover into your eyes will hurt you, we torture mice, rabbits, dogs, cats, etc.," relates one of his rants in Everything Is Wrong.)

Any of the above would appropriately tick off Moby. Yet the trip to Moby's bad side, in this case, doesn't involve anything quite as substantial as man's inhumanity to man or political incorrectness. It takes about two minutes, from the time pleasantries are exchanged until his interviewer only slightly implies that he is a DJ -- or even occasionally performs as one. In fact, just the mere mention of the term "DJ" brings a long pause from the other end of the phone, followed by a practiced, almost scripted reply. Apparently, the connotation that he is not a real musician is the one thing that makes him angrier than anything else.

"Yes, I bristle at the DJ thing," Moby says. "When people assume I'm a DJ, that's one of my little pet peeves, because I'm 33 and I've been playing music since I was 8 years old. And my background is actually in classical music and jazz and punk rock. When I make the records, it's just me doing everything, but for touring, I hire different musicians to play. So it's myself playing keyboards and percussion and vocals, and then I have a bass player and a drummer and a percussionist who also plays some keyboards."

Afraid that he has not made his point clear, Moby returns to his musical history often throughout the remainder of the interview, stressing that he began studying classical guitar as a child. It's as if he's saying, "How much more of a serious musician could I be? I was playing classical music when I was still in elementary school." He need not belabor the point, however, because it's clear from his albums that Moby is more than a few clever samples and pilfered breakbeats, even if the first single off this year's Play, "Bodyrock," is based around one of the most overused samples ever, a snippet of Spoonie G and The Treacherous 3's "Love Rap." Every one of his albums has been hard to classify -- even if they have all ended up in the dance section -- and he has always played almost every single note on them, from keyboards to congas.

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