Q&A: Moby on Castles, Christ & In-N-Out

Photo: Sunny Khalsa

It’s quite possible that the last time you heard Moby’s name was back in 1999, when his cross-over album Play provided the soundtrack to everything on the planet, from commercials to TV shows and movies to quite likely your own sub-conscious. It eventually sold a staggering ten million copies worldwide, becoming the new Legend: Best of Bob Marley of record collections everywhere. (Everybody has it, nobody can remember why.) And then, seemingly overnight, he just disappeared. For awhile there, it looked like Eminem might’ve gotten it right when he cruelly rapped in 2002 that “nobody listens” to Moby anymore. But while you’re now safely able to turn on your television without hearing songs pitching American Express, he hasn’t stopped making music. The now 45-year-old wizard of melodic techno has released five albums over the last decade, and though none of them have come close to duplicating Play’s global culture saturation, Moby remains the most successful bald former Christian vegan in dance music today.

The following phone interview took place while Moby was sequestered somewhere behind the fortress walls of his newly-acquired 5,400-square-foot Los Angeles castle, perched somewhere just under the famous Hollywood sign.

I haven’t listened to your new album yet, but it’s called Destroyed, which makes me think of the 1976 KISS album Destroyer. Are the two records pretty similar?

Well, I like KISS quite a lot, and I hate answering questions in the negative. But there really is nothing in any way similar, apart from the fact that they’re both music made by New Yorkers.

That’s disappointing. A techno cover of “God of Thunder” would’ve been badass.

Yeah, maybe. There’s actually a long tradition of the word “destroy” in music. The KISS album Destroyer, which you mentioned, and Johnny Rotten was famous for wearing a t-shirt that just said “Destroy.” So I guess this record is the post-modern love-child of KISS and John Lydon.

I haven’t heard one of your songs in a TV commercial in awhile. Is there anything on Destroyed that could be used to sell cars or beer?

If I were not such a well-adjusted person, this is when I would hang up the phone.

It only took two questions? That’s a personal record for me. Why is this such a sore subject?

There’s a whole lot of irony wrapped up in the issue of music and advertising. One, I don’t really do it anymore and everybody else does. And two, I find it odd that the people who work for companies that are wholly supported by advertising revenue ever raise this issue.

You mean journalists?

A journalist who works for a magazine that is sustained by advertising revenue.

So … all of us?

It was mostly an excuse for lazy British journalists to be snarky without having to actually think about anything. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re offended by advertising and the marriage of art and commerce, then you can’t work for a commercial magazine or TV station.

Why’d you give up on that marriage? Is it because you got fed up with the hypocritical interview questions, or did you just stop getting offers to sell your songs to commercials?

What I should have done in the past is what all the cool, smart musicians do, which is license your music to places where they don’t speak English. Every high and mighty indie rocker says they’ll never license their music to advertisements. Well they do, they just do it in Portugal and South Korea.

You recently bought a castle in Los Angeles, and if the Internet is to be believed, it’s called the Wolf’s Lair.

That’s right, yeah.

It’s seriously called the Wolf’s Lair? Does it come with a gypsy curse?

[Laughs] Not that I know of. It’s named after the man who built it, L. Milton Wolf. Some people get confused and think it’s called Wolf Slayer, which sounds like somebody who would kill wolves. But in fact it’s just Wolf’s Lair.

If I were you, I would definitely go with Wolf Slayer. That’s a much, much cooler name for a castle.

There’s a story that the original owner had a pet monkey and he let the monkey live in one of the turrets in the house. So I was tempted to rename the house the Monkey Castle. But it’s been the Wolf’s Lair since I think 1925, so far be it from me to come along and change the name of a venerable old house.

Have you put a monkey guard in one of your turrets yet?

Not yet. And I probably won’t.

What’s the point of having turrets if you don’t put any monkeys in there?

Well, the turrets are tiny, so I can’t imagine that the monkey who lived there was all that happy. There wasn’t a lot of room for a monkey to run around.

What about baby marmoset monkeys? You could squeeze a dozen of those things in a turret, no problem.

I couldn’t do it. I’ll put it to use somehow. If friends come to visit, the ones I don’t like very much, I’ll put them in the turret.

How about a moat? Every self-respecting castle’s gotta have a moat.

It’s on the top of a ridge, so it’d be tricky to have a moat. But it does have 30-foot retaining walls all around it.

So you feel pretty well-protected from invading conquistadors?

No place is truly impregnable, but someone who wanted to break into my house would have to make a lot of effort. They’d have to be very skilled at rock-climbing.

I’ve read a few stories about how you were briefly a devout Christian. Is that true? Did you go through a Bob Dylan phase, or is it just more hyperbole by snarky British journalists?

It’s probably a bit of hyperbole on both ends. I did have a period 20-odd some years ago when I was quite a serious Christian. I taught Bible study and I went to Christian retreats. But that changed quite a long time ago. I guess that’s one of the problems about saying anything to a journalist. You say it once and people sort of deal with it like it’s going to stay that way forever.

After this interview, there’s a good chance you’ll spend the next decade answering questions about why your castle is guarded by monkey slaves.

I’m sure. But at least it’s more fun than talking about licensing music and advertising.

Just to set the record straight, you’re not a Christian or you’re on the fence?

I love the teachings of Christ quite a bit, but I have very little interest in any institutionalized Christianity that thinks it’s better than any other religion. I hate competitive religions. When people treat spiritual beliefs the same way they treat football teams, I think it’s really dangerous.

Now that you mention it, they are very similar. Football and organized religion both attract loud, monomaniacal douchebags.

Maybe, but if you look at it historically, people rallying around a football team are generally more benign than people rallying around a religion.

You also used to be outspoken and preachy about your views on socialism, but not so much anymore. Are you a reformed Commie?

There’s that old adage that “nobody at 20 with a heart isn’t a socialist and nobody with a head at 40 is.” I wish I had made that up, but I think it was Georges Clemenceau or somebody who said that. [ed's note: it was said by Winston Churchill.] Yeah, there’s not a lot of evidence to support the idea that centralized planned economies work. It seems to me that the ideal states are places like Denmark and the Netherlands, where they have a really healthy social welfare state. They help people when they need to be helped, but the government gets out of the way when people want to go to work and start businesses. It’s kind of self-evident that that’s what government should do. And what’s odd is we live in a country where you have the ignorant political Right who have no understanding of what socialism actually is. A friend of mine, who’s in the House of Representatives, had one of those town hall health care meetings, and the first question he asked was, “Who here is opposed to socialized medicine?” And everyone in the town hall meeting raised their hand. And the next question was, “Who’s on Medicare and Medicaid?” And everybody raised their hand. He had no idea how to politely tell the people he represented that Medicare and Medicaid are socialized medicine. He wanted to tell them, “Okay, so we’ve proven that you’re all a bunch of idiots. Where do we go from here?”

What about veganism? If you’re no longer as militant about socialism or Christianity, are you a little more lax about eating animal flesh?

I’m still very much a vegan.

Aren’t there more temptations now that you live in Los Angeles? I’m pretty sure L.A. has more In-N-Out Burgers than churches.

L.A. is an easy place to be a vegan. I think In-N-Out Burgers has a vegan burger. I probably wouldn’t eat it, but they have it on the menu. But being vegan in a big city like L.A. or New York is a breeze. It’s a lot easier than 24 years ago, when I was completely broke and living in an abandoned factory, and I was a vegan at a time when nobody was vegan. I was miserable.

If this interview leads to Destroyed selling a million copies, can I get you to eat an In-N-Out burger?

No.

What about two million copies?

No, sorry.

Come on, Moby. Everybody has their price. How many records do MTV Hive readers need to buy so we can get a video of you eating a Double-Double?

There’s no number. And it’s not because I think that eating a burger would upset the ethical balance of the world. And I don’t think abstaining from eating meat makes me occupy any moral ground. It’s just how I live. And I honestly think it would probably make me queasy. It’s been 25 years since I’ve had a hamburger.

Let’s say we start a grass roots thing, and this record outsells Play. If we can convince ten million or more people to buy Destroyed, will you eat a burger while saying, “I don’t care if this fucking thing had a mother, it tastes goooooood?”

No. If you’re going to eat meat, at least eat locally-produced, humanely-raised meat as opposed to the disgusting, rancid meat that’s been raised in a factory farm. As a nation, we’re living in a state of suspended adolescence, where we pretend that our actions don’t have consequences. I have a friend who’s morbidly obese and he has to shoot himself up with insulin twice a day and he never exercises and eats nothing but Denny’s, and he blames his diabetes on his genes. I hope at some point we grow up and realize that if you’re going to eat hamburgers, that’s awesome, but just be prepared to get fat, sick and die.

It doesn’t sound like your target demographic for Destroyed is diabetic Republicans carnivores.

I would be very happy if they went out and bought or stole my record. I just can’t imagine too many of them doing it. A few years ago, I got a call from some producer at Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. They wanted to use a clip from (my song) “Porcelain.” And I just started laughing and laughing. I was like, “Does Rush know that I represent everything he seems to loathe about this country? I’m a creepy limousine liberal. Why would he want to use my music on his show?”

You hold the Guinness world record for most beats-per-minute in a song, for the 1993 single “Thousand.” If you could break another world record, what would it be?

Huh. Unfortunately it’s a better question than any answer I can come up with. You mean musically? I don’t know what else there is.

It doesn’t have to be music. What other secret talents do you have?

Here’s something I would love to do. I don’t know if this is entertaining, but I would genuinely love to do this. I want to do the longest free fall from an airplane without a parachute.

You want the Guinness record for dumbest suicide?

Maybe a parachute would be involved at some point. How high can you go and still jump out of an airplane?

I think it’s around 13,000 or 15,000 feet.

I’d love to go up to 80,000, 90,000 feet and have a 90-minute freefall.

Wouldn’t your head explode?

Maybe, I don’t know. I’d love to find out.

Okay, let me make sure I have this straight. You won’t eat a hamburger, because it’s gross, but you’re willing to be pushed from a plane without a parachute to your almost certain demise?

Absolutely. That would be pretty awesome. It would be the world’s longest, coldest, saddest free fall.

Destroyed is out now on Mute Records.

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