On December 6th, Moby, the legendary songwriter and music producer, will grace the stage of Seattle’s McCaw Hall for an intimate-yet-sweeping orchestral performance that will showcase his many career hits. The night, which will feature members of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra and Emil de Cou conducting, will most assuredly be memorable, epic, and one-of-a-kind. (Tickets on sale now!) To preview the event, we wanted to catch up with Moby (aka Richard Melville Hall) and ask him about the performance, which will also be included in an upcoming documentary. The film, which will look unflinchingly at the repercussions of fame and material success, is set for release in 2019. In addition, we asked Moby about his choice to go sober, what opening a vegan restaurant in L.A. has taught him about people, and why he loves collaborating with musicians from the Pacific Northwest.
You’re working on a new documentary with director Rob Bralver, which will include your upcoming orchestral performance at McCaw Hall. As you scored the music, did any memories flood back that you didn’t expect?
Well, it’s funny. I don’t know if it’s a function of age or just narcissism and self-involvement on my part, but I realize I’ve been doing a lot of things that are self-diagnostic creative projects — as potentially "grad student" as that might sound. I wrote a memoir a few years ago, I’m putting another out this May, and I’ve been working on this documentary. It is hard to talk about these things and not sound like a complete self-involved egomaniac with these autobiographical projects, but my approach is one where I’m trying to — as humans, at least for myself, I’m not sure if this is true for you — but we don’t have a lot of objectivity and insight and perspective regarding who we actually are and how we ended up this way. So, one of the really interesting things about writing a memoir or working on this documentary is you gain some semblance of objectivity about yourself. You run the risk of, like I said, being an egomaniacal narcissist, but at least you learn about yourself.
You recently released a project with Netflix, Once in a Lifetime Sessions with Moby. What will this new documentary focus on that the series didn’t?
The thing that I did with Netflix was much more musically oriented. Of course, with the documentary that I’m working on with my friend, Rob, music is a huge part of it, but it’s much more psychological and, even as pretentious as this might sound, it’s even more existential. It’s, of course, looking at me and the specifics of my life but it also asks what choices have I made and what assumptions have I made that are relevant to who we are as a species. I know that sounds overly-broad but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to look at the culture in which we live and realize that individually and collectively we’re making a lot of mistakes. So, in the documentary, we’re looking at the mistakes I made and why at the time I thought they were good ideas.
Why did you look to investigate the effects of fame, in particular, in the film?
I assume that many people buy into this same idea that, when you’re growing up — and, in my case, I grew up very poor and really dispossessed and dislocated — growing up, I assumed that if my life eventually involved certain things like fame or financial stability, a good relationship, a home of my own, I just assumed that happiness would ensue for all the remaining days of my life. The universe — and I don’t really want to anthropomorphize the universe — with its sense of humor, gave me everything I ever wanted, multiplied by 100, and the end result was not necessarily more happiness. When I was 24-years-old, I was living in an abandoned factory in a crack neighborhood making around $2,000 a year. There was no running water, no bathroom, and no heat. I did have free electricity because they’d forgotten to turn off the electricity in the abandoned factory — and that was the good thing. But at that point, I assumed when I made money and had success and I wasn’t living in an abandoned factory that I’d be a lot happier. Years later, though, I was living in a fancy apartment in Central Park West in New York and I was considerably less happy then when I was broke and squatting. So, in these memoirs and in the documentary, I’m trying to look at that. And hopefully by presenting these facts, I might be saying to other people, “What are the things you’re working toward and sacrificing your happiness and well-being in the short term for, and is that something worth doing even when we look at the world and we have little evidence that fame and success and wealth lead to happiness?” I mean, look at our current President. He’s the President and a billionaire and is probably the least happy man on the planet.
How has your orientation to songwriting changed over the years as a result of these new perspectives?
It’s funny, when I first started making music around 10-years-old, I assumed that no one would ever hear the music that I was working on. For a long time, I worked on music largely just for the love of music. And then there was this period in the 2000s where, to my great shame, I started trying to see music as a means to an end. I still wanted it to be good. But I also wanted it to give me more fame and make me money and enable me to date, well, attractive movie stars. Even saying that now I realize how disgusting it sounds. I feel like I had to go through that to come out to where I am now where I work on music and play concerts just for the love of doing it. I don’t expect to make money from music. The vast majority of the performances I do are fundraisers, which I enjoy so much more than going out and doing disingenuous tours in the interest of trying to make more money.
You’ve also said you over-used substances in your earlier years. How has going sober and vegan changed your relationship to your own creativity?
Well, I’ve been vegan for 31 years. My Veganniversary is Thanksgiving 1987. So, even through the ups and downs of fame and failure and addiction and sobriety, veganism was always the one constant. But sobriety — I could almost say alcohol and drugs for me occupied the same place as fame in that alcohol and drugs, I thought they were going to make my life worth living, make me happy on a constant, regular basis. Then you realize that at some point, they’re not necessarily making you happy. In fact, they’re driving people away from you and destroying your life and destroying your health and really corroding everything good that you might still have in your body, in your soul and in your life. That’s why I had to get sober.
What have you learned about people and consumption habits since opening your vegan restaurant in L.A.?
It’s funny, I’d owned a little vegan café in New York quite a while ago. I owned it at the height of my addiction. I basically used it as a place to go to when I was really hung over. I’d go in there and drink coffee and eat heavy food to make myself feel better. But this newer restaurant in L.A., it’s of course entrepreneurial, but 100% of the profits generated by the restaurant go to animal rights organizations. The way I structured it, I can never make a penny from it. The food is wonderful and it’s a beautiful space, but my motivation for doing it is activism, to try and show people that vegan food can be beautiful and served in a beautiful setting. And because the driving force behind it is activism and I can never make money, it almost paradoxically makes me work harder on it.
You’ve talked recently about an artistic love of nature — its simplicity and its vastness. When did this appreciation of nature become your creative thesis?
There is this moment in the Bible — and I don’t think of myself as being a Christian in any standard or conventional sense of the word, I also love Daoism, Sufism, Quantum Mechanics — but there is this great moment in the Bible when Saul, who becomes Paul, is on the way to Damascus. He has this transformational experience. A lot of times people will talk about their own transformational experiences being like Saul on the road to Damascus. For me, I had a really strange and simple one, in Poland. It was 10-12 years ago and I was on tour and we were in Gdańsk, driving through the city. We drove through a park and all of a sudden the air temperature dropped about five degrees, the light looked beautiful. I could hear birds. In an instant, I thought, “Oh, this so great! Why do I live and work in these huge industrial cities?” Nature has been around for 3.5 billion years, if not longer, and there’s strength and intelligence and a wisdom to it that, to me, is so much more fascinating and complex and healing than pretty much anything we as humans can come up with. It’s hard to talk about a love of nature and not sound like a cliché hippie, but as time passes and we find out more about the complexities of nature and how really to be healthy you have to have a healthy, integrated relationship with nature and not a relationship with nature where you try to subdue it or ostracize it, the better off we’ll be.
You have a long musical relationship with the Northwest. You’ve worked with Mark Lanegan, Damien Jurado, and KEXP. Is there something about the region that particularly intrigues you?
Yeah. For a while now — I live in L.A. now and I have a little apartment in Brooklyn, so I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth — but every single time, and I’m not just saying this to be sycophantic or to overstate it, but every time I’m in the Northwest, I ask myself, why don’t I spend more time here? Why don’t I live here? There’s something so powerful — there’s hundreds of millions of square miles of forest and mountains, the coastline. There’s just an innate weight and power to it all. The art and music that come from there is, by definition, a reflection of that. So that’s why whenever I get the opportunity to either personally or professionally go the Pacific Northwest, I jump at the chance.
Moby performs on Thursday, December 6th at KEXP's annual Yule Benefit concert at McCaw Hall, accompanied by members of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, with Emil de Cou conducting. All proceeds will benefit KEXP Programming. Tickets on sale now!
With Moby performing at KEXP's Yule Benefit concert on Thursday, December 6th, KEXP looks back at some of the recent memorable uses of his songs in film and television.
On Thursday, December 6th at McCaw Hall, musician and activist Moby will showcase the breadth of his career with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, to benefit KEXP.