Moby on His Upcoming KEXP Yule Benefit Performance at McCaw Hall 12/6

Interviews, Yule Benefit

On Thursday, December 6th at McCaw Hall, musician and activist Moby will showcase the breadth of his career with an orchestral performance, featuring his many hits, accompanied by members of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, with Emil de Cou conducting. This special evening is part of KEXP's annual Yule Benefit concert, with 100% of proceeds going to benefit our programming.

Last week, our Afternoon Show DJ and Chief Content Officer Kevin Cole jumped on the air with Moby to make the grand announcement.  In case you missed it, check out their chat below. Tickets are available now.

Kevin Cole: We are so excited to announce that you're going to be playing KEXP's Yule Benefit at McCaw Hall on December 6. Thank you so much. 

Moby: Oh, it's my pleasure. I'm really excited to do it. 

Now, this show is incredibly special. You're going to be performing orchestral arrangements of your songs accompanied by members of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra. You did a show similar to this way back in October. So, this is only the second time ever that audiences will be able to see you in this unique kind of performance. I've got to imagine this is quite a departure from your usual experience of live shows? 

Yeah, I mean, the show that we did in L.A. was with the L.A. Philharmonic and we had a gospel choir on stage. And even though I grew up playing a lot of classical music and doing some film scores, I've never actually performed live with an orchestra. And I mean, granted, I'm biased and I don't have a ton of objectivity, but having said that, it was really special. A friend of mine who's an old music journalist and is very cynical and by her own admission kind of hates everything, she said that the show started and she started crying and it was one of the most emotional, beautiful experiences she's ever had. Coming from an older music journalist, that really was gratifying. 

That's amazing. Well, I can imagine just the emotional quality that strings and the gospel choir could bring to the songs. Was it emotional for you onstage feeling that kind of energy? 

You know, it's funny. One of my main emotions was anxiety because I'd never performed with an orchestra before. And a lot of times when I perform you either have a click track and so you can perform to the click track or it's improvisational between a few musicians, to state the obvious. It's really hard to improvise when there are 120 musicians on stage. The whole time I was afraid that I was going to screw up and get lost and it was going to go wrong but somehow... I mean, I guess that's what happens when you perform with really remarkable phenomenally accomplished musicians is they don't screw up. 

You've been doing this a little while. 

Yeah. I mean I'm I'm old. [laughs]

You're not giving yourself enough credit for being a great musician yourself. 

Well, thanks. 

How did you approach reinterpreting some of these songs? 

The way it came together, I was at the Hollywood Bowl seeing Bryan Ferry and he was performing with an orchestra and after the show, I started talking to the woman who books the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And she said, "oh, would you ever want to do a show with the L.A. Philharmonic?" And it was really interesting because she said it in the most matter-of-fact casual way. And I had to sort-of qualify to myself and say, "do you mean do you want me to perform with, you know, one of the greatest orchestras in the world, where I have to rewrite all of my music arranged for an orchestra?" and it's like, of course, I do. But it seemed like a musical dream that was always going to remain a dream. I never thought I would actually be able to perform with an orchestra. And it was it's now something I really want to do more of. And that's why I'm excited to do this KEXP Yule Benefit. 

How did you choose which songs to perform? 

It's sort of like two-fold criteria. First, was which pieces of music have I written that I think — and again I hope this doesn't sound self-aggrandizing — but like, which ones seem like they're the most beautiful that would lend themselves to being performed by an orchestra? And the other is what songs would I want to hear if I was an audience. Because I mean, you and I we go to a lot of concerts, and maybe I'm alone in this, but I really love hits. Like if I go to see Duran Duran, I want to hear "Hungry Like The Wolf" and "Rio" and "Planet Earth." Maybe it's because I'm not very culturally evolved, but I really love familiar songs and hits. So I tried to take my better-known songs and orchestrate them. I'm luckily a lot of them were originally written with strings so it wasn't that challenging to try and orchestrate music that originally had sort of like a strong orchestral component. 

Yeah, some songs like "Extreme Ways" I can totally hear with the big, sweeping strings. Were there any songs —  familiar songs or ones that you feel the audience wanted to hear — that ended up being particularly challenging or came out radically different?

That's a really interesting question. The one that was, in a way, the most interesting and challenging was, years ago, 23 years ago, I wrote a piece of music called "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters." 

Such a beautiful ambient piece.

It was used at the end of the Michael Mann movie Heat even though it is like a six-minute-long orchestral piece. It somehow has developed a life of its own. It really, to the orchestra, sounded remarkable. But you know it's a repetitive slightly challenging piece of classical music and what made it really interesting is essentially I was performing it right during that song, but I didn't actually play any instruments because it's orchestral. So, it was a new experience to be ostensibly performing but for that one song, I just sat there.

That's cool. So, you wrote it and, I guess, conducted it.

It was almost a little bit like being a DJ with an orchestra. You know, I sat back and sort-of basked in their reflected glory. 

Well, I'm super psyched for this show because I think myself and listeners are gonna bask in the glory of these songs like almost a two hour retrospective of your songs reimagined and performed with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra. So I think it's going to be amazing. 

And it just makes me happy — and I hope they don't sound too sycophantic — but it makes me happy that we're doing this for KEXP. 

Kevin Cole and Moby at CMJ 2010 // photo by Christopher Nelson


I wanted to ask you about that because we've had a great longstanding relationship. In fact, you deejay'ed at my birthday party to raise funds to build our New Home and we've just enjoyed a great long history with you. So, we're super excited for you to be a part of this amazing evening; all the proceeds benefit KEXP's programming. I'm wondering if you could just talk a bit about what KEXP means to you?

In some ways, it's a hard question to answer because we're talking on KEXP so I hope no one thinks I'm being disingenuous. It's just there's an ethos to it that I've always been just so happily surprised by. I'm sure that you can relate to this. In the world of professional music, a lot of it is creepy. In my early years of making records, I would go to commercial radio stations and afterward you'd almost feel like you needed to hose yourself down with bleach because everything about it just seemed disingenuous and exclusively driven by commerce. 

And then I remember going to KEXP for the first time and I was like, oh, the people who work here are people I would want to be friends with. They all remind me of the people I used to work with at the record store, that I worked at after college, and they love music, and they're honest, and sincere, and progressive, and committed to that singular ethos. It's been decades now and I've just constantly been impressed and surprised with the people at KEXP and that sort-of unwavering support for compelling, eclectic music.

That is absolutely totally what drives us. And you know, it is kind of weird or hard to talk about KEXP when you're on KEXP and work at KEXP, too, but I can just echo those thoughts and say for me and for the staff here, it's just such an honor and privilege to curate one-of-a-kind experiences that connect artists connect you with music lovers all over the world, who have this insatiable quest to hear great music. And it's just a privilege to go on the air every day and have the kind of creative freedom we have and have people appreciate it and love it. 

I remember one time, I was in your old studio and you had a map with pushpins — and this was sort of the early days of people listening to music online or rather streaming online. And I looked at the global reach of KEXP, and then you and I started talking and you were getting e-mails from people just in the most far-flung places like the South Island of New Zealand and northern Norway and someone in Japan and someone in Alaska. It just struck me how important it is. Like, I live in Los Angeles, I'm from New York, you're in Seattle. These are very progressive places with a lot of remarkable cultures. But, you know, I grew up in suburban Connecticut and the radio was my lifeline to interesting progressive culture. And now this, imagining people in the rest of the world who might not live in cultural meccas, you know, having access to KEXP and really in a way — in a very, very practical way — feeling less alone, and I think that that's profound. 

It's exactly what it is — it's a community of music lovers all over the world who are bonded by this shared love of music — the shared love and passion for music. And, Moby, thank you so much for one always contributing to KEXP: making great music, and then helping us build our New Home, and now doing the special Yule Benefit show. Again, it's Thursday, December 6th and you will be performing songs from throughout your career with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, and bringing a whole bunch of friends who are amazing singers. 

Because I love singing but trust me, there are way better singers in the world than me. So, I'll be singing a few songs, but like I've got some really remarkable vocalists coming, you know, for songs like "Natural Blues." It's way better to have a great singer sing than me sing a song like that. 

It's so great. I can't wait for the show. And again thank you so much more. 

Oh my pleasure. And I'll see you in December. 

KEXP Yule Benefit: Moby featuring members of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra is on Thursday, December 6th at McCaw Hall. Get your tickets here.

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