Moby kicked off Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s Who Shot Rock & Roll live concert series last Saturday at the Annenberg Space for Photography, performing a two-part set: a mellow acoustic portion, followed by what he affectionately referred to as a “fuck-off rave party.”
After taking the stage, the musician pleaded his case for a respectful audience, explaining that some of his acoustic songs are extremely quiet. “Even though I’m a peaceful vegan, if lots of people are talking during quiet songs, it sends me into a murderous rage," he said. "And there is nothing I can do in my murderous rage except look awkward.”
When he walked behind the turntables, however, it was a different story. The crowd was riled into a massive dancing frenzy as he pumped his fist from behind his command station.
Prior to the show, we snagged Moby to discuss how his lifelong battle with insomnia inspired his latest album/debut photo book, “Destroyed,” released last year (and streamed at the end of the interview). We also talked about his obsession with L.A. architecture and how touring puts him into a state of suspended adolescence.
Is it true that you wrote most of “Destroyed” when you were traveling and struggling with insomnia?
I’ve had insomnia since I was about 4 years old. The only times I don’t have insomnia are when I’m home in my bed going to sleep at the same time every night. I’ve spent the last 20-some odd years being on tour, and basically the moment I go on tour, I just get really bad insomnia. What I did on the tour that I was doing three years ago was rather than stay in bed and be miserable about the fact that I couldn’t sleep, I would walk around and take pictures of empty cities at five o’clock in the morning. That became the foundation for the pictures and the book and also the record because when I wasn’t taking pictures I was trying to write music as well.
Aside from making music, what other ways do you spend your insomniac hours?
I basically end up buying a lot of worthless crap on eBay, taking a lot of photos, playing Scrabble on Facebook, exercising in gyms at four o’clock in the morning -- basically just anything to help pass the long empty hours between two in the morning and eight in the morning. The greatest remedy I’ve found for dealing with jetlag is simply not go on tour.
Which isn’t really conducive to a musician’s lifestyle…
I’m hoping to tour a lot less as time passes. I don’t ever complain about being on tour because it’s certainly nice to travel around and play music for people, but going on tour puts me in the state of suspended adolescence; I feel that if I ever want to actually grow up, I kind of have to stay home and be an adult.
You recently moved to L.A. after living in New York for a long time. What was the main reason for the move?
I was born in New York and had lived there pretty much my entire adult life and I just assumed I would always stay in New York. I stopped drinking a few years ago, and I realized that New York was a great place to be a drunk but not necessarily the best place to be sober. The first time I walked around the Lower East Side getting drunk looking for trouble was probably in 1979. It had become too familiar. I had sort of become a townie, and also the Lower Manhattan that had once been the domain of artists and musicians is now the domain of hedge-fund managers and tourists.
"I’ve spent the last 20-some odd years being on tour, and basically the moment I go on tour, I just get really bad insomnia."
Does L.A. seem to suit you as far as where you are in your current lifestyle?
L.A. is certainly an imperfect place, but for what I want to do with my life right now, which is basically in the realm of go hiking in the morning, work on music during the day, have dinner with friends at night and occasionally go to art installations, this is the best place to do that.
Is it true that people like Marlon Brando and The Rolling Stones once occupied the house that you’re living in now?
Yeah. I live in a big, interesting, crazy house from the '20s and it’s perched on a ridge in Hollywood and overlooks the whole city. Over the years, lots and lots of people have lived here and done strange things.
What inspired your Los Angeles architecture blog?
I’ve always liked architecture and one of the things that I’ve found really odd about L.A. is that there is absolutely no cohesion. Most cities have a fairly distinctive architecture style. When you’re in Paris, you know you’re in Paris and the same for London and New York. In L.A. there are so many different types of buildings and it is essentially a big suburban residential city. People can afford to build houses here, and L.A. is filled with millions of houses by strange artists just trying to make interesting stuff.
What is the main driving force behind your vegan lifestyle?
I’ve been a vegan now for 26 years and the main reason I’m a vegan is simply that I like animals, and I don’t want to be involved in any process that contributes to the suffering of animals. And also, from my perspective, being a vegan is better for my health; it’s better for the environment. I think the only decent reason to eat meat is if you like the way it tastes and if it’s convenient, but when I look at all the negative consequences that come from meat eating, I’m pretty happy to be a vegan.
In a recent interview, you admitted to reaching a low point in the midst of your drug and alcohol addiction and Googling “Moby Sucks.” Do you try to refrain from Googling yourself these days?
If you’re a public figure, musician, writer, artist or anything, unless you’re Thom Yorke, somebody is going to hate you and hate what you do. In the culture in which we live, there are so many outlets for people to be really vicious and vitriolic and angry and mean spirited and my response is to just not pay attention. I don’t want to base my sense of self-worth on the opinions of complete strangers who are bored at work and venting about which celebrities they hate. People are of course free to say whatever they want about me, I’m just never going to read it. The whole culture of quick obsessive fame, it’s interesting as a spectator sport, but I think people who involve themselves too seriously in it -- either in producing it or consuming it -- should probably go outside every now and then.
Tell us about The Little Idiot Collective that you started.
I worked in a weird independent record store about 30 years ago and every bag that left the store had a drawing on it, so I started drawing these little cartoon characters and ever since then have been really interested in the world of animation and cartooning and drawing. So about six or seven years ago, I tried to start this collective of illustrators and get them together and make comic books and T-shirts. It didn’t quite work out because I realized that a lot of illustrators and animators don’t really like leaving their studios. It was a nice idea, and it was fun while it lasted but we closed it down.
You were recently nominated for America’s Best DJ. Do you feel deserving of the title?
No. I grew up playing classical music, and when I was 13, I started playing in hardcore punk bands so I came to DJing kind of late. I don’t think I was 19 or 20 till I started DJing and I really enjoy DJing, but off the top of my head I can think of about 100 DJs that are much better than I am. I never expected to have a career as a musician, so being able to make records and go on tour and occasionally be nominated for stuff after all these years is still flattering and surprising.
You’ve been involved in a variety of humanitarian efforts. What’s your current priority in that department?
I guess right now my main focus is the election just because every other cause that I care about and everything I’m involved in would be greatly helped by continuing to have Barack Obama as president. Almost everything I care about would truly suffer if Mitt Romney was president and the Republicans were in power. I think just as a matter of utility, I have to mainly focus on the election.
How did your metal side project Diamondsnake form?
I had some friends in New York who had this idea of starting a sort of glam-rock metal band. No one took us seriously because the other guitar player, Dave Hill, is very talented, but he’s also a comedian. Our lead singer, Phil, would wear pink and silver leotards and cover himself in glitter so as much fun as it was and as good as it was, I sort of understand that people had a hard time taking us seriously. At this point in my life, I don’t have anything resembling career ambitions. I just wanna make music that I love and try and stay healthy and have fun with my friends. I don’t think of starting side projects as something that can help my career, I just think of it as fun stuff that I can do with my friends.
You’re into a variety of things aside from music, like photography and literature and blogging. Is music still and always going to be your main focus?
I’ve been making music since I was 10 years old. As much as I enjoy the other things, going into my studio and making music has been the focus of my life, and I assume it will continue to be the main focus of my life. I don’t imagine people will be listening to the music that I make forever but I just want to keep making music until I’m old and ready to die.