As one of the most iconic figures in activism, visual arts and most notably the electronic music space, Moby’s never been one to sit still or quietly. Whether he’s dropping science via Twitter, memoir or record, it’s no doubt that the artist born Richard Melville Hall has schooled this world on the complexity of human nature. I’m no exception.
Speaking on the phone with the multi-hyphenate artist feels akin to a pupil soaking in every lesson from a favorite teacher. The conversation is every bit of gratifying as it is intriguing. In 2015, Moby unveiled his post-apocalyptic themed innocents art gallery which explored the state of humans from both an objective and subjective angle. It’s that same fascination that’s led to the creation of his fifteenth studio album, Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt (out March 2, 2018 via Mute). “It’s not a strident slogan-filled political record,” Moby states. He’s right. This album is a blend of beauty, power and light alongside darkness. It has the orchestral grace of “Porcelain” with the rawness of ‘90s trip-hop, the purity of soul and Moby’s alluring signature electronic production touch. Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt “looks at the vulnerability of the human condition and from that vulnerability what compels us to keep making these terrible choices.”
“Are you familiar with the boiling frog theory?” Moby asks me. Perplexed with where he is going with the illustration, I reply with a simple “yes.” It’s the idea that if you put a frog in boiling water, it would do everything in its’ power to get out. However, if you take the same frog and put it in a pot of water and slowly raise the temperature, it would just sit there and die. The frog is unaware that the temperature is changing due to the gradual rise. It dawns on me: We, as humans, are that frog. Moby adds, “I think for our species, we’re so accustomed to – I hate to sound all negative – things being egregiously terrible that it seems like a new normal to us.” Again, his words ring true. The new “norm” is ISIS, global warming, mass shootings, obesity and the list of tragic abnormalities go on. “People try to redress wrongs by passing legislation and sometimes it’s really necessary. For me, a bigger more interesting question is: What is it about our species that compels us to keep making such terrible choices over and over again even though these choices are killing us and destroying the only home we have? The way that this thinking inspired the record is to try to look at things from a more human and less political perspective.”
“Our culture is full of people that keep doing the same thing over and over again – making themselves sick [and] miserable. They never change what they’re doing,” he says before releasing another fitting analogy. “If you’ve ever watched a fly trying to get through a piece of glass, the fly will fly into the glass ten thousand times until it dies. Even if there’s an open door, he just keeps dabbing his head against the glass thinking, ‘Maybe this time, I’ll get through.’ So, for me I tried everything. I tried religious fundamentalism, atheism, alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity [and] materialism. What’s funny is at the end of the day, no matter what you try, you’re left with your brain. You’re left with yourself and so that becomes a more interesting question. ‘What’s going on in my brain? Why am I making all of these choices? These thoughts that I have, I think I can fix them by buying a new house or getting a new pair of shoes or a new girlfriend or a better drug.’ That’s never worked for anybody, ever.”
He pauses for a second, then states, “Materialism and treating people like objects doesn’t ever make anyone happy for more than about 30 seconds.” During his bout with alcoholism, Moby spent years thinking he could “drink like a normal person and not wake up with a crippling hangover.” He adds, “I’m just as guilty if not [guiltier] of being that stupid fly against the glass thinking that this time I’ll be able to go through it. I spent most of my life making the same mistakes over and over again and only changing when I was forced to change.” What helped him to change from the destructive path he was headed? Reflection. “I wanted to believe that I could go out drinking twice a week and not have health consequences, not get sick and not get hungover; but eventually the sickness became too much and the hangovers got too bad. The consequences forced themselves on me.”
Moby’s approach to Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt is unlike his past releases. From both a production and songwriting angle, elements were “imperfect” – such as the removal of basslines. “There are a few songs that don’t have basslines because I took them out. Without the basslines, it gave some of the songs a vulnerability that it didn’t have otherwise. When I think of the music that I love, often times it’s produced really technically imperfectly. Go listen to Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ and it’s very technically imperfect recording, but it’s one of the most beautiful recordings of all time. I’d much rather listen to a 1930’s piano version of ‘Moonlight Sonata’ than some brand new over-tuned pop song.” Additionally, Moby no longer takes part in some of the stressful aspects of the album release process – namely monitoring record sales, touring and reading reviews – he once was a part of in the ‘90s into the 2000s. “Now, I don’t tour and no one buys records. So, when I make an album all I’m thinking about is whether I love the music I’m making, whether I think it has integrity and hopefully other people will like it, but I don’t really expect anyone to pay for it. I don’t go on tour, so there’s no commercial motivation behind it. I know that frustrates a lot of musicians. They want to have a more profit opportunity, but I actually really love how liberating it is to not think of anything other than music. If it gets bad reviews, I don’t care because I don’t read the reviews. (Laughs) I don’t sell tickets, because I don’t go on tour. I can’t look at record sales because no one buys records. There’s a purity that’s almost forced upon me when it comes to making music that I really like. It’s basically nice to not be able to care.”
Not to be confused with a lackadaisical disposition, Moby’s creative structure for his latest album evokes a full spectrum of emotion ranging from disappointment to a sense of hope. “If you make emotional art, it sometimes facilitates – not necessarily a good way – having less of an emotional life. For most of my life I’ve had friends and family members and people I’ve dated sort of wonder how in a lot of my dealings with people, I’m almost emotionally autistic because I’ve sort of compartmentalized my emotional life through arts and music. I don’t know if that’s necessarily good to save up your emotions for music and not really share them with the people close to you.”
It’s of no shock to me that he’s not engaging in a massive worldwide tour. Instead, he will play five intimate shows later this year: three performances at The Echo in LA and two gigs in Brooklyn at Rough Trade. “I’d rather go hiking and read books,” Moby interjects before emitting a chuckle. “Life is short. Why do the same thing over and over again if you don’t have to?”