Richard Melville Hall, better known as Moby, is without a doubt one of the most well known producers of ambient music. Moby captured the attention of electronic fans worldwide when he remixed the theme song to David Lynch’s now cult-classic television series Twin Peaks in the early 90s. The progressive house track and remix, titled “Go,” reached the UK Top Ten in 1991. Two years later, Moby signed a five-record deal with Mute Records/Elektra. He released his first full length album, Everything Is Wrong, in 1995 – an album that won him an “Album of the Year” nod from Spin Magazine. Since then, Moby has churned out a catalog of club singles and albums, including his most popular album to date, Play. Released in 1999, the album only sold 6,000 copies in its first week. However, when it surfaced again in 2000, it became an unexpected and instant hit. With eight hit singles, including “Porcelain” and “Flower,” Play sold over 10 million copies worldwide. It was nominated for both a Grammy Award and Brit Award, and was certified platinum in more than 20 countries. Following the release of Play, Moby released 18, which was just as successful and critically acclaimed, earning gold and platinum awards in over 30 countries.
Moby can be credited for bringing the subculture of electronic music to the American and British mainstream. By merging sounds and rhythms from punk, pop, ambient, dance, and film scores, Moby created a multi-faceted genre that is at once innovative and yet accessible. Perhaps this trait is most notable in his many diverse collaborations, which includes working with Lou Reed, Bono, New Order, Public Enemy, and of course, David Lynch. In total, Moby has released 11 full length albums since Everything Is Wrong, not including his latest re-release of 2005’s Hotel: Ambient, titled Hotel: Ambient, which was dropped this year on December 16th, 2014.
In a remastered version, with the original track list filled out with previously unreleased tracks, Hotel: Ambient is something like a companion disc to Hotel. One of Moby’s most unsung efforts, Hotel: Ambient occupies a curious space in the electronic-music icon’s discography. It in many ways sums up Moby’s roots; highlighting the link between Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Brian Eno and the dance music of Derrick May and experimental IDM from early Warp releases. To celebrate the re-release of Hotel: Ambient, Moby presented three live performances from December 16th through December 18th at the Masonic Lodge in Los Angles, California, featuring an immersive experience of his sound complimented by visuals created uniquely for the events by himself and David Lynch. A special fourth benefit performance took place at the Integratron in Joshua Tree on December 21st.
In between his shows and fundraisers, the legendary musician chatted with The Untitled Magazine about why he decided to re-released Hotel: Ambient, his musical aspirations, his work as a visual artist, as well as his music library for filmmakers, mobygratis. Check out the exclusive interview below!
Indira Cesarine: Can you tell me about what prompted the re-release of your Hotel: Ambient album after so many years?
Moby: Well I wish I had some really interesting story or anecdote about it, but basically the album, Hotel had been released about ten years ago, and Hotel: Ambient was the bonus disk for Hotel. It had absolutely nothing to do with the main album; it wasn’t thematically related, it didn’t sound like it. It was just this really nice, pretty disk of quiet ambient music that I really liked. We made about 10,000 copies and they disappeared very quickly. Then EMI, the label I was with, didn’t want to reissue it. And in all honesty, I completely understand why they wouldn’t want to reissue it, because they were busy trying to keep the lights on selling Beatles records. There’s not much incentive for them to re-release a very quiet and obscure ambient record with no vocals, no drums, and no songs. So a couple of months ago, I got the rights back to the album from them, and that’s why I’ve re-released it. It’s a body of work that I really like, and I don’t really expect anyone to buy it, but it just makes me happy knowing that at least it’s available.
IC: Well, I guess that’s a great reason to re-release it. I understand that the album is being referred to as a “sum of your roots.” Can you tell me what your musical inspirations were for the album and what this album means to you personally?
M: I first heard ambient music in the mid 70s when I started buying David Bowie records. I guess the two David Bowie albums that really have a strong ambient presence are Heroes and Low. I remember when I first bought the cassette of Heroes, I was probably about 10 or 11 years old. I brought it home, and I was kind of baffled by the fact that the entire second side of the cassette was just instrumental music. At first I almost thought something was wrong with the record — that I had bought a defective cassette. Then slowly, I came to really love how the music on the second side of Heroes behaved differently than conventional pop music. Ultimately that’s what I’ve always really loved about ambient music. This almost seems like it might be criticism, but one thing that I really like about it is that it’s undemanding, you know? Especially as people’s lives get more and more complicated. There’s so much demanding stimuli in our lives – from phones to traffic, to subways to what have you and work. I think it’s really nice to have things in our lives, whether it be music or whatnot — I’m going to sound like a complete hippie, but – it just almost exists as a sort of refuge. This record in particular really doesn’t require anything of the listener. You don’t even have to really pay attention to it. It can just exist benignly in the background.
IC: I understand that you have a few unreleased tracks that are featured on the album, like “Almost Home.” Which other new tracks are featured on Hotel: Ambient?
M: To be honest, I don’t remember the names of any of the songs on the record.
IC: I love that.
M: I know that there are a few new pieces of music on there, and there are extended versions. The other thing with ambient music, or with quiet instrumental music, is that my goal in making it is to never be innovative. I don’t want someone to listen to the record and congratulate me on how innovative or novel it is. I want someone to listen to the record and feel a sense of contentedness or calmness. It’s hard to make something beautiful that will instill a sense of calmness in someone and also be cutting edge and innovative at the same time. So that’s why in making this and the new tracks — the goal is just to make something pretty that can exist in the background of someone’s life.
IC: Kind of coming to peace with it all, so to speak. I know you did some re-workings as well as songs, “Porcelain,” and a few others. Was there any particular reason why you decided to do ambient re-workings?
M: We only did those for the live show.
IC: They are not featured on the album itself?
M: Yeah, we just did three live ambient shows at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and then we’re doing one more at the Integratron in Joshua Tree. We played some songs from Hotel: Ambient, but the songs that you were referring to were just for the live show.
IC: Can you tell me about the live show you had? What was special about the performances? I read that you were implementing massive visual displays that you did in collaboration with David Lynch?
M: Yeah. Well my concern in doing these shows is that they would just be really boring. Half of the show is just really quiet, instrumental music, but we just finished doing three of them, and people – maybe they’re lying to me, but everyone I spoke to seemed to really enjoy them. The setting was really beautiful. It’s this old Masonic temple in the middle of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We had a huge wall of very heavily processed, broken down visuals, some of which had been done by David Lynch, some were done by me, and some were done by other people. I can’t speak objectively to the experience, because I was the one performing, but in so far as the people responded to me, they seemed to respond really positively.
IC: I know you have also crossed over quite a bit into photography with your work, and you have an exhibit on at the moment in Chelsea. Can you tell me about your inspiration for your visuals and what inspires your work as a visual artist?
M: Oddly enough, I grew up more in the world of visual arts than I did in the world of music. My mom was a painter. My uncle was a photographer and my other uncle was a sculptor. Most of my friends in New York are painters or visual artists. I’ve been doing photography and film making, honestly, about as long as I’ve been doing music. But the photography and the film making are just things that I did on the side for fun more than anything else. In the last few years, I guess I felt a little more confident in the visual art that I was making, so I felt confident to actually have gallery shows. The inspiration behind it – I guess there are two, very broadly speaking. There are two types of photography. There’s photography that exists almost as reportage – as a document of things that already exist in the world – and there’s photography that documents things that have been specifically created for the photograph. I’ve done both types of approaches. The most recent show is all about the idea; it’s about the apocalypse and cults. But looking at it from a very different perspective. The premise for the last show is that the apocalypse has already happened. So half the show is documentation of the apocalypse, and the other half of the show is documentation of this cult that I’ve invented, which is the world’s first post-apocalyptic cult.
IC: That’s fascinating. And where do you come up with this inspiration? It’s just your natural inclination?
M: When I went to university, I wanted to be a semiotics major. So I ended up studying philosophy, because the school I went to didn’t offer a major in semiotics. But I guess semiotics – the idea of studying the relationship between signs and symbols, and how humans respond to them – broadly speaking, is the whole human condition. We have these little brains that are locked away in our heads, and we feed them stimuli; the brains try to make meaning out of them. From the time we’re born to the time we die, even pre-natal, we’re trying to make meaning out of stimuli. Neurochemically, the way our brains work, is that we compartmentalize everything. We give things labels, and that’s honestly, the biggest inspiration for the photo work that I do. To take these images, using very clear semiotic signifiers, and trying to sort of re-contextualize them so that they might elicit an unconventional reaction in the person who is experiencing it.
IC: I understand that you have a fundraiser coming up at the Integratron in Joshua Tree. I’ve actually been there, it’s a pretty amazing place. Tell me, what do we have to look forward to with that? I know the location itself was apparently designed by plans from aliens, and it has this incredible acoustically perfect sound. Tell me a little bit about why you’re doing a fundraiser for this particular place, and what we can look forward to with that performance?
M: It’s very similar to the ambient shows that we’ve just done at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It’s very quiet, very stripped down, primarily instrumental, but with a few vocal songs. As far as why I wanted to do a fundraiser for the Integratron, is that it’s the only Integratron on the planet, meaning it’s utterly unique. And it’s sort of falling into disrepair. The women who run it are these idealistic, very well-intentioned women, and I think they just needed a little help raising some money to try and fix up the Integratron. I feel like when something’s that unique and that special, it just deserves help and support, because there’s only one giant acoustically perfect dome in the world, and that’s the Integretron. And the fact that it was designed by aliens, and it sits in the middle of the desert, just made me think that I should try and help out as much as I can.
IC: You’re known for a lot of your fundraising endeavors; obviously the Integratron is one of them, as well as animal rights, and fundraisers for victims affected by domestic violence. Can you tell me about some of the issues that are close to your heart and any charitable organizations that you particularly like to support?
M: Yeah, I’m sort of a dilettante when it comes to charity work, meaning I like being involved in the world of politics, environmentalism, animal welfare, and human rights. If something’s a good cause, I’m perfectly happy to do what I can to support it, understanding full well that I and everyone, all have limited resources in terms of time and money. So there has to be that question of, how effective is the charity? Because unfortunately, the only work a lot of NGOs and a lot of charities do is staying in business. They have fundraisers once a year, and then they spend the rest of the year getting ready for their fundraiser; they don’t really do a whole lot of work. I try to stay away from organizations like that. But my path a lot of the time is working in politics, like at a State and National level. As I said, I’m a a complete dilettante, and I’m just happy to help anyone who’s running a good organization, especially an organization that has a good public outreach. A lot of people I know who are involved in the world of charity have great intentions, but they’re really shy, and they don’t know how to actually reach out to people. And education, especially use of media, seems like one of the greatest strengths that a small charity should have. I think that’s where a lot of charities fall short in that way.
IC: Speaking of being able to give things back, your mobygratis program has been pretty revolutionary in how you provide music for free to independent and non-profit film-makers. And I understand Hotel: Ambient is now available on that platform. Can you tell me about what inspired you to create mobygratis and this catalog of music that you have available?
M: I had a lot of friends who were independent filmmakers, and their biggest recurring complaint was that it was very, very difficult to license music for movies. So I set up mobygratis as a way of making the film making process easier. The way I’ve structured it is that there’s nothing hidden about it. The music is free, and if it’s ever used commercially and generates money, the money goes to the Humane Society. It’s simple and transparent, and there’s absolutely no way that I can make money from it. So it’s not like a bait and switch, like luring people in with free music and then selling them a time-share in a condo somewhere. It’s just free music.
IC: Yeah, haha! I can’t imagine you doing that for some reason.
M: I feel like the online world, especially as revenue streams dry up for a lot of people, people look at vaguely disingenuous ways of trying to conceal potential revenue streams. With this I just wanted it to be real, straightforward and honest.
IC: Which is great. I actually have personally produced a couple of video productions with mobygratis music, so thank you!
M: Oh, thanks. Hopefully over time, it will get even simpler. Because when it first started, there was a lengthy approval process. I’ve been able to get it down to the place where I think if someone makes a request, and they don’t hear back from us in 24 hours, it’s considered approved.
IC: Oh, that’s great. I think you’re inspiring and helping generations of young film makers, so it’s brilliant.
M: Oh, thanks.
IC: And let me just ask you, so your work as a musician has crossed over from so many genres, from electronica, to trip hop, house, ambient, rock, techno, punk- Where do you feel your sound is going now, moving forward?
M: That’s a good question, and I don’t know. Pretty much my only goal as a musician is to make music that I love and that resonates with me emotionally, and hopefully in the process, affects other people emotionally. I guess ultimately my allegiance is to the way that music affects me emotionally, and not to any one genre. Genre, especially in 2014, seems really arbitrary when people don’t pay for music. In the olden days, genre was less arbitrary because records were more expensive; you really needed to love that artist and that genre. I feel like people now, because music is free, people can be a lot broader in their tastes, and a lot less loyal to any specific genre.
IC: And what do we have to look out for from you in 2015?
M: Hopefully putting out another record. But again, in 2014 or 2015, my goal in making records isn’t making records that are going to be big sellers, it’s just to make records that I enjoy making, and that hopefully other people might like.
– Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
– Photos courtesy of Moby
Planet Earth Directed by Indira Cesarine, Music by Moby (courtesy of mobygratis)