You only have to take a quick listen to Moby’s latest euphoric single, ‘The Perfect Life’, to make the assumption he’s quite content with things, not least his most recent creative offering. Innocents, his 11th studio album, is a return to the vintage Moby we know and love, more akin to 1999’s Play and subsequent 18 than his many stylistic deviations of the past seven years. It’s lo-fi, despite being produced by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent – a big shot pop producer who’s worked with the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga and Beyonce. There’s a whole lotta soul injected by some powerful female vocalists like Skylar Grey and Cold Specks; a warm richness added by the unique voices of Damien Jurado and Mark Lanegan, and a collaboration on ‘The Perfect Life’ with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. All of this warmly cocooned in Moby’s signature, downtempo pop-tronica.
“It’s a tricky thing to talk about,” says Moby, poolside, on the phone from his home in LA when asked if he’s ‘happy’ with his latest record. “I’m really happy with how we made it because we used a lot of very strange, old equipment, and at the end of the day I wanted to make a record that was more vulnerable and that also had a quality of fragility to it. I wasn’t looking to make a big, bombastic, super-slick pop record – I wanted something warmer and more inviting.
“It’s funny, it almost worries me because the process of making this record wasn’t very frustrating at all and usually the more frustrating it is to make, the more successful the record is. My most successful album was Play and making that was incredibly frustrating. So the fact this record wasn’t frustrating means it’s probably doomed to be a complete failure.”
Moby says it was actually a very nice process making the record, in part due to the producer and collaborators – but he is realistic about his prospects of success, his honesty bordering on self-deprecation at times, especially given his longevity as an artist to date.
“The thing is, I’m 48 years old making records in 2013, so my expectations of success are really pretty small. It would just be absurd at this point in my career to want to go out and try and sell millions of records, because that would involve so many distasteful compromises … Almost no-one sells millions of records anymore, certainly not 48-year-old guys who aren’t willing to compromise.”
Our conversation leads onto the existential angst one can experience as the years creep by; our interview occurring the day before Moby’s 48th birthday – and just because the video for ‘The Perfect Life’ sees Moby and Coyne dressed in mariachi costumes wandering the streets of LA, singing their hearts out and living a seemingly idyllic existence, Moby isn’t typically all sunshine. Is this, then, the happiest song he’s ever written?
“Back in the rave days I wrote some really happy rave songs but ‘The Perfect Life’ is a very happy song, especially if you listen to the song in conjunction to the video – it is pretty silly, but there is a degree of darkness in the lyrics.”
While the collaboration of Moby with Coyne seems like a rather strange teaming, the pair met in 1995 while on tour supporting the Red Hot Chili Peppers and they’ve remained friends ever since. “The Flaming Lips and I were the opening acts, so for about two and a half months we shared a dressing room and had to deal with the frustrations of being an opening act for a big rock band. When I wrote ‘The Perfect Life’, it honestly sounded to me like a Flaming Lips song, so I thought to myself, ‘Well, if I’ve written a song that sounds like The Flaming Lips, then maybe Wayne will sing on it.’ He really is the nicest person on the planet and just his whole approach to music, art and live performance I find really inspiring. I think of myself as being really lucky that I was able to get him to sing on the record.”
In what is considered a pretty controversial move these days, Moby’s refusal to compromise means there won’t be any touring in promotion of the album, except for three shows in an LA theatre close to home. “I realise that as much as I like being on stage and making music, I’m actually much happier and satisfied being in my studio writing it,” he explains. “So that’s the main reason why I’m not touring, I’m just trying to stay home so I can write more music. This of course drives my manager insane, given the only way musicians make money now is by going on tour … I’m sure my manager is on the verge of breaking up with me.”
But the comfortableness that shines through on this record is essentially all about doing the things that make Moby happy. “I really do believe that life is short, and I guess I look at a lot of musicians and public figures who seem to judge their success based on so many things they’d like to buy – and I don’t want to judge them or be critical of it, but I feel like my job as a musician is not to make music so I can buy things, it’s to make music because I love making music. So even if I’m making considerably less money, I’m just happier staying home making music that probably no-one will ever listen to.”
BY RACHEL DAVISON
Innocents out now through Warner.