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16 October 2009

Moby on Moby: “I sometimes ramble a little bit.”

Eminem released a new album this past May called Relapse. It sold over 600,000 copies in its first week of release. A month later Moby released his new album Wait for Me and, well, let’s just put it this way, it did not sell 600,000 copies.

Peoples love them some Eminem! Generally speaking, though, when he hates on people — his mom, his ex-wife Kim, Christina Aguilera — he doesn’t make a very sympathetic case. Entertaining? For sure. Somewhat terrifying? Definitely. Sympathetic? Hells no. His feud with Moby was a major exception. 9 out of 10 people seem to agree: Moby is annoying. Its harder to turn off that feeling than it is to ignore Eminem’s ranting. Weirdly most of this annoyance arose from Moby’s pop culture ubiquity around the time of his multi-platinum Play record.

People made him popular and then hated him for the condition they had caused.

This recent interview with the electronic musician made me reconsider my position on him. It’s a bit of a ramble — much more so than even my blog posts — so I’ve excerpted and edited the result, adding some paragraph breaks and such for increased readability.

The Q&A finds Moby struggling with one of the issues I glanced upon in yesterday’s post on Sufjan Stevens’ new music: What does an artist do once he gains a certain level popularity? Are they supposed to play to it, or ignore it? Are there certain musicians who don’t conceive of their creative endeavors leading to popularity? Finally, is it even possible to ignore the affections of rapturous fans, or the financial imperatives that seize upon the successful? Or does the application of fame and money inherently warp the creative process?

The lynchpin notion of this excerpt is “creativity outside of market concerns” — a notion that came to Moby via a David Lynch speech. Lynch later ended up directing a video for the title track of Moby’s new record, the video which opens this post.

The questions are in bold. Moby’s answers are not. He rambles a bit, just as his career after Play has rambled. My argument in the case of both Moby & Sufjan would be that the freedom to ramble is very much their prerogative, and that their ability to maintain a career financially while doing so is the real reward that success has brought them.


One thing about listening through your discography is that it was really difficult for me to come up with an arc to your career.

It’s more like an amoeba.

Yeah! So I want to know how you think about your career and the different artistic choices you’ve made.

One reason I’ve had such a strange career is ’cause I’ve never expected to have a career. I read an interview with Linkin Park and they had a plan. Like, they got together and started a band, and mapped it out. I’ve met them; they’re nice guys; I don’t mean this as a criticism–I’ve learned to never criticize other musicians because invariably they end up trying to kill me–but they had mapped out a business plan of how many records they wanted to sell, what labels they wanted to be on, where they wanted to be.

When I was growing up, all my musical heroes were either dead or weird so I never expected to have a record contract. I never expected to have a career that lasted more than six months. So people might say, “Wow, you’ve made a lot of mistakes” and I’m like, you’re right, because I had no idea what I was doing. I saw myself and still see myself as a very strange underground musician. Whatever commercial success I’ve had is accidental.

And this is the shameful part: there were times when I started having commercial success, and I liked it too much. That’s what led me to make the worst decisions in my life, which were made pursuing commercial success. After the success of Play, I found myself enjoying fame a little too much. I liked going out to nightclubs and sitting in the VIP section; I liked going to red carpet events. For the next few years, especially with the album Hotel, I tried to structure my life so that I could be more famous. But then the more fame I had, the less happy I was. I also found I wasn’t very good at it. There are some people who are really adept at being famous musicians. I’m not. Justin Timberlake is great at it–he’s handsome, dances, sings, and seems like a really nice guy as well. I just wasn’t cut out for it. So I’d rather labor in moderate obscurity and make kind of strange records that some people might be willing to listen to. To be completely blunt one of my biggest concerns is that by pursuing mainstream success, I compromised my ability to make weird underground records.

I understand that this record was partially inspired by a speech David Lynch gave at BAFTA where he talked about creativity outside of market concerns–it seems like you’re echoing that in what you’re saying right now.

Again, after the success of Play I had a lot of narcissistic confusion. I was trying to figure out what type of artist should I be. Should I be a mainstream artist, should I be a weird underground artist? Do I do big tours, or do I go out and open for Sonic Youth? I got a lot of pressure from myself, from my record company, and from management to sell a lot of records. We live in New York, and there is that unquestioned ethos that if you can sell more records, you should, and I bought into that to my shame.

The whole time it felt uncomfortable. I remember going to MTV awards and sitting in the audience and just feeling like a black guy at a Klan meeting. At first it appealed to the anthropologist in me. Instead of going to the Amazon and being a cultural anthropologist, I was sitting in between Ludacris and Jessica Simpson. I’m here observing. The problem is that it was seductive, and it led me to make some bad decisions. And then I heard David Lynch speak. To paraphrase, he simply said, creativity, in and of itself, is fine. Immediately, I was like, he’s right. Life is short. On my deathbed, all I want to remember is trying to make beautiful music. I don’t want to remember trying to have great marketing campaigns. I don’t want to remember playing the Z100 Jingle Ball. I want to remember the pursuit of the sublime through art. Absolutely no guarantee that anything good will come from that, but it feels better. It feels more right. And it’s also more comfortable and familiar, it’s what I grew up with!

I grew up with weird artists; everyone in my family is a weird artist, and all my heroes are weird artists. I didn’t grow up like friends of mine—I remember there was a Grammies in, like, 1998, and it was the first time I’d ever watched the Grammies. And people were like, “Are you kidding?” And I was like, why would I watch the Grammies when I was growing up? I didn’t care about any of the music that was on there. Not to say that I was better than it, just—Joy Division wasn’t on the Grammies. Mission of Burma wasn’t on the Grammies. Why would I watch the Grammies? Does that answer your question?

I sometimes ramble a little bit.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis

Tags: , , , , ,


  1. On 2009-10-16 K-sky said:

    Mission of Burma wasn’t on the Grammies? Fuck. What did I see?

    He is dead on target about Justin Timberlake. Fame is better off because Justin Timberlake has it.

  2. On 2009-10-16 Alec Hanley Bemis said:

    I dare you to find a YouTube clip of Mission of Burma performing on the Grammies.

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