He's self-deprecating, funny and interesting and not at all like you thought he would be, assuming that you, like most people, thought he was a preachy, overly serious vegan with a God complex. Moby gets that a lot. Now 47, 14 years removed from the release of his 12-times-platinum landmark album "Play," he lives in a castle in the Hollywood Hills, tours occasionally and makes albums like 2011's "Destroyed": mellow, emotional, and modestly received.
Moby promised his record label he wouldn't talk about the new album he just finished recording, but he does discuss his relatively new sobriety, his least favorite album and the virtues of failure. An edited transcript follows.
Q: Can you at least talk about the mechanics of the new album? Did you record it in your house?
A: I've pretty much recorded all my albums at home. I have a slightly more developed bedroom recording studio. The only record I recorded in a real studio was an album called "Hotel," and oddly enough, that was my least favorite of all the records I've made.
Q: I thought artists weren't supposed to have a favorite, that they looked at all of their albums like they were their children.
A: I don't have children, but I imagine if parents are really pushed on the subject, they probably have favorite children. Like, if one of the children moves to Florida and, like, opens a nail salon and gets arrested for crystal meth production, I think you can admit to yourself that they're not your favorite child.
Q: You've said that (1996 punk rock release) "Animal Rights" is your favorite, and that one seems to be the one people like the least.
A: That record, it's a very difficult record and it's sort of hard to listen to it, but to me, subjectively, it has a real interesting emotional quality to it that makes me like really it.
Q: You also said you felt like a "has-been" after its release. Does that feeling stay with you, and affect how you handle the rest of your career? Plenty of artists have never experienced failure.
A: Oh, I've experienced tons of failure. I've been making music for 30 years, and I'd say failure and success have happened in equal measure. When you say failure, that seems really dramatic, but a lot of failure is just really depressing and mundane. I remember the first time I ever played a concert in Italy. I played a venue that held 900 people, and I think five people showed up. It wasn't a big, "John Carter of Mars" type failure. It wasn't dramatic; it was just depressing.
Q: Do you think there's something about being an electronic musician that makes it harder to be a career artist?
A: It's much easier to have a diversified career as an electronic musician than it is as a drummer. Nothing against drummers. If you're a drummer, you just wait around for people to ask you to play drums. But if you have your own studio and can make music, you have the ability to approach music a lot differently.
Q: What's your schedule like these days? Do you spend most of the year on the road?
A: I realized a few years ago that I don't like touring. I'll never complain about it because no one wants to hear about a relatively successful musician complain about the hardships of staying in a hotel. These days, I'm trying to tour as little as possible. In 1992 I was doing one of my first ever tours and I was in Heathrow airport and I saw these middle-aged musicians who had clearly been on tour for decades, and they all looked haggard and unhappy and unhealthy. I vowed to myself that I would never be that person. Flash forward 20 years and I found myself in Heathrow looking haggard and unhappy and unhealthy. I decided I would rather spend my time staying home working on music and making dinner with friends, instead of spending six months in a hotel in a state of depressing suspended adolescence.
Q: You've been vocal about becoming sober. Is it a lot less fun to be DJ-ing in a club these days, looking out at all the drunk people?
A: Well, because I've been that drunk person in the club so many thousands of times, when I'm in an environment where people are drunk or on drugs, I certainly don't judge them. Because it's almost a given that for much of my life I've been way more messed up than them. At 3 o'clock in the morning on tour when you're sober is a lot less fun than 3 a.m. when you're drunk in a bar or in a nightclub. But having said that, 9 in the morning on tour sober is immeasurably better than 9 a.m. on tour when you're hung over and feeling like death.
Q: Is there something about you that is more constitutionally suited to sitting around with a nice cup of tea than being the drunk guy at the party?
A: I really enjoy both, but it's the long-term consequences. ... What scares me is, I went to Columbia University because they were doing a study on people who suffered from panic attacks, and because I suffered from panic attacks my whole life, I decided to be a part of it. They had this questionnaire where they asked, How many units of alcohol do you have in a month? The top answer was 40 or more, and I got really scared because I was having on average 60 or 70 drinks a week. And I realized that that was a bad sign.