“In my dreams, I'm dying all the time, As I wake its kaleidoscopic mind.”
This lyrical phrase begins the song titled 'Porcelain' released in 1999 by electronica producer, Moby. The track, which appeared on the album Play, could be called an unfinished symphony of sorts after it almost didn’t make the cut for the album. Now, Porcelain has decidedly become the title of Moby’s latest production, this time in a textual format, a memoir.
Moby's self-discovery took us back to when he yearned to get out of Darien, Connecticut and make something of his meager, impoverished life. Sidebar: Darien, Connecticut is actually one of the wealthiest towns in the US. But he shared that his mother wanted to live a simpler life.
Moby’s infatuation for music production began when he first heard Diana Ross’s, Love Hangover in his mother’s silver Chevy Vega. Mixed with his obsession of Star Trek and Space: 1999, it spurred an idea that there was “a world that wasn’t stained with sadness and resignation…somewhere there was a world that was sensual, robotic, hypnotic, and clean.”
A dream that somehow wanted his soul to be in New York faute-de-mieux, he was fueled by his drive and passion for music, with high hopes of becoming a respected nightclub DJ. From Kismet to reality, when mix-tapes were the norm, he landed his first gig at Club Mars.
Moby’s accounts are intertwined with lust, dreams, and wonder; stories that date back to historic nightlife events and people that have a personal worm’s eye view of a post-era Studio 54 society.
His story starts innocently as a little boy that once was frightened of worldly pleasures. He was guilted by his faithfulness to Christianity and God which clashed with his natural, carnal impulse for strippers, fornication, and masturbation, in no particular order. Moby can oddly add professional dominatrix to his résumé; one night when he transformed in “Master Bobby” with compensation of a one dollar bill.
He was constantly surrounded by a mini-world of the Limelight supercharged with drugs and alcohol. “Being sober and Christian meant that I was excluded from most of the degeneracy, but I was still accepted as a fellow misfit toy.” Moby later remembers a time when a fan named Greg wanted him to sign his Bible after a show in Portland, and how he felt awkward and ashamed that his lifestyle wasn’t deserving enough to be a fellow Christian brother.
Today, Moby proudly shared that he currently has eight years of sobriety. In Porcelain, Moby describes how he kept his strict sobriety up until a heartbreak in 1995 led to a pint of Anchor Steam. He also admits that he has a genetic predisposition for alcoholism, which kept him from cracking the bottle open.
Porcelain doesn’t cover his whole life, but Moby shamelessly shares the highs and lows of a ten-year span: Failed relationships, addiction, death, and battles with self-identity and (did I mention) lots of sex, mixed in with his rise to the top of the electronic music industry.
While his career grew with live electronic music, Moby recounts a time when his career wasn’t so shining. After his moxie to release a punk rock album, titled Animal Rights, Moby agreed with a local newspaper that summed up his career at that time, “techno’s stepchild, left behind to play small bars while his peers fill arenas.” He made a swift comeback after his manager, Barry, convinced him that people were happy when he made electronic music.
Thus came his release of Play, an album that skyrocketed his popularity and was Moby’s breakthrough into the mainstream music industry, all the while giving a middle finger to the once defeated nickname, techno’s stepchild. I am saddened that the memoir concludes and ends without taking us on that journey. But there were two parts of the memoir's ending I absolutely loved -- a perfect ending for an imperfect world of a fragile porcelain boy turned man.
Moby, despite his walk on the wild side and one-night stands, wants what everybody does: to love and to be loved. "'The Sky is Broken' was about a relationship I’d never had, with vulnerability and closeness and trust. My relationships were desperate and fueled by panic.” Moby divulges with humility that he craves the opposite of the one-night stands. “I would trade all the parties and vodka and threesomes and foursomes and sevensomes for one moment of safety and comfort, speaking quietly to someone I loved in the middle of the night. Finir en beauté, Moby."
The answers I received from Moby were subjective, yet objective, and when comparing his life to others, he simply doesn’t. Moby does not hold back when giving his interpretation or opinion. He reaches interesting, philosophical conclusions on music and it’s therapeutic quality. Moby never shies away from controversial topics, including some lifestyle choices; particularly veganism and drug usage. Even if one does not agree, his informative and inflexible stance would encourage anyone to research his or her assertions.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
DS: "Your journey through your career in electronic dance music was descriptive. You humanized those moments when you met music icons, David Bowie, Madonna, Big Daddy Kane and played alongside rock acts like NIN, Prodigy, and Soundgarden to playing in a club with visits from Big Daddy Kane, Run DMC, Rakim, and De La Soul. How was it writing a memoir recounting those moments from your perspective now?"
Moby: "I mean, it’s an interesting form of writing a memoir. Not to sound so esoteric but, in writing a memoir you almost get to be both yourself in the present day, but you also get to be yourself as you were 20 or 25 years ago."
"It's very odd because I can remember my perspective then and of course I know my perspective now. I guess back then one of the things that made everything so odd was that I would have never expected to have a career as a musician and I would have never expected to DJ or make music. I certainly never expected to meet any other sort of public figure or successful musicians. I certainly never expected to meet people who I revered growing up like David Bowie, and so when it was happening I was nervous but it felt disconcerting and almost psychedelic because it was so far from anything I’d ever imagined.
"I think of some of those moments, especially the early ones when I was living in New York- deejaying or performing and meeting these iconic people- I’d never expected to live in New York. I never expected to DJ to a crowd, so everything about it was surreal, surprising and completely unexpected."
DS: "Were there any other iconic people that you’ve met apart from music that you thought you’d never meet?"
Moby: "Of course, in my life, there have been so many people, especially in the last 15 years, a lot of politicians such as Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
"But I guess another thing that I’ve learned, and maybe this is very self-evident, when I was growing up I assumed that iconic, successful people were well-known musicians, artists or writers. I sort of assumed that they knew something I didn’t know and that they had access to some wisdom or knowledge of which I wasn’t aware. I also figured that they understood their place in the world in a way I didn’t.
"What I’ve learned is that the human condition honestly affects us all very equally. Regardless of our social economic status, we all experience humanity in very similar ways and of all the huge iconic public figures I’ve met, the remarkable artists and the remarkable musicians, are still just as confused as the rest of us are. You know they still age and they still battle mortality and they still try to figure out what significance life may have. The only people who aren’t really concerned about the human condition are either sociopaths or the few people I’ve met who are generally happy people and enlightened and there aren’t that many of them. It’s been a nice thing to realize. You know, we assume people who are ruling the world or running the world or celebrated, know something we don’t; but the truth is they don’t."
DS: "Do you feel like when you got into electronic music, from hearing Diana Ross’ track, that it was sort of music therapy for you? Do you think it was therapeutic for you to produce and make music?"
Moby: "Oh yes, I mean the thing with music is -I used to work with Oliver Sacks at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function on the ways of which music actually functions as a really profound healing modality. The thing about music that is so phenomenal to me and so miraculous is that music can make us cry, it makes us laugh and makes us dance. We play it at bar mitzvahs, we play it at funerals, we play it at baptisms, and we play it at weddings.
"So it’s clearly this remarkably powerful institution in almost all of our lives and the truth is, all that music is- is air molecules hitting our ears a little bit differently. When someone makes music, they’re technically not making anything. They’re just pushing their air molecules around a little bit differently but it just makes us cry and dance.
"I find that to be miraculous and is the reason why I’ve dedicated my life to making music. It's just a truly magical art form. Not always, there are clearly some examples that are not magical. But it can be that amazing, powerful, psychedelic stimulant … that’s also a sedative. It’s spiritual and it's also carnal, you know it really is such a strange, baffling and remarkable institute."
DS: "You became a vegan in 1987, for reasons of animal rights and clean eating. What are you opinions on this now, should everyone be vegan?"
Moby: "I have been a vegan now for 28 years, I don’t know whatever would compel me to change that. I don’t know if everyone should be vegan.
"As a species, we should stop using animals for food, or at least stop subsidizing animal agriculture. Because animal agriculture causes 90% of rainforest deforestation, 40% of water use, 50% of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, roughly 50% climate change, 25% ocean acidification, and 75% antibiotic resistance. So clearly animal agriculture, in addition, for it being very bad to the animals, is also bad for us. I think future generations will look back at us and be baffled the same way we were baffled as to how 100 years ago children worked in factories and everyone smoked cigarettes. I think fifty years from now everyone will be baffled that we subsidized animal agriculture because it’s killing us.
"First and foremost, it’s because I love animals. I can’t in good conscience be involved with anything that has to do with animal suffering. Nothing is harming our species more than animal agriculture. I am a vegan because I love animals but also because I love people."
DS: "When you say subsidized, could you please elaborate more on subsidy?"
Moby: "I mean that our tax dollars in almost every country, directly and indirectly, go to support animal agriculture. The United States has a direct subsidy to farmers, but that’s also subsidizing water use, land use, oil use, and transportation. I mean every aspect of animal agriculture, directly and indirectly, is subsidized by our tax dollars."
DS: "You recently made a comment on drugs being “the dirty little secret of EDM,” with your recent hotel ambient release and yoga, meditative sleep release and with our recent discussion about music therapy. Would you say that drugs are bad for the body and that even though it is part of the music culture, what's your stance on drug usage?"
Moby: "I am sober and I have been sober for 8 years. The things with drugs is it’s hard to generalize. There are some people that can do drugs and not be harmed by them. I have friends who do drugs recreationally and it doesn’t seem to harm them. There are some other people that either become addicted or they have some sort of reaction to drugs and it does harm them. For the most part, people are better off to stay away from drugs. It’s hard for me to make a sweeping generalization to say that 'drugs are bad,' because I do know in my experience that I can do drugs and be harmed. I personally am not able to do them."
DS: "Did your scientific discovery push your passion into making and producing music for the masses?"
Moby: "I mean the subtext to almost everything is that we are all in this together. When I’m playing music for people, I’m also playing music for myself. When I’m making music for people I’m also making music for myself.
"Honestly we are all sort of stumbling through life together and we’re all struggling with the same things and as a result -something like music or any creative expression- it’s not as if the creator of it is a separate species. It’s not as if I’m clinically or academically making music for other people but not for myself. Especially with its core. For me to make music people respond to personally, I have to be able to respond to it emotionally as well."
DS: "Out of all of your productions, Do you have a piece that spoke to you more than the others while you were making it?"
Moby: "It’s hard to say because in the course of my life I’ve made all types of music. It’s also hard for me to evaluate the music I’ve done without looking at the context in which it was created. Every piece of music that I’ve made is like a little time capsule. I can’t decontextualize the music that I’ve made from the environment that it was made in. So having said that, if I had to pick one piece of music that I feel the closest too, is a piece of music that I write about in the book is called, 'God Moving Over the Face of the Waters'. I like a lot of music that I make, but that one holds a really special place for me."
DS: "Speaking of 'God Moving Over the Face of the Waters,' your music has evolved, from techno to punk rock back to dance and then more of an ambient feel for yoga and meditation. Would it be safe to assume that you have evolved as a person alongside your music?"
Moby: "I guess it’s a correct assumption then called into question- What constitutes evolution? Is evolution a linear upward aggression or just the act of being alive and moving from one place to the next?
"I think that in some ways maybe I’ve evolved as a person or as a musician, or maybe I’m just a human being getting older and experiencing different things and having to know a bigger basis of comparison and experience. So that particular song, I certainly remember the context in which it was created. Sometimes with making music or making art, you create something but feel like you weren't involved in creating it. This may be a new age way of saying it, but you sort of feel like a conduit, at that moment the art is more revealing itself through you."
Put aside the known facts about Moby and his pop memoir, he delves deeper with his philosophical convictions about celebrity-ism and the deification that any particular person ‘knows more’ than the next.
He talked about music therapy, his take on drug usage, and a topic that we all have thought of at least once in our mind: Existentialism.
I realized I could keep writing and talking to Moby for hours, days and weeks. Like he was a mate, he was gracious and comforting despite the fact I had a panic of nervousness before and during our interview. He made it seem like he was the “guy next door” and if you needed to get an opinion or a fact, he was the guy that would give you an educated, honest and autonomous answer. Moby put me at ease and even though our interview was interrupted by a time scheduling glitch, he graciously finished my question before he had to move on to the next.
Moby dances to his own beat and doesn’t seem like he would adopt anything without fully understanding the nature in which it worked and more importantly, that it worked for him. Iconoclastic wrapped in passion and experience. He wasn’t going to impose his views on you, but if you did want to debate him, you better be ready to be met with a compelling argument. And underneath the thin layer of Porcelain, there is an intrinsic part of him that can relate to us all.
Here are some amusing facts from Porcelain:
1. Moby’s personal parlay navigates us through different and socioeconomic stages: a 100 square foot abandoned Stamford warehouse to a duplex on W. 14 St. and 3rd Ave. in ruthless and merciless New York City.
“I was making about $5,000 a year, so $50 a month for “squatter’s rent” was within my budget. My space was small and sandwiched between a gay porn production studio and an artist’s loft, but it was all mine: one hundred square feet of an abandoned factory where I could live and work as long as the security guards took their $50 and looked the other way.”
2. To afford New York, Moby never turned down any work that was offered.
3. During Moby’s earlier 90’s gigs, his rare groove night landed with approvals from Def Jam, Russell Simmons, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“Flea and Anthony from the Red Hot Chili Peppers came over and stood in front of me, drunk and staring at the record I was playing. “This is cool,” Flea said. “What is it?” “Lyn Collins,” I said authoritatively. “It’s rare groove.”
“I figured I’d go a bit obvious, so I played “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” by Sly and the Family Stone, Russell Simmons from Def Jam stumbled over, leaning on a drunken Asian model in high heels…Russell Simmons was nodding, Flea and Anthony were dancing, and a warm late-night breeze was blowing from across the Hudson River.”
4. Jazz player, Miles Davis once attended Moby’s soundcheck.
5. Moby’s childhood best friend was actor Robert Downey, Jr.
6. Moby ended up headlining the Palladium after Snap! canceled their appearance.
7. After Moby played his rare groove set he made a vow to himself, “Trying to end animal suffering will be my life’s work, no matter what.”
8. Moby was a musician turned deejay and was signed to his first record label, Instinct, after playing his techno song, “Rock the House.”
9. After his failed punk rock and speed metal album, Animal Rights, Moby realized that he could make people happy through electronic music. (Axl Rose, Trent Reznor and Bono gave the thumbs up on Animal Rights)
10. Moby namedrops legendary NYC Clubs: CBGB, Limelight, Zanzibar, the Tunnel, the Building, Nell’s, Palladium, Shelter, the Pyramid, Red Zone, and Sound Factory.
11. He also named some of the "it" dance tracks of all time:
Break 4 Love - Raze
A Day in the Life - Black Riot
It’s Just A!!! - House Without a Home II
Follow me - Aly Us
Jungle Brother’s - I’ll House you
Doug Lazy - Let It Roll
12. Hip-Hop all stars frequented the same clubs that he played: Kool Keith, Ultramagnetic MCs, 3rd Bass, Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane