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Moby returns to the DJ booth for 'Last Night'
By Mark Guarino | Daily Herald Music Critic

Moby's latest album comes out today.

 

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Published: 4/1/2008 12:12 AM

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Moby became America's favorite DJ thanks to "Play," a 1999 smash he followed up with albums that spanned electro-pop to strummed singer-songwriter fare. On the sample-heavy dance-floor blues and chilled techno of "Last Night" (Mute), he steps back inside the DJ booth.

The new album is in stores today. We recently talked by phone about his past, present and why Hillary Clinton gets his vote. What follows is an edited transcript.

Q. For "Last Night" you're not going to tour but instead, do one-off DJ dates. Why's that?

A. Basically, from 1999 to 2005 I was on tour a lot. But it ended up making me really unhappy. Performing live is great but that's only 90 minutes to two hours a day and the other 22 hours are spent sitting in catering reading USA Today, being depressed wishing you could go home. So it's not a reaction against playing live, it's a reaction against touring … Whereas DJing you can be much more flexible. Basically you just show up and play records.

Q. I recently Netflixed the cult movie "Pittsburgh" in which you play a musician named Moby who loves porn and cheats on his onscreen girlfriend Illeana Douglas. A way to shatter the Moby persona?

A. Maybe it was disconcerting that being an (expletive) boyfriend came so naturally to me. It amazes me that people do think of me of being this earthy, crunchy, yoga enthusiast, sensitive vegan who is asleep by 10 every night because I'm really just a lecherous drunk.

Q. Do you often come across people who seem to know you but really don't?

A. Yeah there's always that problem. Years ago, in 2000, I made the video "South Side" where I'm wearing big fur coats and gold teeth. It was supposed to be funny but to a lot of people it was representative of how I live. Sometimes I think if I was a better actor I'd be better communicating irony ... Making that movie is probably not helping my love life very much.

Q. You also complain about your singing in the movie. You also don't sing on "Last Night."

A. I love singing. Almost every night that my friends go out drinking, it ends up with us doing karaoke or back in my apartment singing cover songs. I love singing but I recognize that my voice is really limited … honestly, when so many people sing better for me I don't know why I should be the one singing.

Q. You transformed yourself into a sensitive singer-songwriter a few years ago. Did you get sick of playing DJ?

A. I never understood musicians who really perform the same way year after year. I'm not criticizing musicians who can do that but the thought of doing that seems kind of tedious. I guess coming out and playing acoustic guitar was trying to keep myself entertained. I started DJ-ing in 1984 and if that's all I did for 23 years, I'd eventually come to hate DJ-ing. Having variety keeps things for me interesting. Unfortunately in the process it does end up confusing people in a way that's not necessarily good.

Q. So what got you interested in DJ music again?

A. Good question. I wish I had an equally good answer. The honest answer is because I like it. I think a lot of it is the product of the fact that I live on the lower east side of New York. I live in the middle of tons of bars and nightclubs and go out a lot. This record is me going out a lot and listening to dance music. The approach to music by a lot of DJs in New York is very, very eclectic. A DJ will play a hip-hop track into Blur into Morrissey into punk into a house song. That eclectic approach to dance music is really inspirational.

Q. The new songs sound cinematic and I know you also do film scores. How do those really intensive moods come about?

A. Even though it's filled with electronics, (my studio) has a cloistered, monastic quality to it. It's quite small, if you put more than one or two people in there, it gets claustrophobic. So whatever emotionally is going on in the rest of my life, it gets left behind when I go in the studio and start working. It's probably one reason why I work a lot. Work for me is the best anti-anxiety and anti-depression I've ever encountered.

Q. So much has changed in the music industry since the days of "Play." Where do you fit?

A. I feel like we're thankfully living through the last death throes of bad corporate music. That whole world of manufactured bands and teen pop artists, I just don't think it's going to be around for much longer because it's just not that profitable. There was a period in the late '90s where you could invent a boy band and sell 10 million records. Now you invent a boy band and they sell a couple hundred thousand records. And you have to spend all that time hiring producers and hiring vocal coaches, stylists and makeup, etc. I just don't think there's enough money in the world of pop music to continue justifying all these soulless boy bands or whatnot … I'm hopeful as music becomes less profitable, the people who are in it only for profit will go off doing something else like sell mufflers.

Q. You campaigned for John Kerry in 2004. Who's it going to be in 2008?

A. Regardless of George Bush's political bent, the truth is, it was just an inept administration. Whether or not I agree with them ideologically, they just did a bad job running the country. This might sound boring but what excites me is the thought that we might have a president who is actually competent. And I think Hillary, she might not be the most exciting person in world, but she's very competent. And it's almost like we need a period of boring, just-get-the-job-done leadership.