Michael Stipe Successful touring musicians often live fishbowl lives…
- Posted on May 17th 2011 1:00PM by Shelley White
A book of photos released alongside the album documents Moby's experiences on the road, from wide shots of excitable crowds to lonely glimpses of empty airport corridors. Taken together, the music and photography offer up a deeply personal account of the life of a touring musician. Moby spoke to Spinner about the pain of his drug and alcohol addiction, "repurposing insomnia" and why sometimes he likes to be treated like a baby.
You've said that the first video from the album, 'The Day,' is about addiction. Was it written from personal experience or from seeing others go through it?
It's both. I've had my own battles with drugs and liquor, and most of my friends have.
Was this a long time ago?
Actually, pretty recently. I'm clean and sober now, but I've spent most of my adult life not being that. What fascinates me about addiction and obsessive behaviour is that people would choose an altered state of consciousness that's toxic and ostensibly destroys most aspects of your normal life, because for a brief moment you feel okay. It's a response to the human condition that, when it works, is incredibly effective. I think it's really odd when people ostracize addicts, and someone says, "That dirty alcoholic," or "That dirty drug addict," when all they're trying to do is get through the next 48 hours and not feel terrible.
Why did you decide to stop?
One of the reasons I don't drink or do drugs anymore was because it stopped working and it was inhibiting my ability to have a decent life. And that's one of the only things that matters. It's why crack addicts eventually stop smoking crack, because it makes them sick and prevents them from having a good life. It hurts them and it hurts the people around them.
Now that you are no longer using drugs or alcohol, do you think a person can live without vice and still be happy?
There's a guy at Harvard who's a happiness researcher, and he's studying what makes us happy and most people don't know what makes them happy. There's this desperate grabbing for things that we think will make us happy but rarely is it something that will actually sustain long-term happiness. And so I think that's the challenge with most of us -- what actually does make you happy in a way that can be sustained for a good, long period of time?
The perfect way of looking at it for me is... junk food is very seductive, but I know if I eat a lot of junk food -- even if it makes me happy in the short-term -- it won't make me happy in the long-term. Whereas, healthy food might not be as seductive, but I actually enjoy eating it and it creates a state that can be sustained and I can experience happiness for a while. And I feel like almost everything in my life can be looked at that way. Is it quick, desperate, obsessive grabbing happiness? Or is it patient, long-term sustainable happiness?
You talk about "repurposing insomnia" in your notes about the new album. When most people don't get enough sleep, they are grumpy, sad, frustrated -- does it have a different effect on you?
I've had all those reactions to insomnia as well, and something I'm trying to learn is how to not make bad situations worse. I have this ability to take adversity and make it worse. Insomnia sucks, but to then lie in bed and be anxious and depressed and upset that I can't sleep is to take something that sucks and make it worse. So that's why I'd rather just try to get up and work and not stare at the ceiling.
The music and the art in the book that accompanies the album seem to give the impression of someone who is a loner -- are you a loner by nature?
I think so. I'm an only child and I grew up alone and I live alone and I work alone. I like people a lot but I'm quite comfortable being by myself. It's interesting because some of the pictures in the book of empty cities late at night, some people I've spoken to find the isolation of the photographs off-putting. But to me, they are almost seductive. In a weird way, I almost prefer a city at 4 o'clock in the morning when everyone' s asleep than at 8 in the morning when everyone's awake. At 4 AM it's quiet and it's slow and it's calm and it's tranquil.
The photos do seem to show a fondness for empty airports and lonely cities...
I think I have a complicated relationship with most of the institutions of touring -- airports, hotels, dressing rooms. I sort of like that peripatetic existence because you can never get too comfortable -- and conversely, you can never get too uncomfortable. If you're in some place that's not ideal, you can always just say, "Tomorrow, I'm somewhere else." There's also an infantile quality to traveling and touring, meaning: when I'm home, I know how to feed myself, I know how to speak the language, I know how to take care of myself. And when you go on tour, you don't know how to do anything. If I go to the Ukraine, I don't know how to feed myself, I don't know how to plug in my computer. So you either figure it out or let people take care of you.
Do you enjoy being taken care of in that way?
Sometimes it can be nice. For example, later today, I'm being taken out to dinner. I don't know where we're going. There's something nice about it, I walk down, I get in the car, we drive somewhere and I don't know how we've gotten there, I don't know what roads we've taken. I tend to be quite Type A and controlling, so it's sort of nice when you travel to put that aside.