Jeff Pachoud, AFP
His prolific tweets and online journals are filled with his striking architecture photography and outspoken rants on social issues. His calendar is filled with gigs like "Presidential inauguration party" and political fundraisers (he's hosting one for Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti February 7, alongside Will Ferrell and Jimmy Kimmel). But the 47-year-old L.A. transplant is at heart still a producer of music.
He's currently working on the follow-up to 2011's Destroyed and DJing select festivals, including the inaugural Brrrrr! winter music fest in Toronto this Friday and a little party in California called Coachella. Moby spoke to Spinner about his DJ ethos, his life's to-do list and being a "weather nerd."
You're coming to Toronto to play a winter dance festival called Brrrrr. How are you going to prepare for the weather?
As I get older I've become more of a weather nerd so I actually already checked the weather there. It's a balmy 14 degrees right now, but it's supposed to be about –3 on the weekend. Growing up, I've always been into weather but the resources have gotten so much better and that enables me.
How do you manage your identity? Musician, DJ, photographer, businessman, activist... what do you put on your tax form? Who is Moby?
I don't see myself as being any more multifaceted as anyone else. Many people drive a car, play volleyball, work in an office, and also take pictures. Almost everyone is by definition fairly eclectic. I'd be really impressed with myself if my eclecticism took the form of molecular biology, astrophysics, dead languages, and music. Then I would pat myself on the back every morning when I wake up. In my mind, I'm just a musician who is a dilettante who dabbles in other things.
What can you tell us about the record you've been working on? What's the creative goal?
It's hard to talk about because it's unfinished. The goals have changed to some extent as the music business has changed, and as my place in the music business has changed. I had a few years a while ago where, to my great shame, I actually cared about record sales. Now, luckily no one buys records anyway. So I still make albums, but I make albums because I love making them, but I don't ever really think in terms of sales or commercial success or radio play anymore. I just think in terms of trying to make records that I'm proud of.
With the resurgence of electronic dance music in the mainstream, you never feel the need to, say, "show the new kids how it's done"?
I probably should have something to prove but in my mind I don't. It's a hard thing to talk about without sounding simplistic and clichéd. But the whole reason I've spent the last 37 years of my life making music is that music affects me so powerfully, emotionally. That's all I'm trying to do, make music that affects me emotionally. I'm not thinking in terms of genre or what my place is in the pantheon of contemporary music.
What does DJ continue to bring to you?
Simply? It's just really fun. Honestly, the main reason I DJ is that I enjoy it so much. I guess I feel quite fortunate that I get to do all these different types of performance. Whether it's standing on stage jumping with a band, playing classical guitar in a chamber orchestra or DJing. I love them all.
You're DJing at this year's Coachella, for the first time since its first year in 1999. How did that come about?
I've only been to the first one. What's funny, that first year, it was kind of unprecedented. In the States, we had Lollapalooza and Ozzfest and other touring festivals but there wasn't anything in the tradition of the European festivals. It's just the most amazing and heartening thing to see the success they've had with it. I love the fact that it sells out regardless of who is on the bill. I've wanted to go back lots of times but this is the first year I was able to do it. I wasn't traveling or touring, so I jumped at the chance. I love Coachella and I love the fact it's so close to my house. In addition to becoming a weather nerd as I get older I'm becoming really provincial. So the appeal of playing somewhere is greatly enhanced by how close it is to my house.
I think a lot of people from L.A. feel that way. Prepare to be surrounded by way more Hollywood celebs than in 1999.
I remember maybe the third or fourth year I saw some paparazzi picture of Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz hanging out at Coachella and being taken aback, thinking "What are these big-time celebrities doing at an indie rock festival?"
Are you planning anything special for the Coachella crowds?
Whatever I DJ just reminds me of my first ever job as a DJ, when my goal was to keep people dancing or I would get fired. I worked at this tiny club in Port Chester, NY, called The Beat four nights a week and got paid $40 or $50 a night. Literally, if I could get people dancing, keep them in the bar, I would keep my job. That was my ethos when I was playing to 50 people and is my ethos now.
You started off by saying you'd be impressed with yourself if you did both molecular biology and music. Do you have a bucket list of things you still want to learn? Do you think you'll ever do a whole career shift?
I do have this sort of list. But at the same time, I guess I learned a while ago that one of the only things I want to do with my life is to keep making music. Not with the idea that I'll sell records, or even that anyone will listen to it, but just to continue with that one thing, in the hopes that as time passes maybe I'll make music that I really love. So I could see having a much more practical, and big, bucket list for learning new types of music. I'd love to take more classes in classical composition. I'd love to be a better pianist. I'd love to learn how to play a wind instrument. As much as I'd love to go back and study Latin conjugation and learn more about the Hadron Collider, I think my time would be better spent taking French horn lessons.
Moby performs at the Brrrrr! festival in Toronto on February 1. More information can be found here.