Music

Moby, Reinvented

Best known for electronic music chart-toppers, Moby's upcoming orchestral debut finds the artist ready for his second act and more.
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There is a verdant gaggle of new trees in the yard of Moby’s Los Angeles home and work compound where, just days before, was a shimmering symbol of SoCal success.

“Getting rid of my pool and replacing it with this miniforest seems like one of the best things I’ve done,” he demures amidst the freshly planted Canary Island Pines.

For the last eight years Moby, who turned 53 on September 11, has embraced his new life in L.A. after decades in New York, where he was as infamous for his dance-hall debauchery as he was famous for his career as musician, composer, and performer. “New York was paradise when I was a drunk. And the Lower East Side was a drunken playground,” he admits, fingering his now graying beard, but without a whiff of nostalgia.

That decision to decamp and embrace a new lifestyle, one often centered around progressive causes, was, he said, key to his being able to celebrate an important milestone this year: 10 years of sobriety.

October 12 will be another milestone for Moby. That’s the date of his debut orchestral performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. “The night will feature music from some of my better known songs from Play and 18 as well as some of my favorite L.A.-based singers as special guests,” he said, a gleam in his eye perceptible even through his trademark dark-framed glasses.

 

Let’s talk about “L.A. Moby.” You had your vegan café in New York, but it seems like right when you moved west, you came out as a major advocate and activist—for veganism, animal rights, environmentalism, and other progressive causes including now a very strong stance against Trumpism. What’s the connection between this place and this awakening in you?

Pre-sobriety, to my shame, a lot of external things concerned me—not to sound too Southern California: my career, being invited to the right parties, dating the right people, good reviews. The last 10 years has been this sort of weird, spiritual, interesting—I can’t say progression—but path.

Why not progression?

Because a path can be circuitous. [Laughs] So one of my daily prayers is just to be of service. I learned that the more selfish I am, the more unhappy I am and the less things work out. The more I am humble and try to be of service, the more things—selfishly, even paradoxically—are better. My parochial concerns are so tiny compared to the concerns I have as an activist. So it’s made me reprioritize for now: I do care more about activism than my own career.

Sometimes, though, to be a good advocate for the issues you care about, it can help to be a big public persona. But it’s tricky; the thing to be wary of is how much of it is ego, wanting accolades or respect? It’s human to want those things but the causes are bigger than anything about me. Of course, for some people though, it’s second nature—like Trump, because that’s all there is: There is no cause except for self-promotion.

How’d your upcoming debut concert with the L.A. Phil come about?

I went backstage after seeing Bryan Ferry at the Hollywood Bowl and the woman who books the L.A. Philharmonic asked if I’d do something. I said, “Of course!” They offered me the Bowl first but I wanted to do something in the Disney Concert Hall, which is built for an orchestra and one of the world’s most perfect acoustic venues.

Can you describe your relationship to orchestral music?

The music I’ve made the last few decades, it has a lot of ostensibly classical elements. I use a lot of strings, but because I do everything at my home [studio], I tend to work with sample libraries. So, the only times I’ve worked with an orchestra were when I’ve worked on films like the Jason Bourne movies and some of [director] Michael Mann’s movies.

Oddly enough, I had a lot of classical music in my life. I grew up playing classical guitar and I studied music theory. My mom had been a pianist. An apocryphal family story is that my great-grandmother taught classical composition to Arthur Fiedler, who became the conductor of the Boston Pops. I’ve always loved the power of classical music to convey really powerful emotion, even with a very limited lexicon.

What do you mean by “a very limited lexicon”—not an orchestra?

Right, if you think about, like, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” (Piano Sonata No. 14). It’s so beautiful, heartbreaking, and poignantand it’s one instrument. And there are no words. You just strip everything away and you just have one piano.

So what happened to the deep connection to classical music?

When I was nine I learned to play the guitar. And then a few years later, I heard punk rock for the first time and then tried to unlearn everything!

What do you hope to achieve with this concert?

I have seen some bands perform with an orchestra where it is an afterthought for them. So what I don’t want to do is put the band up front and the orchestra in the back. And there won’t be any electronics, no dance beats, no synthesizers. What I do want is to really focus on the orchestral elements. Mostly, I’m looking forward to the beauty and the grandeur of it.

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