BlackBook Interview: Moby Talks Empathy, Our Broken Humanity & Still Being in Love With Making Music

Photos by Jonathan Nesvadba

 

Considering our increasingly divisive day-to-day socio-political reality, it’s hardly surprising that artists have taken to dauntlessly and challengingly exploring catastrophic and apocalyptic themes. Moby, for one, was never shy about taking on the more solemn matters that haunt the human landscape, while ever using his music – and his public platform – as a plea for reconnecting with our waning sense of the spiritual and ineffable. (To wit, he is an outspoken advocate for animal rights – and was kind enough to do an exclusive guide to vegan LA for BlackBook.)

And so it is that with his latest and 15th album, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt (out this month through Mute), he concerns himself with our possible demise, as viewed from the perch of our current existential precipice. His cover of an old negro spiritual song, “Like a Motherless Child,” is rife with ambiguity – especially at a time when hope for racial harmony seems worryingly fragile; and the mournful but beauteous synth-gothic strains of “Mere Anarchy” come with his enigmatic, tension-filled warning, “Caution of the world you said was over / Caution where we were.”

One of the album’s most striking tracks is the ethereal, hymn-like “This Wild Darkness,” which opens with Moby pronouncing, “Apportioned like madness in season / Breaking all like a breaking of reason,” before launching into an impassioned confession/plea, “I can’t stand on my own anymore / I can’t stand in the stain of the broken and the poor / Please light my way.”

To be sure, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt is a genuine tour de force, both lyrically and sonically – even if it may indeed be a harbinger of our doom.

As winter turns to spring, with its annual promise of hope and renewal, we caught up with Moby to discuss just why humanity seems so broken, and how we may just be able to fix it.

 

 

You did two albums as Moby & The Void Pacific Choir. What made you go back to just recording as Moby?

Hmm, I’m not sure, to be honest. Almost everything about releasing an album, especially as a 52-year-old man who doesn’t tour, in 2018 seems arbitrary. So switching names just seems like another arbitrary facet of the whole arbitrary process.

With your last few albums, there seemed to be a struggle between a search for spirituality and the forces that hinder and oppose that which is considered to be spiritual?

The main force that hinders that which is spiritual is simply our hereditary humanity.  We’re born with ontological amnesia, seemingly unaware of the 15 billion year old quantum crucible from which we’ve arisen. Simply, we know nothing. In a way, we are the void – not that we see the void, we’re just clueless as to the actual nature of the Universe. So we stumble along and make mistakes and assume that we’re doing our best when the truth is that we’re not seeing through a glass darkly…we’re not even seeing.

What was going on in your head and heart when you went in to record the new album?

I love making music, and if I make an album, there’s a chance someone will listen to it. Also music is the perfect way to represent the seemingly ineffable things that can’t be communicated in linear or literal ways.

The first single “Like a Motherless Child” was based on an old negro spiritual song. Do you feel like there is a metaphorical connection to what is going on in America right now?

Yes, or more broadly, with our species. If you look at Adam and Eve being kicked out of Eden as a metaphor it makes sense: we are separated from the Divine, from objective knowledge, from spirit.  We stumble around, scared and vicious and clueless, like motherless children.

 

 

The pre-album “inspiration” playlist you created was interesting, in that it was a mix of black icons – like Teddy Pendergrass and Gil Scott Heron – with white artists – Talking Heads, Liquid Liquid, Bowie – that had drawn a lot of inspiration from black music. What does that say about what you are searching for, artistically?

The common thread is songs that are as much about creating sonic worlds in the studio as they are about organic performance. I’m still so in love with a recording studio as a place to create worlds that have never actually existed.

Interesting that you had a couple of early Simple Minds songs in there – not everybody knows they had a period of incredible experimentation before 1985. You’re a fan, obviously?

They lost me around the time they released “Alive & Kicking,” but before that they were phenomenal. Their first four or five albums are some of the most adventurous, nuanced, exciting records ever made. “Theme for Great Cities” is still one of my favorite ever pieces of music.

What are some of the overall themes you’re exploring on the new album?

Pretty much just one theme: humans wandering around in the wilderness and darkness – with me as the subject and narrator – stumbling around in this baffling state of separation.

You’re a vegan and animal rights activist. Do you feel that if we were able to cultivate greater empathy for animals, that it would make us more empathetic to each other as humans?

Without question. And vice versa. One of the biggest challenges facing us as a species is cultivating and extending true empathy and compassion to others, be they human or not. And also extending true empathy and compassion to ourselves. It might sound like spiritual claptrap, but it’s the seat of and the result of our brokenness.

 

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