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Moby: Quick-Change Artist

Electronic musician Moby talks about swearing off slick production values and embracing a "monastic," DIY approach for his moody new record.

Back in the day, Moby caught a lot of artistic flack for Play’s presence in the background of umpteen turn-of-the-millennium commercials, but the intervening decade seems to have proved him prescient. In the age of the mp3, licensing for commercials and television shows is de rigueur, and “indie” artists like Iron & Wine, Feist, and Santogold aren’t sweating the fallout.

Moby is back in the groove with the release of his new record, Wait for Me , a beautiful, darkly resonant work that’s easily his best since Play. Sticking with a DIY approach, he produced the album entirely at home in his Lower East Side studio, playing and recording all of the instruments himself. We sat down with Moby to find out what’s propelled him through nine studio albums, a film scoring sideline, and an erstwhile entrepreneurial venture (tea café-cum-beverage company Teany).

Would you consider yourself an organized person?

Yes, I’m a Virgo WASP, so I’m painfully organized. I sometimes envy people who can lose things and sleep late. I think I was born to be a 19th-century, Midwestern lawyer.

What do you do when you have an idea for a song?

It depends where I am. If I’m in a hotel room, I grab my still camera and set it to ‘video’ and record the idea (well, the audio of the idea). If I’m at my studio, I quickly fire up Pro Tools and record the idea before I forget about it.

How did the writing process for Wait for Me unfold?

Most of the record was written at my studio in the Lower East Side. In general, my writing is fairly monastic, as it’s just me in a very small studio… I wanted Wait for Me to be a humble and vulnerable and unassuming album.  I guess I’m a bit  exhausted by the amount of flawlessly cool and impeccably produced records that are being released, so I recorded Wait for Me at home, and drew the artwork on my kitchen counter.

The only time an artist should edit is right before they start sharing the work with other people. The creative process should be exuberant and non-judgmental.

What did you learn in creating this album?

I learned that if I try to make an honest and quiet and emotional record that some people will respond favorably and that other people won’t like it very much.  I also learned that my favorite way to make music is finding a balance between shiny, new technology and old, broken-down technology.

You’ve said before it’s hard not having a day job because you have to work seven days a week. What are the pros and cons of working for yourself?

The benefits are: I love what I do. I can work whenever I want and for however long I so choose. I can work on whatever I choose to work on. I can take the credit when things go well.

The disadvantages: I don’t get days off. I’m always thinking about work. And if things go badly, I still have to take the credit.

How do you turn your ideas into action?

By not editing. Well, by editing at the end of a project, rather. The only time an artist/musician/writer/etc should edit is right before they start sharing the work with other people. The creative process should be exuberant and non-judgmental.

Any tips for staying focused?

1) Do what you love. That makes diligence and focus a lot easier to sustain/maintain.

2) Work all the time. The more you work, the easier it becomes to keep working.  I try to model my work life on people like Solzhenitsyn and Flannery O’Connor and Picasso, as they were people who had great work ethics.

How do you use meditation to maintain attention?

I use meditation to quiet the crazy in my head. Sometimes I’m not even aware that my brain is filled with loud, crazy thoughts until I sit down to meditate. Calming the crazy makes life a lot nicer.

Watch the “Shot in the Back of the Head” video (directed by David Lynch)
Read Moby’s artist statement about the album’s inspiration
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