2016-06-30

By Paul Raushenbush

Article | Interview

Moby's music has such spiritual power of persuasion that it creates not just fans but followers. For a time, I was one of them.

This Connecticut native, a direct descendant of Herman Melville, has evolved from early-80s rocker, as a member of Flipper and Ultra Vivid Scene, into a versatile D.J., mixing the house, jungle and techno styles of dance music. His single "Go" was named one of the top 200 records of all time by Rolling Stone; and the breakbeat version of the James Bond theme (from his album "I Like to Score") reached the top ten in England.

Last summer, as the buzz built about his album, "Play," the press described him as a Christian, a vegan, and a spiritual D.J who urges concert goers to 'lift themselves to heaven'. I figured it was time for me to take a closer look at the artist I'd been vaguely aware of for a decade.

From the moment I put the album on, I fell in love with the music--just as Moby says he hopes for in the interview below. The album, now gold or platinum in 10 countries, offers an intense blend of Moby's previous styles, from dance to rock, to gospel-centered spirituals. My devotion peaked when I saw the video for "Natural Blues," whose sincere, spiritual portrait is unlike anything else in the cynically posturing MTV rotation. I became a convert, a disciple.

In the past, Moby has been ready to lead disciples like me in the attack on the enemies. He has been described as a rabid animal activist, proclaiming his album "Animal Rights," released in 1996, "an intentionally abrasive, misanthropic record." He was once a self-described Christian, who thought it was his responsibility to convert others to Christianity. He once considered himself a Marxist. He thought he had all the answers and was determined to convince and combat the world.

Today, Moby has given up labels. He still holds strong opinions (check out the album notes for "Play"), but he's no longer leading offensives against anyone. The world is "too old and too complicated," he told me, "for me to say what is right about it and what is wrong." He preaches a radical forgiveness of enemies. He prays. He attempts to understand the other side. By the end of our conversation I realized that Moby doesn't want followers, converts or disciples.

Loving the music is enough.

Article | Interview

How did you come to work with David LaChapelle on the video for "Natural Blues"?

Oh, my involvement was that I basically showed up. A few months ago, it was presented to me that David was interested. At first I was very hesitant, because, much as I love his work, most of his stuff is very bright and flashy. Obviously, the song wouldn't lend itself to a bright and flashy video. But he said he wanted to make something quite subdued and earnest. So I was thrilled to hear that, and really all the ideas on it are his.

What was the creative process like?
I showed up and sat in the make up chair for eight hours. The creative vision was completely him. It takes me a really long time to make a record and I work really hard on it, so when it comes down to making a video, I'm more than happy to entrust a song to someone that I have a great deal of respect for.

What is your spiritual evolution. Your reputation is "a Christian Vegan"
Which is a shame.

How did it come about?
When I was growing up--I came from a Presbyterian background which, in terms of dogma or ideology, meant nothing. When I was 19 or 20, I had a friend who was a youth minister who talked me into reading the New Testament. I read it, and fell in love with Christ and the teachings of Christ, which then left me in the position of, Well, how best to incorporate this into my life?

And my first reaction was to become a conventional conservative Christian. This was back in 1985-1986. So for three or four years I tried to be what I thought was a good contemporary, conventional Christian.

Would that mean going to church?
It meant going to church, trying to convert people, everything I thought a conventional Christian should do.

And where was this?
In Stamford, Connecticut.

And what kind of a church?
Congregational. At the time I really felt Christians were right and everybody else was wrong. But then as time went on, I started to see the world for what it is, which is a very complicated place. And I realized, as much as I love Christ and the teachings of Christ, I can't call myself a Christian, because to call yourself a Christian implies a certainty that I don't have. I think that the world is too old and too complicated for me to say what is right about it and what is wrong. On an ontological level.

Was there a turning point a specific time when you said, "So now I am now longer ...?"
It was more an evolution. I've been wrong so many times in my life that it makes it very difficult to take myself to seriously now. At one point I was a Marxist, and now years later I find myself as a home-owning capitalist. I've gone back and forth on all these things. Now instead of labelling myself, why not accept the fact that my intellectual capabilities are flawed, as are everyone's. The human condition defines us as inherently flawed creatures. There is no way we can understand things on an objective level. So why should we try?

Would you say you work more on an intuitive level, then, as far a spirituality goes?
I think I work more on a .Well one of the reasons I still do love Christ and the teachings of Christ is that they make no claims towards objectivity. Christ doesn't ever talk about the nature of the universe. He talks about the subjective way in which human beings interact with each other, with themselves and with God. And he doesn't really ever talk too much about who or what God is.

How do you think your music is affecting people? Say at a concert. Do you ever feel you are leading people in a spiritual experience?
I get told by enough people that the records I make, or the concerts I do, elicit some kind of spiritual reaction in people. But there's no way I can generalize what sort of reaction that is.

But in the press there's been mention of you "exhorting the folks to 'lift themselves to heaven'."
Yeah, but I mean that in a very ambiguous way. I mean, from a linguistic perspective I don't know what Heaven is. So by saying that, I'm certainly not encouraging anyone to follow any one spiritual tradition. So is there any way you can articulate what you do mean by that?
Just that at a good performance, hopefully, there is some element of trancendence and I am trying to verbalize that element of trancendence.

So is that good religion or good faith? Transcendence and ethical behavior towards one another?
I don't know what the characteristics are. From my perspective good spiritual practice involves humility and compassion and ultimate forgiveness. And hopefully a degree of lightheartedness. You know we are such, you know human beings are f---ups. I find it really difficult to take ourselves too seriously when we are like a bunch of idiot puppies.

What about spiritual practice as activism? Have you ever done activism as a way to shake up institutional organizations that are already in place?
Once I thought people who owned butcher shops were evil, and people that who owned fur shops were evil, but now, if I were to engage in any form of activism or protest, it would be with the idea of completely and absolutely respecting the opposing viewpoint. I hate when the activist thinks they are right and the other person is wrong. That's the breakdown in any sort of activism.

There is no way on this planet that any human being can be right and not wrong. When it comes to animal-rights activists dealing with people who own fur shops, rather than antagonize them, why not talk to them and learn from them? When pro-life and pro-choice people fight each other, why not get together and talk and discover your common things and learn about the opposite side? Because there's no position that's right--every position embodies elements that are right and wrong.

It sounds like a kind of radical literalism of Jesus' saying "Love thy enemies."
I just think it's practical, it's utilitarian. That is the only thing that makes any sense to me.

How did you decide on the spirituals that that you used on "Play"?
I just fell in love with them. I didn't really care about where they came from or where they were recorded. As musical performances I just thought they were wonderful.

How did your hear them?
I went to dinner with a friend of mine and he gave me some CDs.

Do you have a top-three list of music you listen to and just know that it is profoundly spiritual? It could be from any genre.
Gosh, I don't know. Top three of all time? Three, ok. Ummm, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," by J.S. Bach; and ... hmm ... kind of a tough question.

When was the last time you went to a religious service?
I don't remember . I know, a few years ago, a friend of mine dragged me to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Christmas Eve. And apart from being cold and bored, I was struck with how medieval it was, and that was interesting, like the incense to cover up the stench of the peasants. Interesting but medieval. Didn't have a lot of spiritual resonance for me.

So do you meditate or do you pray still?
Oh I pray all the time. My prayers are pretty simple and I have to say that they are usually answered. A lot of times quite specifically too.

Can you give an example of that?
I can't really.

But do you pray for like say "Oh please let V2 release this new albumn"
(Laughter) You know in all honesty sometimes it does get that specific. But it is always qualified by the idea of God's will be done and not mine.

What is your hope for your music?
I just hope that people could love, um, my goal is to make music that I love and hopefully other people will love as well.

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