ALISON STEWART, host:
Now, as we mentioned, recording artist Moby is our guest deejay today, which means that every song you hear between the segments was hand selected by Moby for THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.
BILL WOLFF, host:
Like (unintelligible) yeah.
STEWART: There you go. Music from (unintelligible). The other day, he came in, delivered the play list and he told us about a new Web site called the MobyGratis, which provides his music for free to student and non-profit filmmakers and artists.
He also has a sixth studio album out in the works. He gives a special sneak preview. The name of it is "Last Night" and it's due out in March. But some singles have been released. And it definitely has this whole retro vibe on some of the tracks, recalling the New York when Moby first moved here back of 20 years ago as a young artist. We start the conversation with the new album.
Moby, I read that you made this new record in your home and in New York City. What kind of set-up do you have?
MOBY (Musician): Well, I mean, I've lived in the lower east side since at 1989 and I've always had some sort of rudimentary recording studio at home. So most of my records I've either made all at home or doing a recording at home and mixing elsewhere. So I've got, I don't know, relatively basic electronic music studio. But now, what's happened, almost everything I can do in my studio someone can do on a laptop. And so, you know, I've spent the last 20-somewhat years collecting all this, you know, old electronic equipment and synthesizers and drum machines and now it's all pretty well replicated on laptops. So it makes me feel like, I don't know, I could just easily get rid of everything on my studio and just make records on my computer.
STEWART: But would that be any fun? Would you have any atmosphere? Don't you like to be around all your stuff?
MOBY: On the one hand, it is nice to have a room in your home that's just dedicated to making music but there's a lot to be said. I meant I have friends who make records on air planes and who make records on trains or in hotel rooms or on the beach and, I don't know, that seems like a pretty attractive idea, too.
STEWART: The beach one, especially.
MOBY: Yeah. Well, except for me I'm - because I'm so like pale and pasty I don't do too well in the bright sun.
STEWART: The first single drops on January 14th, and you wrote on your blog that it started as a mistake, "Alice," the song. How does a song start as a mistake?
MOBY: Yeah. Well, one of the nice things about having your own recording studio is you can go in there and it's a very unpressured environment, you know. If you're paying $5,000 a day to work in a recording studio, you have engineers around, do you feel a lot of pressure as you create things that are good. If I go on to my studio, it's relaxed and I just start playing around. And, you know, plugging synthesizers into different effects boxes. And every now and then, stuff either doesn't work or it works incorrectly. And this song, "Alice," there was a bass line I was playing and I was playing it through an old distortion box. And the distortion box, maybe the battery was broken or something, something was wrong and it ended up telling so much more interesting than I intended. And so the song was basically written about this tech, you know, just technical mistake.
STEWART: Where can I hear it in the song when they go back and listen to that specific thing?
MOBY: It's the whole bass line.
STEWART: The whole bass line is that mistake?
MOBY: Yeah. Basically, when the song starts, it's - there's just this dronee(ph) sound.
MOBY: …and that drone sound is - there's no instrument creating that sound. That's just this broken distortion pedal.
(Soundbite of "Alice")
MOBY: (Singing) Do this, do this, do this, do this. My head keeps turning, turning, turning like for sure …
And so when you play the bass line through the distortion pedal, it's sort of the bass line interacting with this broken piece of equipment.
(Soundbite of "Alice")
STEWART: Who is the vocalist on "Alice"?
MOBY: Well, "Alice?"
STEWART: Or the sample you took?
MOBY: "Alice" is - it's like a Benetton ad because there's - there are all together five vocalists on it. There's - I'm singing the choruses with my friend Emilia, who's a burlesque performer who lives in Fort Green. And then, one of the vocalist - main vocalists, is a man named Ainslie(ph) who's Jamaican but he currently lives in the U.K., and then, there are two other vocalists, or three other vocalists who are all Nigerian. So it's just a hodge-podge of people from all around the world.
(Soundbite of "Alice")
STEWART: Were these people that you had heard of or were these sounds you've just think collecting overtime, Or…
MOBY: Well, my friend and me, Emilia, the Burlesque performer, she's a friend of mine who's a burlesque performer, who sings well.
STEWART: Hangs around at the house.
MOBY: And Ainslie is a rapper. I'd heard some of his music on MySpace. And then, the Nigerian rappers and vocalists are friends of my - someone who works at my management office.
STEWART: There's a song on the album called "Everyday it's 1989." Where were you in '89?
MOBY: 1989, I was here in the glorious city of New York and I'd - I was born here in Manhattan. I was born in Harlem, actually, and I grew up in Connecticut and moved back to the city around '88 or '89. And so 1989, I was living in 14th Street in 3rd Avenue and deejaying at my club called Mars, which is on the west side highway. It's not - now it's a parking lot. And at that time - I mean, like living in New York, it was in the middle of a crack epidemic…
STEWART: Oh, I remember. I moved here in 8-1-88.
MOBY: Yeah, so downtown Manhattan in 1989, it was a really different place.
STEWART: I lived one house over from the Kenmore on 23rd Street, that SRO, where people just staggered out with needles in their arms.
MOBY: Oh, yeah, yeah. I had - one of my best friends I should grew up in that a SRO, which for the listening audience and for single room occupancy. It's basic. You go and you rent a room for the night. And there were these welfare hotels and SROs that were just like the 7th level of hell.
STEWART: So in 1989, you're living in New York City, did you write this song about that time? Did you try to recreate the sound of that time?
MOBY: Well, the song "Everyday it's 1989" is I've always loved big, over-the-top, piano-driven rave anthems and I know they're not very fashionable, they're not very trendy, but I just - I love them. So the song "Every Day it's 1989" is sort of me, writing a big, over-the-top, piano-driven rave anthem. And really, 1989 was sort of when that type of music had its popular year or so.
(Soundbite of song "Everyday It's 1989")
Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Everyday I got you something new. Ooh. Everyday I got you something new. Ooh. Everyday I got you something new. Ooh.
STEWART: You're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. And we're having a nice conversation with Moby about his new record and some other projects he working on.
On this new album, there are 16 tracks. That's like a record and half compared to what some other people put out. Did you just have all that in you and you felt that you need to get it out, or was there a reason why you decided to just put so much music on one release?
MOBY: Well, there's - because I have my own studio, whenever I make a record, I will put, you know, 14, 15, 16 tracks on a record. But I'll usually write around 300 or 400 songs to go on.
MOBY: That's around that time - yes, I have between 5,000 and 6,000 unreleased songs. So I just go into my studio and just keep writing and writing and writing and writing. And then when it comes time to put a record, you figure out which songs sort of make sense to go on that record.
And on this album, "Last Night," it's a more dance-oriented record. I mean, the idea behind the record was to take a crazy, eight-hour night and condense it into 65 minutes. And so I just picked - of the 300 songs that I wrote while I was working on the record, I picked the 15 or 16 that I felt best worked in that context.
STEWART: So what will you do with the other 285 songs?
MOBY: Well, the other songs either just sit on a shelf to never be heard or they get released as B-sides or I put them in movies or - and I also started this Web site MobyGratis.com, which basically gives free music to filmmakers - to indie filmmakers and non-profit filmmakers. So a lot of the music that doesn't get released on the album will get released through MobyGratis.com for, you know, student filmmakers to use as they see fit.
STEWART: What made you decide to start MobyGratis.com? It's really neat. You just go on the Web site and you log on, and then if I'm a student filmmaker, a non-profit, I can use your music.
MOBY: For free, yeah.
STEWART: That's great. Well, what prompted that?
MOBY: Well, I went to SUNY Purchase, State University of New York at Purchase, and they had a really big film department and especially an experimental film department. And going to SUNY Purchase, I just made a lot of friends in the world of, like, indie and experimental film. And their biggest complaint is always licensing music.
You know, they'll want to use a piece of music, and they'll contact the record company. And the record company doesn't call them back or the publishing company doesn't call them back or they tried - the record company will try and charge them too much.
So I started this Web site, MobyGratis.com, to just sort of try and circumvent the whole process. So this way, an indie filmmaker or student filmmaker can go there and just - the music is already basically pre-licensed, and they can just use it for free.
STEWART: Have you heard back from any student filmmakers yet? Anybody who's used it yet or is it just someone so nascent that…
MOBY: Well, we put - we started not really promoting it. We started telling people about it, I guess, in August or September. So I don't want to promote it too widely because its really - it's specifically for filmmakers.
MOBY: And - I mean, we've had, I mean, tens of thousands of download. You know, people have just been coming on and downloading it. And some of the films already have started to win awards…
STEWART: Well, that's good.
MOBY: …like, you know, student film awards so…
STEWART: And now that we know your 300 songs don't sit on the shelf. That's amazing.
MOBY: Not that I presume.
STEWART: I'm so - my mind is blowing on.
MOBY: Well, but part of - I mean, like, what's the creative process - I think that one of the biggest problems people have with creative process is self-editing. You know, I mean, the truth is you only ever need to start criticizing your creative output or editing yourself when you're going share it with other people, you know.
And I think that so many times, writers and photographers and filmmakers, musicians - they beat themselves up during the creative process and you really should just beat yourself up when you're getting ready to share it with people, you know, because there's no harm in making terrible art as long as you never share it with anyone. And if you give yourself that creative freedom, you actually increase the chances that you might make something good.
STEWART: So what you're telling me is not necessarily 300 good songs.
MOBY: Oh, no, absolutely not. Now, there 300 pieces of music that I've written, and some of them are good; some of them are terrible; lot of them are just mediocre. But you don't - I don't worry about the quality of the music until I'm actually going to play it for someone.
STEWART: All right, the press release for your new album, which comes out in March. There's this great line in it that says that you've been unfairly given the reputation, as quote, "a joyless militant as the result of the way he once expressed his beliefs and has been frequently characterized by the British Music Press as a tea-totaling, vegan, Jesus-freak," end quote.
All right, I know you're part-owner in a tea shop, where you were anyway, called TeaNY. So you drink tea?
MOBY: Yeah. I - yeah.
STEWART: That part is true?
MOBY: Well, there's a - basically, I have this reputation, like, for example I was living uptown for a while, then I moved back downtown and one of these rarely factually correct gossip Web sites was writing about this. And they were disparaging me as being like someone who does yoga and is humorless and politically-correct.
And the truth is I'm just a drunk who makes music. You know like, I hang out in Lower East Side, and I stay until 5 o'clock in the morning. And I go out too often and I drink too much. And I like tea and yoga, but I don't do yoga. I have nothing against it, but it just - it's strange and people you've never met…
MOBY: …have an idea about you that is so completely different on how actually are.
STEWART: Aside from letting me ask you all these questions about your work and your personal life, you were really nice enough to DeeJay our show, to pick a music list for our show because we have a lot of music in the show in and out of segments. What did you think when you first got the assignment?
STEWART: You can be honest.
MOBY: I mean, I love the idea of playing music on people's radio shows, and - but sometimes, I'll pick music for radio shows and be relatively restricted. You know like, it's happen like you're going like a German radio station, they'll ask you to DJ and they'll give you a list of 10 songs to choose from. In this station…
STEWART: Yeah, all the kinds that you like.
MOBY: Yeah, and so in this case, whether there were restrictions I don't know but some people - when I heard about it from the record company, I just went through my iTunes and picked my theme songs that I like, and throw a couple of my new ones…
MOBY: …and ended up with a play list that it's not - I hope this is okay. It's not very contemporary. In fact, I think a part from the music from my record, the most recent song is a talking head song from 1977. Everything else, I knew is some John Lee Hooker songs and some New York Dolls and David Bowie. So most of the music is from like the '60s or '70s.
STEWART: Do you have a '60s and '70s association with NPR, the National Public Radio?
MOBY: No, not at all. I just - like it was really this sort of like going through my iTunes play lists, just grabbing 19 songs that I liked.
STEWART: All right. Moby, thank you so much for DeeJaying for us and for seating through all these questions.
MOBY: It's my pleasure. It's fun. Thanks.
STEWART: So that was a little bit of my Moby interview, and there's more Moby on the way via our Web site at npr.org/bryantpark. We posted Moby's entire play list for our show, put up an audio commentary of him discussing some of the songs in detail with the music mixed in.
WOLFF: And that audio includes a sneak preview of another song of his upcoming new album. Of course, there is always video on the sites that you could see what it all looked like. Check it out at npr.org/bryantpark.
And coming up right here on this BRYANT PARK PROJECT, it's human growth hormone time. We're going talk about HGH, Yankee Andy Pettitte says he was just on a comeback from an injury so maybe that's okay. Some people don't think that so okay. We'll get into it next.
STEWART: And even though it's Wednesday, we got the fever, "Saturday Night Fever." Stay tune. This is THE BRYANT PROJECT from NPR News.