Not since the early ’90s has anyone been as enthusiastic about New York City nightlife as Moby seems to be. Perched on the edge of the couch in his surprisingly small SoHo apartment, the 42-year-old techno-vegan eagerly admits what few other rave veterans would: Last Night, his new album, could very well have been recorded during the Clinton presidency. “I’ve been going to clubs pretty steadily since 1981, which is potentially depressing, but it still interests me,” he says. “I wanted to make a record that would remind me of that period of my life.”
Are you worried that people will criticize you for making a retro record?
No, that was intentional. The idea was to take an eight-hour night out and condense it into 65 minutes. You wouldn’t listen to a White Stripes record and say, “This should have been made in 1971.”
Does it bother you that neither of the two records you’ve released since 1999’s Play have sold as well?
Not at all. Play was such an accident. A record made by a 34-year-old bald guy in his bedroom featuring dead African American vocalists? It’s not a recipe for success. My only professional regret is that [2002’s follow-up] 18 was fairly conventional. I was trying to make something that would appeal to people, when I should have thrown that criterion out the window.
Of all of the songs from Play that were licensed, what struck you as the weirdest placement?
For a while, Rush Limbaugh was using some of my music. Finally, I think someone called him up and said, “You know, Moby is kind of a hard-core lefty.”
What was more upsetting: when your childhood friend director Paul Yates auctioned your soul on eBay, or when it went for $41?
It was very disheartening to see someone I really trusted…become so hostile. I lent Paul money to do [the 2003 film Alien Sex Party], and I think he did everything in his power to use it to embarrass me. Like having my character wear a yellow raincoat with a dildo attached to my head playing Christmas songs? It’s not one of my prouder moments. Luckily, not too many people have seen the movie.
There are some raunchy photos on the Internet of a party you hosted at your upstate house. Were you getting in touch with your sleazier side?
That was staged. I had a New Year’s Eve party, and some friends made this joke photo essay about a really degenerate party. The naked girls in the hot tub and the girl with Ecstasy on her tongue — which I think was Bayer aspirin — they were just trying to be funny.
Do you think your romance with Natalie Portman helped make nerds into sex symbols?
I guess in some people’s eyes, [nerds] might be mildly sexy — and, as a nerd, I’m certainly happy to enjoy some of the effects of that — but as far as the very brief affair I had with Natalie, it’s made me the target of a lot of nerd wrath. You can’t date Luke Skywalker’s mom and not have them hate your guts.
Do you illegally download music?
Oh yeah, all the time. I download my own, because I have this perverse fantasy of the FBI bursting through the door and arresting me for stealing it. I don’t advocate for it, but I will say that as music becomes less profitable, music becomes a lot better. The old days of starting a band because you want to be rich and famous are falling by the wayside.
Isn’t that easier to say now that you have a lot of money?
You could say that invalidates my perspective, but I walked the walk; I lived in an abandoned factory with no hot water. To an extent, I am being a hypocrite; but you can be a hypocrite and still be right.
As a frequent blogger, you’ve probably read some of the insults that have been directed at you. What accounts for the persistent Moby hatred?
I’m way too visible. Musicians are supposed to be vague and esoteric, like Thom Yorke. If I were a weird Finnish musician, I don’t think anyone would hate me, except maybe the people in my village in Finland.
Are there any drugs you haven’t done?
I’ve never done DMT. It only lasts 30 minutes, but apparently it’s so intense that it gives you an out-of-body experience. I’ve never smoked crack. And I did crystal meth by accident once, but that I never need to do again. I don’t like drugs that don’t end.