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Cut the Beat, Crank Up the Guitar

January 19, 1997|Lorraine Ali | Lorraine Ali writes about pop music for Calendar

NEW YORK — Two years ago, Moby was poised to be techno's first big star. But today, the deejay-producer-artist finds himself explaining why electronic dance music no longer excites him.

His 1995 major-label debut, "Everything Is Wrong," ignored the boundaries between club culture, classical music and the rock world by blending the three genres into a sometimes danceable, sometimes head-banging mix. Though it received critical acclaim, it was too diverse to crack the pop mainstream.

With his follow-up, "Animal Rights," due in stores Feb. 11, Moby, born Richard Melville Hall, almost entirely abandons electronic music, delivering an abrasive and pummeling rock album.

"I'm a Virgo, and in Chinese astrology I'm a snake," says the 31-year-old musician, during lunch at a Manhattan natural food restaurant, his small frame enveloped in a puffy down coat and his shaved head covered with a knit beanie. "That's all you really need to know."

But there's a lot to know about Moby, a Christian vegetarian who grew up in hippie communes, who once played in a hard-core punk band and who is now considered a pioneer in the field of techno. Once again, Moby the eclectic is faced with the question: Just where does he fit in?

Question: Why did you decide to make a mainly rock record this time?

Answer: One of the reasons is that I got so sick of performing electronic music live. It's so boring. The songs never change when you're playing along to a hard disc. That's what's so satisfying about playing with a live band. You can change the songs around, play faster or slower. There's also something really effective about guitar-based rock--from alterna-trash to punk-rock to speed-metal. Dance music just doesn't interest me anymore.

Q: What got you interested in dance music initially, after you started out playing hard-core punk rock?

A: Even though I'm straight, one of the things that got me excited about dance music was going to gay clubs. From '82 on, gay clubs were strictly about house and electronic music. Now, you go out to gay clubs in New York and you hear rock music, because dance has been appropriated by a different group of people. I still sort of like it, but it doesn't really rile me up or get my juices flowing.

Q: Electronic club music has been co-opted by straight, white kids?

A: Yeah, and what I find really weird is that when people talk about this impending electronic revolution, they never mention hip-hop. Hip-hop has been strictly electronic from its inception. They'll talk about the Chemical Brothers being the vanguard of this revolution, but all they're really doing is borrowing from hip-hop records.

Q: This impending revolution--when rock will be overthrown by electronic dance music--has been seven years in the making. So when's it going to happen?

A: I can tell you why it's not gonna happen. When the grunge revolution happened, and Nirvana broke open the door in very general terms, there were 10,000 bands waiting right behind them--all commercially viable, all personalities who could tour and write songs for the radio. In the world of electronic dance music, there are four or five viable entities, and most of them suck. The only commercially viable dance band is Prodigy. There are no other artists that are equivalent to Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. What are MTV and KROQ gonna play? For the most part it's like graphic design--tasteful and semi-interesting, but not something you wanna bring into your life.

Q: "Animal Rights" is hardly a detached record. It's a very cathartic, almost dark album.

A: I knew when I finished this record that it was weird, long, self-indulgent and difficult. It's 75 minutes long and the last record was 43 minutes long. I know on a critical level it won't be as successful as the last record, but I'm kind of at peace with that. I hope it'll mean something to a 15-year-old kid who picks it up and really listens to it. While the last record was very open and inviting, this has got a lot more walls and barriers. It's a lot more off-putting.

Q: Your last album communicated many different emotions, while "Animal Rights" seems to swing solely between the extremes of enlightenment and angry frustration. Does its mood reflect events in your life?

A: Yeah, when I made the record I had just gone from one bad relationship to the next, and that winter was just miserable. The snow drove me crazy. I must have recorded each song like 10 times. The less successful I was at recording, the more depressed I was getting. I think after a while, all these things kinda wore me down.

Q: Also, the expectations for your last record were really high, but it didn't really crack the mainstream as predicted. Was that sort of deflating?

A: It's funny, 'cause whether it's low self-esteem or lack of vision, my expectations for things are so pedestrian. When I made my first 12-inch, my expectations were like, "Wow, wouldn't it be cool if I walked in a nightclub and the deejay was playing one of my records?" But it was like, "Ah, that'll never happen." Back then, selling a thousand records was my goal. So with "Everything Is Wrong," I got so much more than I ever wanted. People I didn't know bought my record and liked it. What more can you ask for?

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