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Moby gets back to his roots with Diamondsnake

The rock project might surprise his electronic music fans. But before he provided the dance beat, he was a teen punk.

July 06, 2010|By Drew Tewksbury, Special to the Los Angeles Times

When it comes to pushing dance music frontiers, there seems to be little left for Moby to explore. The 44-year-old producer and erstwhile beat music star has headlined arenas and stoked up parties around the world and has crossed over into the mainstream with his multi-platinum 1999 album, "Play." Over the course of nine studio albums he's tackled ambient music, house music and hard techno.

At the Electric Daisy Carnival two weekends ago, for example, he stood below synchronized fireworks and pyrotechnics that illuminated the faces in the swirling crowd, whose wide eyes were transfixed on the stage. After nearly 20 years behind the boards, Moby was in charge, his bald dome bobbing behind a wall of mixers and beat machines.

But the producer's musical roots lie somewhere else entirely.

Before he was Moby, the multimillion-album-selling electronica producer and DJ, he was Richard Melville Hall. And Richard was a punk rocker — a truth that might partly explain his new rock project.

At 15, he used to commute from his family's Darien, Conn., home to New York City's gritty clubs. His band Vatican Commandos earned a devoted following in what he calls the "suburban hard-core" scene. "We made music to slam dance to," he says.

Enter Diamondsnake, Moby's surprising new endeavor that is boldly — and courageously — going where he has never gone before: heavy metal. Complete with classic guitar riffage, slamming drums and screeching vocals, he and his fellow band members extol the virtues of rock 'n' roll, striving to be the soundtrack to shot-gunning Schlitz in a custom van.

"Starting this metal band, the few people who have noticed, they're confused," he says while sitting in a very un-punk-rock roof top cabana at West Hollywood's Le Parc Suites a few hours before his Electric Daisy gig.

"Back in the bygone days, punk and metal didn't mix at all. Metal people had long hair and were more working class, punk kids were a little more erudite with shaved heads."

Hall left behind his punkish antics in the early 1990s to reinvent himself as Moby, a genre-spanning artist who focused on electronic tones. Then after years of making music for massive raves, car commercials and yoga studios, he returned to rock.

"I love making my own records, but the way I make my own records is sort of ascetic and monastic," Moby says. "I have a little studio, I go in there by myself, it's a very solipsistic process. It never gets loud. So I love going into a crummy rehearsal studio with a bunch of friends and being loud. That was the nascence of Diamondsnake."

In January, Moby enlisted his friend Phil Costello, front man of hard-rock troupe Satanicide and the Bee Gees metal tribute band Tragedy, to resurrect the squealing vocals of glam rock's finest. After writing two dozen songs, the duo enlisted a drummer named Tomato and "world class entertainer" Dave Hill (the brains behind "The Black Metal Dialogues," a hilarious series of e-mails to a Norwegian black metal fan) on bass and guitar to complete the Diamondsnake lineup.

Then the band members booked a Brooklyn studio and recorded all 13 songs on their self-titled debut in a single day. Album opener "We Wanna Love You" channels the savage riffage of Ministry with Costello's AC/DC-styled howls. The ballad "Lady of the Mornin'" dishes out hearty helpings of cheeseball lyricism: "Just because I know how to rock you / doesn't mean I don't know how to cry, girl."

"We had a policy that you could only record something twice. If you messed up, too bad," Moby says. "Everything about it is lighthearted."

They released the album free on their website and set out for a two-show tour to small venues in New York and Los Angeles, the latter of which takes place at the Dragonfly in Hollywood on Wednesday night.

The breakneck pace and the flaws-and-all approach drastically differed from his usual approach to music-making, where he says emotions and concepts drive the process.

"The music I make is quite personal and earnest, but there's just something really nice about writing heavy metal songs. I leave myself out of it completely," he says before adding a touch of erudition that's bound to anger true metalheads everywhere. "I think about what a heavy metal guy would write."

He adds that the band isn't necessarily aiming for the charts with Diamondsnake."I've lost money or just broke even on every tour I've done with a band. So I basically DJ big shows to subsidize these fun projects."

Indeed, although Diamondsnake is Moby and Costello's love note to carefree days rocking out in the basement, it seems to be a love left unrequited.

Says Moby: "We've gotten some attention from the heavy-metal community, and they hate us more than I ever thought was possible."

calendar@latimes.com

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