Reprise: Moby’s venture into acoustic music in a world gone digital
Moby spoke candidly this week about past experiences that led up to his latest release, Reprise – an acoustic revisitation of his best-known rave hits. The online conference was set up as a chat between Moby and one of his main vocal contributors on Reprise, the affable Gregory Porter, sitting in his wood-panelled library in California (“modelled after a country British gentleman’s home. I had to buy cricket balls for it,” he jested).
Both artists reflected on the frustration of making music, knowing they could “never touch the hem of the gauntlet” (in Porter’s words) of the giants who had inspired them. The singer cited influences such as Stevie Wonder and Nat King Cole, while Moby mentioned his hero David Bowie several times during the interview.
This album was Moby’s first experience of working on a record with so many other people. “Normally I’m by myself, working in my little studio. I availed myself of the unique ability that orchestral and acoustic music has to communicate emotion. There is something so special and organic in the way you can create emotion with a choir,” he explained.
Though the artist managed to record much of the instrumental material before pandemic restrictions struck, he still had the obligatory Covid story: “Every member of the gospel choir recorded their vocals outside. If you listen closely you might hear a car horn or some birds chirping.”
He described the awe of recording at Studio 3 in Los Angeles, “like a time capsule from the 50s”, where giants of music like Brian Wilson, Lou Adler and Frank Sinatra had worked decades before.
The producer divulged that, despite his largely electronic repertoire, he was initially “scared” of the genre. “I had a lot of caution around electronic dance music. In the 80s I was into Joy Division, the Clash.” In the early 90s, however, it all fell into place: “I fell in love with early hip-hop and house music when it was first invented. Songs I wrote were completely inspired by the rave scene. As time has passed it has become a lot more eclectic.” This particular venture outside of the electronic realm sees collaborations with the Budapest Art Orchestra and over a dozen guest artists including Amythyst Kiah, Kris Kristofferson and Skylar Grey.
The bespectacled music vetaran delved far into his history, referencing the dismay he had felt upon realising that he lacked a good singing voice. “If I had been able to sing like you when I was 13,” he said admiringly to Porter, “I would never have learned to be an engineer in a studio. My work is a product of my inadequacy. In a perfect world I’d just be singing, but that would not get me very far.”
Truly a central theme of Moby’s latest album and indeed his entire career is his admiration and endless search for great vocals. “I had a list of the songs and who the ideal singers could be. I wasn’t looking for perfection. The best case scenario is great technical ability attached to the ineffable sense of beauty and character. Gregory’s vocals are anything but generic, they’re so reflective of him as a person,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for people who’d be singing a soap commercial.”
Although the majority of the tunes on Reprise are just that – reprised versions of his former hits with acoustic and orchestral accompaniment, rather than electronic music – it also includes a cover of his favourite song Heroes (originally by David Bowie), with vocals by Mindy Jones. The artist recalled the moment that inspired this track in hyperbolic terms. “One phenomenal morning, David Bowie came to my apartment and we sat on the couch playing Heroes together. I was able to play the greatest song ever written with the greatest musician of all time. The cover is a testament to Bowie, my friendship with him.”
Very diplomatically, Moby bemoaned the modern approach to music consumption: “When I was growing up, music was so central to our lives. When I was 16 I had to work for two weeks to buy an album and took it home and really listened. I will say, I think that most kids today – a dangerous thing for an old person to say – music is the background while they’re DMing on Instagram and watching TikTok videos and texting. Like, they’ve got eight screens going on, and in the background some music is playing. I loved growing up at a time when you put on the music without distractions.”
The artist-cum-activist also commented on the feverish climate of public conversation. “I hope somehow we can get to a place where we listen and communicate with each other, as opposed to lunatic levels of anger and accusation where people aren’t even listening anymore,” he said aptly. When it comes to his own notorious vegan activism, Moby confided that when confronting opposition he reminds himself of when he was a teenager subsisting off “Burger King and pepperoni pizza”.
He also mentioned the upcoming documentary on his life, Moby Doc, while reminiscing about the debauchery of his touring years. “I had this terrible period where, after the success of Play, I wanted to keep the success going. So as a result I toured constantly and tried to make music that would keep the attention coming my way,” the musician admitted. But a period of introspection and three simple words from transcendental meditation guru David Lynch set him on the right path: creativity is beautiful. “In that moment I suddenly realised I became a musician because I loved music. I didn’t become a musician for commerce.”
Indeed, Moby will not be reading this or following the sales of his new album. He pursues a life of “healthy ignorance”, as Porter aptly rephrased it. “I decided to ignore the press reviews, radio, sales, because those things are all too dangerous to me. I don’t read anything or know anything about record sales. I lead a naïve little life where I just put it into the world [and sit back],” he said serenely.
Photo: Tony Schneider
Reprise is released on 28th May 2021. For further information or to order the album visit here.
Watch the video for Natural Blues (Reprise version) with Gregory Porter and Amythyst Kiah here: