If you’re a music fan and haven’t had a chance to watch Netflix’s Once in a Lifetime Sessions, get thee to a streaming service. The series provides an intimate and brutally honest look inside the brains of some of the greatest musical minds today. There’s also unique live performances from said artists that are unlike their usual fare.
The first episodes in the series feature Noel Gallagher, Nile Rodgers, TLC and Moby (with more episodes releasing this year). There’s a legitimately surprising level of candid talk from the artists, and the performances feel incredibly intimate. We were lucky enough to have the chance to chat with Moby about his episode (and life in general). It was as surreal as one would imagine, but amplified by having just learned so much about him from his Once in a Lifetime Sessions episode.
DHK: If you had to pick one instrument to describe yourself as, what would it be?
Moby: An instrument? Hm… I’m gonna put that in the same category as like favorite color, which when I was growing up that question always stumped me. Because I remember even when I was 5 or 6 years old thinking, “But they’re all potentially great!” Trying to pick or have a hierarchy of them when I was really little didn’t make sense to me. So instruments, I don’t know. In a weird way I’d have to go with the most versatile — which isn’t me saying or implying that I’m versatile. But like the piano. Even though I didn’t grow up playing the piano, it definitely has absolutely the most versatility of any instrument because it can have the biggest range. You know, it can be very delicate, it can be very loud, it can be percussive, it can be melodic. And I’m not being self-aggrandizing and applying these qualities to myself, but I’m saying, if I had to pick one, it’d be the piano just because of those reasons.
DHK: I love that you used to dumpster dive for records and anything music related. If someone was to dumpster dive through your musical refuse, what would they find?
Moby: Well, nowadays they wouldn’t find much because I basically over the last few months have gotten rid of almost everything. There’s an organization called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine — it’s basically a vegan animal rights doctor’s group. So over the last few months I sold 99% of my equipment and 100% of my records and gave all the money to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, so my musical dumpster right now is very wonderfully empty.
Assuming a year ago, the answer to the question would be much more interesting before I sold everything and gave the money away. They would have just found weird random eclecticism and the product of late nights on eBay. Whether it’s like old broken drum machines, or Joy Division 12”s or old punk rock 7”s or Donna Summer’s greatest hits bought at at tag sale in 1980. So just a baffling time capsule of eclecticism.
DHK: Obviously the motivations for unloading your music collection are very pure and wonderful, but was that tough for you? Are you someone that attaches memories and value to physical objects?
Moby: Yes, but I think also coming from a long line of post-Calvinist, utilitarian academics, it just didn’t make sense. The utility of holding on to an old record, versus the utility of selling it and giving the money to an organization I cared about. The practical utility of getting rid of it made more sense to me.
DHK: That’s very fair. I know your namesake is from a fictional character, but growing up who was your favorite fictional character?
Moby: Well, it’s funny because the name Moby was given to me by my parents when I was 10 minutes old, because according to them I’m related to Herman Melville. So I have spent my whole life wondering the significance of that, of being like named after Moby Dick.
But in terms of favorite fictional protagonist, there are a lot to choose from. I liked Prince Myshkin from The Idiot a lot. I remember reading The Once and Future King when I was growing up, and the character of King Arthur, who was really just like gentle and sweet and not sort of regal. Let me think — it’s such a hard question to answer ’cause there’s so many. What’s the one, Stranger in a Strange Land, the Robert Heinlein book? Was it Valentine Michael Smith the alien? I remember liking him quite a lot. I’m really trying, or maybe some Flannery O’Connor — no, that was a little too dark. Oh, it might be obscure! And I don’t remember his name, I don’t even know if he’s given a name, but the main protagonist in The Moviegoer from Walker Percy.
DHK: That is certainly a little bit obscure, but definitely a specific choice. I can see it. Switching gears a little bit: when you’re writing a new song — because obviously Once in a Lifetime Sessions covers a good span of songs — but when you’re writing a new song, is your process consistent or does it tend to vary based on what has inspired it or what the work is?
Moby: A lot of it has to do with the instrument that I’m using. Clearly something written on classical guitar is gonna sound different than something written on an old analogue synthesizer or electric guitar or if you’re writing something for cello. Whether something is monophonic or capable of polyphony.
And there’s also the question of what the goal of writing music is, and for a while — especially back in the ’90s and the early 2000s — one of the goals was selling records and being famous. And I’m thrilled that when I work on music now I don’t ever think of either of those two things. The goal of writing music now is just to try and write something beautiful and expressive and interesting. And I’m not saying that I accomplish that or I succeed at it. But the goal now has nothing to do with monetization or self-promotion. Music has sort of become an end in and of itself for me, and not something that leads to a career or touring, etc.
DHK: So how do you define success now? What does personal success look like to you?
Moby: Success is, I don’t even know. It’s an interesting question — I haven’t thought about it in a while. I guess the only answer I have is gonna sound — like, if I read this in a pull quote, I would be totally embarrassed of whoever said it, but it’s with honesty: trying to make the world a better place. So success is working tirelessly and honestly and hopefully without disingenuousness, doing whatever you can with whatever means are at your disposal to try and make the world a better place, or given the scope of the catastrophe we’re facing — just to save humanity from itself. So success is anything that effectively approaches dealing with that.
DHK: I would say I would hope more people would have that as their definition of success. I think we need more people to get on that page instead of money or fame. I wonder: are you someone who gets creatively blocked, and if so how do you approach getting through those moments?
Moby: Well, musically I don’t ever get creatively blocked, just because I love making music so much. As a writer all I have is creative block. I have some friends who are just these writing machines. People who just put out book after book after book, and I don’t know how they do it. Like, writing a memoir is actually pretty easy because it’s just transcribing the past, but like anything that’s fiction or nonfiction that’s not memoir writing, to me it’s like pulling teeth. So it’s not even a creative block — my creative process around writing IS creative block.
DHK: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Moby: I do like television a little bit too much. I was talking about this with my ex-girlfriend — if we have to go a couple of days without watching tv we get a little antsy.
DHK: What are you binge watching now?
Moby: I just finished watching The Sinner on Netflix, largely because Bill Pullman is in it and he was my neighbor when I first moved to LA and I really like Bill. It was interesting because I knew him from Independence Day and — what’s the David Lynch movie? The one that he was in that I’m sad that I can’t remember the name of it? [Lost Highway.] And so I met Bill and he’s like this goofy, lovely gentleman farmer who would host trombone concerts at Christmas for the neighborhood and then would gather people in his pickup truck to drive around the neighborhood collecting fruit to give to homeless shelters. He’s just this sweetheart of a human being, so when I heard he had this good show I watched it and I was surprised how much I liked it and just how great he was in it.
DHK: Alright, I have to ask about David Lynch just because I am also a huge fan. Which Twin Peaks character do you think you admire the most?
Moby: In terms of the straight-up admiration it’d have to be Mike, because he really — (laughs) he cut off his entire arm to not be evil anymore. In terms of whoever made the biggest sacrifice, I’d say Mike. I mean, I really do like Gordon Cole, Agent Cooper’s boss, aka David Lynch. Albert was really one of the hidden gems in the series. So the three of them.
And I had this experience: I was with David in Fairfield, Iowa, at a meditation conference, and it was pre-sobriety. And the night before I was performing I went out and had a really, really bad crazy night involving alcohol and smoking crystal meth with gangbangers — just a crazy night. And then as I was trying to sleep it off the next day I had this realization that Bob actually sort of hated himself for being evil, and I remember trying to explain this hungover, out of my mind on stage to David and a thousand people. And it was an interesting moment, because David was in the front row, and I was like, “David! Last night after smoking crystal meth with gangbangers I had this epiphany and realization that Bob doesn’t want to be bad. He’s an archetypal evil, but he hates himself for it.” So I would sort of include Bob, but that wouldn’t be politically correct. But I think Bob is a troubled soul.
DHK: I know that probably wasn’t a great moment for you, but I would have loved to witness you try to explain to David Lynch, in a crowded of people, your philosophy on Twin Peaks. What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given?
Moby: The best advice I’ve been given was actually at an AA meeting. At AA meetings often times someone tells their story for five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, what have you. And so this one really annoying hipster was telling his story, you know, an aging hipster, and it was TERRIBLE. He was just bragging, rather than talking about his spiritual progress, whatever he was bragging about, like the women he’d slept with and the money he’d stolen. And at the end of it though, he sort of stopped himself and he realized what an asshole he was being, and he said: “Look, just disregard everything I’ve said and just do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.”
That is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: “Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.”
DHK: And my very last question is: what is one thing you wish you had more time for?
Moby: Honestly, I feel like I have plenty of time for everything, I just don’t know if I use time as well as I could. As a middle-aged guy who refuses to tour and spends a lot of time by himself working on things, I think I could just use it better in service of activism or advocacy. So yeah, I don’t need more time, I just need to do better things with it.
DHK: Well, that’s fair enough! Thank you for spending this time with me.
Moby: Well, thanks — it was a pleasure talking with you!
Once in a Lifetime Sessions is streaming now on Netflix. Four more episodes are coming later this year.
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