Watch Moby and The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne walk around in mariachi outfits while assembling all the city weirdos to party til sundown. Moby's new album Innocent comes out September 30.
i guess i just accept that the music business has fallen apart, says moby, describing the unexpectedly fruitful environment that spawned his upcoming album, innocents, set for release october [tk]. that demise means that, as a 47-year-old musician, when i make a record, its simply because i love making records i dont expect commercial success. theres no reason to second guess whether somethings going to sell well, or if a radio programmer is going to like it so i can just make the record i want to make.
indeed, thats exactly what innocents entails. mobys 11th studio album to date proves an uncompromised, fully realized work from one of the most iconoclastic, innovative, individual forces in electronic music or popular music, period. as such, innocents proves distinctively a piece with mobys discography, while simultaneously pushing the artist born richard melville hall towards new challenges. i finished touring for my last record [2011s destroyed] about a year and a half ago, and pretty much immediately started working on this album, moby recalls. i was listening to a lot of broken english-era marianne faithfull and '80s grace jones, and really wanted to make a grungy, lo-fi, electronic dance record; over time, it transformed into a lo-fi, idiosyncratic, emotional, melodic record instead. im most interested in exploring vulnerability and humanity in music, and with innocents i made a conscious effort to keep things imperfect and, at times, even awkward. my criteria was, how does what im creating resonate emotionally, and what sense of space does it create?
to achieve that perfectly imperfect state, moby chose to work with an outside producer for the first time in his career: mark spike stent, whose grammy-studded rsum spans superstar pop (madonna, lady gaga, beyonc), rock (u2, bruce springsteen, muse, yeah yeah yeahs) and the genre-defying vanguard (bjrk, massive attack, goldfrapp, m.i.a.). spikes role was unconventional first and foremost, he was a friend, and simultaneously a consultant, a&r person, mixer, and, yes, producer, moby explains. we grew up listening to the same records: its nice to have that shared frame of reference where you can refer to a british electric foundation b-side or an early rocksteady single that would be obscure to most people, but seminal to us. and spike was the reason the album shifted from a dance record to a more personal one: what really connected with him was the emotional, personal music.
another first marked by innocents was mobys unexpected choice of collaborators. working with outside vocalists and musicians isnt a new thing for moby south side, featuring vocals by gwen stefani, proved a top 20 hit upon release in 2000, and the likes of artists ranging from sinad o'connor to angie stone have appeared on his tracks. on innocents, however, the guests provided a distinct inspirational motif. i like that the title describes a group of people, because its my most collaborative record, moby says. and if you look at the disparate random bunch of people ive collaborated with, a lot of them you wouldnt think of as innocents. among those seasoned voices are the sole male lead vocals to appear on a moby album, other than a couple of earlier collaborations with rappers, and mobys own voice. for the most part, ive only ever worked with female singers, he says. i cant think of any exceptions other than samples until this record, if theres been a male voice on my record, its been me. innocents reverses this tradition via some of the most distinctive male vocalists in rock music. wayne coyne of the flaming lips duets memorably with moby on rousing first single the perfect life; alt-rock legend mark lanegan lends his dark croon to the lynchian electro-noir ballad the lonely night; and the shimmering almost home proves even more sublime thanks to the indie-folk eminence damien jurados empyreal tones. what appeared to be a major artistic shift, however, stemmed organically from how innocents songs were taking shape. as i was writing 'perfect life, i kept thinking of wayne singing it, moby says. his voice has such an interesting, vulnerable timbre. likewise, damien jurado and mark lanegan have such unique voices, i just fell in love with the way they sing.
innocents female contributors, meanwhile, prove nearly as surprising. the eerie apocalyptic ballad the last day features the enigmatic vocals and songwriting acumen of skylar grey best known for co-writing and performing on eminem and rihannas love the way you lie; however, according to moby, the track doesnt fit into the traditional pop/r&b canon, except that its really pretty. instead, its a weird lo-fi pop song that doesnt have a bassline. elsewhere, the defiant soul lament of dont love me places the unforgettably brassy pipes of moby tour vocalist inyang bassey into a lush, retro-futuristic setting. spike did this very smith and mighty, dub-inspired mix that evokes bristol, u.k. circa 1988, moby says. it has a very slinky, late-night quality: i imagine walking into a dark cabaret in leipzig, germany at 3:00 a.m. and hearing that song playing. meanwhile, two songs a case for shame and tell me feature canadian singer-songwriter cold specks, whose debut album i predict a graceful explosion proved one of 2012s most evocative debuts. i was having lunch with [mute records founder] daniel miller, and i said, daniel, im looking for interesting, beautiful vocals for my record, moby says. he said, 'oh, we just signed this woman cold specks. the moment i heard her voice, i was amazed by the challenging, idiosyncratic way that she approaches harmony, melody and phrasing. its like gothic blues, but combined with an avant-garde, intentional dissonance.
of course, moby has been retrofitting antiquated styles and archaic sounds to the electronic age since natural blues one of many enduring hits off of his 1999, twelve-million-plus selling international smash album play. as such, much of innocents recalls vintage moby in the best way. songs like the last day and a long time evoke plays ingenious sampling of haunting spirituals over club grooves; as well, saints manipulates disembodied diva vocals, acid-house breakbeats, and orchestral synths into an uplifting yet melancholic anthem much in the same way as did mobys breakthrough hit, the rave classic go, which reached the u.k. top 10 following its 1990 release. meanwhile, the moody cinematic ambience of instrumentals everything that rises and going wrong suggests scores for films that dont yet exist reminding why moby remains the go-to source for soundtracks (mobys song extreme ways appears over the credits in every bourne identity movie, his cover of joy divisions new dawn fades accompanies a key scene in michael manns heat, and he gave the iconic james bond theme a techno makeover for tomorrow never dies and those are just a few examples). i approach things from a similar perspective as i was, say, fifteen years ago, because thats what i love when music has that ability to make your emotions swell, moby says. in my own small way, through my use of melody and strings, im trying to get to that.
innocents, however, carves out its own unique niche in mobys discography. for one, its the first album hes created since moving to los angeles from his longtime new york city home. living in l.a. certainly inspired the making of this record and the music, he says. in new york, id work in my cloistered studio in a big apartment building, surrounded by thousands of other apartment buildings and people everywhere; in los angeles, meanwhile, you can be in the middle of an urban area of fifteen million people and still feel isolated, like youre living in the country. my last album destroyed was all about the disassociation of constantly crossing time zones, living in hotel rooms and airports these lifeless environments where you dont even know what city youre in. innocents still has that strangeness and dislocation: its just more about being at home in a new city that isnt really a city.
despite its l.a. origins, moby insists innocents doesnt sound like sunshine and the beach its not l.a. pastoral like, say, a csny or eagles record. instead, the album captures the atmospheric anomie of being caught between eras its sound and vision balancing todays high-speed digitalism with the discarded, obsolete technology of an earlier machine age. on one level, this sensation is achieved sonically. spike and i put everything through old, broken down analog equipment: tape machines with tons of hiss, old reverb units that barely work, drum machines where the timing is off, moby notes. my favorite records the first suicide album, old r&b, '80s dance records, jimi hendrix, cream, the doors, early daf, black flag theyre all really messy. so, in making music now, i try to do everything to make the whole process idiosyncratic: we let that weirdness and imperfection become an inherent part of the record.
that duality extends to the messages submerged within the songs, where the frequently stirring, uplifiting sounds are subtly contradicted by shadow in the words. the madchester singalong groove of the perfect life, for example, belies lyrics so dark im hesitant to say what theyre really about, moby says. it sounds like the happiest song on the album, but really its the darkest. elsewhere, the last day pays doleful tribute to end times (ive only just discovered the sun on the last day goes a key line), while album closer the dogs (the only song on the album fully sung by moby himself) balances mournful synth-pop melodies with a eerily sinister refrain: this is where it died/like the dogs left outside. i like dark, twisted lyrics, moby admits with a laugh. my perspective is kind of skewed! when i look at the music im most influenced by, its all informed by this idea that the world in which we live is crumbling and dystopian, but we can be celebratory within that.
as such, nothing is business as usual about the innocents experience down to the albums idiosyncratic promotion strategy: instead of the usual continent-spanning world tour, moby will only be playing three shows in los angeles. my criteria was, 'it has to be a venue i like, and i have to be able to walk there from my house, moby explains. so for three consecutive days in october after the album comes out, ill walk down the hill and play a show. i just dont like the touring lifestyle: i never wanted to be that haggard musician in my 40s looking beaten down and unhealthy in an airport, and thats what i became. so why not just stay home and see what its like developing friendships, a home life, and maybe get a dog?
art imitates life, and vice versa: that oft-frustrated desire for human connection ultimately proves innocents resonant theme. it sounds like something youd read on the side of a teabag, but theres a quality of innocence that resonates in all of us, moby says. i have yet to meet a human even the most hardened criminal, or the nastiest, toughest rapper who isnt scared and insecure. i always think, at one point, you were a little kid who was scared in the middle of the night. youre going to get older and look in the mirror and wonder what happened to your youth; youre going to be alone, and afraid, and get sick, lonely, and all the things that affect us by virtue of being human. in my music, i try to evoke the emotional response to that joy, longing, fear, anger: these very human responses to living a material existence for a brief moment in our vast, strange universe. i always think of samuel barbers 'adagio for strings: when it builds to a crescendo, unless youre a sociopath, you have an emotional reaction to it. in my music, i try to give myself that same feeling and if im lucky, someone else whos listening to it will have a similar reaction.