Mossberg Does Moby: Video and More!
Last night, onstage at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, my most excellent partner, Walt Mossberg, interviewed well-known techno musician Moby about music and entertainment in the digital age.
The wide-ranging talk was part of an ongoing cultural festival series organized by The Wall Street Journal, called Summer Scoops Live.
Here are three video clips from the event:
If you prefer to read, here is a live blog that Michelle Kung did of the event to enjoy:
7:30 p.m.–Out of the steaming heat and into the cool, air-conditioned confines of Lincoln Center’s Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse.
7:39 p.m.–The lights dim and Moby and Mossberg make their entrances. Moby slinks down in his chair (“Am I greasy, or is it the chair?”) just before WSJ culture editor Christopher John Farley introduces the pair.
7:43 p.m.–Mossberg plugs his son, who’s in a band, before asking Moby–whose real name is Richard Melville Hall–if he is really related to “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville. Moby replies that that is what his parents have always told him and explains the origins of his moniker: “When I was 11 minutes old, my parents looked at me and I was this little grub of a baby and my mother said, Richard Melville Hall is a very grown up name, and my father said jokingly, let’s call him ‘Moby.’ All these years later, I still have this name I’ve have from infancy.”
7:46 p.m.–Mossberg asks Moby, in between jokes about being both being bald-ish, about the difference between “Play” and his new album, “Wait for Me.” Moby begins by talking about how the success of “Play” completely surprised him, because he was considered a “has been” by the time the album was originally released in the early 1990s and that Rolling Stone refused to review the album. His success with the album also confused him, because he was unsure of his next step–was he supposed to listen to the label now? To the fans? To himself?
“Wait for Me,” his ninth studio album, was designed as a return to simplicity, and created with old instruments–many of which were purchased on eBay–in his bedroom in Manhattan. When Mossberg asks Moby to clarity what he means by “his bedroom,” the musicians lays out out his floorplan–he lives in a two-bedroom apartment on Mott Street and with a small space (“two people starts to feel claustrophobic”) set aside for his music work.
7:52 p.m.–Moby uses a Mossberg question as an excuse to slam Jay Leno, whom he calls the “least prepared interviewer.” He fakes a Leno voice, and mock interviews: “So Moby, you have a new record. Tell me about it.” Mossberg interjects, “So I have a low bar?” to the delight of the crowd.
7:53 p.m.–Mossberg asks Moby how he used technology in “Wait for Me.” Moby begins by explaining that while he loves technology, he don’t fetishize it like some of his friends. “I have an 18” flat screen TV. A bigger screen doesn’t make TV any better. ‘Family Guy’ is still funny on a little TV. If it works and doesn’t cause me undue stress, I love it.’
7:55 p.m.–Moby launches into an explanation of what Pro Tools and plugins are, and how thanks to this nifty recording/mixing operating system, he can take prerecorded “notes” that have been recorded abroad, say, in places like Vienna, and then recreate a 60-piece orchestra on his keyboard.
7:59 p.m.–On to issues of intellectual property. Moby says: “I don’t mind when people pirate my music–if you want to steal my music, more power to you.” Mossberg immediately asks, “Why?” And he deadpans, “Deep-seated emotional issues.” He then goes on to explain that personally, he’s so honored that people want to listen to his music, he doesn’t want to restrict access to it. “I don’t have alimony, I don’t need insulin…I don’t have crystal meth problems.” Thus, he personally doesn’t mind, but he can only speak for himself. But to clarify, he does want you to buy his album so his friends at the label are happy.
8:04 p.m.–Mossberg and Moby discuss the RIAA’s decision to sue customers. Moby says that it’s never been cheaper to make music, videos, and promote albums. EMI, he thinks, broke even. So why are they alienating their customers?
8:06 p.m.–Blind item alert! Moby says that a few years ago, he was talking to a record label head, and when he asked the top honcho about their iTunes plan for their biggest star’s newest album, he was told, oh, we’re going to wait a couple months.
Moby then launches into philosophy mode and brings up the is/ought fallacy to illustrate his point, noting that the current music model “underpins the failure of major labels–they think, it used to be this way, so it ought to be this way.” Their ethos is, “Please go away. Make the future die.” Mossberg suggests he write a song/album with that title. Moby quips back with “Young People Suck” as a potential label-inspired tune.
8:12 p.m.–Moby adds a qualifier to his comments, touting Mute, his own record label. “Mute is wonderful, and they care about music–it’s the big major labels who have been egregiously bad stewards of music. It’s hard to feel bad for them when they’ve brought us some of the worst music ever created.” He then gets in a dig at Lars Ulrich of Metallica, saying that if he needs a “fur-lined walking humidor,” that’s him.
8:15 p.m.–Moby asks the audience if he can get pedantic for a moment. They cheer their assent. He then launches into a story about the early days of the Beatles, a band that got “lucky” because everything they did was in mono. “The first ‘Meet the Beatles’ was recorded in four hours. They played the songs and it was done.” He explains how this is not possible anymore.
8:18 p.m.–Yay! Moving on to a discussion about Auto-Tune, which “enables anyone to fake perfect pitch.” Moby declines to name names in his anecdotes, because he has enough feuds already, but singles out Cher’s “I Believe” as the first of the supremely auto-tuned songs, and mourns how kids can’t recognize real singing anymore. Next, a discussion of playback, aka the technology that failed Ashlee Simpson when she was reduced to her now infamous hoedown on “Saturday Night Live.”
8:23 p.m.–Memory lane for Mossberg. He recalls seeing the Supremes, and Simon & Garfunkel in the ’60s for $3/ticket in a gym, and how the concerts back then used to sound just like the album. But everything is much more complicated now.
8:25 p.m.–Moby talks about how he plays to bigger crowds in Europe, and how he can enjoy the concert experience. Playing in front of a big crowd, he says, with big production values, is the musician’s equivalent of playing the big penis card.
8:28 p.m.–Mossberg asks: When you make music, do you have to consider the fact that it’s going to be listened to on [Apple] iPods and [Microsoft] Zunes? Moby says sadly yes, and tells a story about how super-processed music works on the subway, because the noise of the L train doesn’t interfere with, say, a song by Rihanna, but the subtleties of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” will get lost.
8:32 p.m.–Mossberg moves on to playing a snippet of the song “Pale Horses” from “Wait for Me” because we’re running late, and Moby says he has to pee–“Syphilis is a demanding mistress.” Mossberg: “Bill Gates doesn’t say that to me…I can’t believe I’m defending Microsoft.” Moby: “I’m just saying the Zune is clumsy as hell.” [For those lacking the implied sarcasm, Moby clarifies later on that he does not, in fact, have syphilis.]
Moby on “Pale Horses” and many of his other songs: 80% of the work is done in a couple days, but it’s the finishing stuff that is what really takes a really long time. To get the job done, he holes himself with the music–“Hopefully, a more benign version of Ted Kaczynski during the creative process.”
8:40 p.m.–Audience Q&A time. Moby is asked about his licensing deals, and says he doesn’t license music anymore, because he’s sick of being the whipping boy for the process. Which is ironic, because everyone’s selling out now. He adds that he initially licensed the music for “Play,” because it allowed more people to hear the album.
8:46 p.m.–Moby interrupts a question-asker to comment on how he wishes the stage were against the left window like a previous panel he was on, so everyone could get a glimpse of the view. The questioner then proceeds to take out a Chilean flag and hold it up before asking Moby if there’s relationship between his music and the cosmos. The short answer? Yes.
8:51 p.m.–Mossberg sums up the evening and offers kudos to Moby for sharing his time and process.
8:52 p.m.–Moby plugs a new tour date in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And good night everybody!
And, here is a rather unusual cartoon video of Moby being interviewed by a dog that the Journal did:
And, here is a video of Moby last week, talking about the digital impact of the music, in an interview on the Leonard Lopate radio show on WNYC:
Finally, here is a Q&A that Walt did with Flavorpill’s Caroline Stanley about a range of tech trends, as a preview to the event.
[Moby photo credit: AFP/Getty]