In a world based on division and judgement, you won’t find Moby parading under the emblem of political allegiance. Sure, he’s a practising vegan – and a proud one at that – but he’s the first to recognise the importance of civil discussion. “I have to remind myself that until I was nineteen, I ate nothing but Burger King, and pepperoni pizza,” Moby notes. “We live in this time where people just immediately yell at each other, and it accomplishes nothing, whether it’s in the realm of politics, or whether it’s gender, The Middle East”
Pencil thin as ever, Moby strikes an unassuming figure, calmly accepting every question that comes his way with grace, goodwill and terrific humour. We’re joined by Gregory Porter, a jazz-rock savant seated here as a colleague, comrade and Master of Ceremonies. Porter most recently worked with Moby on Reprise, and Porter’s presence has a relaxing effect on Moby. The pair discuss the importance blues has had on the Harlem born songwriter’s wheelhouse, both as a songwriter and a person. More than that, Porter – the sometime host of The PorterHouse – applauds Moby for championing veganism, as well as the importance of animals.
“I think so many people are struggling with loneliness,” he says. “Struggling with isolation. Even people with families can still feel that sense of isolation. They feel like they can’t be their authentic selves. [But] a lot of these people feel like they can be their authentic selves with animals. And so, I think that’s such a lifesaver.”
Moby is more comfortable talking about music and stares knowingly at the computer, somewhat amused at this form of a press conference. Porter is speaking for the horde of journalists gathered at their computer screens, and the artist acknowledges the age group with a telling quip: “There’s an inherent bias that we old people have to the music that we grew up with,” Moby points out. “The one thing I will say is when I was growing up, and I think some of the people in the call room will [agree with], is that music was so central to our lives. When I was sixteen years old, listening to a new album, as I said, you had to work two weeks to save up to buy an album.
David Bowie was one artist that compelled the young Moby to save up his money for: “When I was really young, I wanted to be a great singer,” Moby says. “I remember being twelve years old, or thirteen years old, and thinking how phenomenal it would be to be ‘David Bowie’, [and] to have this amazing voice.”
He trained himself to be a punk singer but recognised early on in his career that he couldn’t sing to the calibre expected of The Thin White Duke. “My favourite musician of all time was David Bowie,” Moby tells the room. “In 1999, we became friends, he and Iman actually moved to an apartment across the street from me [Manhattan]. We were friends, we were neighbours…we toured together, and we went on holiday together.”
Moby composes himself: “We’re on my sofa, and we’re playing this version of ‘Heroes’. It’s just a Saturday morning, and I still can’t believe that happened.” He’s welling up thinking about the man who composed such classics as ‘Station to Station’ and ‘Modern Love’, but the songwriter is keenly aware of the power of his own work for it to veer too heavily into needless fan worship.
There’s always been an honesty to his work, whether it’s the yearning of ‘In This World’, or the desolate loneliness heard on ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’ and the writer himself portrays himself every bit as earnestly as his lyrics may project. “I remember getting very depressed,” Moby admits, “At some point a few decades ago when I realised I was never going to write a song as beautiful as ‘Heroes’; I was never going to make a record as phenomenal as ‘What’s Going On.’ I was never going to sing like ‘Baby Huey’.”
Moby takes a quick breath, keenly aware that fifteen journalists are watching him: “But when I accepted it, it was kind of liberating. I can be inspired by the Gods of music, and I can also understand that I’ll never touch it.”
Moby enjoyed tremendous acclaim during the early nineties, and though his influences would suggest British post-punk (he can imitate Ian Curtis fairly well, he tells us), it was as a dance pioneer that proved his greatest standing. Fame, as ever, cast a dark shadow on the artist: “Yeah, I had this terrible period that I’m starting to shake up, and I hope I’ve learned from, where I wanted to play and keep the success going. So, as a result, I toured constantly, and I was trying to make music that I loved.”
“But then the time passed, the tide turned against me, and I stopped selling as many records,” he sighs. “For a while, it drove me crazy, and there was a period before I got sober, where diminished sales and diminished attention was really challenging. So, I drank more, did more drugs, went out to the world looking for anyone who would give me validation.” Apropos of sobriety, the songwriter emerged from this haze with an enlightening look at the world, and the man speaking over Zoom sounds much more hopeful to the wretched character he has consigned to the past. “I became a musician because I love music,” he says, with justifiable pride. “I didn’t become a musician for commerce.”
He’s ignored reviews in favour of what he deems the integrity of the work, and the new album is undoubtedly ripe with honesty and truth. He pauses to fix his glasses. Gregory Porter is a sympathetic host, and he’s clearly not the only person moved by this expression of courage.
“The greatest musicians of all time have used their voice to draw attention to [causes they believe in],” Moby says. He notes that such luminaries as Marvin Gaye and Public Enemy have managed to write politically charged songs that nonetheless sounded effortlessly commercial. “What I think is interesting now is, musicians have so many new ways of communicating. Interviews, social media, even if someone like me isn’t great at writing [politically oriented] songs, I should still try to address important issues.”
Moby releases ‘Reprise’ via DG on May 28th, his current single featuring Gregory Porter ‘Natural Blues’ is out now. The Moby doc is released in the UK via Dice TV on May 28th, and Gregory Porter’s new online TV cookery show ‘The Porterhouse’ is streaming now on YouTube.