Born Richard Melville Hall, September 11, 1965, in New York, NY. Education: Attended University of Connecticut. Addresses: Home--New York City; Office--c/o Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; 345 North Maple Dr., Ste. 123, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Moby is perhaps the most well-known name in the subculture of music and style known as techno. This fast-paced electronic dance music is mainly heard at nightclubs, parties, and especially "raves," generally described as giant, marathon dance parties. While raves are notorious for rampant drug use, Moby is substance-free and Christian, although he admits a weakness for chasing members of the opposite sex. He steers clear of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, and is also a vegan, someone who does not consume any meat or animal products, including dairy or eggs. Despite the contradictions inherent between this lifestyle and that of hedonistic ravers, Moby is arguably the leader of the techno genre, though he did take a detour in 1997 with a heavy metal album, Animal Rights. But in 1999 he went back to his roots with Play, which once again showcased techno, though it was an eclectic melange that reached beyond sheer dance music.
Moby was born Richard Melville Hall on September 11, 1965, in New York City and raised in the suburb of Darien, Connecticut. His singular nickname, which he has had since he was a baby, is based on the novel Moby Dick, written by his great-great-great uncle, Herman Melville. Moby's father, chemistry professor James Melville, died in a car accident after driving drunk when his son was two. His mother, Elizabeth, who became a doctor's aide, then worked as a secretary by day and played keyboards in a band at night. Moby lived during the week at the spacious home of his well-to-do grandparents, who belonged to the country club and played golf, but spent weekends with his unconventional mother at her apartment. His grandparents also taught Sunday school, but Moby's childhood was not particularly religious. He told Chris Norris in New York that he was raised "sort of Presbyterian."
Discovering music and drugs at a young age, Moby played the guitar in elementary school and was smoking pot and listening to Led Zeppelin at around age ten. His tastes switched to the Clash and Sex Pistols by age 14, and at that stage, he quit using drugs and alcohol and began a "straight-edged" hardcore punk band, so called because the members were devoted to staying straight, or sober. The Vatican Commandos, as they were called, performed at high-profile Manhattan punk clubs like CBGBs and Great Gildersleeves. However, when he went off to the University of Connecticut, he fell into drinking again, attending parties and playing in bands in addition to studying religion and philosophy. Some of his other musical collaborations included the Pork Guys, Shopwell, and Peanuts.
In college, Moby began spinning records at the campus radio station, most of it "New Wave alternative stuff of early `80s--New Order, Big Country and the Clash," he told Roger Catlin of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He dropped out after just eight months and began hanging out in clubs in New York City, where he learned to love dance music. "I just realized how powerful and celebratory dance music was," he recalled to Norris. "I love that real anthemic quality. Just big piano breaks, screaming diva vocals, and real high energy." He began working as a DJ for a club in Port Chester, New York, and then moved to venues in New York City, including the club Mars. By 1987, under a variety of stage names like Voodoo Child, Barracuda, and Mindstorm, Moby was spinning for big names like Cher, Run-D.M.C., and Big Daddy Kane and started recording his own club mixes on the Instinct label in 1989.
In the meantime, just about the time Moby left college, he became a born-again Christian. Though he does not belong to any specific church and has been known to sharply criticize religious conservatives, he is open about the fact that he lives his life trying to live by the principles taught by Jesus Christ. He does admit that he has trouble at times, especially when it comes to resisting sex, as well as in his efforts to be humble, unselfish, and nonjudgmental, but says that he puts in a sincere effort. "I try to live up to his teachings but fail all the time," he told Lorraine Ali in Rolling Stone. In addition to living according to Christian principles, which includes reciting the Lord's Prayer daily, Moby is a vegan, meaning he consumes no animal products, and he does not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or bleach his clothes (citing that bleach harms the water supply).
When Moby remixed the theme song from the popular David Lynch television series Twin Peaks with a thumping beat to create the track "Go," he became a major name not only among the ranks of deejays but also on the charts. The song reached the top ten in Britain in 1991, and Moby continued to churn out club singles for Instinct, like subsequent hits "Next Is the E" and "Thousand." He also compiled a number of singles on Moby, 1992, and experimented with a minimalist sound on Ambient, 1993. Also in 1993, Moby signed a five-record deal with Elektra and released the EP Move, appealing to many fans who were not previously fond of dance music.
Right after the release of Move, Moby toured with the Lollapalooza festival concert headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He fit in with the rollicking tour, because unlike some deejays who somberly stand at the turntables, Moby's stage antics are bombastic. This exposure helped reveal Moby to a much more mainstream audience and made him virtually the only techno deejay at the time known outside the clubs to a widespread audience. The next year, 1994, Neil Strauss wrote in Rolling Stone, "A year ago, the name Moby and the word techno were practically synonymous." However, Strauss went on to say that some techno fans began to think of Moby as a "traitor," due to his lifestyle, not to mention the fact that he had worked on a remix for pop star Michael Jackson.
In 1995, Moby released his debut album, Everything Is Wrong, deriving the title from his philosophy of the world. "I think 500 years from now, people are going to wonder what was going on now," Moby related to Strauss. "They'll see this race of people that smoked cigarettes and drove cars and fought wars and persecuted people for their beliefs and sexual orientation, and none of it accomplished anything.... Everything is absolutely 100 percent wrong, and how do we change it is the question." For the album's liner notes, Moby wrote two essays about what he believes is wrong with the world and ticked off 67 statistics concerning topics such as the plight of the rain forests and the destruction of trees to make disposable diapers.
Everything Is Wrong cut across several musical genres, from jazz to classical piano to hard rock to disco grooves, but as Ali noted in Rolling Stone, "Amazingly, these transitions aren't jerky or abrupt; rather, the music evolves naturally from one style to the next." The album soon became a critical favorite but some techno purists rejected it as a "sell-out." He explained that the change came because he moved in a different direction from the rest of the dance community. "Lately I've been bored to death with techno," he remarked to Ali. "It all sounds the same to me." He also noted to Catlin in the Star Tribune, "In the rave community,... the enthusiasm is more for the drugs and the clothes than for the celebratory aspects of it. It just seems very unhealthy."
Moby's discontent with dance music came to a head with Animal Rights, 1997, in which he gave up his synth sound in favor of a hard rock style. Much of the content revealed his early punk influences and featured his screaming voice and wailing guitar riffs. This effort was not warmly received, but did not slow down his career. In the meantime, Moby was busy working on other artists' projects, remixing "1979" for Smashing Pumpkins, "Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)" for Aerosmith, "Until It Sleeps" for Metallica, and "Dusty" for Soundgarden; he also produced "Walk on Water" for Ozzy Osbourne. In addressing the fact that his religious beliefs seem to run counter to the kind of company he keeps, Moby explained in a New York interview, "Well, if I were Satan, I wouldn't spend my time with guys who wear black leather and listen to metal. I would spend my time with CEOs!"
Subsequently, Moby began getting calls to mix music for film soundtracks. In 1997, he came out with the album I Like to Score, a collection of 12 pieces that he originally created for movies and television (thus the title, a pun on the word "score," which refers to making music for such media). It included an energetic re-mix of the "James Bond Theme," as well as his early hit "Go" in addition to "First Cool Hive" from the horror flick Scream and a cover of Joy Division's "New Dawn Fades" from the film Heat. After this, he began to indicate that he was regaining his enthusiasm for techno. "Overall, the scene feels healthier to me, and I certainly like the music more than I did two or three years ago," Moby noted to Michael Mehle in the Rocky Mountain News.
In the summer of 1999, Moby issued Play, an effort that harkened back to his techno roots while displaying an even more fervent eclecticism that intrigued and delighted many critics. In addition to the drum machines and hip-hop beats, much of the structure is developed from old blues and gospel music. Moby sampled, or excerpted, a 1943 version of the gospel classic "Run On for a Long Time," featuring slide guitar and a haunting piano. He also used samples from Alan Lomax's field recordings of African American folk music from the early twentieth century, not to mention the Bessie Jones blues tune "Honey."
Play seemed to indicate a shift from Moby's earlier works in that it did not contain any overt references to his thoughts on subjects like the environment, politics, veganism, and the like. He commented to David Proffitt in the Arizona Republic, "With Play, I wanted to make a record that was very personal but also that people could bring into their lives and fall in love with." He also remarked to Vickie Gilmer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "The songs I used are human and there's this quality of striving to them. They're beautiful songs, and the lyrics are interesting. But it's me singing, too." He noted that it was a pet peeve of his that people think his electronic music consists solely of samples.
Moby, who is five feet, eight inches tall and sports a shaved head, lives in Manhattan's East Village where he keeps a stash of equipment including keyboards, mixers, samplers, recording equipment, and more. Keeping with his conviction about not harming living creatures, Moby refuses to even kill cockroaches or mosquitoes, living with a bevy of bugs in his studio.
by Geri Speace
Club deejay, c. late 1980s-early 1990s; began releasing singles on Instinct, 1989; signed with Elektra Records and released EP, Move, 1993; released debut album, Everything Is Wrong, 1995. Also creator of music for film soundtracks. Has done remixes for artists such as Aerosmith, Brian Eno, Michael Jackson, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden; has produced for Ozzy Osbourne. Toured with Lollapalooza festival, 1993.
- Selected discography
- "Mobility," Instinct, 1990.
- "Go," Instinct, 1991.
- "Voodoo Child," Instinct, 1991.
- (Contributor) Instinct Dance: A Collection of Dance Music from Instinct Records , 1991.
- Moby , Instinct, 1992.
- The Story So Far , 1993.
- Ambient , Instinct, 1993.
- Early Underground , Instinct, 1993.
- Move (EP), Elektra, 1994.
- Everything Is Wrong , Elektra, 1994.
- Rare: The Collected B-Sides 1989-1993 , Instinct, 1996.
- Animal Rights , Elektra, 1997.
- I Like to Score , Elektra, 1997.
- Play , Elektra, 1999.
- Contemporary Musicians, volume 17, Gale Research, 1996.
- Arizona Republic, August 12, 1999, p. 32.
- Entertainment Weekly, February 21, 1997, p. 125.
- Interview, March 1996, p. 92.
- Newsday, May 25, 1995, p. B9.
- Newsweek, June 14, 1999, p. 69.
- New York, March 27, 1995, p. 48; March 17, 1997, p. 48.
- New York Times, July 31, 1999, p. B17.
- People, November 1, 1993, p. 82; March 10, 1997, p. 24; August 23, 1999, p. 45.
- Rocky Mountain News, November 23, 1997, p. 18D.
- Rolling Stone, November 17, 1994, p. 102; March 23, 1995, p. 125; May 4, 1995, p. 58; October 30, 1997, p. 68; June 24, 1999, p. 64.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 6, 1999, p. E2.
- Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), June 4, 1995, p. 3F; August 20, 1999, p. 3E.
- Time, August 17, 1992, p. 60.
- Moby web page, Elektra Records web site, http://www.elektra.com/ambient_club/moby (October 19, 1999).
- "Moby," Rolling Stone web site, http://rollingstone.tunes.com (October 24, 1999).
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