Moby dishes on his 13th studio album ‘These Systems are Failing,’ taps young producers for official remix duties
These Systems Are Failing is Moby’s 13th studio album, and finds the legendary artist and producer deftly navigating the spaces between madness, hyper-commercialism, and the world’s future via musical expression.
New wave inflected album single “Are You Lost In The World Like Me” is the subject of a recently announced remix competition, which Moby wholeheartedly endorses as a way for a new generation of producers to navigate their own unique path through undoubtedly confusing and frustrating times. In this interview, we discuss Moby’s thoughts on remixing in general, and much more. If ever wanting to get a sense of the relationship between producing music and existentialism, mortality, and freedom in general.
So, your latest album is entitled These Systems Are Failing, and you’re recording with the “Void Pacific Choir.” Who, or what, exactly comprises this choir?
The truth is that the [“Void Pacific Choir”] is just me. Three years ago I made an album with a choir and the choir needed a name, so I made up this fake name. However, I realized that the album I made with them wasn’t very good. Then, I made this latest record These Systems Are Failing, and I just decided to give it the name of being by Moby and The Void Pacific Choir because I liked the way it sounded.
And the title These Systems Are Failing, how does that relate then, possibly, to the current state of the music industry?
It speaks to the strange utility of releasing music in 2017. In the “olden days,” you had an expanded utility wherein you’d release music that you would ideally love as an artist and other people would love, too. As well, you could make some money from it and thus be able to pay your rent, take your friends out to dinner, and go on tour. Now, I don’t go on tour because I hate touring, and I don’t really expect anyone to buy my records. So, for me, there’s a restricted utility which is first and foremost still driven by me making music and releasing records because I love making music and releasing records. I don’t care too much anymore about what happens to a record once I release it. [Releasing records] is still a very special way of trying to communicate with people, to create a dialectic with an audience. That’s one of the reasons why I also love remixes, because I can taken what I’ve done, hand it to a complete stranger, and have them do whatever they want with it, as faithful or unfaithful to the original as they choose. I like having absolutely no control over the remix process.
Clearly, there’s other political forces at play in your creative process right now. When your work becomes political, what guides your work into that direction?
I grew up in a very politically active family and was raised with the ethos of, “if you’re able to try and make the world a better place, and able to draw attention to issues that are worthy of having attention drawn to them, then you probably should.” I love music, art, and culture that is just interesting or beautiful, but I also love music that has a political component to it and that tries to address issues that are worthy of being addressed. I feel like if I have an audience, I don’t want to waste their time, especially now, at what is a critical moment for our country, our species, and our planet. The cumulative effects of seven billion people living in an industrialized world is pretty dire. I want to be involved in addressing [issues related to that].
Existentialism. The track that we’re talking about today is entitled “Are You Lost In The World Like Me,” and similarly, in 2002, you had a hit single named “We Are All Made Of Stars.” To me, there’s something inherently existential about those titles. How does existentialism play into the music you make? Am I on the right track here?
I was a philosophy major in college, so existentialism is one of those tricky words, like zen or surrealism, that can have a definition that people use that is in a general sense, but truly have a more specific meaning. Existentialism at it’s core, if I had to describe it broadly and succinctly, is about the human separation and dislocation from the objective universe. When early existentialist thinkers like Sartre, Camus, and Bertrand Russell came up with existentialism, it was their way of looking at this problem, and that realizing in this separation, that all of our issues arise. We have an ill-informed and confused relationship with the world because we’re trying to make judgements and decisions with inherently less information than we need to do so.Moreover, what’s interesting to me is discovering how humans react emotionally to being in a 15 billion year old planet of which they have no understanding. That’s where our materialism, hedonism, self-loathing, crazy consumerism, and Donald Trump come from. Existential separation, and the response to it, was the subtext of the 20th century. How do we respond to our separation from the universe is the most interesting aspect of art? Do we respond with sadness? Do we respond with bemusement? Do we respond with anger? Do we respond with vitriol? Do we respond with gentleness? Ultimately, there’s a beauty to the fact that every creature that has been born on this planet has been born into existential confusion. That’s where the title Are You Lost In The World Like Me? comes from. It’s a rhetorical question, because, unless you’re a sociopath, you’re lost in this world right now.
So then, in regards to making music that is intrinsically and foremost supposed to make money. It sounds like you’re divorced from that notion in many ways moving ahead. Thoughts?
I mean, I could’ve completely compromised and made a record with Dr. Luke, and then I could sell records. I’m not criticizing Dr. Luke, but I’m not willing to make the egregious compromise it’d take for me to make music to sell records. It’s more liberating to just be able to look at music as something I love that I don’t make money from. If I release a record, I don’t have to try to talk anyone into spending money on it. Maybe I’m just an uptight WASP from Connecticut who feels really uncomfortable about asking people for money, but it’s really nice to put out a record and just ask someone to listen to it. I don’t want money, I don’t want accolades, I’m just really pleased.
We’re talking about a remix competition here though, which likely involves a kid in his bedroom who wants to become a producer like say, Avicii or whatever, and make all of the money. Your thoughts about your song being involved in such a potential situation?
If someone remixes one of my songs and somehow builds a career from that, great. I’m 51 years old, so it’s really hard for me to fully enter into the perspective of a 20-year old kid in Latvia remixing this on his phone. I hope it works out as well as it possibly can for him, and I get to be the beneficiary who gets to listen to it. I don’t expect to ever make a penny from someone else’s remix. I hope someone remixes it and builds their own career and makes money for themselves. This is an interesting process. I’ve had my commercial life at one point, so now I’m at this point of luxury where I never need to worry about money. As long as I can pay the rent, I’m fine.
That’s an interesting point, especially given that there was one point in your career where you commercially licensed everything, and made a significant profit. Now, you’re at a place that could easily be described as the polar opposite. How do you mentally navigate the space between these two very different positions?
Ultimately, the criteria of how music is judged is how does it affect people emotionally. The context is interesting, but at the end of the day, someone in their bedroom listening to a record, their best context for listening to a record is how does that record make them feel in that moment? To me, that’s the most precious aspect of music, how it affects someone emotionally. That is the most interesting and rewarding aspect of music. I was on this panel recently — I don’t know why I was on it — about “monetizing the digital future.” Most of the time I just sat there shaking my head because people weren’t discussing the beauty of the content they were creating, they were discussing how content could lead to monetization. One of the only things I said was, “what could I possibly ever buy that could bring me the joy that I get when I listen to “Heroes” by David Bowie?” I have yet to buy something that gives me the same joy that I get when I listen to “Heroes,” or Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” or George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue.” At this point, my favorite pieces of music are free, and deliver so much more happiness and satisfaction than anything that can be bought.
Ultimately, I was wondering at the end of the day, what you thought the meaning of freedom is?
The meaning of freedom. That’s a nice question. Well, I’m tempted to quote Kris Kristofferson from “Me and Bobby McGee” and say, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Hmmm…or maybe I’ll say this. Freedom is an acceptance of chaos theory and the acknowledgement that my desire to control things isn’t always proceeding from a position of omniscience, and as a result, I actually do not need to control things. I get a lot of people asking me about being outspoken, and if I’m afraid of consequences [to being outspoken]. I’m like, “no, what could anyone do? They’re not going to buy my records that they weren’t going to buy already?” That’s freedom. Or, when people ask me if my outspoken nature could get me assassinated, and I say, “well, I’m going to have to die at some point, and I’d rather die in service of a good cause than cautiously creep towards the end of my life, compromise my values, and not share my opinions.” The greatest freedom is when you’re not trying to control things, and you don’t care about what other people think.