Standing at the precipice of 30 years as a professional producer and DJ, Moby finds himself in a moment of reflection. In 2016, he released his autobiography Porcelain, a quick and fun read detailing his life up to the release of his mainstream breakthrough Play. He fills in more of the blanks in Once in a Lifetime Sessions, a recent special for Netflix. It’s not weird to reminisce after 15 albums and 52 years of life, but for Moby, it’s surreal.
“When I was growing up,” Moby says, “I assumed that writing memoirs and looking back nostalgically at one’s life was something that you did when you were in your 80s or 90s, sitting in some sort of Victorian house in the north of England drinking tea and remembering things that happened in a prior century — and I guess in this case it did happen in a prior century later.”
MTV Unplugged meets VH1’s Behind the Music as Moby shares tales of his life and backstories of his biggest hits between live performances of fan favorites. The hour-and-a-half is one of four such specials currently streaming, alongside features on TLC, Nile Rodgers and Noel Gallagher.
All this ruminating may seem self-indulgent, but the 52-year-old musician swears he’s done with ego trips.
“I’m not necessarily saying I have anything exceptional or insightful to say,” he admits. “It’s more the process of figuring things out in public.”
Anyone who’s read Porcelain knows Moby has struggled with addiction and sobriety most of his life. Nearly 10 years sober, the “Natural Blues” man learned the cathartic power of public vulnerability during sharing sessions at AA meetings.
“It somehow connects with people, makes them feel a little bit less alone and also makes them feel less ashamed of some of the things that they might be keeping to themselves,” he says. “As time has passed, I’m really not interested in disingenuous communication … I’m really tired of public figures pretending to be something they’re not – unless they do it really well. If it’s a theater, that’s one thing. Theater I’m okay with, but if it’s some hip hop artist pretending to be tougher than they are, or some indie rock artist pretending to be cooler than they are, honestly, that makes me tired.”
You could make the argument that writing and performing songs of personal struggle is a form of voyeuristic therapy in itself. Moby’s catalog has always used a mixture of self-expression and re-purposed samples to tell stories of alienation, exuberance, loss, love and utter despair. There is no middle ground in a Moby song. From winding ambient musings to grand-scale cinematics and trudging guitar-punk noise, Moby tracks invoke arresting moments rather than temporary sonic clips.
Performing catalog-spanning cuts from “Go” to “Extreme Ways” and “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad” is always “a weird form of time travel.”
“I can be like a Proustian ghost standing in the living room behind myself while I wrote and recorded,” he says. “You want to lean down to the younger version of yourself and say, ‘Oh, stop worrying so much. Things generally work out okay.’ It would have been really interesting to sit down with 24-year-old me and say, ‘Oh, just FYI, in 2018 that failed real estate developer you see at parties in New York will be president, every piece of content ever created will be accessible by a portable phone, and you’ll be sober, bald and living in Los Angeles.’ There’s no way I would have believed that.”
Speaking to Moby about life and the meaning of all things feels something like talking to a monastic sage. His wisdom may be gleaned from late-night raves and masochistic bouts of debauchery, all anecdotes he explores throughout Once in a Lifetime Sessions, but of all the advice he has to give, his struggle to shed his ego is the most inspiring.
“Whether it’s doing an interview or writing a book or making a record like, 1: I don’t want to waste people’s time, and 2: I’m not trying to promote myself so I can have more of a career,” he says. “There was a period when my career really meant a lot to me, and I’m almost embarrassed to say that. I wanted to have the right publicist, and I wanted to tour constantly, and I wanted to go to the right parties where I could get my picture taken. Now, I look back at that, and it seems like it was such a futile waste of time.”
In the clear light of sobriety, Moby found this quest for social greatness only inhibited his true creative spirit. “I hope I don’t have any career ambition left,” he says, which explains why he performed all of two shows in support of his 15th studio album Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt.
“One of my goals in life is to never go on tour again as long as I live,” he says, not a hint of a joke in sight. “I’d rather play Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ with a few friends after eating spaghetti than ever go on tour again … As someone who’s on the edge of being ‘old,’ I really don’t want to be just another aging musician staying in the same hotels playing slightly lower slots on the festival you headlined 15 years ago. There’s so much more to do in life than that … I should go volunteer at a soup kitchen or work to campaign for Democrats running for the House or something.”
In that sense, Once in a Lifetime Sessions is a rare opportunity for fans to see Moby’s most compelling songs brought to life in all their splendor. If you were hoping to catch Moby in action off-screen, his only upcoming performance is a special date with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Oct. 12. He’ll join the ranks of deadmau5 and Eric Prydz by rendering his music for a full orchestra. Tickets are on sale now.
He may be the most apt electronic producer for the task. His music is already full of sensitive strings and lush instrumentation. Not to mention, it’s another surreal full-circle moment for a guy who’s studied classical composition since he was 9.
But the most surreal thing in Moby’s life? Reality. Before signing off our talk, he had one final jeremiad to share.
“I don’t want to sound too melodramatic,” he says, “but a lot of our selfish concerns simply shouldn’t matter anymore in the face of climate change, in the face of the most corrupt, racist, horrifying administration in U.S. history. I watched the Grammys last year, and apart from Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monae and a few other people, I was like, ‘Why aren’t these fucking musicians talking about what’s going on in the world? Why are they promoting themselves at a time when the world is an inch away from collapse and catastrophe?’ All I can do is encourage musicians, writers, everybody; now is not the time to focus on small, petty concerns. If we don’t fix things, things are going to be irredeemably broken.”