Moby is responsible for one of the most successful albums in the history of dance music. Play came out in 1999 and was promptly devoured by the mainstream market — every one of the record’s 18 songs was licensed for use in a movie or advertisement. The record earned critical accolades as well, topping the annual Pazz & Jop critics’ poll. As contemporary dance music reaches new levels of crossover success, Moby’s experience seems increasingly pertinent.
The tale of his rise from scrappy New York DJ to million-selling cultural phenomenon will be captured in Porcelain, a memoir arriving in the U.S. on May 17. The DJ/producer also plans to accompany the book with a two disc compilation. The first volume traces Moby’s recorded output in the ‘80s and ‘90s, while the second captures music that he liked enough to play during his early-career DJ sets.
“These were the biggest records that I played in the late ‘80s into the early ‘90s,” he tells Billboard on the phone. Music From Porcelain will come out on the recently re-launched label Thrive Music. (Later this year, the label also plans to release new material from Cheat Codes, BRKLYN, Hunter Siegel, and Paul Oakenfold.)
Moby (real name Richard Melville Hall) started thinking about putting together his own book roughly five years ago when he found that his tales of old New York intrigued fellow partiers at a gathering in Bushwick. “Most of the people there had moved to New York just in the last couple of years,” he remembers. “And at one point one of them said, ‘these stories are great. You should write them down.’ And that made me think maybe there was actually the makings of a decent memoir there.”
Though there are reams of musicians’ memoirs in circulation, most are gathering dust on shelves in second hand bookstores, and for good reason. Artists frequently forget to discuss the very thing that made them interesting in the first place — their music — choosing instead to focus on settling scores with old band mates or recounting trite, half-remembered tales of rock star excess.
Moby looked to non-musical autobiographies to help him break out of this trap. “My favorite memoir of all time is John Cheever’s journals,” he says. “There’s a level of honesty there. If you’re going to write about yourself as a human being, you have to be willing to communicate the potentially uncomfortable parts of what it means to be a human person and not just present a glorified, or glamorized, or anodyne version of yourself.”
The producer suggests that it was relatively easy for him to bring this level of honesty to his narrative, and he took a shine to the laborious process of putting together a book as well. Though he dabbled in writing on previous occasions — penning pieces on politics, the music business, and animal welfare — he had never worked on a project of this magnitude. “The writing I enjoyed,” he notes. “The editing I obsessively loved.” By his estimate, he wrote around 300,000 word before discarding half of them to arrive at a rough cut of the memoir.
The emphasis on music through the words that remain made the decision to pair the book with an album a natural one. The first disc of the compilation primes a casual fan on Moby’s career, including singles that found success on the U.S. dance charts like “Feeling So Real,” and “Bodyrock.” Some listeners will find the second installment more surprising, as it contains a number of singles from hip-hop’s Golden Age: Big Daddy Kane‘s “Raw,” A Tribe Called Quest‘s “Scenario,” Run DMC’s “Pause.”
Though Moby earned international fame as a purveyor of dance music, familiarity with a range of genres was crucial to his career as a young DJ. “Up until about 1990, it depended what night of the week it was — some nights I was a hip-hop DJ, some nights I was a house music DJ, some nights I played freestyle and dancehall reggae,” he recalls. “You had to have all these records in order to have a job.”
“I remember when I realized I was not going to be an amazing hip-hop DJ,” he continues. “My friend Clark Kent was DJing on the second floor of Mars. I went to go listen to him, and he did some tricks that were so good — I knew I would never figure them out. At that moment, I kind of realized that I should focus on house music and techno.”
Not everything Moby wanted to include on Music From Porcelain‘s second disc made the cut. “The first Schoolly D 12-inch, ‘P.S.K. – What Does It Mean?’ is probably the greatest hip-hop single of all time,” the producer declares. “But maybe it’s a little too obscure and x-rated to include on a compilation.”
To raise awareness for his memoir and album, Moby will head out on a book tour next month. It’s not the first time he’s engaging in this sort of promotion – he hit the road in support of Gristle, a volume about factory farming – but the material he’s promoting will be very different this time around. “What’s weird about a memoir is I’m now spending my days talking to people I’ve never met about some of the most intimate aspects of my personal life,” he explains. “It’s very odd to have a conversation with a stranger about really intimate stuff.”
But a long career in the spotlight has left Moby with a thick skin. “I realized a long time ago: to a large extent I don’t really care what people think about me.” “I used to care a lot,” he adds. “But then over time I realized just how absurd it is to let the opinions of complete strangers affect my emotional well-being. The things I value in my day to day life can’t really be touched by public humiliation. If I’ve humiliated myself in public, it’s not going to affect how my breakfast tastes.”