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Sunday Herald (May 2002)

From the outside, Moby Mansions looks like any other whitewashed townhouse in upmarket west London. Walk a little too quickly and you’d pass it without thinking. Once inside, the first room you come to is a white cube containing a wooden trellis bearing a six by six square of freshly picked orchids. The main atrium is a tasteful blend of discreet technology and old world tradition – much like the 36 year old DJ himself. There are no visible doors. Much too vulgar.

All is calm, all is white. A minion takes the visitor, the interloper from the grubby outside world, upstairs for an audience with his Mobyness. There is a long white corridor. Again no visible doors. No protuberances, no sharp edges, no sense of humanity. You know you’re in London’s most exclusive design hotel, but there’s still the nagging sense that this is actually an asylum. The minion knocks on a patch of white wall and you expect it to swing open revealing the star trussed up for his own safety in a straightjacket.

“Yes,” Moby chuckles, “it’s a futuristic loonybin, isn’t it?”

This is the ecosystem you live in when you’ve sold ten million copies of an album that has tinkled knowingly in the background of dinner parties the globe over. Moby – once a Christian vegan rave punk evangelist, now a highly intelligent dilettante with a dry sense of humour – knows how ridiculous his surroundings are but can’t help enjoying the luxury. Small, sensibly dressed, with big dark framed glasses that dominate his face, he is that rare beast: a multi-millionaire with the good grace to feel faintly embarrassed by his riches.

“One of my dreams is to have a home in New York which is like a country house,” Moby sighs. “I want a swimming pool in the basement and a racquetball court and a lawn on the roof where I can play croquet and lie on the grass. But I want the building to look like crap from the outside. I found this one building I’m tempted to buy. It’s a meat processing plant. It looks like a place where they’d grow rats. I think it would be amazing to have a building that from the outside looked awful but on the inside was this stunning lovely home.”

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to view the above as a metaphor for the condition of Moby’s soul and mental state. Having made his fortune by selling his music to the makers of car and sportswear television adverts, the one time hardcore punk now wants to return to his down-at-heel roots. Or appear to do so at least. He also embodies an odd dichotomy in conversation – an apparent lack of self esteem coupled with an eagerness to talk frankly about his shortcomings. Diagnosis: Moby has everything he needs except love.

“I think dying with someone you love is a very beautiful idea”, he nods. “I’ve often wondered about that. If people are genuinely in love and live their whole lives together, shouldn’t they plan on dying together? Then again if I was sixty, maybe I’d have second thoughts.”

On Moby’s recent album, “18”, in which he follows the template set by “Play”, throwing in the odd electro pop or post rock curve ball now and again, there’s a song called “Sleep Alone”, which Moby says is “a love song to ghosts”. It’s about two lovers dying in a plane crash and then wandering around Manhattan as spirits revisiting the places where their passion blossomed. It was written five days before Moby’s birthday on September 11th. Two coincidences. The song has been picked up on for its morbid prescience, but really it’s infused with loneliness.

“The last time I had a monogamous, stable, boyfriend/girlfriend relationship was eight years ago. That doesn’t mean I’ve been celibate for eight years, but I do aspire to that idea of monogamous bliss.”

What is he like to go out with?

“Depends on the person I’m going out with. If I go out with someone who is really smart and open minded and funny and vivacious, I can be equally as vivacious. If I go out with someone who I don’t have a lot of respect for or who isn’t very smart, I can be very tedious. Because I’m in a hurry to leave. I figure the more tedious I am, the faster they’ll be in a hurry to leave as well.”

What are his bad points in a relationship?

“I’m not the most relaxed person in the world. I have some friends who can get into relationships and be perfectly happy and content but I tend to be a little too analytical. I pick things apart, to an extent. It’s also kind of a challenge. If I’m with someone, my hope is that they can be analytical with me.”

So when he says “why are we doing this?”, he needs someone to say “why are you asking that?”

“Exactly,” Moby beams. “Oh, hear my beating heart!”

When Moby started writing and recording “18”, he listened to a lot of orchestral soul from the seventies. He says he wanted to make a “warm and inviting” record that could be a “lovely addition to someone’s life”. He was writing a lonely hearts ad, essentially. 36 year old, multi-millionaire pedant, GSOH, would like to meet similar for long walks in the country and croquet on the roof.

The obvious question, then: has he ever serenaded anyone?

“Yes, plenty of times. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve serenaded people. I don’t have a great voice but I love serenading.”

Does he sing underneath his paramour’s window?

“Living in New York, that wouldn’t work because you’d be drowned out by street sounds. No, it’s usually sitting quietly in someone’s house or outside somewhere and just singing a little song. One of my favourites is the Johnny Mathis song, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’. It’s one of the only songs I know every single word for.”

Take a moment to form the image. Those little hands, the big glasses. The night, the music, the woman of his dreams. Isn’t it enough to melt your cold, cold heart? But then – flash! – without warning, the scene changes. There’s Moby in a seedy hotel room, his trousers around his ankles, having sex with a robot prostitute for a David LaChapelle photo shoot. There’s Moby saying that he fantasises about “being completely in love with someone and having them very, very lovingly and very, very respectfully take knives and push them through my body.” There’s Moby being dirty, sleazy, degenerate.

“I think, in the right circumstances, with a loving partner who you’ve been with for a long time, a lot of extreme things could become intimate and sexy. It’s really about the context though.”

Robots, knives. It all seems very cold, mechanised. Inhuman.

“If anything, it’s more indicative that when it comes to sex, I’m very open minded. I don’t have any particular penchants, apart from smart people. In fact, I’m envious of people who have specific fetishes. You hear about people who get turned on by sneakers or aquariums and that must be nice. To know there are one or two inanimate objects that can get you hot and bothered.”

Moby has a heart that aches for love but he also dreams about sexual abandon with a string of willing admirers. Forthcoming single “Extreme Ways” is a “romanticised” account of “the darker, more degenerate side of things and how seductive it is but also how destructive it can be as well”. When he says “romanticised”, he means exaggerated, in a manner that suggests wish fulfilment. “The song is indicative of perhaps more degeneracy and depravity than I’ve actually experienced,” Moby admits with a smile.

He does this time and again. Draws you in with sensitivity and honesty, then flips sideways into a realm ruled by his Rock Star Libido. On “Signs Of Love”, he charts his moods swings and lack of self esteem in a way that makes you want to give him a hug, but then he suddenly swerves into far grubbier territory.

“The subtext to the song is that I have a degree of resentment towards men who are conventionally handsome and suave, like the George Clooneys and Brad Pitts of this world. I’ve seen the way that women respond to really handsome rock stars and it’s very different to the way they respond to me and I can’t help but be a little envious of that. Someone meets [former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist] Dave Navarro, they want to fuck him. Someone meets me, they want to talk to me. Which is fine. It’s better than working at Burger King. But I can’t help but be envious of those musicians who are more sexier and women view as sex symbols.”

He must have women who come up to him and want to sleep with him.

“No. I would know. Trust me. If you know anyone. Maybe there’s some messages I’m missing.”

The decision to licence every track from “Play” came in for fierce criticism and it’s significant that the songs on “18” haven’t received the same treatment. Given the context of a man seemingly re-evaluating his sense of inner worth, how does he feel now about his music having been used in car adverts? Doesn’t the fact that his father died in an automobile accident make it difficult for him?

“It happened a long time ago. Everybody dies in car crashes. You grow up, you’re in high school and every couple of years someone dies in a car crash. They’re big dangerous things. I’m not trying to belittle it, all I’m saying is like every time you get into a car you know that there’s a chance something bad’s going to happen.”

Does he drive?

“I used to. I lost my driver’s licence. It expired. No dramatic story of drunk driving, it just expired and I never renewed it. I do drive occasionally and because I don’t have a licence I’m now the safest driver in the world. Because if I get caught driving without a licence I get arrested. I drive occasionally but I shouldn’t because it’s illegal.”

Moby says he’s been doing an average of ten interviews a day to promote “18”, racking up three hundred in the first two months of the year. And every half hour slot, you imagine, is the same. Robot sex, blah blah, knives through the body, blah blah, croquet on the roof. So it’s genuinely intriguing to see him momentarily flatfooted by a question.

Was being 18 a significant year for him?

“I wonder?” he ponders. “18. Yeah, actually 18 was an extremely significant year. 18 was when I went to university and dropped out. If I hadn’t dropped out of university, I would probably be working in a record store, taking philosophy nightclasses to get my master’s degree right now. Yeah, now you mention it, it was a very significant year. One could say the biggest, most transitional year of my life.”

So it’s when he chose the life he has now.

“Yeah. Or to some extent, it was chosen for me. I left university because I was having really bad panic attacks. I didn’t want to leave, but I was having such bad attacks I had to drop out. If I were to attach some cosmic significance to it, I’d say maybe the panic attacks were a way of putting me on the road I was supposed to be on.”

The road that would lead, rather ironically, to a “futuristic loonybin” in London and a life of cultured eccentricity.

Does he still have panic attacks?

“Sporadically. The reason those panic attacks were so upsetting was because I
didn’t know they were panic attacks. I thought something was really wrong with me. Over time, I’ve learnt how to deal with them. I’ve learnt how to avoid the things that might trigger them. Like excessive caffeine.”

Or love perhaps. The day Moby falls head over heels is the day his life really will change forever.

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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