Backstage with Moby before he completely rocked the show at the North Coast Music Festival-an interesting conversation discussing his philosophy on music, life and the city of Chicago. For someone who has sold over 20,000,000 records you would never think a giant could be so humble.
Q. Taking a look at your bio I was surprised to see that you were born in Harlem. Can you talk a bit about that and your New York connection?
A. I was born on 168th street in 1967. My dad died when I was about 2 and after he passed I moved to Connecticut with my mom where she grew up. I moved back to New York in the 80's. This movement early on helps explain my very strange musical background.
When I was really young I played classical music, but I also spent a lot of time in gospel churches, then I got into punk rock and then into hip hop. So in the 80's, the music I played would be very eclectic, I'd be DJing in an underground hip hop party, I'd be DJ'ing at a gay disco, playing drums for a punk rock band and writing experimental classical music for my friends.
Q. So when did you get inspired to become involved with the music business or producing music?
A. I never thought of myself as being involved in the music business. I started to play music when I was 9 or 10 years old-and I knew all I wanted to do with my life was play music. My ultimate dream was to put out a couple of singles-maybe go to Europe once. I had no dreams of selling records or being a rock star. I thought if I were really lucky I'd live in an old loft somewhere and maybe pay the rent-by playing music that some people might listen to-so any success I have had has been completely accidental.
Q. When did you know things were going to be bigger than your initial ambition?
A. The first single I put out was in 1990-91. It was a tiny underground dance single on a tiny underground label-which had one import. So we put this single out and it became a top 10 record in Europe.
And that was so surprising because all we thought is-it was a tiny underground record that would do nothing. That was when I realized the way I would involve myself with music-was different than what I imagined-I might not be as obscure as I thought I might be.
Q. So the records you put out with your heart-they were perceived different from what you expected?
Basically, whenever I put out a record that I thought people would buy it-no one bought it and when I put out records that I thought people would ignore-they ended up buying it. I was the worst judge of my own music. If I thought I'd done something with commercial potential it would fail miserably and when I thought it was more obscure that is when people ended up liking it.
Q. How do you balance making music you think may be big commercially versus what you think is obscure?
A. Well, since people are not really buying music today anyway(it can be had for free via the internet). I just try and make music that someone else may care about. If they end up buying it-that's fine and if they don't-that's fine. I just love the process of making music and the process of people potentially listening to it.
Q. The music you make is considered dance music. How do you make the connection with this labeling and what you produce?
A. Since I've made so many different types of music, at this point I like everything. I like hip hop, I love to hear disco, jazz, punk rock and blues. So the music I make takes from these different traditions.
There is so much that can be accomplished by music-with how it affects people. What's so amazing about music is that you can have a 3 1/2 minute experience that's a complete emotional experience. Which is not true for many other art forms. Because music can be so powerful in such a short period of time-you can do really experimental things that people still can respond to and become mainstream.
Q. How often do you come to Chicago and what do you like about this city?
A. I've been to Chicago probably 50 times in my life. I've DJ'd here. I've played live here. I've played tiny shows. I've played huge shows. I've done lots and lots of things in here. Chicago is a remarkable music city-because of the music that's come out of the city, but also because of the enthusiasm people here have for music. One of the things I love about the Chicagoland approach to music is that there is nor irony and no cynicism-people here seem to really just love music.
Well, as a lifelong fan of dance and house music-Moby is untouchable and that comes from what I hear on his records. His performance at the North Coast Music Festival reinforced how I feel-because his set was amazing and brought the house down to close the show on Saturday. If you ever have a chance to see him play-get the ticket and GO.