Moby, also known as 45-year-old Richard Melville Hall, is kind of a big deal. He’s worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Guns N’Roses and the relentlessly troubled Britney Spears, and has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide. Being an ethical vegan, he’s also done this and more without so much as sniff of a double cheeseburger, which works in his favour when he takes on fast food vendors and capitalist ideology, both in his blog and in America’s murky political arena.
In a world where artists such as Lady Gaga are considered normal (if only the clue were in the name) and Principles is a shop where your nan buys her cardigans, Moby’s determination to improve his habitat through supporting various causes is often misunderstood. We caught up with him to straighten things out.
So, first things first. Is it true that a man broke into your house and you gave him a jumper and some money to buy something to eat?
Yeah, it was about five months ago. I had some friends staying with me, and at 7am my friend Laura rocked into my bedroom. She looked terrified, and said there was a strange guy sitting in my living room. His name was Robbie, and he’d been up for a couple of days taking illicit substances and somehow he had found his way into my house. Luckily for me he was completely harmless, so we gave him some money for breakfast and a sweatshirt, and sent him on his way.
That was very understanding. How do you stay committed to your values and morals in an industry that’s generally accepted to be devoid of them?
The world is a complicated place. In some respects yes, the music business is not renowned for being the most principled, ethical business in the world, but I can’t think of too many industries that are inherently principled or ethical. And also I’m a citizen of the United States, I pay taxes to the American government and the American government is far less principled than the music business – being a taxpaying American is much more of a challenge to my values than being part of the music business.
The American government does good things, but it’s also the biggest polluter on the planet, the American military tests on animals more than any other company or industry on the planet, so I feel like the music industry is a bastion of good ethical behaviour compared to the American government.
Would you consider leaving the US to live somewhere else?
Possibly, but when saying that the American government is not a bastion of good ethics, I’m not implying that there are too many countries that are. Countries are big, messy, complicated places, and the world is a big, messy, complicated place. I think if someone looks for ethical purity and ideological consistency in the world, they’re just going to be really disappointed.
What are your biggest fears for the future?
If you look at the course of human civilisation, there was a time when most of the problems that people dealt with were problems foisted on them by the natural world, and now we live in a time where the vast majority of problems we deal with are those we’ve created ourselves. My biggest fear is that we’re just going to continue to be stupid. We’ll continue to create problems for ourselves in a world where, for the most part, most of the problems we dealt with for millennia are no longer problems, so rather than accept the fact that we could live in a problem-free world, we just go out and create new problems for ourselves.
You’ve got a reputation for being quite a calm, harmonious person. What advice can you give us?
I guess my advice would be to pretend you’re on your death bed, and look back at your life and try to figure out what’s important and what isn’t. A lot of the time, when I find myself getting stressed out or angry, it’s usually a waste of time. If I’m sitting in traffic and I’m angry, my anger about traffic isn’t making the situation any better. That should be our criteria for evaluating our responses – are we making the situation better, or are we making it worse?
You must come up against quite a lot of resistance from politicians who think you’re just another random, righteous musician.
Funnily enough, that’s not with politicians, it’s with journalists.
I’ve found the quickest way to incur the wrath of the media is by being opinionated on political and social issues, particularly in places like the UK. Look at people like Bono and Sean Penn and Tim Robbins –
the moment you’re outspoken about something, the press break out the knives and try to cut you down. If you look at someone like Liam Gallagher from Oasis, he’s never had bad press in his life, because he’s just a normal guy who likes to go to the pub and have a drink.
So what do you do? Ignore it and carry on doing what you think is right?
The very strange thing about the wrath of the media for musicians who try to be socially active is that a lot of the time the journalists writing these nasty pieces actually agree with the musicians on a political and social level. It’s a really strange phenomenon, so it’s not like I’ve received bad press from right-wing journalists. I’ve received my worst press from left-wing journalists who probably agree with the positions that
I take. In Australia, they call it ‘tall poppy syndrome’, where they cut the head off the flower that grows the tallest.
OK, let’s lighten up a bit for the final question. If a film were to be made about your life, who would you want to play you?
The thing with most of us little bald white guys is that we all look the same. Even though he’s not a little white bald guy, probably Sam Rockwell. I think he’s probably the best actor of our generation, so arrogantly and presumptuously, if someone were to play me, I would like it to be an amazing actor, and I think he’s a pretty great actor. If he shaved his head, I think he would look like me or Michael Stipe, or John Malkovich, or any of the other little white bald guys in the world.
Get Zen the Moby way
If the multi-talented musician’s advice is half as good as (most of) his music, we can’t go wrong with these tips
‘Rather than figure out what my public image is, I’d rather be honest and be myself, even if I run the risk of alienating people or offending people. I think generally it takes a lot less work to be honest, even if being honest sometimes can be confusing or messy.’
‘People should ask themselves the simple question: are they making things better, or are they making things worse? And not even necessarily on a global level – more on a personal level. Are their responses to things and actions improving their life? Or are their actions and responses to the detriment of their wellbeing and their life?’
‘There’s nothing wrong with eating McDonalds three meals a day, but people have to realise that if you don’t exercise and you just smoke and eat McDonalds, you’re going to get fat and sick and die.’