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Moby on His Very Strange Animal-Mask Photos, Why Artists Should Move to Newark, and His ‘NYC vs. L.A.’ Playlist

Maybe Moby was right all along. The electronic-music pioneer not only helped usher in the EDM craze, but his leave-no-song-unsold licensing strategy for the 1999 album Play seems groundbreaking by today’s standards. He has long since decamped from the Lower East Side to a castle in the Hollywood Hills, where he has been busy promoting his set of strange, post-apocalyptic photographs, Innocents. A visual companion to last year’s album of the same name, Innocents' masked figures and foreboding landscapes have finally landed in New York. Images from the exhibit will be auctioned at Art for Tibet on May 15, and posted outside Quality Mending in Nolita through August, leading to a solo show at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in September. Moby talked to Vulture about his photography, why he left New York, and how it’s easier to stay sober in L.A.

How were the Innocents photos inspired by your relocation from New York to L.A.?

In a few different ways. The concept behind the show is the idea that the apocalypse has already happened. So half of the show is documentation of the apocalypse, and the other half is my fascination with cults since I moved here, because is L.A. is like ground zero for strange 20th century and 21st century cults. Most cults are pre-apocalyptic. They figure that the apocalypse is about to happen and they're figuring out a way of anticipating it and making peace with it. I thought it'd be interesting to work under the assumption that the apocalypse has happened, and to invent this cult of Innocents that's a response to the unfolding apocalypse.

You've been taking pictures since you were ten, when your uncle, a New York Times photographer, gave you a camera. What do you shoot with now?

My uncle had a Nikon F that he had used in Vietnam. When I was 10 years old, he gave it to me. When I was 13 or 14 he started giving me some of his old darkroom equipment that he wasn't using. Now I mainly shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II. It's sort of the digital standard.

Some of your photos have been donated to the Art for Tibet auction. How did you get involved with Tibet House?

The first time, it was almost 14 years ago, I played a fund-raiser for Tibet House with David Bowie, we did some acoustic songs at Carnegie Hall. Still, one of the most amazing experiences of my personal and professional life was when he came over to my apartment to rehearse. I found myself at 9:30 on a Saturday morning playing acoustic guitar while David Bowie sang “Heroes.” I could have just died at that point, happy and complete.

You wrote in The Guardian last year that New York City is nolonger the world's cultural capital because high rents are driving artists away. Was that a factor in your move to L.A.?

I love New York, and it is without question the most dynamic and powerful city in the world. One of the main reasons I moved to L.A. is I just hate being cold and wet. I simply thought it would be nice to live somewhere where I wouldn't be cold and damp three months out out the year. And also, just a lot of my friends who are artists, writers, directors, and musicians have been relocating to L.A., so I think part of it was a lot of my friends were moving here. I also realized at one point that if I had the opportunity to live around the corner from David Lynch, than I should probably take advantage of that.

Do you think cash-strapped creative types will ever follow the suggestion you made in The Guardian and move to Newark?

I think it's inevitable. It's funny because I have a friend who moved to New York from Minnesota, and she got an apartment somewhere in Queens. For her to get from her apartment to midtown, involved like, two buses, two trains, and about an hour of commuting. But when I suggested she move to Newark and be 15 minutes away from the city, she just looked so horrified. I have a feeling that over time, the cheapness of Newark and its proximity to New York is going to win out over the stigma of having New Jersey instead of New York on your mail.

You bought a 1920s-era castle called Wolf's Lair in the Hollywood Hills in 2010. What's the best thing about living in an actual castle?

As you might know, I don't have hair and I'm not all that physically impressive, so living in a castle is sort of like the equivalent of having hair for an unattractive, middle-aged guy. Actually, the main thing is that I've spent so many years living in tiny places in New York, and it's so nice to have an abundance of space. I have four acres and seven bedrooms, and just like, so many closets. My friends will come visit me from New York and they'll look at the closets in my house and just be salivating with envy.

Your latest album, also called Innocents, came out last year to solid reviews. But you only played three concerts in L.A. for it. Why did you decide not to tour?

I'll never complain about touring, because traveling around and playing music is a nice way to live. But I've been touring for almost 25 years. When you go on tour, you give up the opportunity to have relationships, and to have dogs, and to hang out with your friends and your family, and to sleep in your own bed every night. I just wanted to take a couple of years without extensive touring just to see what that's like. And then I might get so bored that in a couple of years, I'll go on tour for the rest of my life.

You directed a video for David Lynch's song, "The Big Dream." Was it weird directing something for such a legendary filmmaker?

It was. Luckily the budget was zero, so at least we didn't spend any money on it. Over the years, he and I have done so much together. He made a video for me, we've done remixes together, I DJ'ed at his wedding. We just have this sort of strange, ongoing, creative collaboration. Which for me is amazing because he's probably one of my favorite creative visionaries of the last 100 years. The fact that I got to work with him on different things seems pretty miraculous.

It was somewhat controversial when you licensed every song off Play to an advertiser or soundtrack. Now that we live in the golden age of content marketing, do you deserve any credit for that shift in attitudes?

When I was licensing my music, there was really never any big strategy. I was simply putting out music that wasn't selling well and wasn't getting played on the radio, and licensing seemed like the only way to get people to hear the music. Over the years, I've had people ask me if I had some grand foresight or strategy, but the truth is I just didn't have any other way to get people to listen to my music. So whatever selling out I did, it was just sort of clueless and accidental.

Why did you decide to get sober, and how is that going for you?

Well, basically I had proven to myself on a few thousand occasions that I just couldn't drink in moderation. I would have these nights in New York where you'd go out at 10 at night, go to a few parties, end up at Max Fish at 3 or 4 in the morning, then on someone's roof at 5 in the morning, and stumble home at 8 in the morning. It was a truly amazing way to live, until my liver got old. Then I suddenly found as I got into my 40s that the hangovers were lasting for days. I tried to drink in moderation, and I just simply couldn't. Once I got sober, I learned that New York is paradise for being a drinker, it's the best place in the world. But when I got sober, I just found it to be really challenging, being sober in a place were almost all socializing revolves around staying out late and drinking.

Was that another reason behind your move to L.A.?

I think so, because if you wanted to be a drunk in L.A., it would be so challenging. The bars close at 1, you have to drive everywhere. Whereas to be a drunk in New York is the easiest thing in the world. You walk out your front door and within a five-minute walk you can find 100 places filled with strange, interesting people to get drunk with.

How has that changed your dating life?

Basically it has made my dating life better, but often times a lot less interesting. When I was drunk, you go out and you drink and you meet people constantly and you have these amazing, drunken relationships where you can date someone for three months and realize you've never actually met up sober. Or you date someone and you realize you've never actually seen them when the sun is out, unless it's like 7 in the morning. So now I date a lot less, so I don't have nearly as many good anecdotes, but when I do date people, it tends to be based on a more rational, sober connection and not just feeling like you met your soul mate at 3:45 in the morning at Max Fish.

What's your next creative project?

I love being able to wake up in the morning and just make music or take pictures or make weird little films. It's just kind of a nice way to live. If I was desperately gunning for radio play and record sales as a 48-year-old guy, that would be kind of tragic. It would involve so many sad compromises. So I'm pretty content to just make albums and not really think too much about whether the records are gonna sell. Very few people buy records anymore anyway, so it's really kind of emancipating.

Well, I know you're a fan of Spotify, as you've been nice enough to make a New York vs. L.A. playlist exclusively for Vulture. Do you still buy music?

I still buy music on iTunes. In some way, I feel like music is similar to the world of book publishing. Sometimes you'll buy a book to read on your Kindle, and discard it. And other times you'll buy a coffee table version of a book you really love. I feel like if there's music I really love, I might wanna own a physical copy of it. But if it's just some trashy Neil Diamond songs that I loved when I was 10 years old, I'm perfectly okay to listen to that on Spotify.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photos: Courtesy of Moby; Courtesy of Moby; Courtesy of Moby; Courtesy of Moby; Courtesy of Moby; Courtesy of Moby