When EW last spoke with Moby, ahead of the October 2016 release of his album These Systems Are Failing, the seminal electronic producer — and ardent political activist — was confident America would elect Hillary Clinton president. “I realized that it’s almost impossible for Donald Trump to become president,” he said.
Of course, Moby predicted wrong. But the 52-year-old is eager to talk politics when EW connects with him to discuss his latest release, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, which arrives March 2. “Everyone is so strangely sanguine” about the fact that Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the election, he explains. And he blames the former president for placing “the most lying disingenuous sociopath probably on the planet” in the Oval Office: “Obama, in the first two years of his presidency, he could’ve passed sweeping electoral reform.”
More than most artists, understanding Moby’s politics is essential to understanding his art, and vice versa. “Our cluelessness and our vulnerability and, of course, the mistakes we’re making are on the verge of unforgivable,” he says when describing the themes of his new album, “but underneath it is just this fear and vulnerability. […] We are constantly screwing up, but in a weird way, we’re still trying to do our best.”
As the release of Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt approached, Moby chatted with EW about the intentional imperfections in his music, why humans are less evolved than we seem, and Russia’s alleged interference in America’s recent election.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re an outspoken progressive advocate. How did the 2016 election influence this album?
MOBY: After the election, rather than blow my brains out or move to Denmark, I took a step back and said, “The common denominator to everything that’s wrong is us, as a species.” The subtext of the 20th century, and into the 21st century, is making egregiously terrible choices when we know better. The record itself is — rather than looking at systems and rather than looking at politics — looking at who we are as a species. Basically [we’re] these scared, vicious monkeys. We still are behaving like we’re on the Serengeti two million years ago, and we’re about to get eaten by jaguars, and we have nothing to eat.
Would you call it a concept album?
It’s more thematic than a specific concept: The dialectic between light and dark, between hard and vulnerable — I feel like that’s the best description of who we are at this point. We’re super vulnerable and super dangerous at the same time. We burn through all our resources, we create all this misery, and the end result is we’re not very happy. This lunatic party that we’ve had for the last 100 years of burning and destroying everything would almost be excusable if we were really, really happy. The music on this record is looking at that.
The trip-hop and dub elements diverge from your very noisy recent LPs, 2016’s These Systems Are Failing and 2017’s More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse. How’d you end up in that direction?
When I first got [streaming services] on my phone, I tried to be really virtuous and use them as a way to discover new music. And then pretty quickly I turned them into historical nostalgia machines. What I kept coming up against was how amazing an instrument a studio can be. We sometimes forget about that — the ability to work in a studio to create these sonic worlds that are really unnatural but really sort of enveloping. That was a big inspiration for the sound of the record.
Can you explain your decision to introduce sonic imperfections to these songs?
I like the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: An entropic brokenness is more interesting and more compelling than a clean perfection. The example would be that an old broken wooden bucket is a lot more interesting than a new plastic bucket from Home Depot. It’s informed by that, and also just my weird love of old equipment. A lot of the imperfection on the record comes from using old equipment that doesn’t work very well. A degree of honesty and vulnerability just feels healthier and certainly more engaging. If you go on a date with someone, you don’t want to go on a date with perfection — you want to go on a date with someone who’s a little bit messy and emotionally open.
Two songs, “Mere Anarchy” and “The Ceremony of Innocence,” take their names from the John Yeats poem “The Second Coming.” Why does that piece resonate with you?
Apparently in the year after the election, Google searches for that poem have gone up like 500 percent, because it is such a horrifying description of what we’re going through. Good old Trump is — the only difference is we always assumed the anti-Christ wouldn’t be stupid. We have Trump, the anti-Christ, and he’s just a dimwit. I guess we always assumed evil would be a little smarter.
You’ve been vocal about the president and the alleged collusion with Russia. Why do you think it’s so important for you to use your platform in that way?
Someone the other day asked me, “Aren’t you worried?” I was like, “Well, about what?” They were like, “Aren’t you afraid that the FSB is going to assassinate you?” I was like, “So? We need martyrs. If I die, maybe there’ll be some inspiration there.” I have this wonderful luxury of nothing. I don’t care about my career and I don’t have a family, so why would I be cautious? I don’t think that makes me brave, because bravery is doing something you’re afraid of. In my case, I think I’m just foolhardy.
Recently, you tweeted that “bots are corrupting our democratic processes.” What steps do media platforms need to take to improve the discourse?
I have this crazy idea [laughs]: What if on social media there were only verified users with biographical detail? No more anonymity. Everything verified. I don’t want to be the one to spearhead this but if the social media giants don’t step up and fix this, I think it’s time to start not patronizing them.