Some Songs Considered #059: From Moby, of “Moby” fame
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
From Moby, of “Moby” fame
Since I already unleashed a straight-from-the-altar-of-my-heart manifesto about Bonnaroo 2016 earlier this week, I’m going to let someone more recognizable do most of the talking for #059 of Some Songs Considered…
Earlier this month, Moby (of “Moby” fame) was on Ezra Klein’s wonderful podcast to talk about his new memoir, Porcelain, which while focusing on the artist’s life from 1989 to 1999 is, to quote Moby himself, “also about new york as it transitioned from being a broken, dirty city to the bizarre and stratospherically expensive city it’s become.”
I highly suggest listening to the episode in its entirety:
But, for those with broken headphones or limited data plans…
I’ve taken the liberty of filling in the gaps of Vox’s very-abridged transcript of the two’s surprisingly gripping 54-minute conversation, sharing some of my favorite Moby insights and practicing some very Voxian further-reading link seeding where I can.
Enjoy, and don’t listen to Space Ghost, Moby…
“Let’s say it’s late 80s/early 90s and you are an aspiring musician, writer, director, what-have-you, and you want to live in some crummy, cheap, low-rent urban environment. You had so many places to choose from: you could move to New York, you could move to DC, you could move to LA, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Paris – all these kind of run-down inexpensive, urban environments. And I was just feeling a little sad for the young people of today. Where do they go to make art or make music and not have to worry about the rent? Because I feel like almost every urban environment now is prohibitively expensive.”
On why he chose to live in a crappy apartment in NYC as opposed to on his parents’ couch:
“I come from old New England stock, so the fact that I was living within my means – I was making $4,000 a year and paying $50 a month in squatter’s rent – so there was an almost Calvinist virtue in that.
Also, and it’s hard to describe, but I was really happy there. There’s something about this old, industrial environment… “
“Part of the comfort actually comes with this sense of solidarity, the fact that everything that’s ever been born, at some point has succumbed to what we’ll call ‘existential entropy.’
At some point, every organism for the last 3 1/2 billion years has at some point jumped the shark. And accepting that, understanding ‘Well, so my life might have so wistful disappointments, but oh so does everyone, and so does everything,’ ideally there’s a beautiful solidarity somewhere in that, and a sense of compassion born of that solidarity.”
On, what exactly it is he does when he creates a track:
“I approach making music a little more idiosyncratically, so often times I’ll start out by playing guitar and playing keyboards, and then I’ll take what I’ve written on guitar and piano and work on it within ProTools or Logic or some type of electronic music software.
But, at its most basic, there are only three things going on: Something that makes the sound, something that helps the sound to sound better, and then a third thing that enables you to record the sound. Of course, there’s varying levels of complexity within each of those three areas, but basically that’s what’s happening.”
“First and foremost – and I guess this should be self-evident, but I think in some people’s cases it isn’t – I had such a deep emotional love for and connection to music. When I was growing up, almost nothing affected me as profoundly as music did. And so when I became a musician, it was simply to try and be a part of this world that had already touched me so deeply.
I think if you couple that with the fact that I didn’t have a fall-back plan, I didn’t know how to do anything else. I’ve seen a lot of writers/artists/musicians, they pursue writing/art/music for a few years and if it doesn’t work out they go do something else, but the only other thing I was even remotely qualified to do was be a community college teacher teaching philosophy, and I wasn’t even qualified to do that because I never graduated from college. So, I just didn’t have a fall-back job.
I think it helps to love what you’re doing and have no other options.”
On what he thinks make for “successful” music:
“There’s almost a longing for emotional connection through music. Ideally all art is capable of doing these two magical things: on one hand, expressing the sort of joy and confusion and sadness and bafflement of the human condition, but also trying to share that with someone.
Maybe a lot of musicians, I think, become too academic or they start employing non-subjective, non-emotional criteria to their music. They start becoming very technical. I wish I had a better answer, but I think it somehow comes down to making music that you love and working under the hope and assumption someone else might love it as well.”
On hearing gay disco and early house music and hip-hop in the mid 80s, and the migration of those cultures’ “celebratory” feeling to straight, Caucuasian nightlife:
“Clearly all of us are capable of celebration, even the most uptight white suburban guy like me is capable of being celebratory. I just feel like maybe it’s the legacy of Calvinism. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like other cultures are more trustful of celebration. So I don’t know if it comes as easily to some of us uptight white suburban people as it does to other cultures, and that’s why I was so great to have access to it.
I’ve been at some white people events that are VERY celebratory, but nothing like being in an underground nightclub in New York in 1988 that was gay and black and latino and people just celebrating in ways that was really transcendent.”
“If you were a photographer or filmmaker or author, up until recently you needed to be in a major metropolitan area. You needed to be able to work in recording studios, or get signed to record labels and go on radio stations. But now, because of online access, most people don’t need to be anywhere to successfully do their work.”
“I do think there was a lot to be said for when media was a little broader and almost more ecumenical. When we were all experiencing roughly the same things and we weren’t quite as polarized.
For better or worse I don’t have any friends on the far right, but my friends on the far left, they’ve started to disappear down rabbit holes of obscurity and sort of arcane policy that makes a lot of sense to them because they only talk to each other. It seems really dangerous.
And the world of culture as well… Now people are only exposed to the things that are presented to them via Facebook. They’re not necessarily as exposed to world-views that might not even be contradictory, but that might represent something different from their provincial cul-de-sac.”
Random Tracks from Random Nerds:
Jenny Hval – “Female Empire”
– Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
This is not the first nor the last time I will ask you to listen to Jenny Hval’s music.
She is as much a conceptual artist as she is a musician. And you’d be a smarter, more well-rounded human if you listened to her work.
If you are unfamiliar with her 2015 release Apocalypse Girl and its refreshingly dark take on modernity and gender, then please get familial. If you are already on board the Hval Express, then strap in for this September’s Blood Bitch, which promises to be a concept album on menstruation; or, in her words, “The white and red toilet roll chain which ties together the virgins, the whores, the mothers, the witches, the dreamers, and the lovers.”
Her latest single off Blood Bitch, the aptly named “Female Vampire” is a good intro to her expertly produced, haunting sound. It balances the ethereal beauty of her voice and the unsettling nature of her content, and, as always, is paired with an equally unsettling and abstract video:
Still, throughout all of Jenny’s Hval’s work, there is constant restraint in front of biting lyricism.
Maybe that’s why I feel even more compelled to repeatedly push her music to the masses – she might be too cool to do it herself.
Rihanna – “Same Ol’ Mistakes”
– Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
Twenty-eight. It’s an age that sounds disgusting when you utter it. Because if you’re 28, you’re basically 30. You feel the gap separating you from that threshold rapidly narrowing, and it makes you more reflective by nature. Each turn of the world carries some deeper meaning; every development is some grand statement about your life’s direction.
Rihanna, whose life is the glorious reality show we’re blessed to watch unfold in real time, awkwardly released ANTI — her most personal (and best) album, to date — in late January, just three weeks shy of her 28th birthday.
ANTI distinguishes itself from her previous seven efforts because of its cohesion and personality. We’ve known who Rihanna, the figure, is since her maturity into unfiltered siren began with 2009’s Rated R, but ANTI opened the door to Robyn’s world, sharing her vulnerability alongside the desires, demands, and enchanting savagery# that’s made her feel like the most engaging girl in the world, rather than the only one#. Rihanna’s a grown-ass woman now, and ANTI has been the most authentic rendering of her transition from one phase to the next.
The song that best captures this Rihanna-in-progress is “Same Ol’ Mistakes”:
The irony being that Rihanna didn’t write “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” nor was it even written for her.
The song is a talent show cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Mistakes” from an album, Currents, that was just six months old when ANTI was released…
The original is fantastic; superior, even. But the cover’s release in conjunction with the context of where Rihanna was as at both as an artist and person make it unique to her journey; subsequently, her rendition stands independent of Tame Impala’s.
The chorus echoes the conflicting thoughts of someone who’s evolving, yet still human and prone to error. It’s assertive yet cautionary; a tug-of-war between the heart and mind:
Feel like a brand new person
(But you make the same old mistakes)
Well, I don’t care I’m in love
(Stop before it’s too late)
Feel like a brand new person
(But you make the same old mistakes)
I finally know what it’s like
(You don’t have what it takes)
(Stop before it’s not too late)
(I know there’s too much at stake)
(Making the same mistakes)
And I still don’t know why it’s happening
(Stop while it’s not too late)
And I still don’t know
The truth about this adulthood thing is that we’re all figuring it out on the fly. There’s no universally applicable blueprint or CliffsNotes for how to do it right. The victories, disappointments, cruel sucker-punches, and gifts from whatever higher power you believe in are twists along the path(s) of evolution. “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is about weathering all of the above, and although heavy with self-doubt, it’s ultimately conclusive. The familiar trappings and second-guessing don’t inhibit the “new direction” mentioned in the soaring outro.
Over a year ago, when ANTI was still an untitled work in progress, Rihanna told MTV News she wanted it to be “timeless”:
“I wanted songs that I could perform in 15 years; I wanted an album that I could perform in 15 years,” she said. “I find that when I get on stage now, I don’t want to perform a lot of my songs. They don’t feel like me.”
Despite not being a Rihanna original, “Same Ol’ Mistakes” feels like Rihanna, The Adult. Even moreso than her Foxy Brown-meets-La Femme Nikita-meets-The Long Kiss Goodnight fantasies#, drunk voicemails#, or detailed descriptions of the joys of fucking her#.
At 28, and in spite of the occasional old mistake, Rihanna’s figured out precisely who she is.
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