Moby: 'I've Had Insomnia Since I Was 4 Years Old'

Moby
© Catie Laffoon/Red Bull

Moby kicked off Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s Who Shot Rock & Roll live concert series last Saturday at the Annenberg Space for Photography, performing a two-part set: a mellow acoustic portion, followed by what he affectionately referred to as a “fuck-off rave party.”

Prior to the show, we snagged Moby to discuss how his lifelong battle with insomnia inspired his latest album/debut photo book, “Destroyed,” released last year (and streamed at the end of the interview). We also talked about his obsession with L.A. architecture and how touring puts him into a state of suspended adolescence.

Is it true that you wrote most of “Destroyed” when you were traveling and struggling with insomnia?

I’ve had insomnia since I was about 4 years old. The only times I don’t have insomnia are when I’m home in my bed going to sleep at the same time every night. I’ve spent the last 20-some odd years being on tour, and basically the moment I go on tour, I just get really bad insomnia. What I did on the tour that I was doing three years ago was rather than stay in bed and be miserable about the fact that I couldn’t sleep, I would walk around and take pictures of empty cities at five o’clock in the morning. That became the foundation for the pictures and the book and also the record because when I wasn’t taking pictures I was trying to write music as well.

[G]oing on tour puts me in the state of suspended adolescence; I feel that if I ever want to actually grow up, I kind of have to stay home and be an adult.

Aside from making music, what other ways do you spend your insomniac hours?

I basically end up buying a lot of worthless crap on eBay, taking a lot of photos, playing Scrabble on Facebook, exercising in gyms at four o’clock in the morning -- basically just anything to help pass the long empty hours between two in the morning and eight in the morning. The greatest remedy I’ve found for dealing with jetlag is simply not go on tour.

Which isn’t really conducive to a musician’s lifestyle…

I’m hoping to tour a lot less as time passes. I don’t ever complain about being on tour because it’s certainly nice to travel around and play music for people, but going on tour puts me in the state of suspended adolescence; I feel that if I ever want to actually grow up, I kind of have to stay home and be an adult.

Moby
Moby© Catie Laffoon/Red Bull
Moby
Moby© Catie Laffoon/Red Bull

You recently moved to L.A. after living in New York for a long time. What was the main reason for the move?

I was born in New York and had lived there pretty much my entire adult life and I just assumed I would always stay in New York. I stopped drinking a few years ago, and I realized that New York was a great place to be a drunk but not necessarily the best place to be sober. The first time I walked around the Lower East Side getting drunk looking for trouble was probably in 1979. It had become too familiar. I had sort of become a townie, and also the Lower Manhattan that had once been the domain of artists and musicians is now the domain of hedge-fund managers and tourists.

The whole culture of quick obsessive fame, it’s interesting as a spectator sport, but I think people who involve themselves too seriously in it -- either in producing it or consuming it -- should probably go outside every now and then.

Is it true that people like Marlon Brando and The Rolling Stones once occupied the house that you’re living in now?

Yeah. I live in a big, interesting, crazy house from the '20s and it’s perched on a ridge in Hollywood and overlooks the whole city. Over the years, lots and lots of people have lived here and done strange things.

In a recent interview, you admitted to reaching a low point in the midst of your drug and alcohol addiction and Googling “Moby Sucks.” Do you try to refrain from Googling yourself these days?

If you’re a public figure, musician, writer, artist or anything, unless you’re Thom Yorke, somebody is going to hate you and hate what you do. In the culture in which we live, there are so many outlets for people to be really vicious and vitriolic and angry and mean spirited and my response is to just not pay attention. I don’t want to base my sense of self-worth on the opinions of complete strangers who are bored at work and venting about which celebrities they hate. People are of course free to say whatever they want about me, I’m just never going to read it. The whole culture of quick obsessive fame, it’s interesting as a spectator sport, but I think people who involve themselves too seriously in it -- either in producing it or consuming it -- should probably go outside every now and then.

Moby
Moby© Catie Laffoon/Red Bull

You were recently nominated for America’s Best DJ. Do you feel deserving of the title?

No. I grew up playing classical music, and when I was 13, I started playing in hardcore punk bands so I came to DJing kind of late. I don’t think I was 19 or 20 till I started DJing and I really enjoy DJing, but off the top of my head I can think of about 100 DJs that are much better than I am. I never expected to have a career as a musician, so being able to make records and go on tour and occasionally be nominated for stuff after all these years is still flattering and surprising.

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