Last month, the songwriting DJ Moby dropped into the office of Arts & Crafts, his new label in Canada. He spoke about his new album Innocents, a collaborative effort out on Oct. 1 that recalls the soulful works of his past, including 1999's blues-electronica masterpiece Play.
Your new record opens with Everything That Rises, which reminds me of Memory Gospel, an affecting, heavy track of yours from the late '90s. I hear it and think that you're setting us up for something significant to follow. What was your thinking about leading with that track?
Very few people buy albums or listen to albums all the way through now. So, in some way, it's a fool's errand to make albums. But when I was growing up, my best friends were albums, as melodramatic as that might sound. And now it's 2013, and I really love making albums. I love thinking about them and the narrative trajectory they can have. So starting with Everything That Rises, to me, is to craft a cohesive album that has a narrative element to it.
It's satisfying to listen to, the album as a whole. For example, the swell of The Perfect Life, with The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, is perfect as a centrepiece.
There are people like you or I who still listen to albums. But making albums is almost like putting out poetry anthologies. You don't really expect people to experience the whole thing. This isn't a criticism, though. With the billions of pieces of music in the world, I'm just flattered if anyone takes the time to listen to something that I've done.
Can you talk about the collaborations on this record?
Early on, I decided I wanted to work with other people on this album, simply to add another variable in the creative process and to open it up a little bit. In most instances, I would send the collaborator an instrumental and see what they'd sent back. The only song that had been written fully beforehand was actually The Perfect Life. To me, it just sounded like a Flaming Lips song, so I thought, "Well, if you've written a song that sounds like a Flaming Lips song, why not get a Flaming Lips singer?"
What about another collaborator, Cold Specks, otherwise known as the young Toronto singer Al Spyx. How did she come on board?
I e-mailed [Mute label founder] Daniel Miller and asked him for ideas on collaborators. The only person he suggested was Cold Specks. She's really a unique, remarkable talent. She's quite young, though, so there's always a concern. You look at someone like her, at the beginning of her career, and hope that they somehow emerge unscathed. There are so many ways a public career can really mess people up. So I was in the studio with her, and I felt a little paternal. I wanted to protect her. But she's smart, and she's got good people around her.
Some of the people around her are with Arts & Crafts, based here in Toronto. You're also on the label, at least in Canada. How did you hook up with the Arts & Crafts?
I was signed to Mute Records for a long time, and then Mute was bought by EMI. So I found myself an EMI artist, which in Canada was fine. Deane Cameron was the president of EMI, and he's one of my favourite people in the music industry.
But then EMI was bought by Universal, right?
Yes, and I started realizing that the bigger, older music labels were singularly ill-adapted for the current musical climate. So I started looking around for companies that had been formed during the digital music climate. I found that these smaller companies, such as Arts & Crafts, are really enthusiastic, but also nimble.
You've decided to stop touring. How did your team react to that decision?
My manager almost wants to hold a gun to my head and force me to go on tour, because it's pretty much giving up the only source of revenue that we have. But I didn't become a musician to make money. I became a musician to dedicate my life to making music. And I can't do that if I'm giving up huge chunks of my life sitting around, which is what you do on tour.
So do you now have more time to write and record?
I guess my whole life had been dedicated to the power that music has to connect emotionally. There is that moment when you're in the studio, playing guitar and you write a piece of music and it just is right. To me, that's what makes life worth living. I mean, just imagine the day David Bowie wrote Heroes. What if he hadn't been home with a guitar? What if he had been sitting in the back of car in traffic? Suddenly the world wouldn't have Heroes.
The interview has been condensed and edited.