Photo: Matt Fried
Moby Reflects On 'Last Night,' Songwriting, "Everyday It's 1989"
As a DJ, songwriter, producer and performer, Moby has always been a decidedly forward-looking artist who embraces new technology to create genre-defying music. But on his 2008 album, Last Night, the GRAMMY nominee allowed himself to look backward for inspiration with the old-style rave track "Everyday It's 1989."
"The nostalgia was no secret," Moby explains. "The title of [that] song is sort of an explicit acknowledgment that I could have written this exact song in 1989, even though it was 2006 when I was working on it."
Moby's decision to indulge in a retro approach was the result of both personal epiphany and, oddly enough, technological advances.
He began his career as a DJ, but by the mid-2000s, he'd logged nearly 15 years of touring as a live performer and bandleader. While on tour in Germany, Moby decided to work as a guest DJ at a club on a night that his band didn't have a scheduled show.
"Rule No. 1 for fans should be: "Congratulate the obscure."
"I left my hotel, and I was holding some USB sticks, which contained all the music I was going to play that night," he recalls. "They weighed roughly an ounce. I looked up at the hotel and realized I had 15 musicians and touring personnel there, and I looked at the two tour buses and the two trucks that we had parked in front of the hotel. I realized that, practically speaking, that night the little USB sticks were going to do exactly what the trucks and the buses and the musicians and touring personnel were going to do the next night. I suddenly thought, 'Oh!'"
Moby didn't stop touring, but he became much more active as a DJ on the burgeoning EDM scene, enjoying the spontaneity and easy logistics of gigs that required nothing more than an app-laden laptop. And his re-immersion in the club scene was soon reflected in his songwriting.
"I found myself kind of falling in love with dance culture again," says Moby. "I started writing all sorts of different kinds of dance tracks and a lot of them ended up on Last Night, which as an album became an overview of different types of dance music and different types of electronic inspirations.
"When I found this old gospel sample of a woman singing, I decided to write a straight-up, unapologetically old-school rave track around it, using all the things the old rave tracks had — the piano, the strings, the breakbeats. I sort of wrote 'Everyday It's 1989' as a lark, for my own weird love of old rave music."
The writing process for "Everyday ..." was quite different from hits such as "Disco Lies," "Porcelain" or "Pale Horses" and didn't involve much consideration about song structure — Moby says he was simply following the template of archetypal dance tracks.
"I can't count the number of rave records made in the late '80s and '90s that have an almost identical structure," he says. "There wasn't really much thought to that, because I'd already recorded so many of them and listened to so many of them that the structure was encoded in my DNA."
At first Moby thought "Everyday It's 1989" might just be a private joke, but when younger associates responded to it enthusiastically as a fresh track rather than an exercise in nostalgia, he decided to include it on Last Night, which ultimately received a Best Electronic/Dance Album nomination at the 51st GRAMMY Awards. And, to his ears, this particular deep album cut holds up well.
"At the time I'm working on something I can only hear the imperfections, which drive me crazy. But if enough time passes, those imperfections become endearing. My self-criticism has waned."
When pressed for a favorite deep cut from another artist, Moby cites a recent face-to-face encounter.
"I was at a party the other night and ran into Billy Idol, who I’d never met. I told him how much I loved a song from his first album [1982's Billy Idol] called "Love Calling" — an almost Gary Glitter-ish sounding track," says Moby. "His eyes just lit up, and I got the feeling that no one had ever complimented him on that song. That just reinforced the idea that talking about deep cuts truly is the way to a musician’s heart. Rule No. 1 for fans should be: "Congratulate the obscure."
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis, Elvis: My Best Man, and Running With The Champ: My Forty-Year Friendship With Muhammad Ali.)