Richard Melville Hall, the great-great-grand-nephew of Moby Dick author Herman Melville, was born on September 11, 1965 in New York City. Nicknamed 'Moby' since infancy, he was raised in Darien, CT. Moby's father died when he was only two. Subsequently he was brought up by his mother, an open-minded woman who encouraged Moby to pursue whatever creative avenues appealed to him. By the time Moby was ten he was actively learning classical guitar, something which held him in good stead for the punk explosion which attracted him in his teens. By his twenties he had been involved in bands as disparate as punk kids The Vatican Commandos, anarchist noise combo Flipper and critically acclaimed 4AD band Ultra Vivid Scene.
With Moby's love of new in music it was inevitable that he would be drawn to the house scene in the late 80s. He quickly became well known in the techno world with world-wide dance hit songs such as "Go" (a UK top 10), "Drop A Beat", and "Next Is The E". Three albums, "Moby", "Early Underground", and "Ambient", were released by Instinct Records during this period, but not necessarily with Moby's 'consent or involvement'.
Moby moved on to the major labels Mute (UK/Europe) and Elektra (USA). Given free artistic reign, he released "Everything Is Wrong", an album spanning several radically different genres -- an eclectic mix showcasing his versatility as a musician. Though it drew fire from techno purists, EIW won widespread acclaim among critics and fans alike.
The following album, "Animal Rights", was even more controversial. At a time when pop artists were jumping on the 'electronica' bandwagon in droves, Moby became disinterested in what he felt was a stagnating, elitist DJ culture, and put out a hard rock record instead. For years, his music had featured female singers. But on "Animal Rights", Moby did the vocals himself, shouting semi- intelligible lyrics over a backdrop of heavy guitar fury. "Little Idiot", a limited edition UK bonus disc of very simple 'symphonic instrumental' music, served as an extreme counterbalance to AR's loud rock. Some of these reflective ambient tracks appeared on the US version of AR, which had been delayed for several months.
A compilation of Moby's film-related songs, wittily entitled "I Like To Score", was released in late 1997, featuring Moby's 're-version' of the famous James Bond Theme.
The release of "Play" heralds yet more musical exploration from the Moby. Almost twelve months in the making, "Play" is a downtempo affair which is perhaps his most cohesive album to date.
"I suppose the genesis of this record can be found on the downtempo tracks on 'Everything is Wrong'" he explains. "With 'Everything is Wrong' it was me bringing in all of the styles and sounds that I was into in a wildly eclectic way. With this album I wanted things to hang together far more naturally."
If "Play" were a theatrical performance it would be in three acts. Act one finds Moby building his music around field recordings of indigenous black music from the early 20th century. Act two features Moby himself on vocal duties. The final act is represented by the quietly reflective instrumental tracks. The glue that holds the entire performance together is provided by the breaks of hip hop ("I listen to a lot of commercial hip hop like Jay-Z, Noriega, Timbaland, and Busta Rhymes"). Fear not because the overall effect is often moving, occasionally spooky and always breathtaking.
"The field recordings were made by a folk historian called Alan Lomax who, along with his father, amassed a huge catalogue of indigenous field recordings in the early part of the twentieth century. When I first heard these recordings I was so moved by them. These wonderful vocals became the starting points for my music."
Interesting that, at a time when millennial fever has so many people running to their 70s and 80s records for inspiration, Moby has found it lurking in obscure recordings from the beginning of the century. These tapes held all of the energy that originally drew him to both punk and rave.
Moby's use of these field recordings was heralded by the release of "Honey" in September '98. A swaggering slice of b-boy swamp blues, "Honey" received accolades throughout the media with NME calling it "a sparkling diamond" while The Guardian described it as "joyous, hypnotic, romping blues".
With "Honey" Moby set the scene for the astonishing bride-stripped-bare minimalist blues of "Play". And, as is the norm for the man who is occasionally known as Little Idiot, he plays all of the instruments himself.
"I was playing the album to one of my friends and he asked me who the drummer was. When I said it was me he was amazed."
He plays everything from classical guitar to Roland 303, he's played everything from thrash metal to hands in the air techno, he's remixed everyone from Michael Jackson to Metallica, and he's turned down production offers from Hole and Guns 'n' Roses. One thing is certain about Moby: he can still surprise. With "Play" Moby has delivered another stunning head turner. And the best bit is, you get the feeling that there's still so much more to come from NYC's favourite maverick.