by Nell Alk
Mo had me at hello.
The first few seconds of a solitary song moved my sophomore-in-high-school self, leaving a lasting impression and launching a lifetime of fandom. It was the year 2000 and a trailer for The Beach, which featured the epic “Porcelain,” had me mesmerized. Ultimately the pristine track, its aesthetic soaring and sparkling, surpassed the movie itself. I invested in the full length, Play (1999), and the film faded from memory. Moby’s fifth album proved paradise enough.
I remember purchasing the physical disc that summer at a brick-and-mortar music megastore in L.A. and listening to it on repeat in my mom’s Ford Taurus wagon, which we’d driven cross-country from my hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin in order to tour colleges. I pored over his essays, printed on the insert, reading them aloud and, for the very first time, encountering veganism. In a calm manner, Moby shared with buyers why he eschewed animal products.
In that moment, I don’t think I fully appreciated the impact of his subtly delivered but significant message. It would be two years before I became vegetarian and still longer before I acknowledged the pain and suffering associated with dairy and eggs.
Despite my delayed awakening, Moby was in the back of my mind when a PETA pamphlet turned me off of meat. The veritable pioneer entered my head again when the bestselling book Skinny Bitch encouraged me to evolve further, beyond conventional ice cream and omelets.
Working as a writer in New York, it never occurred to me that I might one day meet my idol in real life. Fast forward to 2009: at an art space in Brooklyn, I interviewed Moby for Interview Magazine. The next year it was NBC. A little later it was as a top ten finalist seeking content for a competition. Indeed, Moby was always warm and accessible, even visiting me at my apartment once when he was in the neighborhood.
Now the award-winning electronic musician—who this past Thanksgiving, at 47, celebrated his 25-year vegan anniversary—resides in the Hollywood Hills, far from his former home in Manhattan. We discussed this shift and a number of other things, including his forthcoming record (his eleventh to date), via phone recently. Vocal in more ways than one, the prolific figure conveyed his commitment to the animal rights cause and, despite the fact that he’s a realist, he’s also refreshingly optimistic. Except when it comes to climate change, which he sees as an irreversible doom.
BFM: Even though I know, what compelled you to become vegan?
Moby: I became vegetarian and then vegan simply [because] I really like animals and didn’t want to be involved in any process that contributes to animal suffering. That’s what initially led me to be vegan. But then, the more I found out about the effect[s] eating animals [has] on health [and] the environment, that reinforced my veganism. The more research I did, the more committed I became.
BFM: Win-win-win. What do you anticipate for the future?
Moby: Twenty-five years ago, being vegan was difficult. There were only a handful of vegan restaurants. Outside New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, it was almost impossible to find good vegan food. Now, it’s everywhere. Every time I open a magazine, another movie star’s become vegan, another athlete’s become vegan. There [are] so many reasons to be vegan: for health, vanity, animal rights, the environment. It’s gaining momentum.
BFM: With that said, how long will it take for the world to become vegan?
Moby: I kind of naively and optimistically think that at some point, say in the next century, being primarily vegetarian will be the norm. If you look at the course of human history, humans slowly but surely figure out the right thing and do it. Go back a hundred years: women couldn’t vote, children worked in factories, blacks couldn’t own property in certain parts of the country [and] there was no way African Americans could run for public office. We’re moving in a very sane, very rational direction and part and parcel of moving in a sane, rational direction is recognizing that there aren’t any compelling reasons to torture animals, kill them and eat their flesh.
BFM: Speciesism. Anyway, I always say all roads lead to vegan.
Moby: It’s bad for the animals, for us, for the communities in which the animals are raised and killed, for the workers in feedlots, [factory farms] and slaughterhouses. Raising animals for food, killing them and eating them harms every living entity who’s part of the process. At some point in our ongoing march towards sanity and reason, we’re going to leave eating animals behind.
BFM: I feel like it’s a brick by brick sort of thing that’s going to take time. But, ideally one day eating animals will be passé or even illegal. I know that’s crazy…
Moby: I don’t think it’s crazy. When [figures from] Mike Tyson to Bill Clinton [are] vegan, it’s inevitable this is a good idea that eventually everyone will adopt.
BFM: Let’s hope so. Some famous figures are fickle…
Moby: Most people I know who [are] vegan, it’s for health reasons. There’s so much information available that shows eating animal products is incredibly deleterious to human health, whereas a [whole foods], plant-based diet is incredibly healthy. So, we see more and more people influenced by that.
BFM: For sure.
Moby: If I look at it rationally, veganism is a way to protect the environment, be nice to animals, increase chances of living longer, being healthier, looking better and avoiding disease. There are literally countless good reasons to become vegan and not one good reason not to. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m optimistic. And, there’s a lot to support my optimism. The world we live in is becoming, slowly [but] surely, a more rational, compassionate, kind place. Even though it doesn’t always seem that way, that’s what I believe.
BFM: Do you feel like there are aspects outsiders don’t know about the movement?
Moby: So many people who really love animals continue to eat meat. I find that so surprisingly inconsistent. People who would never in a million years harm a dog or a cat, but [who] support industries that cause unbelievable suffering to other animals. I’m just amazed.
BFM: A fantastic book that addresses this incongruence is Dr. Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows.
Moby: Life is complicated and, by being alive, to some extent we’re always going to be complicit in some sort of suffering. If you drive, you’re accidentally killing lots of bugs. There’s no way to live a 100% cruelty-free life, but I do the best I can.
BFM: It’s about abstaining from the overt varieties, like eating meat, dairy and eggs and buying leather shoes and a wool scarf. So, as a world traveler, how do you fare in other countries?
Moby: It depends on the country [and] the era. When I started touring 22 years ago, being a vegan outside New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as I said, was difficult. It’s become much easier. Every big city at least has a health foods store. Some difficult places are parts of South America [and] certain areas in Eastern Europe. But, the last tour I did of South America, we went to some out-of-the way places, and everywhere was some sort of vegetarian restaurant or health foods store. Even places in Eastern Europe now have vegetarian or vegan restaurants. I’m amazed at the progress made in the last twenty years.
BFM: Perhaps an indication as to where we’re headed. What do you believe is the greatest misconception surrounding veganism?
Moby: The protein myth. A lot of people still think it’s impossible to get adequate protein with a vegan diet, even though study after study has proven that a vegan diet provides more than enough protein. I’m amazed, [given] it’s been disproved countless times.
BFM: Such a sham, after all the contradictory campaigns we were raised on. So, what’s a film you recommend people watch?
Moby: There [are] so many great documentaries about animal welfare and veganism. I find Forks Over Knives most effective. It focuses on the health consequences of an animal-product-based diet. Earthlings is also amazing. It would be impossible to watch and not be an animal rights activist afterwards.
BFM: Absolutely. What about a book you recommend people read?
Moby: The book that got me committed to veganism and animal rights activism was Diet for a New America by John Robbins. For a lot of my friends in the movement, that got us going. Kathy Freston has written some great books; Andrew Weil; Dean Ornish. The list goes on. For more erudite, highbrow people, a really interesting place to start [is] Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.
BFM: Love that book. And Robbins’ trajectory is incredible. On a related note, do you think violence begets violence, that murdering animals for food creates this psychic toxicity in our society?
Moby: We live in a culture that is far too comfortable with violence in all its forms. There’s a quote about not turning your body into a tomb. It makes sense. If people fill their bodies with the carcasses of animals who have been tortured and killed and are complicit in that process, passively aware of what’s involved, that create[s] a disturbing, dangerous level of passive violence in people’s lives. Simply supporting an industry that is predicated on violence is going to increase the quotient of violence in the world.
BFM: I think you’re right. So, beyond being vegan, what activism are you currently involved in?
Moby: I support a lot of animal rights organizations, from small to big, like Humane Society and PETA. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of local stuff: education work in L.A., prison reform in California. But, as committed as I am to all these causes, the biggest issue of our time is climate change. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about it. The goal should be to deal with [this] as much as we can, but do everything we can to prepare for the horrifying consequences that are going to come from global warming.
BFM: Outlook is bleak, but being vegan helps. Or, rather, does less damage. Switching now to more uplifting things, what would you say has been the biggest honor of your career?
Moby: I’m lucky that there’ve been a few. In 1996, I put out an album called Animal Rights—a complete failure. Critically it was a failure, commercially it was a failure and the tour I did for it was a failure. I remember after it came out I was in a bar with Bono, [who] told me he loved [it] as much as he loved the first Clash album. Especially because literally no one else seemed to like [it], that really moved me.
BFM: I can imagine. After that came Play. Did you decide you could do more as an activist if you were making music that found an audience, rather than music that spoke to that activism?
Moby: When I made Animal Rights, I didn’t know I was making a record no one was going to like. When I made Play, I didn’t know I was making an album that would become successful. For better or worse, I’m probably the worst judge of my own music. [I] just keep making music and have no idea how people are going to respond.
BFM: When can fans anticipate new tunes?
Moby: I just finished making my next record, coming out [in] September. I like it, but I’m biased. I wish I could say something meaningful about it. I have no objectivity. There [are] a lot of interesting collaborations on it. I’ve also been doing dance collaborations with young, up-and-coming deejays, so I’m going to start releasing singles I’ve been doing with these techno and house producers. I’ve also been making lots of long, ambient tracks.
BFM: I hope we’ll get to hear them. Consider my curiosity piqued. Can you say anything about how you evolved your music for this forthcoming album?
Moby: I’m just trying to make music that I love, music that speaks to me emotionally. But, part of the evolution is the fact that I’m getting older, so I don’t feel compelled to necessarily be part of the mainstream music world anymore. I’m just trying to make records I like and not worry about how they do commercially. No one buys records anyway, so I’m just trying to make a record I love in hopes that a few people might listen to it.
BFM: Just a few. So, your friends in New York (ahem) want to know why you crossed the country to live in La La Land…
Moby: I moved for a lot of reasons. I found that lower Manhattan, where I’d been living for decades—at one point primarily inhabited by weird artists, writers and musicians—over time [became] inhabited by tourists and hedge fund guys. I have nothing against tourists and hedge fund guys; I just am happier living among weird musicians and artists. Because L.A. is such a big, sprawling, cheap mess of a city, there’s still ways for artists, musicians and writers to pay the rent and have a pretty decent quality of life. Above everything else, that’s why I moved.
BFM: Is there anything you miss about New York?
Moby: New York is the capital of the world. Of all the cities I’ve been to, New York is one of the most beautiful, dynamic, exciting. In some ways I feel like New York has become a victim of its success. It’s such a wonderful place, everybody wants to go there.
BFM: Think you’ll ever return?
Moby: My fear is that when I want to move back to New York, New York will be under water.