While listening to filmmaker David Lynch speak at the BAFTA Awards in February 2008, Moby had an epiphany. Lynch’s message – creativity for its own sake is a beautiful, wonderful thing – was a simple one, but it hit Moby with the force of the Zen master’s cane. “At that moment, I decided to just make records that were more personal,” says Moby, “maybe more experimental, and a little more challenging, maybe not as easy to like, but things that I found to be artistically and creatively more satisfying. That was the idea behind making the new album.”
The album resulting from this epiphany, Wait For Me, is a radical departure from Moby’s recent albums – last year’s paean to the dance floor, Last Night, 2005’s flirtation with modern rock, Hotel, the shimmering ambience of 2002’s 18, and the zeitgeist-defining melancholy electronica of 1999’s Play.Liberated from the pressures of trying to please himself at the same time as the radio programmers, journalists and his label’s marketing department, in making Wait For Me Moby decided to forego the expensive studios, state-of-the-art equipment, big name guest artists, and phalanxes of graphic designers and image consultants that have characterized some of his previous albums. “There’s something so relaxing about doing everything yourself, and not trying to second-guess the market,” Moby says. “I don’t know if anyone’s going to like this record, I don’t know if it’s going to sell anything, but it’s nice to try to do things for the right reasons and not give a second thought to radio play or sales – just make a record because you want to make a record.”
Indeed, this DIY approach pervades all of Wait For Me, from the recording process to the album cover. “A friend of mine shot the photos,” Moby says. “I did the art work. I made the record in my bedroom, and mixed it with a crazy punk rocker who got lost on the way to the studio every night.”
That “crazy punk rocker” is the legendary Ken Thomas, who has worked with everyone from The Buzzcocks, Wire, Boyd Rice, and Chris & Cosey to Sigur Ros and M83. Working with Thomas and Wait For Me’s DIY approach hearkens back to Moby’s punk roots as a member of the early 80s hardcore band Vatican Commandos. And while the music contained on Wait For Me is the sweeping, emotionally expansive music Moby has become known for, some of the songs bear the influence of Moby’s punk days, albeit in odd ways. “Mistake” is an homage to the emotional post-punk of Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen, while the title track’s depiction of quiet despair was inspired by Black Flag’s Damaged album.
Sonically, though, Wait For Me takes inspiration from a kinder, gentler era long before punk, before the dawn of rock ’n’ roll even. “I wanted to make a record that was beautiful and warm and open and inviting, and also a little more idiosyncratic and personal,” Moby says. “The way it’s recorded and mixed, it’s not supposed to be a bombast. A lot of my issues with modern records is they, from start to finish, are just in your face, they’re loud and brash and demanding. Sometimes that can be great, but when every instrument is mixed as loud as it can go and when vocals are constantly in your face and everything’s bright and there’s no subtlety, I don’t want to invite records like that into my house. They sound great when you’re in a rental car listening to Top 40 radio, but the records that I find myself more drawn to are very minimally recorded old blues records, records that are quite austere and simple. So I did want this record to have that austere quality.”
While Wait For Me does have a certain Spartan feel to it, it is also a warm, intimate and conversational record. “Instead of trying to make something that is commercially palatable or that the market will respect,” Moby says, “I wanted to make something that a 26 year-old woman, in her apartment, depressed can relate to.”
In order to try to achieve this one-on-one connection with the listener, Moby drowned Wait For Me in reverb and made judicious use of stereo panning. “The things that inspired me were the background vocals on ‘In the Ghetto’, the Elvis song, Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane, and ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ by The Flamingos,” Moby says. “And also eBay because through eBay I was able to buy a lot of old crappy equipment that served my needs perfectly: old reverbs, old delays, old amplifiers, old synthesizers, things that were technically imperfect but felt right to me.”
You can hear the ghosts in these old machines, and when combined with the cavernous reverb, long sustained guitar chords, warm strings, and the occasional torch song, Wait For Me may bring to mind the album’s catalyst – David Lynch and his work with composer Angelo Badalamenti. Lynch, in fact, has directed the video for “Shot In The Back Of The Head”, a song that also conjures up Phil Spector with its crashing waves of sound. It is indeed fitting that Lynch provided the inspiration for Moby’s creative rebirth on Wait For Me as samples of Lynch’s Twin Peaks appeared on the record that kick-started Moby’s career, the Top 10 1991 rave hit “Go”.
But instead of aspiring to climb the charts or appeal to a market segment, Wait For Me is aimed at connecting with the listener on an individual basis. “In the past, record companies and musicians didn’t deal with listeners as individuals, they dealt with them as a mass because they’re selling millions of records,” Moby says. “I think a lot of people lost sight of that relationship. Not to sound crazy and new age, but I think there’s something really humbling for the musician about someone taking a record home and listening to it. I think a lot of really successful musicians assume they’ll always have an audience, and that breeds an air of complacency and arrogance.”
With the quiet and graceful but occasionally unsettling music of Wait For Me, Moby has taken a large step toward avoiding that trap.