Playing with Fire

The RFT interviews sampler extraordinaire Moby

For Play, after the initial idea took shape in his imagination, he had to gain the approval and support of the publishers of the original gospel recordings. "The irony is," he says, "in the past I haven't been very diligent about clearing samples. Sometimes I've sampled things and not gotten the legal permission to do so. But with this record, with my lawyer we cleared all the samples, and it turns out we probably didn't have to because mostly on the original vocals, there were never contracts signed for them. They were recorded such a long time ago that, for many of them, contracts were never issued. So a lot of this material is public domain. So, ironically, I actually paid for it all, and the people at Atlantic Records were perfectly happy for me to pay them for using these samples and never told me that I didn't have to pay them."

Play is gaining nearly universal critical praise, and, even more impressive, the first single, "Bodyrock" (which doesn't feature any gospel samples but does include a fantastic snippet of the Treacherous Three's "Love Rap") is becoming a minor hit, a fact that's manifesting itself in curious ways for the reserved, soft-spoken Moby: "It's disconcerting — they were using it in this television commercial for the show Dharma & Greg, and I was at a friend's house and they had the TV on, and all of the sudden "Bodyrock" came out of the TV. And at first it seemed perfectly normal; I was like, "Oh, this is my song, I'm used to listening to it.' But then I thought, "But wait. It's a different context.'

"Thus far in my professional life," he continues, "the most disconcerting example of that was, there was a figure skater in the last Olympics who used my version of the James Bond theme. And I heard it and a friend of mine said, "You know that the viewing audience for this is somewhere just shy of a billion people.' It's very strange to think of a thousand million people listening to something that essentially I made in my bedroom."

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