At home in Los Feliz with Moby, where low-key living comes with thought-provoking scenery.
After selling more than 15 million records in the late ’90s and early 2000s, singer/songwriter Moby had acquired four properties back East, including an enormous home in upstate New York and a quintuplex in Manhattan, as well as a retreat in the Dominican Republic. “As I started to have a little success I felt like, ‘Oh, I need to have this crazy gigantic stuff.’ And none of it really made me happy,” he says. “I’m not complaining. There’s nothing worse than someone complaining about affluence. But there was never a realistic, empirically supported assessment of stuff in terms of how it contributed to quality of life.” The 49-year-old admits, “I was overcompensating. Just overcompensating. I grew up really poor on welfare and food stamps.”
When he moved to Los Angeles five years ago, the musician—and for many years now also an acclaimed visual artist—went big as well. In 2010, he bought the famed Wolf’s Lair estate in Beachwood Canyon, spending two years restoring the 88-year-old castle-like residence. But at times, he says, he felt like “Orson Welles in the end of Citizen Kane, shuffling around this large property by myself. It was the most wonderful place to have parties. But, day to day, it just didn’t make sense being one person in a place that had about 10 or 11 bedrooms.”
So when he sold Wolf’s Lair last year for some $12 million, Moby bought a new four-bedroom house in Los Feliz with other priorities in mind, namely “nature, friends and convenience.” Not only are trees in abundance nearby, but his social circle is too. “Seventy-five percent of my friends live east of here.” He hikes six days a week in the park, where he’ll often eat at The Trails Cafe, and takes 20-minute strolls to Franklin Village to grab a smoothie at Real Raw Live juice bar (he’s been a vegan for 27 years), and peruse Counterpoint Records & Books. “Functionally I live in the country,” he says.
In keeping with his move toward simplification, Moby has sparsely decorated the 1920s Tudor house, most notably in the spacious living room. A pair of meditation cushions share the space with one of his own large photographic works, first, a black-and-white shot of a giant black metal box set mysteriously in the middle of the woods. Elsewhere, the rooms are decorated with simple midcentury arrangements, many of the pieces acquired at vintage shops around Hollywood and Echo Park.
The one thing that approaches clutter is his art collection—some of the pieces by him, many of them the work of friends, including Gary Baseman, Shepard Fairey, David Lynch and Mark Ryden (“I couldn’t afford a real Mark Ryden painting, but he and I are friends so I got the print”). There are even black-and-white silk screens of cartoonish people and animals by none other than Bono. “My criteria for art is that it can’t be too expensive,” Moby says. One obsession right now is the output of New York-based street artists The Yok and Sheryo: “Their drafting skills are amazing but the work is really funny and bizarre.”
Moby is about to finish his 13th album (a release date has not been set), which he recorded upstairs in the new house. He chose the largest bedroom as his recording studio and a more modest room as his sleeping quarters. “None of my friends understand. They look at me and go, ‘Why do you sleep in the little bedroom?’ But the thing is that humans are supposed to sleep in caves.”
He’s also adding another title to his resume: restaurateur. By early summer, Moby plans to open an all-organic vegan restaurant on Rowena Avenue in nearby Silverlake. Called Little Pine (“I like pine trees”), the restaurant will boast Anne Thornton (host of Food Network’s “Dessert First” and formerly of New York’s Waverly Inn) as chef and general manager. “It’s a vegan restaurant but we don’t want to make anyone feel guilty about their choices. We just want vegan to be almost like a category similar to Thai or Italian.”
Meanwhile, making art remains a constant in his life. Last fall, he had his latest of many photo exhibits, a show of his series “The Innocents” at New York’s Emmanuel Fremin Gallery. The shot of the forest in his living room and another large-scale photo above a couch near the kitchen, lone—of a woman in a swimming pool wearing a gorilla mask, looking at once smiling and forbidding—are from the exhibition, which imagined a “cult of innocence” that came into being after an apocalypse. The pieces fit into the broader range of his aesthetic. “I want the art I try to make to be ambiguous. I want it to synaptically not be easily compartmentalized,” he says. “So some of it is off-putting, then winsome, funny, disconcerting, scary, hopefully all at the same time. I think everything that I make visually should have a question mark attached to it.”
By Degen Pener.
Photographed by Joe Fletcher.
Produced by Stephanie Steinman.