Moby is in an ice hockey arena in Rochester, N.Y. The cavernous space - shortly to be filled with thousands of blissed-out techno fans - is a long way from the small bedroom in the sparsely- furnished apartment in Manhattan's Little Italy, where Moby spent 12 months sampling field recordings of early 20th-century spirituals and weaving them with dance beats and ambient electronics. That year of independent study - Moby wrote, played, produced, and engineered all of the songs - became "Play," the genre-busting, era-blending 1999 album responsible for putting a neon Moby pushpin on the global pop music map.
Not many artists of Moby's pedigree aspire, either, to the ubiquity he does. Forget the punk-rock Marxist background. Never mind the hippie parents, the drug-free vegan Christian proselytizing, the snooty rave scene that not so long ago annointed [Moby] a demigod before excommunicating him for making an alt-rock album. All the cultural and intellectual cachet in the world can't disguise the fact that Moby is as ambitious as the teen queens and boy bands he never dreamed he'd be displacing on the charts.
That unfettered approach to music can be traced back to Moby's youth in Darien, Conn. Born Richard Melville Hall in New York, he was promptly dubbed Moby - after a character in his great-great- grand-uncle Herman Melville's novel. "Apparently, 10 minutes after I was born," Moby says, "they looked at me and realized that while mine was a fine name for an adult it was an entirely inappropriate name for a little baby. So they nicknamed me according to family tradition."