An Interview with Moby, Pine Tree Preacher
Richard Melville Hall, the prolific singer-songwriter, D.J., photographer, entrepreneur and activist better known as Moby, requires little introduction.
Six years ago, the New York City native moved to Los Angeles and began blogging on the city’s architecture and commenting on its cultural and environmental merits in interviews. Moby’s fondness of his new home base was immediately obvious.
On the eve of a northeaster, while questioning the limits of my own NYC tenure, I reached out to see how his newest endeavor, an organic vegan restaurant called Little Pine, fit into his West Coast fairytale.
We spoke at Moby’s evergreen-shrouded home, steps from L.A.’s Griffith Park. In addition to the East/West debate, we talked about veganism as the next gay marriage, the pursuit of passion versus the pursuit of wealth, and using western medicine as a last resort.
Moby carried the conversation. A transcript, edited for length and clarity, follows.
GC: You have been in LA for several years now. What inspired opening a restaurant?
Moby: In New York, I owned couple of restaurants called Teany, the main one on Rivington. I opened it with an ex-girlfriend and I largely did everything wrong. I had no restaurant experience, no business experience, no entrepreneurial experience. And my girlfriend had never worked in a restaurant and never opened a business, so we had to figure out everything while we were doing it.
We broke up the day it opened. And somehow, it worked.
Meaning, it barely broke even and was time consuming and stressful. But when you walk into a space that you’ve created and curated and it’s full of people who are enjoying themselves, it’s really satisfying, especially, in my case, if it is ostensibly advancing veganism, organic farming, and animal rights. So that’s kind of the reason I wanted to open a restaurant here– to serve my community, and to provide a non-didactic example of veganism.
GC: Non-didactic veganism?
Moby: We don’t have pictures of dying animals. Instead of wagging my finger, I just created a nice space with nice food.
The most effective social change tends to happen when people make the change themselves, when they’re not forced. Think of gay marriage. Legislation wasn’t top-down. It was a result of a change in mindset. And I feel like for a lot of people veganism is going to be the next change.
“What I’m about to say is sort of self-evident: the culture of wealth accumulation and materialism just doesn’t work. It isn’t making people happy.”
There are so many reasons to consider even partial veganism. First, people like animals. Also, there’s the health aspect, the climate-change aspect, the famine aspect, the resources-allocation aspect, the rainforest deforestation aspect… I think that within ten years it’s going to be a new urban progressive norm.
It doesn’t make sense to me for someone who voted for Obama, who drives a Prius, who listens to NPR, who supports progressive causes, to eat an In-and-Out burger or McDonald’s. It’s kind of off-brand.
GC: How has Little Pine impacted your life in the few months that it has been open?
Moby: It has added absurd levels of stress. But without the restaurant, I live alone and work alone. I have a lot of friends and friendly acquaintances, but I tend to lead a fairly isolated existence. And by definition, the restaurant being a social place, it forces me to have a lot of human contact, sometimes good, sometimes less so. One other interesting variable is any profits the restaurant makes go to animal welfare organizations.
So it’s this stressful, expensive, time-consuming thing that I can never make a penny from, which oddly enough, makes me work harder on it. I’m all in favor of people doing whatever they need to pay the rent, but I just hate the idea of doing something I love and trying to get people to pay me for it, you know? If the restaurant can benefit a cause that I care about, it feels better.
GC: Do you feel the same way about making music?
Moby: Yeah, I started a website about seven or eight years ago called mobygratis.com— it gives free music to film makers. At some point in the next few months I’m going to take all of my music and put it in a foundation, and I will never be able to make money from music again. Which, of course my accountant and my manager are baffled by. But there’s very little as important in my life as the cause of animal rights and animal welfare.
What I’m about to say is sort of self-evident: the culture of wealth accumulation and materialism just doesn’t work. It isn’t making people happy.
Look at New York. If wealth accumulation and materialism made people happy, the Upper East Side would be the happiest place on the planet. Yet it’s filled with the most miserable people on the planet.
“The most effective social change tends to happen when people make the change themselves, when they’re not forced.”
If wealth made people happy, there would be no more divorce lawyers, no more plastic surgeons, no more therapists, relationship counselors, hypertension doctors, cancer doctors, on the Upper East Side. This culture of selfishness and materialism, I don’t even think it’s bad, I’m just saying it doesn’t work. That’s why simply, and sort of subjectively, it makes me happier to work on what I love without any financial benefit to myself.
By all means, be ambitious and be passionate about what you do. But understand that if the fruits of your ambition and passion are making a lot of money, it’s not going to make you happy, because it never has.
GC: Yet these labors of love still create stress?
Moby: There are two types of stress. The stress of being chased by a bear, of having a terminally-ill child, of having gangrene in your foot… real, life destroying stress. For most people in the Western world, that’s .0001% of stress.
And also, to understanding that the thoughts are, by definition, insane. The other .9999% of stress is not actually real. I try to understand the two interwoven systems of stress, the physical and neurological. The body tells the brain to be stressed and the brain tells the body to be stressed. I’ve found, over time, the best cure is interrupting that feedback loop, observing that feedback loop, and that the best cure for brain stress is physical activity, and the best cure for physical stress is mental activity.
GC: Stressful thoughts are insane?
Moby: Our collective understanding of what mental illness is, is having a relationship to reality that is not actually based on reality. Meaning, when you walk down Third Street and see some guy yelling at a brick wall and you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s crazy, because the brick wall is a brick wall.’
So if I’m lying in bed panicking about thoughts, I’m just as crazy as the guy yelling at a brick wall because I’m having an emotional reaction to non-reality, you know? My reality is lying in a comfy bed, with organic sheets, in a quiet bedroom, in my house, panicking about thoughts. There’s a gulf between how I’m reacting and what my environment is.
“I just hate the idea of doing something I love and trying to get people to pay me for it, you know? If the restaurant can benefit a cause that I care about, it feels better…”
I still deal with stress, but I try to have a different relationship with it. I try to eat organically and not use chemicals in my house simply because this organism works better the more natural it is. Strengthen the system as much as possible through diet, exercise, community, spirituality, creativity, and then you’re less likely to get sick and hurt. Every now and then, Western medicine is great. If I get stabbed and my wound goes septic, I’m not going to cover it with turmeric. I’m not going to meditate away sepsis or gangrene. In those rare moments, I’m glad that there’s Western medicine. But it should be the absolute last resort. Being aware only helps if you have the skills to get back to a healthy stasis point. For me, that’s mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavior therapy tricks, Twelve Step tricks, breathing, a toolbox that will help stress to abate. The only other choice is to suffer or eat Xanax. Xanax is addictive and toxic. And stress is the most destructive thing in any individual’s life.
GC: Do you have a favored natural cure-all?
Moby: Not to sound like a total hippie, but trees. I love the city of my birth, but this is one of the reasons I left.
I had this weird quasi-epiphany. I was at a party on Lispenard Street, on the roof of this tall building with the most beautiful view. You could see Brooklyn, all of Manhattan up to about 70th Street, into New Jersey, it was so huge, so vast and beautiful. And this little voice in the back of my head said, “But what can you see that’s alive?”
And I freaked out. I was like, not a single thing. Looking at thousands of acres and I couldn’t see a single living thing. Which is why I compulsively, obsessively surround my house with trees, you know?
GC: I do.
For more information about the Little Pine restaurant in Silverlake, visit the bistro’s website.