In recent months, Moby has recorded some 200 songs for his new album (which he's whittled down to a more manageable 20) while simultaneously writing a book and launching a tea line spawned from his New York cafe.
"I love to be busy," he explained. "I'm envious of people who are able to take their spare time and relax. All I like to do is work. Perhaps it's lingering Calvinist guilt? But I would really rather spend the afternoon at a bottling plant in New Jersey then go to St. Bart and go sailing with Puffy."
Of the songs Moby's recorded so far, he still has to narrow the list down to about a dozen he'd like to see on the album, due in April. He says they're an eclectic mix — some dance, some ballads and some indie-rock exercises. One thing the final contenders have in common, Moby said, is that none of them use any samples — they were all written on guitar.
"It's ironic," he said. "Most people think of me as a sample-using thief," because of the old blues and folk recordings that were used as the basis for the songs on Play. "I've been called worse things, though."
The other thing his final-contender songs have in common is a lack of celebrity guests. Instead, Moby's using friends who live in his neighborhood, such as Laura Dawn, a singer/songwriter he met through MoveOn.org. "She's got an amazing voice," he said, "very clear, pristine, bell-tone quality."
Moby's New York neighborhood also figures in his other projects. His vegan-friendly tearoom/cafe, Teany, originally started because he and his ex-girlfriend (now business partner) Kelly Tisdale woke up one morning, hungover, and "lamented the fact that there wasn't a good place in our neighborhood that sold good vegetarian hangover food."
Teany launched just as the summer of 2002 was approaching, and Moby found out quickly that piping-hot tea wasn't a big seller "when it's 95 degrees outside," so they spent "hours and hours" experimenting with different combinations for iced-tea blends and tea-and-juice fusions.
They didn't have a grand plan to release those products from the cafe, but it seemed like a good idea as time went on (see "Moby Gets His Paul Newman On: Announces Beverage Line, Cookbook"). Since then, they've chosen their favorite blends to bottle for broader distribution throughout the New York area, and for now, Moby's happy having it remain a small enterprise.
"No one is getting rich off the bottled-tea line," Moby said. "I'd love for it to be more profitable, but we use expensive ingredients and we don't cut corners. This is about more than profit margins. I like being able to go in every day and eat and hang out with friends. And I don't want to feel guilty about what I give my friends, or all sorts of terrible ingredients. I would be ashamed. So we use organic sweeteners, which means it's actually 75 percent less sugar than the leading tea brands. So it tastes good and it's fairly good for you."
Moby's other neighborhood venture, his upcoming book (due, like his album, in April) is a spinoff of the cafe — part cookbook, part autobiography and part fictional history of the Lower East Side, as if Teany had been in the neighborhood for generations and Moby were of immigrant stock and settled there long ago. Throughout the book, he poses with Tisdale to create a photographic document of those periods, such as being passed out on the steps of a tenement in 1919, with Tisdale holding a rolling pin and screaming at him to get off the steps. Moby and Tisdale just finished writing the book, he said, which is now in the editing process.
"Describing it doesn't even make sense," Moby said. "It runs through all these different periods, when we were fresh immigrants, when we were homeless alcoholics before Prohibition, World War II, the Beat poets, all sorts of absurd stuff. If I were writing a book about politics or theology, I'd be more nervous; I'd have to adhere to a more formal writing style. But this is lighthearted. I can't imagine English teachers holding up our book for usage of grammar. It's just quirky."