"Reprise" represents a unique opportunity for Moby to reexamine the musical highlights of his life's work in a fresh and innovative manner. Collaborating with Hungary's Budapest Art Orchestra, he has reimagined some of his most iconic rave classics and anthems. These new versions vary in style, with some being more minimalistic, slower, and emotionally vulnerable, while others fully harness the orchestral grandeur. Rather than a typical Greatest Hits collection, "Reprise" serves as a platform for reflecting on how art can evolve and adapt to different settings and contexts over time.
Three decades ago, Moby emerged from obscurity as an underground New York City DJ with the electronic dance track "Go." His journey from that point to the present has been unconventional, marked by both soaring successes and challenging lows. Throughout it all, Moby has remained a creative force driven by curiosity, frustration, joy, and exploration. Despite enjoying one of the most unique and enduring careers in modern music, having sold over 20 million albums, he humbly dismisses the notion of having a conventional career. In his own words, "I know it sounds simple, but I just love making things. And oddly, I don't like taking myself or my 'career' too seriously. There are countless musicians and songwriters I admire more than myself. At best, I'm fortunate that, from time to time, I create music that resonates with someone."
The concept of revisiting and reinterpreting songs from his entire "career" took root about seven years ago when Moby grew weary of the large-scale global touring machine. He transitioned to performing intimate acoustic shows in people's backyards or small theaters, appreciating the unvarnished vulnerability and emotional directness that these modest settings provided, in stark contrast to traditional big concerts' manufactured spectacle.
After attending a Bryan Ferry concert in Los Angeles, Moby struck up a conversation with the booker for the LA Philharmonic. She proposed the idea of performing an orchestral set, and although Moby initially felt unworthy, he ultimately accepted the challenge. In October 2018, Moby made his orchestral debut with the LA Philharmonic, complete with a gospel choir, Gustavo Dudamel as conductor, and even Mayor Eric Garcetti on piano. A representative from Deutsche Grammophon approached Moby backstage with the idea of creating an orchestral album, an opportunity he eagerly embraced, drawing on his early classical music studies before venturing into punk bands and electronic music.
The recording process for "Reprise" began in a modest fashion, with Moby working alone in his studio, selecting songs for reinterpretation and crafting basic orchestral arrangements. After recording piano, guitar, percussion, drums, and a chamber orchestra at East-West Studios in LA (famous for Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds"), Moby decided to move the production to Hungary, collaborating with the Budapest Art Orchestra. He chose not to personally travel to Budapest, acknowledging his lack of experience in orchestrating a full classical ensemble. Instead, he entrusted the orchestration to a professional orchestrator, recognizing his role would have been arbitrary and ceremonial in Hungary. As he puts it, "I did all the basic arrangements in LA and then handed them over to an orchestrator who actually knows how to coordinate 100 classical musicians to play in harmony."
The orchestral renditions on "Reprise" have deepened Moby's contemplation on the true purpose of music, especially music that doesn't conform to current trends. He emphasizes that, for him, the primary role of music is to convey emotion and to share some aspect of the human experience with the listener. While he appreciates some modern pop and hip-hop records, he laments the lack of sincere vulnerability in much of today's music. He longs for the simplicity and emotional openness that can be achieved through acoustic or classical music.
Moby acknowledges the challenge of authenticity in contemporary music, where many artists strive to present themselves as cooler, tougher, or sexier than they truly are. He believes that using acoustic and classical instruments increases the chances of conveying direct, honest communication. With "Reprise," he aspired to achieve this, aiming for a genuine emotional connection with the audience.
The results of these orchestral versions are truly remarkable in their scale and beauty. Whether it's the acoustic strum and delicate violin strings introducing the powerful vocals of Gregory Porter and Amythyst Kiah on "Natural Blues," the heartfelt rendition of "Porcelain" by the talented Jim James, or Moby's own stripped-down performance of "Extreme Ways," the inclusion of crying strings adds a new layer of emotional depth, highlighting the broad spectrum of feelings in Moby's work.
Moby particularly treasures "The Lonely Night," featuring Kris Kristofferson and Mark Lanegan, as a personal favorite on "Reprise." He emphasizes the challenge of balancing popular and more obscure tracks in the album's lineup, acknowledging the audience's desire to hear familiar songs. When selecting vocalists, Moby prioritizes emotion over name recognition or technical proficiency.
Reflecting on the impact of revisiting these songs, Moby struggles to pinpoint the exact effect but acknowledges that his music often resides in a bittersweet space between mourning and joy. "Reprise" exists within that same realm, celebrating the past while delving deeper into the present and leaving questions open about the future.
One of the album's standout moments is the cover of David Bowie's "Heroes," a song Moby deeply admires and used to play with Bowie himself. This acoustic rendition, featuring Mindy Jones' voice, holds special significance for Moby as a tribute to his cherished memories with Bowie.
In its entirety, "Reprise" serves as a Proustian love letter to Moby's unique life and career, paying homage to the body of work that unexpectedly led him to diverse audiences and places. There are quiet echoes of his beginnings, crafting music alone in a small room with a few machines. Moby reflects on the peculiar experience of creating something in solitude and seeing it take on a life of its own when shared with the world, as well as the surprising journey from those late-night solitary sessions to performing in front of massive crowds who sing along to his music.