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DJ Moby finds inspiration in old Southern music


Most of Moby's tracks from "Play," including "Natural Blues" are built on old field recordings from around the South

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From Mark Scheerer
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent

NEW YORK (CNN) - DJ Moby says he's living in a state of disbelief. His album "Play," with the single "Bodyrock," earned him Grammy nominations for best rock instrumental performance and best alternative music performance.

The 34-year-old house music impresario had an unusual recipe for making that CD. He took field recordings that a folklorist made some 65 years ago in the deep South and built new songs around them in his home studio. The song "Natural Blues," for example, uses a blues number from the 1930s, "Trouble So Hard" by Vera Hall.

That folklorist, Alan Lomax, is said to have trekked 16,000 miles (25,600 kilometers) through the Southeastern United States in just four months, documenting music he found on back roads and in work camps.

"I wish I had stories about me getting them myself," Moby says, "hanging out in prisons and farms in Georgia, Atlanta or Alabama, or whatever. But no, I just went around the corner to my old record store and bought the reissues."

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Moby hails from Darien, Connecticut, where he was born Richard Melville Hall. He says his parents gave him the nickname Moby: "The basis for Richard Melville Hall -- and for Moby -- is that supposedly Herman Melville was my great-great-great-granduncle."

'The litmus test'

Unlike "Bodyrock" -- for which a rap song was sampled -- most of the tracks from "Play" are built on the old field recordings from the South. Asked whether he was concerned that he would catch flak for exploiting this old music, Moby says not anymore.

"The real litmus test for me was at the MTV Music Awards," he says. "I met Chris Rock, and if anyone was going to skewer me for sampling African-American vocals from the early 20th century, it would be him, and he told me how much he loved the record."

Grammy judges loved it too, giving Moby two nods.

Moby video
Moby worked with Christina Ricci in the video for "Natural Blues"  

"I keep waiting for the phone to ring," he says, "and for Mr. John Q. Grammy -- or whoever is in charge of the Grammys -- to call up my manager, and say, 'Oh, we made a big mistake. These were two more nominations that were supposed to go to Santana.'"

Moby will find out whether he gets to take a trophy home when the awards are given out February 23 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Songs from "Play" are on the soundtracks of the new Leo DiCaprio movie, "The Beach," and Madonna's new film, "The Next Best Thing." And Moby appears in a Calvin Klein ad campaign.

Perhaps the best perk of all involved shooting the music video for "Natural Blues" with an old friend, Christina Ricci. The 19-year-old starlet has appeared in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998), "The Opposite of Sex" (1998) and most recently "Sleepy Hollow" (1999).

"In a part in the video where I am lying in Christina Ricci's arms," he says, "I did have the thought ... 'There are an awful lot of men in the world that would gladly trade places with me right now.'"

Official Moby site (Elektra Records)
The Ultimate Moby Page

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