A couple of years ago, Moby was at the MTV Music Awards when he had a career-changing epiphany.
"I was sitting between Christina Aguilera and Ludacris, and I had this moment where I just started thinking to myself, 'What the hell am I doing here?' " he said.
"Nothing against Ludacris and Christina Aguilera, but it's not a world I want to have anything to do with."
At the time, Moby was very much a part of that world. A longtime staple on the dance music scene, Moby, who performs at Rams Head Live tonight, became an international pop star seemingly overnight with his 1999 effort "Play." His sixth studio album, "Play" went on to sell a whopping 10 million copies worldwide, making Moby one of the world's most in-demand DJs. And at first, he embraced the attention - a decision he now regrets.
"The shameful part of it is, I kind of liked it," he said. "It was fun to walk into a bar and have people know who I was, even though I'd never met them before."
Now, a decade since the stunning success of "Play" and the artistic excesses that came after it, Moby has returned to making intimate, personal music. He's comfortable crafting songs for himself again, and not worrying how audiences at large will receive it.
"It's a nice realization," he said. "It removes a lot of desperation from the creative process when, as a musician, all you're trying to do is make music you love. I think there's a lot more purity in the process and a lot more honesty."
All of this has helped make Moby's new album, "Wait for Me," quite a departure for the New York-based artist. Not only is "Wait for Me" one of the most personal records he's made, it's also one of his most downbeat from start to finish.
"It's not the type of record that would sound good in a nightclub, and it's not the type of record that would sound good on Top 40 radio in between Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake," he said. "It's a quiet, home-listening record."
Released in late June, "Wait for Me" is intimate in every sense of the word. Layered with plush strings, warm electric piano and dark grooves, most of the songs on it are haunting and ethereal. They smolder but never quite explode, and show how silence can be just as dynamic as noise.
With "Wait for Me," Moby eschewed bigger studios, opting to write and record in his Lower East Side home studio instead.
"I don't want to sound like a cranky old man, but most of my favorite records are not records that were recorded in big, huge studios and overproduced," he said. "For the most part, bombastic, overproduced music feels really impersonal to me."
Still, Moby acknowledges, he's guilty of making bombastic, overproduced music himself. Looking back on his 2005 album "Hotel," Moby loathes how "generic" and "mainstream" it sounds. Back then, he wanted to make a record with broad appeal. To that end, he was successful: "Hotel" sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. In hindsight, the way he produced the songs leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
Moby is also disgusted by the amount of money he spent on music videos in the hopes that they would be played on music TV stations around the world.
"There's definitely some decisions that were made that were not necessarily motivated by creativity, but were motivated by pressure from the record company to increase market share and the desire to have a little more fame," he said.
"I say that with a lot of trepidation and shame. In hindsight, those are the decisions I regret the most."
A couple of years ago, Moby sat in on a seminar hosted by acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch - Moby's favorite director. Lynch's lecture also helped Moby reflect on and refocus his career.
"[Lynch] said, 'Creative expression in and of itself is beautiful and should not be in any way influenced by market forces,' " he said. "He was right, and hearing him say that reminded me that my background is more experimental underground music and culture."
Though he's best known as a DJ, Moby's musical resume is strikingly diverse. The 44-year-old, whose real name is Richard Melville Hall, was born in New York City and learned to play guitar, piano and drums early on. In the mid-1980s, he played in the hard-core punk group the Vatican Commandos.
Moby first began making a name for himself with the release of his progressive house single, "Go." He remixed a wide range of high-profile artists and signed to Mute Records in 1993. It's a time he still views fondly.
"When the rave culture started, it was very celebratory and nonjudgmental," he said.
In the 1990s, Moby emerged as one of the leaders of the dance music movement. "Play" made him one of the biggest electronica artists in the history of the genre. Now, years after his moment of clarity at the awards ceremony, Moby has vowed to make music he's happy with first and foremost. And that, he says, is refreshing.
"I have no business trying to accommodate the marketplace," he said. "My heart's not in it, and I'm not very good at it. I think the only thing I should spend my time doing as a musician is trying to make music I love and hopefully has integrity."
If you go
Moby's fall U.S. tour begins tonight at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.