For a decade, while traveling to perform in concerts, Moby was looking for a new place to call home. His longtime city of choice, New York, had become so gentrified and expensive that artists — his spiritual kin — were being driven out.
"I was looking for a city that was warm in the winter, had access to nature and was primarily filled with weird artists," Moby says, seated in the guest house of his Beachwood Canyon estate. "Honestly, this is the only place that satisfied all the criteria."
Four years ago, he saw what he wanted: a Norman-style castle with turrets and pointed roofs behind a high wall. It was built in 1927 for L. Milton Wolf, one of the developers of Hollywoodland, with a guest house designed by John Lautner added in the 1950s. Perched on a promontory, the 3.3-acre site, known as Wolf's Lair, has spectacular views, including of the Hollywood sign on one side and Lake Hollywood on the other. He bought it for just under $4 million, then spent about $2 million renovating it.
"My original thought was I'd do small renovations while I lived here," Moby says. However, there were major structural problems: the roof had to be replaced, and new walls, plumbing and windows had to be put in. Los Angeles architect Tim Barber was hired for the project. They met face to face only a few times, and since Moby was often touring, they communicated mainly via email.
"It was very collaborative," Barber says. "He had strong opinions but a high level of trust." Fortunately, the musician was a practiced renovator, having already converted storefronts, restaurants, apartments and two upstate New York houses.
Moby, born Richard Melville Hall, has sold more than 20 million albums since releasing his first album, "Moby," in 1992. He's known for his infectiously danceable electronic music. A new album, "Innocents," came out last fall, and includes songs evoking spirituals and blues.
The 48-year-old singer-songwriter, DJ and producer also is a longtime photographer, having shot photos since age 10, when an uncle, Joseph Kugielsky, a photographer for the New York Times, gave him his first camera. Today he collects vintage film cameras, which he displays in the house.
Another childhood acquisition, a globe purchased in a thrift shop when he was a boy, became the basis for a collection that now numbers 50 or 60. "When I was 8 years old, my mom and I spent a lot of time going to thrift shops because we were very poor," he recalls. "I think we found this globe for $5."
He takes the black globe off a dining room shelf and points out place names that have disappeared into history — Indochina, Yugoslavia, Rhodesia. "I spent a lot of time looking at it, and I thought how interesting that it represented the countries that no longer exist. I also like the way they look." He said he's never paid more than $50 for one.
The furnishings in his home — mostly Danish Modern — are a mix of pieces he brought with him from New York and others purchased in L.A. at Echo Park and Silver Lake shops such as Living Room, Danish Modern L.A. and Lawson-Fenning. With his penchant for clean, simple lines, the midcentury style suits him.
His walls have quickly filled up with artworks he loves and to which he feels a personal connection. Some are gifts from friends; others are pieces he found at galleries and studios of friends and friends of friends.
Propped against a wall in the living room is a black-and-white photograph by artist and friend JR — a huge selfie with JR's profile emerging from the left, with the top of Moby's head rising from the lower right. Also in the living room are prints by another friend, film director David Lynch.
He also has on display in his home prints from Mark Ryden and Shepard Fairey, including one featuring Moby-Dick, the whale made famous by Herman Melville, an ancestor of Moby's. There is a drawing by "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and one by Dean DeBlois, co-writer and co-director of "Lilo & Stitch."
This year Moby has been busy putting together a show of recent photographs, "Innocents," which just opened at Project Gallery and runs through March 30. His second gallery show in Los Angeles features a dozen or so large-format photographs — moody clouds looming over the landscape, a circle of cult members — the latter gracing the cover of the "Innocents" album.
The pictures were all taken in Los Angeles — some in and around his swimming pool, where he shot the music video for the song "A Case for Shame" — and were inspired by the city.
Does he feel at home in L.A. yet? "Relatively, yes …" he begins. "Compared to New York, it's a very settled place — people have homes, they have dogs, they go hiking." Then he turns philosophical. "My limited understanding of Sufism is that being unsettled is actually a beautiful thing and should be appreciated and accepted."
What: An exhibition of photographs by Moby
Where: Project Gallery, 1553 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Ends March 30.
Info: (323) 462-1100, projectla.net