Music » Interview

VAST Difference

VAST's Jon Crosby is pleased with his progress, but he feels there's still plenty of room for improvement.


Just when you thought all the four-letter-word band names were taken, along comes VAST. But the real swear word in rock is "modesty"; despite the fact that VAST is a pretentious acronym for something that sounds as though it belongs at the local multiplex -- Visual Audio Sensory Theater -- songwriter Jon Crosby exudes humility.

"I used to think I was a good lyricist," Crosby says from his Los Angeles home. "But recently I realized that I have a lot of growth ahead of me. We'll see what happens. I used to write poems and prose, but I strayed away from that. Lately, though, I've read more poetry, like William Carlos Williams, and listened to the simplicity of songs by Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen -- people who get something sophisticated from simple words."

Crosby's music doesn't suggest Cash or Cohen as a progenitor. VAST's first album, released in 1998, was cast in the mold of early Nine Inch Nails, with Crosby performing as a one-man band and belting out his ruminative lyrics in a pleasantly husky voice. Like Trent Reznor, Crosby has, in touring, grown accustomed to playing with a band. VAST's recent Music for the People is tougher and louder but less evocative, thanks to the road musicians backing Crosby and the orchestra at his disposal.

"When I made the first record, there was a producer and a studio drummer I'd known for a few years," says Crosby, who produced Music with programmer Blumpy. "This time, the main difference was having Tom [Froggatt] play bass instead of me. It felt fun making this album, like we were a real rock band. I want every album to have a different sound. For this one, the main thing was to have a real drum-type thing."

The most affecting songs on Music employ the New Bombay Recording Orchestra. Crosby and his co-arranger, Andrew Mackay, enjoyed one of the perks of major-label status by traveling to India to record the parts. However, the glistening string sounds that resulted weren't the result of a Metallica-style infatuation with all things symphonic. Classical compositions have fascinated Crosby for years, and he credits the Oscar-winning 1984 movie Amadeus with sparking his infatuation with music in general. Still, citing his aforementioned credo about giving each album a different sound, Crosby doubts he'll involve an orchestra in future releases.

"We use orchestral samples live, which makes us different from most other acts on tour," he says. "But if I do it again on disc, I'll probably wind up with that label of not being able to get away from the sound in the future. I'll just use other sounds to replace it."

Rather than replace the orchestra with something else extravagant, Crosby plans to take a stripped-down approach. "I want simplicity, maybe because my life is so crazy," he says. "When you write about something you know, it's more likely to be good. I try to make the lyrics as personal as possible, and I never regret them because they're me." But Crosby's interest in more verbose songwriters is clearly germinating. "I wrote something recently called 'Unknown Ruler,'" he says. "It's about greed and avarice. And I've started messing around with a poem of mine called 'Everybody Wants George Bush to Die Except Me.' I'm sure the label wouldn't like that, so in a way, I probably shouldn't do it."

Despite the combative title and built-in provocation, what comes through when Crosby discusses his work is modesty, or at least the desire to avoid confrontation. He saves those urges for the love-starved betrayal anthems that dot Music. However, as Crosby attempts to broaden the range of his songwriting, he acknowledges that his growth might be stymied by the industry standard that limits output.

"It's not like I think I'm some genius who writes so much great music that I have to put it all out there, but I want people to hear what I do," Crosby says. "Still, a lot of double albums are really just one good record."

VAST will be further exposed this summer on the Tomb Raider soundtrack.

Crosby is already planning his third album. "I set up a computer rig in my apartment last week," he says, "and I'm ready to put down some ideas. I go through periods where there's nothing interesting or moving coming out of me. Either it flows or it doesn't. I probably won't produce it. That's too much work." He'd rather devote the time to polishing his words. "I rewrite the lyrics a lot. I'm picky and critical. I feel like I can do much better." When was the last time you heard anyone -- especially a musician with a label deal -- say that?

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