Jon Crosby vocalist, VAST
On the phone with Gail Worley - 2000
When Jon Crosby, singer and creative flashpoint for LA-based rockers, VAST, decided to do everything differently with the group's sophomore effort, Music For People, he started by physically transforming himself. "To me, image will never be important," he says, speaking on the phone from a tour stop in Memphis. "I used to think that an artist doesn't care about what they look like. But I wanted to get in shape, I needed the change." Regular work-outs at the local YMCA liberated the boyishly cute 24 year old of fifty pounds. Crosby also cut and dyed his hair and got a serious wardrobe make-over. "I have to admit there's been a pretty extreme difference in the reaction of females in the audience," he laughs. "I've always been Super Nerd. Now I'm not, and it's a little bit strange."
Crosby took his music to the next level as well. Music For People maintains VAST's signature dark and brooding feel mixed with exhilarating anthems, but much of the self-reflective lyrical focus of Crosby's previous work has been turned outward. The change of direction, he explains, has much to do him simply growing up. "I think as you get older you get less selfish. The world seems to revolve less around you and more around other people." After a rather pregnant pause, he continues. "I think there's a humanness - a certain kind of truth - to the record. Thematically, a lot on this record has to do with the outside world." Taste-wise, there's also something for everyone: Flirting with art rock, metal, Goth and classical, Music For People avoids single genre-orientation. "It's not one particular kind of music," he confirms. "I think it would really help the music industry if everyone got away from genres a bit. In the 60's, music brought people together - it was cool for different people to like the same music. Now, I think you have people who otherwise might be friends but aren't, because of what music they're listening to. It's all just a little too much, really."
Raised in rural Northern California by a single mother, Jon Crosby was a guitar prodigy at thirteen and began doing VAST at seventeen. Following a frantic bidding war, he signed with Elektra in 1997 and released Visual Audio Sensory Theater in 1998. A deeply personal, musical journey not unlike what might happen if Nine Inch Nails met Enigma at a party thrown by The Moody Blues, the record was a painful meditation on his past; a catharsis whereby Crosby wrestled with personal demons - such as the ostracism he experienced as a teenager (the first verse of "Dirty Hole") and feelings of paternal abandonment that surface on the plaintive "Nile's Edge" - in much the same way Trent Reznor does.
While Visual Audio Sensory Theater was basically recorded as a solo project, Music For People features a full band, reuniting Crosby with his touring rhythm section, Steve Clark on drums and Thomas Froggat on bass (both are now permanent members of VAST). A second guitarist, Rowan Robertson, was hired for the recording sessions, but has since been replaced by Justin Cotter. "It was a more social record to make, and that was fun," says Crosby. "The guys were a sounding board. I told them what I wanted and they filtered it their own way." Crosby co-produced the record, with final mixing duties handled by Alan Moulder ("There's only like five mixers in the world that can really do what he's done," he says). A highlight of the sessions was Crosby's trip to India to record The New Bombay Recording Orchestra, which appears on eight of the album's twelve tracks. With its nearly ubiquitous orchestral soundscapes and big, arena worthy anthems like "Gates of Rock & Roll" and the first single, "Free," Music For People pushes the gothic/ industrial envelope into the forbidden zone of arty, prog-rock revivalism. After an initial phone interview with Crosby, I caught up with him in Manhattan a week later, on the evening VAST performed with Queens of the Stone Age. The two conversations have been edited together.

K2K: What did you do today?
JC: I ended up going to sleep around 4 in the morning. We drove here on the bus and got here at about 7:30 AM. So I've been up since 7:30 and I didn't get any sleep - it's been a long day. We started doing press around 11 AM, then we went over to MTV.
K2K: And you just did a photo shoot for Guitar World on...the subway?
JC: Yeah, It was a little trippy. Me and Justin just walked around with all the people staring at us, and them taking pictures. It was cool but it was really trippy.
K2K: How is this current tour going? Do you feel it's a good match, VAST opening for Queens of the Stone Age?
JC: I think any band we played with would be a weird match. We're on our own, a little out there, but it's a good thing. I think we're complimentary to each other. The audience fully got us, there was no weirdness at all. It was great. This will probably end up being one of the most exciting times for the band - ever- because I feel like I've had an opportunity to do what I wanted to do and I've changed, yet it seems people are going along with us. (Long pause) We're making this huge changeover from underground to more mainstream audiences. I don't know if we could ever repeat this type of feeling. We're really excited.
K2K: Of all of the interviews I've done which are accessible online, I get more letters from fans of VAST that anyone else. People seem to connect on a very deep spiritual, emotional level with your music, almost like it's been a religious experience for them to discover your records or see you in concert. Have you had any experiences meeting fans that you found unsettling because of that?
JC: I think a lot of musicians have fans who will do that. There's a name for
that...what's that name?
K2K: Fanatics?
JC: Yeah! 'Stalker'...that's it (laughs). It definitely seems like we are [connecting with people], which is nice, because I've had a lot of music do the same for me. It's not like I don't I understand why we get the reactions we do. I think it would be very scary and very confusing if I didn't understand where people are coming from, but I've felt the exact same way for so many other bands, growing up. It's not really a big deal. It's a very nice thing to be able to give joy to people.
K2K: The songs on Music for People seem to have more classic song structure than on your debut. Does the title imply you attempting to make your music more accessible to...the masses, whatever that means?
JC: It has a lot of meanings (pauses). I didn't want the recorded to be cold
and I don't think it's cold at all. I felt it was very people oriented. I think things can have more than one meaning and still connect with people. There's a lot of meaning to the title "Music For People" and they're all true and they're all accurate.
K2K: In what ways do you think you've changed as a person since you made the first record?
JC: (Long pause) It's hard to say, you know. I think I've changed so much it's almost hard to say what has happened. I think in the last few months I've been going through the most changes.
K2K: "The Last One Alive" and "Free" seem to be connected thematically, were those songs inspired by a similar experience?
JC: Not really, I can't say that I feel like they were. I guess lyrically they're similar because they're talking about escaping the kind of misery that likes company. "The Last One Alive," for me, is very simple. It's just about alienation, really, that causes anger. "Free" is more of that 'familiarity breeds contempt' kind of thing. It's about saying 'Wait, I'm longing for something more than I have and I don't know what it is that I want, but I know I want it.' It has nothing to do with what I'm going through, personally. I'm trying to dig for the truth inside of me. It's hard to articulate it, because they're just emotions I'm expressing.
K2K: I also noticed a reoccurring theme of deliverance ("A Better Place" "Free") running through various songs. Is that just incidental?
JC: I think maybe I was singing songs about the way you want to feel. I wanted a liberation; I'm still looking for it. Sometimes you sing songs about the way you want to feel more than the way you actually do feel.
K2K: What has your Major Label experience been like?
JC: I'm really happy with Elektra, I don't have anything bad to say about them at all. I always knew a major label was the right place for me to be. I never really had an opportunity to go to an independent label anyway. In the future, would that be a good thing? I don't know. I feel that I want what [allows me to reach] the largest number of people as possible, and I don't feel ashamed of that. I think I'm the kind of artist that's meant to be on a major label because my music is different. I need to reach a lot of people to sell records.
K2K: "Song Without a Name" and "What Else Do I Need" bring back the chanting from the first record that almost became a kind of aural signature for you. Was it just a natural step to bring that back in or did you feel at all like you didn't want to "go there" again?
JC: I wanted to do that again but, when I went to look for chants, I didn't want to do it in the exact same way. I thought I wanted to give it a rest on this record, [or] bring it back in a different way, and I consciously decided to take a rest on the samples. I lot of that [kind of thing] is different because it's written for purposes other than selling something and I think it's cool to inject it into what we're doing: the Bulgarian Women's Choir, the Tibetan horn and all these things are old and ancient and they're coming from ceremonial, traditional, religious places. I think it's nice that they're not trying to sell anything to you.
K2K: We spoke in our first interview about spirituality and you expressed a very open minded interest in many different facets of religion and spirituality. Have you continued on that path?
JC: I'm still open minded but I haven't really studied too much in the past two years. That hasn't been really where my mind has been. My head used to be so in the clouds and so out there that I've had to force myself to be more grounded and not think about those things -to not think about the meaning of life. I need to think about "Make sure you drink your water." (Laughs) That's the kind of person I am.
K2K: What audiences have surprised you the most?
JC: The audience that surprised us the most was definitely Paris, when we played there last. They were just incredibly into us and we weren't expecting it at all. We did like four encores and they were throwing Teddy Bears at us. It was great. It surprised me because you always hear that people from France are rude and they were totally not rude to us in any way shape or form. They loved it and were really receptive.
K2K: Teddy bears? What was that about?
JC: It was one Teddy Bear, it wasn't a whole bunch. I was just surprised because at that time, we weren't getting that kind of reaction.
K2K: What kind of reaction does VAST get elsewhere in Europe?
JC: We get a lot more press in Europe but the reaction is about the same, public-wise. We're pretty much a new band that has some fans... It doesn't really seem any different anywhere. I'd say it seems like we're biggest in Australia. It's just that we've always been this underground band and for some reason in the last month has been starting to go overground. For one, unless I'm wrong, our first record never went on the (Billboard) Top 200 and this one debuted at 130 or 140-something. Also, the video for "Free" has been getting played. We were number one most added at radio, when the single came out and that's much different. It took like eight months for any radio to happen on the first record, so a lot more support has happened right out of the box. We used to go and play shows in the south in front of two people and now every show we did was just great. The warm-ups, most of those weren't even advertised and most of them were sold out. I don't know what's going on, it's just so much different than it used to be.
K2K: "We Will Meet Again" really touches me. Did you write that about the death of someone close to you??
JC: No, I've never really had anybody close to me die. I think the song is about a feeling that I have that, it still do I say this...? It's a feeling of longing, once again. You can lose people without them dying, and I have, from moving, from traveling. The emotion is real, it just doesn't actually have to do with death. I'm singing about what I know, and it's a song about longing for somebody who's disappeared in your life.
K2K: I couldn't help but notice how the Doors' "Love Me Two Times" kind of sneaks it's way into "Land of Shame."
JC: I guess you could say that. I mean, the rhythm section is similar. I wouldn't say the lyrics and the melodies are. It's funny, because when I was doing that song, "Land of Shame," I was directly thinking of the rhythm section of "Love Me Do" by the Beatles. That's what I had in mind and then it kind of came off as a Doorsy thing - probably because the Doors were influenced a lot by the Beatles. It's just a certain style of music that you don't really hear that much [any more].
K2K: One of the lyrics that really sticks in my head is from "A Better Place," where you say "Release me from this need I have of me." Where does that come from?
JC: I think that was one of the first lyrics I wrote for the record. It's pretty self-explanatory really, its about - it's depressing really - I'm saying `I don't want to live' in a way. `I don't want to want to live anymore. I'm sick of the trap of being a human being and the trap of being alive.' Just having the pain of being alive without anything else, whether it's good or bad. There's a lot of serious songs on the record, you know. That song is just about feeling like a fish out of water, feeling like you don't belong on the planet sometimes.
K2K: That's very heavy.
JC: Yeah, I don't know why more bands don't sing about things like that. I know people feel that way every once in awhile.
K2K: I think Music For People is much less dark than the first record. It seems to have more of a universal theme feel to it.
JC: The two records are very different. I guess, on the second record, that's more where I was at. Its not that I'm more well-adjusted or anything, it's just that what I wanted to sing about maybe was more the way I wanted to feel. Sometimes music is an escape from things, from the way you feel. It's cathartic. Dwelling in the negativity all the time, it starts to not be real. Anyone who's always pissed off, or always happy is probably full of s***. You can't always be either one. I don't trust the Bee Gee's because there's no way they could always be happy.
K2K: Not all their songs are happy. What about "I Started a Joke" or "Tragedy"?
JC: Yeah, that's true, that's a bad example, because I love the Bee Gees (laughs). But there were songs on the first record that were upbeat, "Three Doors" and "Somewhere Else To Be" weren't that dark "You" wasn't dark and the last song on the record wasn't dark at all. So on this record there are some pretty dark lyrics. "Pissing on your grave" is one of the first lyrics on the record and "My love for life has gone" is one of the last.
K2K: "Touched" was used in the trailer for the film, The Beach. How did that happen and do you think it helped spark a new small buzz about you? I'll tell you one thing, it made me want to see the film.
JC: I don't know what it did for us 'cause it didn't say who we were, but I've heard people say they wondered what the music was on the trailer and then they found out it was VAST. I think it surprised some people who thought we were just a one dimensional band, some underground Goth/industrial band, and that song didn't fit into that category. So I think it was a good thing It was a little surreal watching Leo scream "I'm not going to die today!" with our music playing - that was the last thing on my mind when I wrote the song. I mean I've been asked to [license VAST music for use] in car commercials, strippers dance to it, there's been so many weird things that people have used VAST music for and I'm like "Hey, far out."
K2K: Your music does work really well as a film-soundtrack kind of thing. Have you had any interest in maybe scoring film?
JC: I would definitely like to do that. No one's asked me but if someone did ask, and I thought it was a good movie, I'd probably do it. I think it would be really fun and in the next year I definitely want to do something other than VAST. I want to do a collaboration or some kind of side thing or some soundtrack work. Because I've been doing this for years and years. I'd like to just step out and try something different.
K2K: When we spoke in 1998, you said you thought everything on the radio was "Total s***," (that's a quote) do you still feel that way?
JC: (Long pause) Not so much, I think stuff on the radio is mostly good, but it's just not what I'm into. I'm not into rap metal. Back then, I remember there was a lot of pussy, alternative pop going on - that slow, weak, kind of apathetic independent rock stuff, but that's gone now. At least the rap metal stuff is good, but it's not really my bag. I've been listening to the radio since we've been touring the past month, because we don't get it most of the time. I like the Dandy Warhols and I like Queens of the Stone Age and Incubus, they're cool. I think it's gotten a little better than it probably was two years ago, than it was right when we came out. Back then it was really bad, there was nothing interesting going on.
K2K: Have you had the chance to meet any famous people whom you admire?
JC: I got to meet Dave Grohl last night, and that was cool. He came to our show in Washington, DC. He watched the show and I got to talk to him afterwards, he was really nice and cool. Then I met Lars Ulrich when I went to a Grammy party, and that was cool.
K2K: He was one of your first supporters wasn't he?
JC: I think that's always been blown out of proportion, I think he just liked us. He just talked about us [in the press] a couple of times. I don't even know what he thinks of the new record, really.
K2K: I remember you told me you were a huge Metallica fan as a kid.
JC: Oh yeah. I still am, but especially when I was a kid.
K2K: Following that whole line of questioning, do you have any comments on this whole file sharing, Napster/Metallica thing?
JC: Not really.
Written by Gail Worley
(This Interview Originally Appeared in Pandemonium Online)

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