STILL DRIFTING IN THE VAST Jon Crosby of VAST

The multitasking
minstrel returns to his late ‘90s roots, but don’t expect him to rest on his
laurels.

 

BY GIL MACIAS

 

It’s well-known amongst VAST fans that leading man Jon
Crosby is a musical jack-of-all-trades. He started making music at the young
age of 17, he pretty much played every instrument during the recording of his debut
album, Visual Audio Sensory Theater, and he was only 21 when that album came out in 1998. After four solid
experimental rock albums under his belt, Crosby
became a wandering minstrel so to speak, and began recording his solo Generica albums, with just him and his
guitar. It was during this time he also released April, a more lo-fi and intimate VAST outing that sounded like a
cross between The Doors and The Moody Blues.

 

Now, this acoustic and folk-like period for him seems to be at
an end. Aside from re-working and putting his 12 favorite Generica tracks on the latest VAST album, Me and You (2Blossoms), Crosby has been tinkering with electronic
music again, most notably with his Bang Band SiXXX album [a VAST alter-ego],
the Relay EP – a very dark and
welcome return to form and probably the closest he’s come to sounding like he
did in the late ‘90s. But Bang Band SiXXX is not the end of his electronic
adventures. We caught up with Crosby before he took the stage at the Key Club
in Los Angeles recently
and it sounds like something very dark, mysterious and eclectic might be
brewing.

 

***

 

BLURT: So aside from
VAST, you’ve been putting out acoustic albums as Jon Crosby-two entities you’ve
managed to keep separate, until now. A while back, you said that Generica songs would never appear on any
VAST record-but on this new VAST album, Me
and You
, you’ve chosen your 12 favorite Jon Crosby tracks and re-recorded
them. Why did you change your mind?

 

CROSBY: The Jon Crosby Generica series one through five, the
first three were basically just me and acoustic guitar. Volumes four and five
were me playing with the band, so we kind of nicknamed that Jon Crosby and the
Resonator Band, but what we realized is that we didn’t want to start a
side-project band of our own band-that didn’t make any sense. I recorded like
40 songs or so for the project, technically 50 songs, but I put 40 on the
double-CD, Jon Crosby Generica. I
felt that there were a lot of songs stylistically outside of the realm of VAST.
But there are certain songs that weren’t, especially in context with April.

 

We have different types of fans. The hardcore fans who are
actually hungry and waiting and they want whatever they can get. Then we have
fans that are kind of there when we release things, they may or may not be
interested when we release something, depending on what they hear or if they
hear something they like. Then we have people who don’t know who we are. I
don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort promoting this whole idea of me as
a solo folk artist, because it was all in fun, but there were some gems that
came out of that whole project that were really good.

 

So I took the best of that and released it as a VAST album.
Now it’s true, there are several thousand people who bought that originally,
who might not be interested in the Me and
You
album, but that’s not a reason to not release the Me and You album just because there might be five to ten thousand
people who are interested in this Jon Crosby folk thing I did. They can clearly
see on the CD or download online before they purchase anything that there are
some songs they may have purchased previously, so it’s not like we’re ripping
anyone off. They can see the same names of the same songs. Then, there are
other millions of people out there when we do a retail release, or places like
Amazon and iTunes. There are people who get exposed to that stuff who had no
idea about the Jon Crosby thing. We didn’t really want to promote it because
it’s something I did on the side. I didn’t even do a tour as Jon Crosby because
to me, I’ve written all the songs with VAST pretty much, like 99.5 percent. The
reason I released it as Jon Crosby instead of VAST was because I don’t mind
taking fans on a journey. At a certain point, when you think you’re getting
orange juice but you get milk instead, it’s weird because it’s like VAST has
always been progressive, electronic and orchestral, and then to give them this
acoustic guitar stuff for a whole album and call it VAST is a little bit of a
rip off, because they’re expecting something completely different, so I think
it deserved a different name.

 

 

 You recently released a book, Bang Band SiXXX. What inspired you to
wake up one day and start writing it?

 

  I had been dating-I
was engaged to this girl for two years. She was on this website where women
posed naked. Basically, we had broken up and when I met her, this site was
really small. One day I was sitting there, it was after the end of this really
disastrous tour we did in 2004, it was a bad phase for me-and her site had
become huge. I felt like my band had become very [pauses], you know, we were in shitsville. I thought it was ironic.
I thought, people are supposed to pay for music and get their sex for free, but
we’re entering this world where I feel people get their music for free and they
want to pay for their sex. I thought there was something really ironic about
that.

 

I got the idea, what is it going to be like in 40 years? I
started to question things. What’s the world going to be like with all the
violence and porn online, the way people are, the way corporations are taking
over? With violence and porn, it’s like a double-edged sword. There’s a part of
me that’s fascinated and disgusted by it at the same time, I think a lot of
people are. It’s like sex and death are very mysterious and scary at the same
time. So, it’s a utopian satire where I got to make fun of corporations and
stuff, and then it was also a little bit of a statement about the world we’re
living in. So it was a really cathartic book for me. It was a chance for me to
say things I can’t say in my songs or lyrically, because in a book you have
more time to get it out there. Also, it was a way for me to work through
certain problems I was having, some depression and stuff.

 

 

 You released an album that was a counterpart to
the book, the Relay EP. It came off
as a sort of VAST meets Gorillaz, animated band type of project-you had
drawings of these fictitious band members in the liner notes. Do you consider
this to be a VAST album?

 

 We just wrote the
book, we didn’t do a graphic novel and we didn’t do an animated music video. I
felt people didn’t understand what I was trying to do. I guess for me, I don’t
really separate VAST, Jon Crosby, or Bang Band SiXXX, because it’s just all me
making music. For a lot of people, it’s like a brand thing. If it’s not VAST,
they just assume it’s not important to me. They kind of just ignore things on
some level if it’s not VAST. So, we’re thinking of re-releasing some of those
songs in the near future on the next VAST album, out of the six, maybe taking 3
of them because I really think they’re good songs. “Loneliness is Fine,” I
co-wrote with bass player Michael Cry. That song, we enjoy it a lot and we’re
thinking about re-recording it with the guys, calling it VAST and putting it on
the next record because it has more of a modern, electronic feel to it.

 

 

 For a while now, you’ve been dropping hints
about coming full circle and doing a darker, more electronic album. “Like God”
leaked a while back and that was rumored to be on the next CD. Is that ever
going to surface?

 

 That song is more of
a leak than anything. We recorded two versions of it, but we need to record a
third that really works. It’s definitely going to be just as electronic, if not
more, than Bang Band SiXXX. I just took a break from the electronic thing for a
few years. I started doing electronic music when I was 17, the first record
came out when I was 21, and all the music I did from 21 to 30 was basically
electronic; the debut album, Music For
People
, Nude, Turquoise and Crimson, and even our
older demos. When I was 29 or so, I did April.
So from about 2006 to now, we did April,
the Jon Crosby Generica stuff and Me and You. So that’s a phase I feel
like I’m done with. Now I want to do more progressive, cutting edge electronic
music again. I kind of needed to take a break from something stylistically for
a while. I became really interested in the purity of the song with the acoustic
guitar, but I think it’s nice to be able to use production to express yourself
too. You can express a lot of emotions and feelings through electronic music
that you can’t with just acoustic guitar. Acoustic guitar music to me always
ends up being very sentimental, romantic and simple-kind of spacious. That’s
really cool, but sometimes it’s nice to experiment with electronic music to
create mysterious sounds, anger and all kinds of different types of emotions
that I don’t think are easy to express with just a guitar.

 

 

 Your first album was definitely dark,
mysterious, and spiritual. And you used a lot of chants and orchestral sounds.

 

 There are a lot of
elements on the first record that are unusual. There was classical, world
music, industrial, goth, rock, and metal. It was all over the place. At the
time, around 1997-1998, that’s what was going on in the music world.
Alternative was an interesting movement because it opened the doors for
different types of styles. You had Mazzy Star, Beck, Metallica, Nine Inch
Nails, Nirvana, Radiohead-everybody was just all over the place musically and
it was cool. You turned on the radio and you didn’t know what was coming on
next. It was just an eclectic kind of thing. I think the debut record reflects
that and how open-minded people were. I remember one year at Lollapalooza where
it was Tool and Prodigy, sharing the same stage-you don’t see that kind of
thing as much. I think we made an eclectic album. So if I made another album
like the first one, I would have to go in with the attitude that I was going to
experiment with a lot of different styles.

 

 

 So do you plan to do a hardcore, experimental
album like your first one soon?

 

 I would say yean, but
it’s kind of hard because I don’t know what direction to experiment in, because
these days, I don’t know if people are receptive or open-minded enough. For
instance, the first record, it didn’t catch on as much as people think when it
came out. We played the Galaxy Theater in Santa
Ana in front of like 40 people. So really, it took a
long time for the record to catch on. It took a long time for it to get radio play
after it was released and I was surprised we did. After we got on the radio, it
was only played for a little while. It was too weird for people when it first
came out and for some people it still is. Ten years later, it doesn’t sound
that weird, it sounds like a cool record, I think. If I made a record in 2009
that was as experimental as that record was back then, it would be a very odd
record that I don’t think many people would like. I guess I feel that people 10
years ago were more open-minded musically than they are now. I feel like a lot
of the stuff out these days feels like the same old thing. I think people
aren’t as much about pushing the limits with music right now. They do with
movies, but not so much with music. People are kind of like meat and potatoes.
They want to hear dance music, they go to a dance club, they like hip-hop, they
want to hear hip-hop. The music scene seems very narrow to me right now.

 

 

 While you were touring April, you had a very stripped and raw live sound and all of the
chants, samples and synths that were a signature part of your songs were
missing. Do you plan to reintroduce those missing elements back with this tour
and maybe hire a permanent fifth band member to handle it?

 

 We actually have a
fifth member now, his name is Ernesto J. Ponce. He mixed some stuff on the Me and You album, that’s how we met him.
He’s a great producer and engineer and he’s also a keyboard player and
saxophone player. We brought him out with us and he’s become a permanent
member. We’re using samples again but we modernized it though. Before, we were
using a digital tape machine. It was sturdy but it was limiting. Now we’ve gone
the route of laptops, so we have a lot more room to improvise and change our
setlists and it’s great. So far he’s been good and he plays keyboards too, so
we have definitely brought back that element.

 

 

 Do you ever plan to do a live show backed up
with a real orchestra?

 

  I would love to. That’s definitely something I
would do when I was older. It seems like a thing to pull out when you’re 40,
the orchestral thing. It would be a time consuming project and I also don’t
think it would be a very lucrative project; so therefore, it seems like
something to do when you’re older and have a lot of time and money on your
hands. Right now, it would be expensive. It would probably cost $10,000 dollars
to have the orchestra at the show and then the rehearsal would be more than a
sound check. We’d have to rehearse for the day. It would be a big undertaking.

 

 

 So you say the orchestra project could be
something to do when you’re older. How long do you see yourself making music?

 

 When I was a kid and
played with toys, I don’t think I woke up one day and was like, “Oh, I don’t
like toys anymore.” I think you just slowly get interested in other things
like, hanging out with your friends, girls, sports, academic stuff, whatever. With
musicians, I think at some point, when you’re in your late forties or fifties
or whatever, you get to a point where it’s not that you don’t like music
anymore, it’s just that you have other things in your life, like children, or
things that matter more. Stephen King wrote a lot about that in his book. He used
to have a desk in this room, and all that room was for was him writing when he
was younger. Now, the desk is in the corner and there’s a big T.V. and he
watches sports and eats pizza with his kids. He balances out his life more with
is art. When you’re older, you mellow out a little bit.

 

I don’t think I’ll ever quit, I could see myself doing less
when I’m older. I don’t think these guys generally do less, but I think U2, you
know, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was 2004, and this new one came out in 2009. So that’s 5 years in between
albums. In the last 5 years, I think I released 5 albums. I think they are the
same way. They have other things going on in their life other than U2. I think
I would like to continue always doing it, but I’m sure as I get older, if I get
up there, I’ll balance it out with other things in my life.

 

 

VAST on the Web:

 

www.realvast.com

 

www.myspace.com/vast

 

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