VAST, or Visual Audio Sensory Theater, for those of you that have been living under a rock for the last six years, are a one man band, Californian Jon Crosby. When he released VAST's self-titled critically acclaimed debut in 1998 it caused such a stir in the rock world that, by managing to incorporate industrial rock, 80's pop, classical music and many different styles of world music together, it made a completely different sound to anything heard before. The record became an underground hit and gained the band a major cult fan base.

Then in 2000, 'Music for People', was released, yet again gaining critical success and setting a trend for the band with its music of trying something new. It gained VAST some commercial success with the excellent promo for single 'Free'.

After cutting ties with the now defunct Electra records, Crosby went back to the drawing board, again becoming a pioneering artist by releasing two demo albums, 'Turquoise' and 'Crimson' on MP3 format through his website.

Out of these demos, the third official offering from VAST, 'Nude', has finally been released in Europe through SPV. Again Crosby has made a record that questions how anyone can blend together so many different brands of music and create something so unique.

VAST have been compared to a wide range of acts including U2, Depeche Mode and even more strangely Peter Gabriel. Pennyblackmusic talked to Jon Crosby about the new record and generally what makes him tick.

PB: 'Nude' has a more different sound than to your first two albums. Do you feel your progressing as an artist; are you always trying something different, something new?

JC: I would like to think I’m always progressing. I’ve been playing music since I was eleven. I go through changes, I think changes is a better word than progression. But it’s hard for me to say how I’ve progressed. I can’t really tell. I’ve listened to all kinds of music since I was young so it has just rubbed off on me.

PB : There was a big gap between this album and your last. For this album you released two demos before hand, 'Turquoise' and 'Crimson', on MP3 format. Did you just do that because you were curious about your fans' reaction?

JC : I figured the most important aspect was releasing the songs online for less than a dollar a song. We released 'Turquoise', which was ten MP3s for $2.99, which is something like £1.50. Basically they were in demo form, so why not? There’s all this talk about file sharing and free downloading and there are these companies putting out songs for a dollar each. If you’re going to buy 12 songs, you might as well go buy a CD. It makes much more sense.

I think we were one of the first bands to release a whole record online for a cheap price. That money goes directly to us. It’s kind of a statement we‘re trying to make. We also got a positive reaction from the fans and it was something fun to do, something different.

PB : Your music is very personal. Is it therapeutic. Do you write songs to get your demons out ? Is your music about real life experiences?

JC: I feel that if I don’t write about something I’m feeling then it will be fake. I’ll sing a song over and over in the vocal booth to get it right. So when I play it on stage it will be sincere. I don’t want to be impersonal and spend my time writing fake music. I mean, I guess I could write about something political, but it’s not real to me. It’s not something I’ve experienced. I could write about Mars, but I’ve never been to Mars.

PB : The track, 'Don’t Take Your Love Away' on 'Nude'. It seems very personal. Is it about a break up?

JC : No, it isn’t about a break up. For years I’ve lived in Hollywood. It’s such a materialistic place. Everybody puts their values and priorities on such shallow things. For me, I was always unhappy there, and to me it’s a love song. I’m singing about how all I was looking for was to be successful, to be a rock star and to be successful in life. Yet, the one thing I found was that everyone around me was looking for monetary success. I wasn’t and so it’s kind of a statement. I was lonely. It wasn’t about a particular girl. It was about everybody, everything and every girl.

PB : Who are your influences, your musical heroes?

JC : I listen to all kinds of music. I won’t listen to a band at all, and then I’ll start listening to them obsessively. Give me any year and I can name the band I was obsessed with. I went through a period where I was really into U2, then Metallica and then Nine Inch Nails. Bands and artists like Ministry, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Seal and the Beatles have all been phases for me. And all their certain styles of music have rubbed off on me. A lot of people have mentioned bands I haven’t listened to that much, such as the Moody Blues and Peter Gabriel, but I know they’ve influenced my music. Mixing world music with rock and pop is something I’ve done on my records a lot. Artists like Paul Simon, Dead Can Dance and Enigma, for example, have all really inspired me.

PB: I was going to mention Dead Can Dance. On the first album the track 'I’m Dying' has some striking similarities to their music

JC : A lot of people mix country and punk, rap and metal. They try to mix these different genres together, so why not go crazy ? There’s so much music to dig from around the world and throughout history too. Why just grab from modern music, when you can grab from music from around the world ? I try to expand out from the Western structure.

PB : On all three of your albums you have used orchestras. As you are a classical musician, how do you mix classical and rock music successfully?

JC : I wasn’t really given any formal classical training, I’m self-taught. Once you understand the theory on a guitar it’s a lot easier to understand chords and melodies.

It’s not so much that I add the orchestra over rock music. If I did that it would be hard. I create everything like a puzzle and it just fits together. If a band has the orchestra just following what they’re playing then there’s not really any point of it being there. I like the orchestra to be playing melodies that aren’t being played by any other instruments; it’s part of the sound.

PB : Where do VAST fit into the music scene ? It’s hard to pigeonhole you musically.

JC : We don’t really fit in anywhere. Unfortunately, we’re on our own. There are days where that can work for us because it’s nice people appreciate we’re doing something different. A lot of times it’s harder for us to get tours, jump on the bandwagon and be part of the scene. We can’t really slide into what’s going on and hope no one will notice. We’re on our own.

PB : So you aren’t going to be jumping into Bay City Roller costumes and changing your name to The VAST anytime soon?

JC : I don’t want the band sounding like someone else, It’s my own sound. Iggy Pop was doing something new and different 30 years ago, so why are bands copying him now ? It’s boring. I mean The Beatles were new when they came out. They weren’t playing music from the 1930s.

PB : You were dropped by Electra Records, Did it make you look at things from a different perspective?

JC : Electra doesn’t exist anymore, they folded. We wanted to leave and they wanted us gone so it kind of worked for us. It was a relationship that went bad. I didn’t like what they were doing; they were on a path to disaster. They would sign bands, spend all this money on them and not even release a record. It wasn’t their money; it was other people’s money.

It was great though, I had the opportunity when I was twenty to work with an orchestra and get paid. It was wonderful. But I’m definitely not upset it ended.

PB : You signed with 456 Entertainment. As they’re a small independent label do you have more artistic control ?

JC : The deal I have with 456 is different. It’s more of a licensing agreement than a record deal. I will probably release most of my music through my own label, 2 Blossoms. We didn’t want to go completely alone without support or help on this record as it took too much time setting up the label.It's cool though. We've basically got freedom in the contract to do whatever we want.

PB : 456 Entertainment is run by Carson Daly. Is he a fan?

JC : I guess so. He was the one that heard the record and decided he wanted to go ahead and support it. I guess he’s a fan from the times I’ve hung out with him. He seems like he’s into it.

PB : Do you think bands and artists should have full artistic control over their music?

JC : I think so. At the end of the day if you’re not making music you’re proud of, why are you doing it ? There’s no way of knowing if you’re going to have success, so you may as well enjoy one aspect of it.

I can’t imagine going on tour or working on music I don’t like. I would kill myself. It would be grim. Imagine you had to wake up everyday and eat food you don’t like, hang out with people you hate, watch films you don’t like. You have to make music you enjoy.

PB : Depeche Mode have just released a remix album. Would you ever consider releasing one?

JC : I was never a big fan of remixes. When it started out it was cool. But now it has turned into a monster. Everything’s getting remixed. For example, here’s my song. I want people to hear it, I’ll put a beat to it and now it sounds great. Why ? Did you not like it in the first place then?

There’s too much dance music out there already. If you want to hear dance music, go buy a dance music record. If someone else wants to do it, fine, but it’s not my cup of tea.

PB: What’s next for the band ? Will there a tour of the UK and Europe?

JC: Yeah, we will tour Europe in February, I think. We played a sold out show in London in June. It was great.

PB : Thank you.

JC : Thanks.

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