Jon Crosby, the brainchild behind alternative rock group VAST, has earned a reputation as a musicial chameleon. He has the rare talent of being able to work within the confines of just about any musical genre—alternative music, world music, and goth have all played a heavy hand in molding Crosby’s musical journey. While still in his teens, Crosby introduced San Francisco, California, to VAST (Visual Audio Sensory Theater), which takes all of those influences and blends them into a unique rock sound.
Growing up in rural Humboldt County, California, in a town of 7,000 people, Crosby wasn’t exposed to MTV or frequent live musical performances. In fact, his only concert experiences as a youngster were shows by Richard Marx and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Instead, it was the film Amadeus that sparked his desire to become a musician. A girl, however, quickly changed his focus. “I met this girl named Michelle and I decided I wanted to learn how to play the Beatles‘Michelle.’ It had just enough diminished chords—similar to classical music—for me to get into rock. And I became a huge Beatles fan,” he said in his official website biography. Growing up in a small town gave Crosby the push he needed. After all, he said, “there was nothing else to do other than play guitar.” His hometown showed little support for the young guitar prodigy, considering introverted Crosby an outcast.
Crosby’s musical tastes evolved as he grew older. Alternative music struck a chord with him, specifically U2, Depeche Mode, and the Cure. While in his pre-teens, Crosby and his mother moved to San Francisco where he joined a guitar workshop. As a student, he recorded a demo tape and sent it to the president of Shrapnel Records. Soon thereafter, at just 13 years old, he was profiled in Guitar Player magazine. Crosby was offered a record deal with Shrapnel, but he turned it down because he felt he was too young. In order to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician, Crosby traded public school for home schooling. Studies were not as important to Crosby as music, though. While his friends were listening to punk and ska, Crosby formed an electronic music act, VAST, an acronym for Visual Audio Sensory Theater, when he was 16. He made the rounds of Bay Area clubs and in the mid 1990s inked a lucrative deal with Elektra Records.
Crosby soon entered the studio where he played nearly every instrument on the group’s debut album. During the recording process, Crosby filled VAST’s sound to the fullest. The self-titled, goth-influenced debut features an 18-piece orchestra, samples from the Bulgarian Female Choir and the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Saint-Mauer. Adding indie rock credibility, drummer James Lo of the group Chavez made a guest appearance. Released in April of 1998, Visual Audio Sensory Theater is an amalgamation of electronica, classical, world music, goth, and metal. Lyrically, it is dark and bleak with several spiritual and religious references. For example, in the song “I’m Dying,” Crosby says, “Not a day goes by when I don’t realize I’m dying.” In an interview with Rolling Stone’s David Derby, he said, “I think a musician not singing about God or spirituality is like a married couple not having sex. Every band and musician that I’ve been into has sung about it so I don’t know what makes me any different.” The album piqued the attention of new fan Lars Ulrich, drummer for the heavy metal group Metallica. In VAST’s official website biography, he called the record “one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a long, long time. It hits you on so many levels. It’s been a record I’ve been listening to over and over.”
To promote the record, Crosby started touring with a collection of musicians: bassist Thomas Froggatt, drummer Steve Clark, and guitarist Rowan Robertson, who was later replaced by Justin Cotta. Although he comes across as serious in interviews and bleak in his lyrics, Crosby’s live performances show his lighter side. He takes the time to joke around onstage to let the audience know that he is not as pretentious as he might come across. The single “Touched” hit Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart and was a modest success on alternative radio.
In late 1999 and early 2000, Crosby worked on the new record at various studios—Palindrome in Venice, California; Mat Hatter, Sunset Sound, the Hook North and Oceanway in Hollywood; and Western Outdoor in Mumbai, India—with Froggatt and Clark. While he co-produced just four songs on Visual Audio Sensory Theater, Crosby produced the new record himself. “I
Members include Steve Clark, drums; Justin Cotta (replaced Rowan Robertson), guitar; Jon Crosby (born on July 25, 1976, in Los Angeles, CA), vocals, guitar, hammered dulcimer, flute, trombone, harpsichord, organ; Thomas Froggatt (born on January 19, 1979, in Byron Bay, Australia), bass; Rowan Robertson (born on November 22, 1971, in Cambridge, England), guitar.
Crosby formed VAST, c. 1992; released debut Visual Audio Sensory Theater on Elektra, 1998; released Music for the People on Elektra, 2000.
had a vision for the sound and feel of this record. I wanted to do something fresh, but without leaning on electronics,” he said in VAST’s official website biography. He dabbled with hammers, harpsichord, flute, trombone, and organ on the record.
Lyrically, Music for the People was much different than Crosby’s debut. In his website biography, he described the album as more introspective but about other people. “It’s about longing for freedom, escape—and people.” Musically it was a departure as well. Whereas the group’s first record was classically based, Music for the People was heavy on guitars and rock-inspired music, but Crosby’s classical roots still came through. “Andrew Mackay, one of the biggest classical arrangers in England, had worked with the New Bombay Recording Orchestra and we felt that they would be a good choice for the album. So we traveled to Mumbai, India, to record their parts. It was an amazing learning experience,” he said in his official website biography.
Released in September of 2000, Music for the People spawned the anthemic single “Free,” a song that celebrates liberation. Crosby moves away from the heavy electronics that filled his previous work, but the tune “The Last One Alive” could have appeared on Visual Audio Sensory Theater, with the lyrics “You won’t find me/‘Cause I’ll be on top of a mountain/P*ssing on your grave.” This record carries wide-ranging influences including U2, one of Crosby’s early musical influences.
Crosby once again headed out on tour, this time in support of Music for the People. He and pop-rock outfit American Hi-Fi went out on an extensive tour of clubs. In 2001, Crosby took a break from touring to work on his third album. For Crosby, his musical journey has been an educational one. “I’ve learned a lot about myself. When you perform, you see what connects to the audience, but you also see what connects for yourself. It helps you to get a better sense of who you are,” he said in his biography at the group’s official website.
Visual Audio Sensory Theater, Elektra, 1998.
Music for the People, Elektra, 2000.
Billboard, January 23, 1999; October 7, 2000.
MTV, http://www.mtv.com/bands/vast/260463/album.jthml (July 25, 2001).
MuchMusic, http://www.muchmusic.com/transcripts/vast00.htm (July 25, 2001).
Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid-4585&cf=4584 (July 25, 2001).
“VAST,” Excite Music, http://music.excite.com/artist/biography/~39167 (July 25, 2001).
Additional information was provided by Elektra Records publicity materials, 1998 and 2000.
vast / vast/ • adj. of very great extent or quantity; immense: a vast plain of buffalo grass. • n. archaic an immense space. DERIVATIVES: vast·ly adv.vast·ness n.vast·y adj.