By Christopher Nosnibor
In my capacity of music reviewer, I receive all kinds of weird and wonderful releases. I get an awful lot of dross, too. Then there are those which seem to straddle all three bases. In the case of Mr Vast, his work doesn’t so much straddle as drape itself luxuriantly, an ostentatious shrug saying ‘yeah? c’mon, then…’ I first encountered Mr Vast – aka Henry Sargeant – on the release of 2013’s puntastically-titled Grievous Bodily Charm. By this time, he’d already amassed a substantial body of work after 20 years as a member of Wevie Stonder, the band who invented their very own musical genre – Cack music.
It’s impossible to complain that it’s bad, because it’s supposed to be, and as such, it rejects all notions of conventional expectations and succeeds in its anti-populist objectives. But for all that, it’s also rather good, in that it’s obvious there’s musical talent at play, and some savvy songwriting means there are some hard-to-resist hooks beneath the overtly goofy stylings. As such, the form is playful and provocative, and calls to mind the spirit of Dada.
After the wildly weird and sickeningly funky single ‘Touch & Go’ landed on my doormat, along with news of an imminent album, it seemed an appropriate time to probe the mind of Mr V and find out what on earth goes on in there.
CN: First things first: you’re closely associated with the term ‘cack music,’ and your former band, Wevie Stonder established Cack Records. For the uninitiated, can you explain what this is, and what it’s about?
MV: Cack… Cack… CACK!
Yes, You see it’s a nice word to say, and it has a certain quality to it when shouted out loud, gives a certain feeling… I suppose the essence of our philosophy of Cack has to do with immediacy, Doing things whatever the consequences, without thinking, without letting your super ego get in the way… it’s a very id kind of thing… the Germans have a word Kacke which means shit, this is not where we got the word from, although there is a sort down to earthness about our ethos that is naturally related to the basicness… the no nonsenseness… of a good shit…
The creative process is like shitting don’t you agree?… I mean we all know you shouldn’t force it…just let it happen… and don’t be precious about it… there’s a lot of Cack art out there… not just our cack music… there’s been a cult of cack art since the beginning we suppose…I would say for instance a cave painting could be described as cack art…
It has a certain vitality, it’s essential, it doesn’t piss about… that’s not to say its ‘easy’… some of the cackest tracks we ever made took bloody ages to get right!… so it’s also a bit Zen… in that everything I or any of the Wevies might tell you about CACK might not give you the answer… or we might contradict each other… to conclude, explanations are not where Cack is at.
Your lyrics could be reasonably described as abstract, surreal, off-the-wall. What inspires them, and what’s your creative process?
Well I can thread the answer here also back to the whole cack thing… spontaneity, surprise… most of my songs/texts just appear in my head, often fully formed, sometimes in that clichéd fashion- in the middle of the bloody night… I have no choice but to turn the light on find a pen and paper and let the bastard out… sometimes I leave the light off but the result are more difficult to read…
Often my geographical position is significant, if I stand over here, the song just flows, over here it disappears… to conclude, my Muse is beyond explanation… But yes wordplay is important, something I really enjoy… Mr Vast and Wevie Stonder have developed over the last 16 years a language quite peculiar to us, I guess that’s normal in a long term relationship, it certainly the longest relationship that most of us have ever had, and when we’re together ideas fly off us faster than when we are alone… so a big part of the inspiration for all of the albums we’ve made has come out of our combined chemistry, we actually started to look alike… that’s when I decided to go solo.
On a purely practical level, how do you create and assemble your compositions – by which I mean, is your music realised in a professional studio, or are you of the modern breed of artists who work from home and bypass the conventional methods?
I come up with a load of texts, sometimes they might be songlike and sometimes they might be more like a shopping list or whatever, I generally have some kind of suspicion as to which ‘style’ of sound they should have, and at that point I hook up with the producer/composer Al Boorman, he’s the sound nutcase, I can usually show him or read him my scribblings and he knows exactly what I mean and can knock it up in no time… it’s quite spooky… he’s sometimes got the exact track I need already done before I bring the text… not sure how he does that.
And yes, back in the day it was all bedroom based… in fact I think the bulk of the Wevie stuff was made away from any official studio spaces… The latest Mr Vast album was made next door to a fantastic pie shop at Rampant Horse Studios in Norwich, I don’t think you can sleep there… but you never run out of pie.
There’s a fair amount of wordplay and also referencing of art and culture: what, outside music, interests you?
There’s the stuff we know, the stuff we don’t know and the third category…
I’m what Ken Campbell calls “A seeker”… interested in the stuff we don’t know we don’t know, somehow by hook or by crook getting to know it… Things beyond the edges interest me… Alistair Crowley… Tommy Cooper…
Mr Vast came from another world I suppose… I mean he is in fact the product of a dream…
It was 1993, I was sharing a flat with Cosmo and John in Brighton and spending my grant on herbs… we would have these big sessions and I would invariably start some deep conversation, much to Cosmos horror, he preferred to keep things simple… anyway I fell asleep and the Cos burst into my room and said “Don’t get Vast with me!!”
I got up and went to his room… ”why did you just say that?!”
He said “Say what?… Fuck off! I’ve been asleep for hours you twat, I never said anything…”
And from the next morning on I was christened Mr Vast, until that point I don’t believe the word vast had ever been used to describe a person with a weakness for the esoteric the occult and philosophy…
But I probably didn’t need to tell you that, did I? Or was that an answer to a question you didn’t ask?
Absurdism is a term that crops up in more or less every review or reference to your work. Do you align yourself with the literary lineage of Kierkegaard, Camus, Beckett, and latterly, David Foster Wallace and the musical works of, say, Frank Zappa and The Bonzo Dog Band?
Love all that lot, not yet got round to Wallace or Kierkegaard (although I have spent time in Sweden with a woman who gets messages from glowing floating pink balls in the tundra)… currently I’m reading John Higgs, highly recommended… he’s done some great stuff, a Timothy Leary biography and a book about some other proper Cack artists, The KLF… His latest one’s called Stranger than We can Imagine – Making sense of the 20th Century… keeps you on your toes… or are they my toes?
Humour is obviously integral to your work, but you consider yourself to be a serious artist?
Now we’re getting in there… Hmmmmmm… interesting one that… the things which generally are the funniest to me tend to be deadly serious… I can have a lot of respect for some artists who take themselves and their art seriously, but more often than not I’d rather be sick through my eyes than spend 20 minutes subjected to them and their creations… for me the creative process is a playground and I have reached the peaks of ecstasy through fits of laughter induced by my ‘work’… It would certainly be a serious matter if I was prevented from being able to do this stuff… if I consider Mr Vast or Wevie Stonder to be anything, then it is a life raft in the tsunami of seriousnessness… chances of survival are pretty fucking slim on the raft but off it you’re a goner for sure…
Can you describe the typical listener of your music? What kind of audience does your music aim for or appeal to?
It’s important to have at least 50 people in the audience and they need strong arms… I enjoy crowd surfing you see, and any less than 50 and you don’t get such a good innings, I did it with ten at ATP festival years ago and it was over in a flash…
I’m sure if Michael Jackson had done ‘Ease and Speed’ it would have been a hit, yet only a handful of people have heard of my version… I’m not sure what that means… but I think it’s something to do with market forces…
I have been invited to an “outsider or freak” music festival next year in Nantes France… does that mean I appeal to freaks and outsiders?
Last year when I was on tour, I met the president of Holland’s Robbie Williams fan club, she bought my album without even hearing it.
You relocated from the UK to Germany about 10 years ago: why Germany?
If I was Michael Caine, I would say “The 3 B’s – Bakeries, Boozers and Birds, all far superior in quality and half the price” …but not being a cockney playboy spy, I have to tell you that I came here as an actor, because I was asked play a stow away on a spaceship in a science fiction play made for the blind… and ended up being kidnapped to live in an artist’s commune… which perhaps amounts to the same thing but isn’t quite as catchy or sexist…
Not surprisingly, most of your live shows are performed in Germany: do you think that German audiences and audiences in mainland Europe more broadly, are more open-minded and receptive to more diverse and more challenging musical forms?
Shame on England and its arrogant tunnel visioned policies (I mean England not UK, because Scotland and Wales are better) broadly speaking it’s the worst place we’ve played, with the worst conditions and the most unfriendly atmosphere…
Sorry England… “I tried to see things from your point of view, but I couldn’t get my head up your arsehole too.” (respect to The Goldie Looking Chain for that phrase)
My advice? Get out while you still can…
The lead single and title track from the forthcoming album, Touch & Go, is so funky it would make a pig sweat. The press release even described it as an ‘unassailable dollop of stinking funk’ – and rightly so. How did you manage to pack so much funk into just a few short minutes? Is the rest of the forthcoming album equally phat and phunky?
I don’t know how Al did that no, I guess it’s in his blood… or his genes/jeans? The rest of the album is completely different, but equally phat and unassailable!
Are there any questions you wish I’d asked but haven’t, and would like to answer here?
Where did Vast come from/what is Vastness ? See above!
And of course, we’ve come full circle – which seems absurdly logical. Or logically absurd, depending on how you look at it.
‘Touch & Go’ the single is out now. Touch & Go the album is out via Cack records on 6th November 2015.