Shane Ocell has the biggest, hardest . . . callus I've ever seen.
It's the size of a small marble, sitting on the knuckle of his right middle finger. He cultivated the knot through his unconventional drumming style holding the stick between his fingers while using the rest of his hand to strum a guitar.
Oh, and he sings, too. As local one-man band Via Vengeance, Ocell does everything (vocals, guitar, drums) at once during shows, and he doesn't cheat on his CDs, either. All the tracks on his new album were captured live in the studio, without recording each instrument on a separate track. Since Via Vengeance came into existence, Ocell's goal was to play heavy music without effects or overdubs, completely solo, and pull it off live.
I met up with Ocell on a recent Thursday evening at Carly's Bistro on Roosevelt Street. Ocell's tattoos are the most vibrant things in the bistro, which says a lot, considering Carly's walls are decorated with colorful works by local artists.
Ocell's one-man show is as close to nuclear music as I've seen. A Via Vengeance performance revolves around the stocky, 5-foot-9 musician sitting at his drum set, with his guitar, and hammering out what sounds like a volcanic eruption in a garage. It's like watching a surly symphony spring from a small box.
Ocell's methods are exceptional most one-man bands rely on stomp boards instead of full drum sets onstage but most one-man bands don't have the percussive pedigree of Ocell, who drummed for local punk legends Hillbilly Devilspeak in the late '90s.
Most bands don't have the connections Ocell has gathered over the years, either. The 32-year-old musician counts among his friends guitarist Josh Graham (Red Sparowes, Neurosis), and producer Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon). Via Vengeance's new CD, Dieography, was produced by Bayles, and Graham did the cover art.
While tossing out such details over Carly's paninis might make others seem like name-droppers, Ocell just comes off like a music fan who's honored to work with some of his heroes. And it's not like Bayles went easy on him while they were recording.
"If I messed up during a song, we'd record the whole thing over . . . the whole song," Ocell says. "But it was such a great experience, working with someone who's made some of my favorite records."
Ocell's musical tastes lean toward stoner metal bands like Clutch, vanguard rock like the Melvins, and noise-rock bands like Janitor Joe and The Cows. Ocell shared a bill with the latter band when he was in Hillbilly Devilspeak and recounts his experience of seeing The Cows play. "Shannon [Selberg, The Cows' singer] is really good at intimidation," Ocell says. "I'm standing there, and he's looking at me like he wants to kill me."
Selberg (now fronting Heroine Sheiks) is known for his crazy antics there are stories of him wearing a doughnut on his head for a whole show and then chucking it at a woman's face, and of him performing with a sex doll wrapped around his body but I wouldn't recommend a fight with Ocell. It's not that Ocell's crazy in fact, he's probably one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He's just tough as hell.
Ocell possesses the sort of fortitude that only comes from a fistfight with one's father. Shane's parents divorced when he was young, and his relationship with his father, David, was strained. David told Shane that when he turned 18, they were going to fight. And on Shane's 18th birthday, it happened. "My dad and I were playing pool," Ocell recalls, "and he took a swing at me. When we got home, we had a really big fight. We beat the crap out of each other. It got pretty brutal."
From that day on, Shane seemed to have his father's respect. When David died of lung cancer in 2005, he and Shane had made amends. Other problems besieged Ocell around this time his two-year relationship with his girlfriend ended, and he discovered that an employee at his San Diego piercing shop, Mastodon, had embezzled 20 grand from him.
So, pissed off and seeking a creative outlet, Ocell started Via Vengeance. In 2006, he self-released a four-song EP, Shades of Blood. At the time, Ocell didn't have the means to tour, but he does now, in the form of a 1988 Honda wagon.
Ocell's happy to have a vehicle to tour in. "It's perfect," Ocell says. "I can put all my gear in the back and still have plenty of room. After all, it's just me."
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