Interview enough bands coming through town, and you'll eventually just quit asking how a particular tour came together — it's usually something lame involving an A&R dude.
That's what makes the upcoming tour by A Storm of Light and Via Vengeance so unique. It wasn't the result of music industry machinations, but rather the realization of a longtime goal by a couple guys who'd probably be hanging out together anyway, even if they weren't on tour.
A Storm of Light's Josh Graham and Via Vengeance's Shane Ocell were classmates at Moon Valley High School in Phoenix in the early '90s. A few years later, Graham and Ocell were both active in the Phoenix music scene and eventually developed a friendship based on their mutual love of heavy music. Graham moved to L.A. in 1997 and landed a gig creating and managing the visual elements of live performances by California post-metal band Neurosis. Graham was also a founding member of Red Sparrowes before leaving the band in 2007 and moving to Brooklyn to form A Storm of Light.
Ocell advertises himself as a one-man metal band: "There are no loop pedals, no harmonicas or French horns, and no handlebar mustache. The days of clangy knee cymbals have made way for hard melodic guitar chords, slow irrevocable lyrics, and precision drumming."
"(Graham) had always mentioned that once A Storm of Light took off and got established, he would take me on tour with them," Ocell says. "I didn't know if it would ever happen, but he called me and was like, 'Hey, we're doing some West Coast shows with Shrinebuilder and I was wondering if you'd want to fly out to New York and play shows with us all the way there and back.' I said, 'You already know the answer.'"
The tour serves different purposes for the two bands. For Graham and A Storm of Light, it's simply a matter of practicality. The band had signed on to open the aforementioned West Coast shows for metal supergroup Shrinebuilder, so it made sense to book a headlining tour from Brooklyn to L.A. It will also give Graham a chance to fine-tune the visual elements of the band's live show, although he admits that each show brings new challenges, especially when it comes to AV stuff.
"One thing I've learned from doing shows for probably, like, 18 years now is that every single night will be different, unless you happen to have played that club before," Graham says. "We never know what we're gonna get. Sometimes the visual presentation is amazing, and sometimes it sucks. You just take it as it comes . . . We always have our own projector, and we have different lenses for it for different-size rooms. We have our own screens and everything like that, but you're pretty much at the mercy of the actual physical properties of every single room."
If he sounds into the visual aspects of his shows, it's probably because Graham has had a successful career designing album covers, directing videos, and creating live visuals for acts like Mastodon, Neurosis, Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan, Underoath, and even Madonna. He also designed the cover art for Via Vengeance's 2007 debut, Dieography.
Art and music are all part of the same project, he says.
"They both work together for me, especially in A Storm of Light," Graham says. "With A Storm of Light, the music and the visuals and the art all revolve around each other, so it ends up being one big complementary art piece. It's just different outlets. Doing art and creating imagery is just as important to me as actually creating music."
Ocell, on the other hand, is looking at this tour as an acid test of sorts. Ocell, who stridently refuses categorization as a novelty act — even though he simultaneously handles vocal, guitar, and drums — recently finished recording his second album, tentatively titled Dead in the Snow, with local producer Jared Cox.
"I met him [while he was working] at Revolver Records," Ocell says. "I was wearing my Neurosis hoodie and he was wearing a Baroness shirt, and we just started talking. Turns out he records. He hasn't done a ton of recording, but I told him my situation, and he was, like, 'Dude, I would love to record you, just for the experience.'"
This will be the longest tour he's undertaken since he began performing as Via Vengeance in 2006.
"After doing this tour, this much touring, I could hate it," Ocell says. "I could be, like, 'This isn't for me,' but I have to do it to know. I have to know if I'm even cut out to do it."
The tour will be a communal experience, with the bands sharing transportation and equipment. Ocell is packing light, bringing only his guitar, cymbals, amplifier head, and, of course, his custom drum pedals. He's borrowing Graham's speaker cabinet and drummer Geoff Summers' kit. Despite their differing agendas, Graham and Ocell are looking forward to getting a chance to catch up while on the road.
"Even when I was in Red Sparrowes, I always wanted to kind of have [Ocell] around," Graham says. "He's a good friend and a great guy, and I really like his band. We knew the opportunity [to tour together] would present itself at some point. We just didn't really know when."