Of Man And Machine: Tristan Shone of Author & Punisher — The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

author and punisher

Anyone who reads Heavy Blog regularly enough knows our love of extreme avant-garde music. The blending of metal with far-out influences allows for the creation of some powerful art, and one up and coming artist that has really captured our attention is Tristan Shone and his project Author & Punisher. I first became aware of his unique act after playing a direct support set for A Life Once Lost in a small convention center in my hometown. Upon entering the room, instead of the usual setup — guitars, drums, mic, what have you — a collection of odd machines and electronics sat on stage. It became immediately clear that Author & Punisher was no ordinary metal act; Tristan Shone is a true example of a one-man band, recreating his complex drone-influenced industrial compositions with an array of homemade machines. I was so impressed with his act that I approached him after the show for an interview, and we talked for a good twenty minutes about his setup and his new album Women & Children, among other things. Read our conversation below.

Well I suppose first things first! I know you’re Author and Punisher, obviously, but introduce yourself!

Oh hi, I’m Tristan Shone. Nice to meet you.

I think the first thing about your show that’s interesting is that before you even come out, people can see your instruments that you made yourself, right?

Yep!

Author_-_Punisher-Drone_Machines_525x525What was the process of making those instruments?

For these instruments — and I have these previous ones that were much bigger and heavier [pointing to the cover image of Drone Machines, right] — I guess I’ll start with the most recent ones. I had to make something that would tour that I could take on airplanes and stuff, because I’ve found that with the previous ones were so large. I liked that weight; It was about that drone and doom, so I wanted it to be heavy and slow moving. But the new ones had to be of a much faster dynamic. I wanted to be able to play faster music, more rhythmic, so I basically just sat down with the CAD [computer-aided design software] on my computer and I started sketching.

I started designing bits and pieces of instruments that I know that I wanted. For example, do rhythm with the right hand and pitch with the left hand, and I wanted do something with my voice — I typically always want to do that. I’m just NOT left handed, so I can’t make a left-handed device for rhythm because it’s just too hard, but with my right hand I have more power and agility. So I just sat down and started thinking, “what sounds do I want to make?” and, “What’s the physical connection to that sound?” For the heavy stuff, it was drone, slow moving; for this stuff, it was much more about faster dynamics and just be able to change my body in any way and change the song up. In the middle of any song, I can just sit and say, “fuck it, I’m just gonna change this completely.” And I do sometimes.

Yeah, I noticed that you don’t have an in-ear monitor when you play, so you can just change tempo on the fly.

Yeah, or just sometimes I just don’t want to make this [the normal performance of the song] and just stop it and do something irrational. I like that because I can make that decision on the fly and improvise.

Actually, my next question was if your act was improv. Do you go in with a handful of ideas that you know you’re already going to do and go from there?

I mean, I know my setlist. When I first make instruments, the first year or something is just learning how to play it. I’m gonna play shows, because I’m not just gonna sit in my studio; I’ll go crazy. I’ll go out and play a show with a general couple of riffs and just mess around with them. It’s much more droney improv, but now I’ve got my songs together and I kind of work off of those.

Like, last night I had a twelve minute set, so I just did some parts and melded them together with a lot of noise. And I was angry, so I was just screaming and doing a lot of droney dissonance. I was actually pretty happy with the set even though my stuff wasn’t working properly. Just because it was able to capture the emotion of that moment. But fuck, I’m frustrated! I’m gonna do something really awful right now! [laughs]

Yeah, I could imagine with a short set time — how much time did you have tonight?

I had as much time as I wanted.

Oh really?

Yeah, these guys [A Life Once Lost] didn’t kick me off this time. [laughs] Usually, they just soundcheck right up until I’m supposed to play.

Yeah, I saw them setting up behind you as you were setting up.

[laughs] Yeah, we did that because we didn’t want to have to be rushed this time and we wanted us both to be able to have our full sets.

And I could imagine with your style of music, having a short set time makes it hard to build tension and get to where you want.

It is sometimes, yeah. If I only have fifteen minutes, I’ll know which songs I’ll drop. I have one song, that last song, which is about twelve minutes. Yeah, for sure.

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Going back to the instruments — obviously you make them yourself, but do you build them from scratch? Do you tear apart other instruments? Do you have a background in any sort of electrical engineering?

Yeah, I’m a mechanical engineer. That’s my day job, so I work in the neuroscience lab at the University of California, basically designing XY robotic mechanisms for microscopes, so it’s very similar to the technology I use for my instruments. So as I’m there working on that stuff, I’m kinda most of the time thinking about music [laughs].

So I’ll just sit and design these. There’s some electronics inside. Each device is made from raw materials, so I’ll basically design them on CAD and go buy the chunks of metal — aluminum or steel — that I need to make a single part, and I’ll sit there and machine every part out. And then some things I’ll buy. Like, I have this chain that moves when I slide, and it holds the wires because if the wires were just dangling, they would eventually break, so you have to use this chain’s wire carries to make sure the wires stay put. I start expecting this and I buy them and put it all together.

And there’s a microcontroller in each instrument that essentially takes the data from each motion and puts it into midi and sends the midi through USB to the computer. Basically these are all about finding physical ways to encode your motion so they can control computer sounds.

Your music is very peculiar. Especially given that this is a small town, I was going in afraid that a lot of people wouldn’t get it.

Right.

Have you ever experienced that in a live setting, where people just did not know what was going on?

Well, yeah. Sometimes you don’t know if they don’t like it or if they are just confused. But at the same time it’s also pretty heavy so I feel like people think it’s little too abrasive. Like, I’ve had people straight up come to me like, “why don’t you play lighter music?!”

[laughs]

“It’d be much more popular, and people like the machines! Your music is so brutal.” I’m like, “yeah, that’s the way I want to do it.”

Before you came out, I heard a guy say, “is he gonna play dubstep?”

[laughs] Yeah, exactly! There’s a lot of dubstep I still like. It gets a bad rap because people like Skrillex and things like that. It kind of ruins it.

Yeah, what do they call it — brostep?

Brostep, yeah. But I like James Blake and all these guys who do it much more mellow. Like, Benga and some of the guys in the UK do good work. I mean, there’s a huge group of people doing dubstep influenced stuff. I’m influenced by dubstep. I like the beats and the bass, drum n’ bass and stuff.

Going from there, how did you originally get into doing what you’re doing? I mean, I couldn’t imagine you were like, “I’m just gonna wake up and make some stuff…”

Well I wanted to be a one man band. After being in many bands, I just didn’t want to deal with the complexities of people. I used to play with a drum machine, Alesis SR-16. I would program my beats, play along with it. Then I started doing it on a computer, but I did it mainly to be for a band. Then all of a sudden, I went back to art school for grad school after working in the industry for a long time, like five years in a white collar cubicle kind of thing. I decided to go to art school and in working with sculpture and playing in metal bands, I just decided that I’d combine them, because it didn’t make sense to do the two separately and making just normal sculpture that I could play with didn’t feel right. I would make sculpture that was just kind of about something, you know? But really on my mind was thinking about music. So I just decided at some point, these machines on the Drone Machines album, this was my project. This is my master’s thesis project. My main performance at the end of the thing was just this big drone metal performance. I built all the speakers, the ones you saw up there and more. So it was just like, I’m going to combine engineering, art, sculpture, and music.

And now you have sculptures that you can literally play with…

Yeah, so you don’t just build them once and then they sit somewhere and you’re like, “fuck, I’ll just put them in a crate.” Even though I don’t play [the instruments from Drone Machines] much anymore, they’re still sitting there and I can go back and play them. I’m gonna tour with them sometime in the Fall. Probably not too extensively though, because that one right there weighs like 300 pounds. So I don’t know if I’ll be coming out East with it.

What are some of your influences? We’ve likened your music to Sunn O))) and SHINING, the Norwegian metal band.

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I wouldn’t say Sunn O))) because by the time I had heard of them I was kind of already doing my own thing, but I totally like them; they’re great. But other bands — like, I first heard Godflesh in freshman year of high school. I think it was the Selfless album that had come out at that time, I really liked it. From there, there was Fugazi, Helmet, Neurosis, and The Melvins. Those were the ones. Like, The Melvins’ Lysol album, when I see people describe that album as being kind of the quintessential doom metal album that changed everybody, it’s totally true! That IS the album I remember listening to in high school on the way to school being like, “WOAH, the bass on this…” Joe Preston, you know, his bass style…

So then when I was like 18-24, I loved going to big electronic drum and bass parties and stuff. The really minimal dub that’s extremely heavy bass but with clicks and stuff over the top of it, I really like. Pole is one of them. Deadbeat, Rhythm and Sound. I mean, it’s like reggae influenced beats, but that stuff — the really minimal stuff — that was just… I have some songs like that from time to time. I could never recreate what those guys do, but I’d like to.

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You said you started out making slower music but wanted to build faster machines, and your music got faster. From an evolutionary standpoint, you have a new album coming out this year, right?

Yep.

How does it compare?

I mean, I still have some slow stuff; I just love droning out slow stuff, right? But I’m really into syncopated rhythms now, so there’s a little bit of sequenced beats that I’ve cut up on here. I don’t want to say breakcore, but some influences of that, and a little more industrial. It definitely has a little bit more of an industrial feel.  [Pointing to an album on his merch table:] And this one has about four or five songs on there that have some sequenced keyboards…

And what is this album called?

This is Drone Machines. So half of this is the machines and half of it is… —- there’s like four songs on here that are played with guitar and drum machine. I would say that there’s elements of that sequenced stuff on [the new album], so for my next tour I’ll be playing my machines but my wife will be playing keyboards and doing visuals. So just a little bit more — the dynamic range is a little bit larger. I don’t know how that’s going to work out. I also have new machines beyond this that are designed, but I just haven’t had time to build because I’ve been touring more now, so things have slowed down a bit.

Speaking of touring, how did you envision where you would go when you started? Did you imagine that you would be bringing these things on tour?

Not with [the old] ones. The bigger ones I didn’t, and that’s why I started trying to make them, you know, workable. So… yeah, I always thought I was gonna go somewhere with it. I wasn’t quite sure it was going to be the same way it is now, playing metal shows in clubs and stuff. I thought it was going to be a little bit more like art festivals and things, but I’m happy. I like being able to play in galleries and also in clubs, because if you just play in dirty metal clubs all the time, it’s just dark, and, you know, you turn into that. So I like playing in an art gallery where there’s people that don’t usually see metal and they drink wine [laughs]. Bright, you know?! I like playing in bright places sometimes. Really bright, like white. Keep the lights on fully! Then you can see, like, drooling more, and all the nastiness [laughs]. That should be the new thing. Don’t hide from the light.

Yeah, drone and experimental music is getting much more popular. Well, I don’t know about popular, but it’s accessible and there’s more of these acts coming up, you know? So I could see how getting used to playing with metal bands almost exclusively becomes weird, but when you take a look at all these certain subgenres, it feels in place. Like, all three bands on the tour are very psychedelic in nature, so I think on the surface, though it may seem weird to those who aren’t familiar, it actually does make some sense.

Yeah. I think A Life Once Lost’s stuff has changed a lot. Yeah, it’s more psychedelic, but not psychedelic in the way that I find doom metal bands that are psychedelic that are just cut and paste. I tell ya, it’s old, you know?

Yeah, there was this band — Sabazius or something like that — that recorded a twelve hour doom track. They did it to make a statement, kind of like a self-parody. There was one section of the song that is literally three hours of feedback. They cut most of it, but they left their guitars just sitting there. Are you afraid that you might be lumped in with that excess?

No, I don’t care. All of my music is what I think it should be. It isn’t ironic or a joke. Sometimes it might drag on, but that’s because I wanted to do that. I’m very against irony.

[laughs] Yeah, your act does seem sincere.

Yeah, I just try to be as [intense] as I can. That’s why on this new album, I don’t know how I’m going to even play it live in some ways. Actually, the first song I played tonight was off of it; that’s the opening track, it’s called ‘Women and Children.’ But I don’t always play ’em, like on [Ursus Americanus], there’s probably half the songs that I’ve never played live. You know, there are some that are live tracks and some that don’t work live.

And that’s just the nature of the music.

That’s just the nature of the music. You know, some of them have that energy and the other ones are studio bits. I’ll probably only play like five songs off the new album.

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When you were recording Ursus Americanus, were there any parts that were improv? Did you have some improvisational moments or was it all planned out before you recorded?

Oh, there’s improv. Like all the vocals, because mostly there’s no lyrics. All the vocals I would just like, blurt out stuff. I would just record a bunch of it and cut it up. Some of it I would like, so I’d start doing it live. But yeah, I’d say a lot of it is improv. For the whole new album I would record stuff and then take it back to my laptop and sit there every night start to just write it out, take the drum beats and cut them up. I’d have a keyboard here and a beer here and a microphone and just keep on the couch. I don’t have a studio or anything, I’d just do it on my couch; it’s just more comfortable. I don’t work with a recording studio because then you’d just have a fixed amount of time and I like to be writing haphazardly…

And it gets expensive.

It’s expensive, but then you’re forced to write stuff quickly and I like to do haphazard… I just… I dunno.

You worry about deadlines and stuff, but [Ursus Americanus] just came out last year, right?

Yeah.

And you have a new one coming out this year.

So it was quick.

Sometimes it’s quick.

But the new machines… I have these masks that I’ve made too; these, like, robotic masks that kind of modulate your voice. I’ve made a couple of videos, but I’ll probably do some more art performances with them and I won’t use them in live performances like this. The thing is with shows like this is that people wanna see something that’s really polished, you know? And a lot of times when I’m first starting with something, I just go out and make a big mess.

That’s what happened with black metal. You know, it was a protest to polished. [Varg Vikernes of] Burzum would just use the worst equipment he could get. Sometimes grit’s important. It makes the sound; it makes the environment…

Yeah, just be a little messy. I guess you just get better at being messy after a little while. You just gotta know your equipment. Just knowing how to make good sound was a big battle, so that took a while. Now feel like I have a little bit of a handle on that, so even if I’m improvising or making a mess, at least it’ll sound good even it it’s not organized— riffing in time and all that. But yeah, it was a pleasure playing here!

What does your schedule look like for the foreseeable future?

In May I’m going to Europe for about a month. I’m only playing for three weeks, but I won’t play every day. I’ll probably play like twelve shows or something.

Who are you playing with?

No one. By myself just getting on random shows. I had booking agents over there who really tried, but I dunno, maybe due to the nature of the music or something… Some of the shows are really good. Like, some of them are art galleries, some of them are record stores. We’re going to Prague, Slovenia, Berlin, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, and then over to the UK. That’s the one time where I’m playing with three bands. One band, Gnod, check them out. They’re kind of more electronic, too. Then an art gallery in London, and then my wife and I are going to have our vacation [laughs].

So what’s the name of your new album coming out?

Women & Children. It’s on Seventh Rule and it’s coming out June 11th. I just finished the mastering. Because I’m on the road it’s kind of hard for me to make tweaks that I need to make, so it got delayed by a couple of weeks because of this.

Alright, this is going to sound ridiculous because it’s kind of an inside thing we do, but how do you like your eggs?

I do the over medium, but actually very specifically. I cook it with olive oil in the pan. About a quarter inch of olive oil in the pan, crack the egg in that. So when you cook it, it doesn’t get any crispiness on it. It’s perfectly smooth. Try it!

Oh my god. I learned something over Maclyn’s dumb joke.

And it just kind of slides down your throat!

Be sure to add Author & Punisher on Facebook and look out for Women & Children when it drops June 11th on Seventh Rule. Below, you can watch a music video from his 2012 record Ursus Americanus, ‘Terrorbird.’

– JR

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