Now on tour in Europe and the U.K., ReGen Magazine caught up with Tristan Shone of Author & Punisher during the first U.S. leg of his tour in support of his latest album, Beastland.
An InterView with Tristan Shone of Author & Punisher
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Although there is value in remaining pure to the establishments of a particular musical or artistic genre, there is always something to behold in the breaking down of those parameters to carve out a truly unique identity. Such is the case with Author & Punisher – the one-man band of Tristan Shone; for more than a decade, he has utilized his background as a mechanical engineer to create his own instruments – often referred to as drone and dub machines. The results have placed him in the highest regard as a musical and technological innovator, creating a sound that is as imposing as his steely arsenal… a sound that bears as much in common with the dissonant dirges of doom metal as with the darkly monolithic sounds of experimental noise and industrial. To see him perform onstage is nothing short of a marvel, like watching a cyborg in the throes of an anxiety-laden seizure.
After working with Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down) on his 2015 album Melk En Honing, and subsequently self-releasing the Pressure Mine EP in 2017, Shone signed to eminent metal label Relapse Records in 2018 to release his seventh full-length album, Beastland. With a myriad of collaborators in the album’s production, including the likes of Kurt Ballou (Converge), Jason Begin (Vytear), John Cota (Death Eyes), and co-producer Braden Diotte (EXO//ENDO, Neurosis), Beastland may yet be Shone’s most virulent artistic statement as the album presents not only his most aggressive material, but some of his most melodic, striking a difficult but rewarding balance that has reached past the limitations of genre. With Author & Punisher now touring the U.K. and Europe, with a second U.S. leg to begin soon, ReGen Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with Shone in November during the first U.S. leg to hear about the album’s creation and the evolution of his process; here, he also talks about his affinity for dance and minimal techno, his love of Peter Gabriel, his participation in ColdWaves, and the challenges of touring.
Your previous album, you were on Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records and worked with him on the production for Melk En Honing. Then you self-released the Pressure Mine EP, and then you released Beastland with Relapse. How did you sign to Relapse? Did they come to you?
Shone: So, I did the album with Housecore, and then I was looking for a new label. I looked around for quite a bit and then Scott at Seventh Rule – my old label – knew one of the art directors at Relapse, and he said, ‘Hey, you should sign with Relapse!’ I then wrote to the guys at Relapse and asked if they’d even be interested, and within like five minutes, there were a bunch of people writing in, ‘Yes!’ It happened very quickly; they were very interested and we kind of worked out a deal over the next month, but I knew right away because it was such a pleasure to have somebody interested.
How has the relationship with Relapse been working out?
Shone: It’s been awesome! For me, to have such a wider audience and just to get your album in stores and have it distributed properly in Europe… I went to my homeland in Portland, NH, and I found it in the store. That had never happened before, so Relapse was great!
You’re often considered a doom metal artist, even though the industrial scene has totally embraced you for your innovative techniques. And of course, metal and rock bands are using technology in interesting ways, and you are in a class all your own in that regard.
We had spoken before about the ‘hipster’ quality of new music, although ‘hipster’ is not the term I’d use. But you were referring to people who want to innovate and find new ways to make music outside of whatever is considered convention. Outside of what you’re doing, are there any in particular that are really exciting to you from the standpoint of a fan?
Shone: Well, the ‘hipster’ term is such a weird term, but… wow, right now, what am I listening to? This is really hard because as I was making Beastland, I spent the whole year writing music and not listening to anything. I mean, anything that comes out of the Modern Love label in the U.K. I absolutely love – stuff like Andy Stott and Demdike Stare; it’s like this kind of… in the techno realm. It still sounds like industrial to me, but it’s really kind of minimal and dark without that EBM sugarcoated element to it, which I absolutely can’t stand. I respect those guys and I’m friends with a lot of bands that do that stuff, but I don’t like it. I love Chelsea Wolfe, The Body, Lana del Rabies is kind of doing some cool stuff with heavier beats; it’s almost like industrial/hip-hop and has that kind of feel.
On Beastland, you worked with John Cota from Death Eyes…
Shone: Who has been doing my live sound.
Oh, awesome! And you worked with Braden Diotte from EXO//ENDO, and several others. In what ways do you feel your music has benefitted from what they’ve brought to the table?
Shone: Well, Braden is essentially the main guy that I worked with and I brought him. Everything that he’s been involved with, I like. I like his artistic sense, and he also went to the same art program that I was in; that’s where we met, actually, although he was a couple of years after me. But having that sense of a little bit of a contemporary artistic sense… we’re not trying to just make thing shocking; we’re trying to use critical thinking about the way the songs are and about the feel. Yeah, I could’ve brought in someone who was a total grindcore dude who was just going to make this shit heavy as fuck. I really wanted somebody who was going to bring something else to it. He basically took the songs and worked with me, saying, ‘Hey, let’s format it this way,’ or ‘let’s shorten it,’ ‘let’s add a lead here,’ or messing around with tone for a few days.
Jason Begin from Vytear is a genius when it comes to synths. I used a lot of hardware on this album, mainly electronic synthesizers, so I made all of these beats and crafted all my kick drums and snares and synths. And then, I took them to him and he garbled them up some more and we crafted them, he made a bunch of loops out of what I had done, and then I took them back and chopped them up again. There are a lot of extraneous sounds on the album.
Beastland does have a much more streamlined sound to me, and it’s probably due to what you were just talking about and how the transitions between varying elements are cleaner, the distortion settings are a little slicker I’d say.
Shone: I think having these guys and actually tracking it with other people… I mean, I usually just track by myself, but I’ve been a little sloppy in the past, I think. I think I really wanted to clean things up this time. And then, Kurt Ballou at God City, he’s the guitar player from Converge… I mean, he’s a pro, an expert! He just went in and found the mix the way that it should be; it maybe wasn’t the way that I would’ve mixed it, but in retrospect, he made the best mix we could get.
Another of the more striking aspects of Beastland is the cover art by Juha Arvid Helminen. How did you encounter Helminen’s work and what made you choose him to do the art?
Shone: Actually, he’d already made this image – it was for this festival that I played in Helsinki called Blowup. In January, I saw the poster for my portion, and he’d done artwork for every band. He did an image for Godflesh, and this was the image he did for me. And I thought, ‘Oh cool, I want to use that image!’ I talked to him, and he said, ‘Well, it’s already the image for this festival,’ but I asked if they’d let me use it for this album cover, so I paid some money and he let me use it.
And in what ways do you feel the imagery reflects or corresponds to the tone or the themes of the album?
Shone: The idea behind Beastland was essentially that I was trying to take different beasts that I would explore in each song. It didn’t really work out this way, but for instance, ‘Pharmacide’ is a critique about the pharmaceutical industry, and there were other moments that I’d say were more political – talking about war mongering and things like that. There was something about this World War I aesthetic that really was sort of industrial, and it was just the feel I think the album was going for; it’s the way the album feels to me.
Also on the visual end was the music video for ‘Nihil Strength,’ which despite its minimalism is very striking with the projections; it actually reminded me of what Peter Gabriel was doing.
Shone: Dude, it’s so funny that you say that, because I don’t remember which Peter Gabriel video it is…
‘Shock the Monkey’ maybe?
Shone: Yes, that one! And there was also the one he did with Kate Bush for ‘Don’t Give Up.’ Do you know that one?
Shone: I really liked that simplicity, and a lot of people have done shit like that, but it’s funny that you picked up on that because I love Peter Gabriel.
I really don’t know anybody that doesn’t. He’s just one of those artists, like David Bowie, who reaches everywhere. But that visual of the animals projected on your face… was that the idea of the director?
Shone: No, the faces were actually my idea. And the director, Augie Arredondo, my wife, helped me out a lot with that – she does a lot of my visuals. I don’t always bring her with me because most of these tours at this level, you just don’t have good projection systems. I used to bring my own, but it would take so much time to set it up, and so I can’t be setting up a giant projector, getting it online, all of that is a real pain in the ass!
Oh, it can’t be easy just to carry around all the gear, all the machines that you’ve created to make this music and put on the show.
Shone: I just decided that I’m going to do what I want. I’m going to make smaller stuff, because it’s easier for me, it sounds the same, and I can actually play it better. The big stuff is really fun to use, but I’m so ruined by the time I get it onstage that I can’t do it on a full tour. Someday, I’ll bring all that stuff back, if I ever have the financial means.
On that note, we had spoken before about how every tool is just a means to an end, you just trying to take the sounds in your head and make the tool to create it. Is there every any rediscovery? Like, when you’re working on a new album, do you go to an older piece of equipment and think, ‘How can I make a different sound come out of that?’
Yeah, how do you balance the visual performance with the audio presentation?
Shone: Yeah, nobody wants to see anybody playing like a MIDI guitar or certain things that just look so basic. That’s the kind of device that I only use to record. I actually took it to Europe last April, and I broke the shit out of it.
You’ve performed at ColdWaves as Author & Punisher three times, and once joining Not Breathing onstage. What are your thoughts on ColdWaves now versus when you were first asked to take part in it?
Shone: Well, as far as the industrial scene, I wasn’t doing any festivals like that until Jason Novak invited me. So, I really appreciate him inviting back again and giving me better slots, and it played a big part in putting me on the industrial map. It gets better every year. I have nothing but very positive things to say about him and Kelly. He puts in so much work and gets really stressed out, so I can’t really thank them enough.
You put out the Pressure Mine EP in 2017, which was stylistically very different as it seemed to have a much more ambient and stripped down sound, much less of the doomy metal sounds you’re known for.
That’s actually one of my favorite tracks on the album.
Shone: Oh, thank you. Yeah, and I wanted to make it a little heavier. But I’d never done it this way, programming the song on a 16-step sequencer.
So, it was done in a more conventional manner.
Shone: Yeah – here’s my drum machine, here’s my sampler, and here’s my synth. Three units, that’s it.
Is that something that you feel you might want to do again as an experiment?
Shone: No, I don’t think so. There were some songs on it that I really liked, and I actually brought them with me to Europe. I was going to play the songs, and throughout the tour, I just said, ‘This doesn’t work.’ I was pressing play and trying to play with something I’d programmed, and I was basically just going ‘boom, boom, boom,’ because it wasn’t written on my machines. I love dance music. I love dub music. I love heavy hip-hop. So, I’ve never really made that stuff before, and I think I’ll just stick with what I do best. I still was very proud of that record as it was super D.I.Y., and some people seem to dig it. I have a couple of songs on earlier albums that are like that, but it’s not my bread and butter.
So, what’s next for Author & Punisher?
Shone: Mainly touring! Now in April, we’re going to go back to Europe, and then we’ll be coming back to the U.S. at the end of May. I can’t think about building any instruments right now. I got these tables that I shipped in from Germany, and they’re very stable and don’t shift so there’s no shit flying around. I’ve really retooled my setup for the long haul. I mean, this album was a lot of work because I had to make the instruments and record the album, so I was really squeezed in the process of writing Beastland. Now, I’ve already built the shit, so I’m good to go. I’m not going to buy any more synths; I’m just going to use the same synths and just rig them better. I think the next album will be even more streamlined. So, I’m really excited about recording that one because I can really think about writing music, rather than having to fucking… all right, I might build a few things.
Well, when the inspiration hits, and just as a point of habit…
Shone: I want to build a new pedalboard, because I have this one that I use that’s a little too small. I’ll rebuild racks, and I’ve thought about building some sub-woofers… things like that.
One of my favorite things you’d done was a remix EP with Bong-Ra and GoreTech, and you already collaborate with various other kinds of musicians. Is there anything like that in the pipeline for you? Like, I keep wondering when we’ll hear the Author & Punisher vs. Merzbow album, or something like that.