Photo by Augie Arredondo
Our story so far: Tristan Shone is an American mechanical engineer who records and tours as one-man-band Author & Punisher. He’s known for his intense brand of (what has been labelled as) industrial metal, and self-built instruments that resemble something you might see if a Terminator and Tetsuo had a baby.
His latest album, and first for Relapse Records, is last year’s Beastland, and he returns to Toronto this Monday, July 29th at Velvet Underground, serving as direct support for rising industrial stars 3teeth.
Listening to an Author & Punisher album can be a unique experience, as there’s no context for the sounds being produced. So it’s a kind of aural leap of faith. On his last visit to the city I sat down with Shone in a quiet bakery cafe to talk about the new album, and how people are connecting to his music.
“I think I do a really good job of making people see emotion, and hear something,” he says earnestly.
“It’s not fake, I’m controlling that sound. The pitch-controller and the knobs in my left hand, they’re stacked vertically so you can actually see what I’m playing. When I first built them they were just on a table, on a rack-mount. I saw videos and I was like ‘Ugh you can’t see what I’m playing!’”
This new visual connection to his live audience has come about in part due to Shone re-thinking how he travels with his setup, which used to surround him like a high-tech fortress. But the rigours of touring took hold, and now the Author & Punisher show fits neatly in 3 cases, each weighing fifty pounds.
“Some of the other stuff that I built that was more sculptural was a little harder to… it was really fucking heavy!” Shone says laughing.
“If I wanted something to be really heavy, (to) have a certain feel, I made it heavy, I made it big. Now I can’t make things as heavy as I want, so I have to design around different restrictions. It’s a kind of fun engineering problem to basically say ‘I want something that feels good in my hand, that slides back and forth, but it has to be a little more compact and not have that extra little bit.’ I’m probably going to do two albums with this setup. (Beastland) is the first one.”
Shone has always had eclectic lyrical inspirations, and the new album is no different, as it addresses societal issues that also connect to deeper, more personal experiences.
“I knew the name of the album was going to be Beastland because I wrote (that song) a long time ago” he says.
“I don’t consider it to be the title track because it’s not the signature song of the album. At that point I said ‘Ok so let’s think of different beasts,’ and with this whole Trump thing and the rise of nationalism I was thinking of different modern beasts that we could view. There’s a song called ‘Pharmacide’ which is about the pharmaceutical industry… we’ve all had friends that have fallen to ill-fate on that topic. Another topic I explored was nationalistic European figures, and then there’s more personal demons and things like that. Initially I was going to make 8 beasts and I kinda got a little hazy.”
Something that’s always been curiously amusing is how Shone has found his place in heavy metal culture. After all he’s technically an electronic musician, and while darkwave music may have found a place alongside metal, Author & Punisher’s music has far more in common with visceral 90s industrial bands, but it also wouldn’t be out of place with the avant-garde output of the early pioneers of the genre.
Shone has always been outwardly grateful for the support from his metal audience. There have been moments where Author & Punisher seemed to stick out on a certain bills, but that's perhaps more so due to the nature of being a touring solo act in the middle of a bunch of bands. It’s something that he now embraces more than ever.
“If I was still playing in bands… I wouldn’t be playing in a pop band, I’d be playing in a metal band” he says.
“I think maybe that was something that I was a little more concerned about in the past, but I don’t really care anymore. You’re lucky at this point as a musician to exist anywhere in the music world. To be able to do it as long as I have, and have kind of a slow crescendo of… I don’t know… a crowd, a fanbase, or something. I’m happy about (how) it’s never blown up but it hasn’t really had a downturn. It just comes out naturally. You know, it’s the films that I watch. I’m no different than any other metal guy honestly.”
Beastland is available now on Relapse Records, and you can stream the album in full here. You can find out more about the show with 3teeth here, and you can get a good look at Shone's setup in the video for “Nihil Strength” below.