Interview: Author & Punisher
It’s easier to write protest music or something. The first thing that I started to write for the new album, I guess the tone would be a little bit more positive, but that's just one track so we'll see where that goes.
Tristan Shone aka Author & Punisher has been making some of the most uncompromising music out there since his debut album The Painted Army was released fifteen years ago. His blend of industrial doom and drone metal has won fans and plaudits from all over the world, with listeners in awe of the unrelenting intensity his music creates, especially as it is done with custom created machines and controllers. Author & Punisher released the album Beastland two years ago and fans have been eagerly anticipating new material ever since. Gavin Brown had the pleasure of talking to Tristan about when we can expect that new material and what he has been working on as well as his experience of touring with Tool before the pandemic hit, his influences as a musician and standing uk against fascism and police brutality.
E&D: You have always had an antifascist message with your music and you’ve been protesting against racism and police brutality. Do you think that the time has come to stand up and say enough is enough when it comes to fighting racism and fascism?
Tristan: Yeah, I do, of course. It’s just that I think there’s an element of denial from a lot of centrist Democrats and liberals in the US because most of the white communities here think everything was fine when Obama was president and they think that it was fine once for the last 30 years. The reality of it is that it hasn’t been fine so it’s a desire to return to normalcy that everyone thinks existed when Obama was president and just a reality for a lot of black people so I think there’s way more that needs to be done than I think most people realize. That’s why I think there’s all the violence, because even though some of the people think that, Oh yeah, well, we’ll train the police better. I don’t think that’s going to solve it. It’s massive amounts. I think that’s why it is a lot more visible right now than before.
E&D: Do you think what is happening in the world at the minute will influence the music you make in the future?
Tristan: I mean, yes, for sure. It’s kind of interesting because I’ve been thinking lately about heavy industrial/metal music has this almost literature that we read throughout the 20th century, that is now coming through and I think about metal, a lot of the lyrics and imagery are kind of the same. I don’t know, I guess trying to not necessarily predict the future, but sort of a soundtrack for that. I’m wondering now that it’s actually this thing. It’s easier to write protest music or something. The first thing that I started to write for the new album, I guess the tone would be a little bit more positive, but that’s just one track so we’ll see where that goes.
E&D: Have you been working on the follow up to Beastland during this lockdown period then?
Tristan: Well, I just got back from the tour, so I was working on my house a little bit. I have some instruments I’m designing doing some CAD solid works to design, but I just got into the actual studio or practice space last week.
E&D: When can we expect the album to come out, Will it be sometime next year?
Tristan: I think so, yeah. I had a lot of summer festivals that were canceled for July and August, so those are probably going to happen now next summer. You submit an album in May and it comes out in September or something. That’s probably what we’re hoping for something new, maybe summer or early fall. I haven’t had much time really, and I don’t mean just because of the COVID situation. Just in general, I think I’m planning on taking a little bit longer on this one.
E&D: What’s the reaction to Beastland been like, compared to your other albums?
Tristan: It’s hard to tell if you look at album sales, interest in website clicks and streams but they are better on Beastland for sure. It’s been a pretty steady incline, but a very slow one. Things are going fine, you know, I’m happy about it. Sales have gone up too, show attendance, is getting some good tours. I’m happy.
E&D: You toured in the US, Australia and New Zealand with Tool before the pandemic took over. How did that go and what were some of the highlights for you?
Tristan: That was such a great fit. I’d never been to Australia and New Zealand. We went to Tasmania for one show and that was amazing, unlike the US shows, I got to travel with the crew, they had hotels, transport buses and everything, you know, so I was just kind of riding along with them. It was a little bit more relaxed than the US shows because there was a lot more waiting around and you can kind of float your way over to the venue in the afternoon and set up. I can’t think of a more ideal way to see Australia and New Zealand. We went surfing a couple of times but the fear was starting to grow during that time as well about the COVID thing.
E&D: Did you have to cancel some dates?
Tristan: We had to cancel three of the US dates, so when I got back and there was a few days off, we went up the Northwest, we got Spokane, Washington, and then Portland, Oregon, and then the next three were cancelled.
E&D: What was the feeling like on the tour, when it started leading up to what was going to happen next with, with this COVID thing?
Tristan: I mean, the US has response was so bad, there wasn’t that much fear, probably nowhere near as there should have been. I think a lot of those shows probably, the January ones were probably going to happen anyway, but, the second, the gigs shouldn’t have happened, but at that time it didn’t seem like there was an issue but they were telling us way less than they actually knew.
E&D: The European tour with Igorrr was obviously canceled due to the virus, will that rescheduled at all?
Tristan: Yes, but I’m going to be not on that tour. I’m going to be working on the album during that time. They pretty much had to push it a whole year but that’s going to be massive for them.
E&D: Are you making any sort of tentative plans about touring and playing festivals for the future or are you just going to wait and see what happens?
Tristan: Certainly looking for, it’ll be some shows over here at some point but I don’t think it’s going to be going to the UK. A lot of those summer festivals are getting juggled. They’re trying to figure out where to put them, so they’re not the exact same dates and all that. I’m waiting to hear from that, but I’ll probably do a US thing in the fall and then it’s probably gonna be something like next year, unless a support tour comes up, you know? I mean, I would love to go out, we made a lot of contacts on the Tool tour with some bigger bands, who I hadn’t had contact with before, so we’re trying to work through those connections.
E&D: Who have you loved touring with the most in your career?
Tristan: Well, you can’t beat the one I just did, just because those guys were so chill and their crew was so accommodating, it was a blast. I still don’t think I have absorbed what that experience was for me.
E&D: The Tool tour, was that in arenas?
Tristan: Yeah, it was arenas. I had two different setups, for the first half I had a bigger set up and then, the second half, because of all the travel, I went with the smaller gear but I don’t think people noticed that because they were so far away! That was great, the tour with Cattle Decapitation was great, although that tour had a lot of bands, so that was a little hectic. I had never really done that kind of death metal tour. It was Full Of Hell, Cattle Decapitation, Atheist, Primitive Man and Vitriol. It was hell at times, but they’re all good dudes. Neurosis and Godflesh were great bands to tour with, that’s more like my exact genre with bands like that or Yob. I feel like doom people are the most chill. You don’t get as much of that aggro energy with those crowds. The Tool crowd was definitely accommodating to me but there’s a little bit more military there, you’ve gotta football bro’s to artists. There can be the wrong energy at times but honestly, Tool is not into moshing so most of the crowds are pretty liqoured and high!
E&D: What was the impetus behind starting Author & Punisher in the first place?
Tristan: I had just been playing in bands, writing guitar and singing. It just got to the point where you start a band and somebody would leave, after you wrote so many songs. I had always had this in the back of my head to do this. Just one person with a drum machine, like Godflesh and other bands that were heavy using machines, not in that industrial sense but kind of more dancey using the 808s and drum machines that way. I wanted to do something heavy. I just got sick of the band thing man, I was sick of losing members and wasting my time so I started this. Around 2003, I started writing the first tracks. I went to grad school for art and during that time, I developed making my own speakers and my own pedals and then it turned into a big drum machine.
E&D: Are you still using the dub and drone machines you have always used or are you still creating more as time goes on?
Tristan: For the last album, I did make a new set so that was the third setup, although I didn’t end up using the main drum machine because there were some issues with it. It was a really complicated device. I took it on one tour in Europe and it kept giving me problems so I shelved it but that had a setup that was designed for touring. I’ve got another engineer and we’re working on building some new devices. We might start selling those.
E&D: How did you discover industrial music initially and bands like Ministry and Godflesh and what other bands made you want to make the music that you do?
Tristan: I mean, those were two for sure. I think it was like the Melvins and Neurosis too, probably 1993 or something like that, early high school days. I grew up on a farm, and the heaviest band, I think I’d ever heard, was Guns N’ Roses, or some hair metal band which I really wasn’t into but anyway, it was in high school when I heard Helmet and The Melvins, also Rage Against The Machine. I remember when that album came out, it was great. After I heard that stuff, I just wanted like the heaviest, slowest stuff. So I wouldn’t say that the industrial thing really was anything other than Godflesh and maybe Ministry. My angle for industrial, electronic beats was then became like drum & bass and rave culture. I started getting into that and then some of the Def Jux stuff, like Cannibal Ox, El-P and Aesop Rock. I just started listening to that stuff and then I really wanted to make those beats. I think my initial idea was to mix some of the drum & bass with the heaviness, but it didn’t really work, and it really just ended up that the electronic drums sequencing was the element. I think with when dubstep came around too, there was a much slower heaviness to that, those earlier dubstep guys that were pretty raw.
E&D: That was going to be my next question, You’ve cited Digital Mystikz and Headhunter as well as heavier drum & bass artists like Ed Rush and Optical as being influential as well. Was it the heaviness of the bass on the music that attracted you to those artists and that sound?
Tristan: Yeah, I think it was, it was the heaviness, the bass and also the kind of rhythm. Sometimes I’ll play some of those riffs because I hear some of those basslines and if I slowed that down a little bit, that riff is essentially like a doom riff. I’ve actually been like trying to listen to like old dubstep mixes, from like, 2002/3/4, and the drum & bass stuff and think, why was that so heavy? Why was that so powerful? Trying to reappropriate some of that heaviness into what I’m doing and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s also because those tracks are so minimal, they didn’t layer that much, and I like that. I think we layer too much and I’m trying to minimize stuff so that each element is more powerful.
E&D: Would you do something like that in your music, not heavy in a metal sense but more like a bass heaviness like Digital Mystikz do for example or even more like a Def Jux best type of thing, is that something you have considered or would do in the future?
Tristan: I would I would love to do it and I always said that if I had another project, a trip hop or a heavier dub group. I think it’s a matter of time. There’s a lot of other things I’d like to do in my life. As much as I love touring and I tour the shit out of every album, I do t think I’m necessarily a full time musician. I’m an engineer and I like building these instruments and half of my income is selling instruments and touring. If I was a full time musician, I might do that and have three different projects but I think I’m focussing more on engineering and design. Taking in that other side of my creative self.
E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments of your career as Author & Punisher so far?
Tristan: I was definitely nervous for Tool but I got up there and played, I look out at the crowd at it’s an amazing feeling and it’s an honour. I’ve played some bigger festivals now and I think it’s some of the earlier ones that hit me harder. My first shows in Europe, just getting over there with my gear and getting up onstage after all you go through to get over there, that was a big moment for me. Opening for Neurosis, I think Sunn O))), played good, after that show, just walking into that crowd, you could just feel it was special.