The guitarguitar Interview: Author & Punisher
Published on 19 December 2018
You enter the dark venue and make your way through the audience toward the stage. Looking through the subdued lights and dry ice, you struggle to make out the large mass on stage. There is no drum kit, no backline and instruments on stands. All you can see is a collection of dangerous looking, specially constructed industrial machines crowded around like a collection of torture devices.
One man takes to the stage and, piece by piece, connects himself to the devices. His right arm slots into a large, moving metal construction, his left grasping a set of pneumatic levers: even his throat becomes encased in a sinister looking apparatus. The man begins manipulating the machines, fighting physically against the cold steel and wires of the contraption. Huge swathes of distorted synthesizer frequencies burst out, punctuated with breeze block drum sounds and fuzzy, screaming, tortured vocals. The music is abrasive, pained and angry, possessing a bruised power that matches any Death Metal band. The sound is futuristic, Industrial (in the true sense of the word) and bathed in layers of digital grime.
This power is all coming from one man. Tristan Shone, otherwise known as Author & Punisher, is the creator of these unique machines, the writer of this epically bleak music and the sole performer on the stage. He is a one-man apocalyptic wrecking machine and, as Author & Punisher, he has released 6 albums of this uniquely powerful music, the latest being Beastland on Relapse records.
We simply had to know more about Tristan and his insanely amazing art. He was kind enough talk to us, revealing some great insights into his concepts, working methods and much more. His is an act that MUST be seen to be fully appreciated so before reading this exclusive interview, have a look at this video of Tristan in action...
Hi Tristan, thank you so much for talking with us! We need to spend some time talking about your incredible machines but before we get to that, I’m interested in how you arrived at this set up! What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Thanks for having me. I loved the heavy stuff from the first time I heard it... About age 13-14 I believe I first heard Sepultura’s Roots album and I called the radio station to find out what it was. From then it was Melvins, Godflesh, Neurosis, Fugazi, then more Death Metal after that.
Do you have a background in traditional guitar-bass-drums bands?
Yes, I started with piano from an early age (5-6) then moved onto guitar and bass. I played in heavy bands all through high school and college. My first drum machine band (called Empathy Test...not the newer band of the same name...) was also at this time.
At one point, did you just get dissatisfied with typical methods for controlling sound?
It was more like it was not a very organic process...programming songs, then “playing” them out...rather you were just pressing play. I wanted to organically write electronic music, as one person.
Do you have an industrial design or similar sort of background?
Mechanical engineering degree with many years experience in industry and research.
You design for own Machines but do you always manufacture them yourself too?
I used to fully fabricate what I would design, but recently I send out the parts to get made and then do the fine tuning on my own...the details.
Could you give us an insight into the thought processes that culminate in one of your Machines being designed and made?
I like to make pretty simple heavy riffs that are dissonant. This means I want something that I can bend pitches but also feels heavy and has resistance. The materials must be rugged. I then think about devices that I have interacted with in the world of fabrication, robotics and machining and utilize some of those components in my design. It all goes into CAD (Computer Aided Design software - Ray) for a number of months coupled with many bottles of wine and in the end I have a design where I can order many of the parts from industrial catalogs and then send out many of the parts to the local machine shop. Then I receive the parts and assemble. The next part is writing code and then coupling a hardware or software synth or drum machine with the device. I would say the most time consuming is the design phase. You have to be careful not to make something that over exaggerates the theatrics... The size and scale should be appropriate - not too much not too little. It must feel right.
You travel all over the world with this stuff: do you ever get hassle at airports?
No, actually. I think because it looks professional, like engineering equipment, they don’t hassle. What scares them the most is boxes of chaotic wires...homemade circuit bent stuff...I’ve heard nightmares about these types of rigs!
How do you transport all of this?
Pelican air cases. Right now it's at 5 cases each at 50lbs.
Do you need additional people to set up and take down the equipment when you tour?
I usually bring one extra person for either sound or video who helps me, but I have made it so that no one part is too heavy.
Would I be correct in saying that these devices are used to control ‘normal’ instruments and software? What are your favourites?
Yes. I love Elektron stuff because it is the most advanced. My album used Octatrack, Analog Four and Heat. My signals go into Ableton and then out to hardware so if the device doesn't have that much programmability, it is more limiting. Moog works well too. I also send a lot of soft synths out through bass and guitar amps. I find that at the volume and distortion that I use, I don't always need the highest fidelity...at these volumes your ears can’t really detect a little lack in dynamic range.
So do you like to mix up digital and analogue Technology? Hardware and software?
Yes I do.
Does anything ever go wrong? Like, in the middle of a gig? You can’t exactly run to a guitar store and buy extra strings or whatever...
It happened 2 times last year...but they are lessons. Everytime something like that happens, it makes me solve another issue that can come up. The most recent was my powered USB hub was becoming unpowered by vibration... I now have that cable superglued in. Most of my USB cables are industrial grade Neutrik connectors now so that nothing can jiggle loose. I’m learning new things everyday.
Do the Machines dictate how you write songs or do you just try and figure it out on them after the songs are written and finished on the computer?
Absolutely. You have to write the songs on the machines, otherwise, you will be pressing play and the song sequence will rule the song. I never write songs with a click... it's always loose. Later after the song is written with an organic core, I will sequence some of the layers that I have added, but only a couple of small things.
Wow, no click? That's awesome! I assumed otherwise. I love that! Tristan, lots of your music, and indeed your image, has a bleak futuristic sci-fi vibe: is that what you’re going for? I’m guessing you watched Terminator a lot as a kid, haha!
Sure, I watched that movie, but I wasn’t exactly a sci-fi nerd. I loved tech and I always had a soft spot for robots, but I think the noir gangster stuff is what I liked the most. Later it was Lars von Trier and old Melville and Suzuki gangster stuff. It’s bleak and brutal.
Yeah, you don't get more bleak than Lars Von Trier! ‘Ode to Bedlam’ has some amazing movement in the main riff: would this be the ‘Throttles’ machine in action?
It’s not the Throttles, but a similar sliding pitch controller I call Mini-Rack because it is a smaller version of an older machine called Rack & Pinion. It is my main machine now that I tour the new album with because it is compact but feels great and powerful.
Talking about the newest album, does Beastland have an overarching theme or concept? I may be waaay off base but I’m getting a (Tarkovsky’s) Stalker, Metro 2033 vibe...
Yes, something like that for sure. I would say it is a sort of look at different Beasts that we face in different forms, such as, people that take advantage and prey on the less fortunate. I was influenced by NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, (which I listened to all three while on tour with Zombi on the west coast in 2017), which is a bit of Beastland for sure.
Ah, that's a good tip to check out! Is live performance more important than recordings for you or are they equal? It’s certainly a big talking point to see these Machines in action!
They are both so important. I enjoy live performance the most. The whole writing and recording process is incredibly difficult. You have to dig so deep for the creative juices. I almost become a different person when I record because I have to steer myself so far inward.
Your overall ‘Man vs Machine’ vibe reminds me of films like Tetsuo: Iron Man and Taxidermia. Would I be on to something here? Are you an extreme cinema fan?
I’m not really a fan, but I respect that connection from a fan perspective. I hear this all the time, but I never designed my instruments to have anything to do with sci-fi film. I solved an engineering problem.
Ah, ok, interesting! When performing live, how many sounds can you have on the go at one time?
I usually have about 10.
I have to ask: do you have all of this stuff set up at home? Haha!
Only the newer stuff. The older stuff is boxed up, but they will return for tours when they are needed!
Your album ‘Melk En Honing’ was produced by Pantera legend Phil Anselmo. What was that experience like? Was he a hands-on type of producer?
I loved working with him. We became good friends and I think we produced a hell of an album. He was very hands on spent many weeks on that album in his studio with me. I think we really got to the inside of what was in my mind for that record, lyrically and sonically. He understands heavy music but he also knows how to fit hooks in too.
(Photo: Jelle Grutterink)
Do you have plans to expand your armoury with new Machines?
Oh yes...stay tuned...much more to come.
Finally, Tristan, what is next for Author & Punisher?
I’ll be back in Europe (UK and mainland) in April then I’m off to Asia in June and USA in July. After that, I’ll prob start with some new designs and releases. Thanks for having me.
Thank you Tristan, we'll see you in April!
Author & Punisher's latest album Beastland is out now on Relapse records. He is on tour next Spring. Keep up with Author & Punisher via his official website here.
We'd like to think Tristan for sharing his time and insights with us! We'd also like to thank Pip Soret for all of his help in making this interview happen. All photos courtesy of Author & Punisher.
Interview by Ray McClelland.