Tristan Shone, curator and brains behind Author & Punisher, creates music that is unforgiving and exact. His latest release, Women & Children finds him utilizing those self-made instruments that set him apart from so many other musicians and bands. To call Shone’s work innovative would be a fairly horrific understatement as Author & Punisher are a perfect example of the progression not just of heavy music but the way in which music as a whole is approached stylistically and compositionally. I had the opportunity to chat with Tristan recently about this as well as his own thoughts on heavy music.
What’s your approach to the writing process? What does that look like once you begin to create these songs?
These songs came out of so many different places for me, but I would think largely a lot of these songs come by accident when I’m not forcing myself to sit and write. The two piano-based songs were basically written for…I saw this Steinway piano in the library, and I was doing this art performance there with these masks that I made. I just said “Oh shit, let’s do something that’s made for piano.” I went home, took a piano out of my synth, and just started playing piano and coming up with some dark stuff that I liked. I haven’t done that since I was in high school. In actually working with that sound it totally opened up a whole new can of worms – different emotions.
That was something I hadn’t done for a long, long time, so those songs stand out in a different way. Two of the other songs, “Melee” and “Miles From Home,” were written while I had a two week residency at a friend’s house. I was just in somebody else’s house with some keyboards and samplers. I just sat there and drank beer, eating Mexican and listening to Mexican music, and I was just kind of writing these more dance beat tracks. Whereas with the Ursus album I was sitting on my machines writing stuff, these songs were just coming from a whole different place. A lot of times it was just me sitting on my couch with a laptop. There’s no solid answer for this [laughs]. It’s just like a big mess.
What’s brought you to the point where you are now as a musician? What’s that journey been like leading you to create your own instruments and essentially carve your own path in the world of heavy music?
I really feel like the music comes from the same place. I’ve been listening to the same bands. I listen to a lot more electronic stuff now, but I still have these sounds and emotions that I’m chasing all the time. The earlier albums, even though they might be a little cleaner or more hardcore based or something, they’re very much coming from the same place. I think being locked into a guitar and a sequence of drum beats or maybe even another person – that kind of helped me back a little bit, and I felt almost too quantized into different pitches and genre specific, whereas when I started building my own instruments I was basically…there were things that were out of key.
It didn’t have fixed pitches. All of a sudden it was really hard to keep my time. Just by putting my body in different positions with different pitches, not using guitars, all of a sudden I could approach that same emotion in my music. I just drive the conceptual idea I have in my head in a different way – from a different angle. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I can kind of utilize…I’m better at harnessing those pitches and rhythms. The drum machine is a lot slower – kind of more dronish than when I first started things, so it’s a little bit more dynamic. Now I’m mixing it with other instruments. The next album is going to be completely new instruments – next year sometime.
What’s the process like for you in writing lyrics?
I think I had maybe ten words on the whole Ursus album. I think maybe this is a big change. I’d had some political stuff before, but I’ve moved away from that. It’s more of an apocalyptic, hopeless vibe now for me, but I’m a pretty happy person, actually [laughs]. I don’t have much hope for the future, so there’s some elements of that in there. Much like bands that I respect, I really don’t focus on it too much. I remember David Byrne said something once about using voice as an instrument and sometimes it’s just the words that are coming out are not necessarily – they don’t even need to be meaningful. They can be. A lot of times I’ll write stuff, and then I’ll find out what it means later. I’m not a poet. I’m happy with the stuff that I’ve written. A lot of it sounds like free association.
So no hope for the human race?
Yeah. I think it’s probably not so much people as it is like…a lot of metal people I know, they’re constantly complaining about people, but I think I’m pretty forgiving a lot of humans. The overall state of nature and the planet, though, I’m more pessimistic about. I really think people are intrinsically, more or less, good.
When you think about the evolution of the heavy music and where it stands now, or the direction it’s headed, I think Author & Punisher is a prime example of how the genre is progressing forward. Do you think the growing popularity for heavy music could be attributed to this progress? Is it a passing trend?
I think there’s two sides to that. The same thing happened with like metalcore in the early 2000s and maybe with stoner and doom now. If you’re in a stoner and doom band you gotta have long hair, tattoos, and a cutoff jean jacket. That’s a whole genre of fashion now. For me, it’s just like…a lot of people, when I show up to a show, and I’m dressed kind of normal, some people won’t even acknowledge that I’m there until after I play, and then they’re like “Oh, you’re Author & Punisher!” and I’m like “Oh, is it because I didn’t have tattoos and long hair that you didn’t say ‘Hi’ to me when I walked in the door?” The same thing happens when you’re in Brooklyn. It’s kind of like Oh…cool. So this is like a hipster thing now [laughs]. I’m not bitter about that happening. You are who you are. The people who write real music maybe they do look like that, but more times than not you can just tell by the way people talk that hey – this is a musician, whether they’re a metal person or not.
Then, you have the other side of it with bands like Sunn who are a little more conceptual metal and have broken through into some of the more poppy festivals like Prima Vera and things like that. I think that’s great. It crosses boundaries into something that’s more than metal, in my mind. It’s performance art. Whether it’s trendy or not, the actual metal underground scene is pretty narrow, so it’s opened up the genre a little bit. The stoner doom thing is typically a little bit more boring. Hopefully that’ll die a little bit. I can tell when the band comes in the door – how they’ve geared the way they dress and the equipment that they have – I can almost tell what they’re gonna sound like. It’s the same with electronic music. I can tell by which controllers somebody has – oh yeah, they’re gonna be a cheesy dubstep band or this kind of techno.
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing someone wanting to make viable heavy music in today’s culture?
I think it’s basically just working out financially how you’re going to get to that point where you…I mean, I’m not supporting myself on music. I’m getting to the point where I’m making more money, because I’m just one person, so I can make X amount of dollars, where a band that’s got five people, and they’ve got a merch person, and a roadie or whatever. Getting to that point, I don’t even really know if there should be a goal. If you play long enough, everyone else will just give up. If you’re really passionate about it, you just keep going, and something will work out for you. I think a lot of people are not really willing to, or can’t, or don’t have the means to find some sort of job which allows them to do the amount of touring that you really need to do to get your name out there. It’s just…it’s been since 2004 with Author & Punisher, and it’s just getting to the point where I got a call from Pitchfork to do an interview, you know? I meet a lot of young bands, and god bless them if they can get to the point where they can get some publicity very early on, but you just really have to learn it and not care about that stuff.
What is it about heavy music that keep drawing you back to create new things and expand your own sound?
If I go out at night, and I go to a club or a bar – I’m mostly listening to electronic stuff. I like the purity of the electronic sound. It’s a little less harsh. I can hang out, and it’s a little more fun? I don’t know [laughs]. Every once in a while I like to go out and hear a really heavy band in town. I kind of get that through my own playing, so that’s enough [laughs]. There’s a certain thing with heavy music, that I’ve always just attached to. I started listening to heavy stuff in the mid 90s, and I just have these sounds in my head, and these rhythms, and I’ll just be walking around during the day in my job and these sounds keep playing – like a grindy, heavy sound. I’m always replaying it, and I want to make that sound, or I want to build something I can move that would help me make that. It’s something that’s always there, and it’s never faded, so that’s a good thing. Then also, I love the whole process. Even though it’s a pain to build this stuff. When you’re touring, every element of the night – you get there, have a beer, set up your stuff, meet the people, play, hang out with the people after, drive to the next thing. This whole process – I’m just giddy the whole time. I’m tired from the Euro trip, but I’m already looking forward to the next time.
What are you typically doing when you’re not touring or writing?
I’m a huge soccer fan, and I play in an old guy men’s league. I watch a lot of other sports, too. I come from Boston, so I’m a fan of Boston when it comes to those things, but I’m really into the British, European, and American soccer stuff. I also have two dogs, and we hang out a lot, and when the weather’s warm, I’ll go surfing. But I’m not a very good surfer [laughs].
Thanks to Tristan for his time.
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