Metal’s one man act, Author & Punisher, stood out as a notable departure from the norm in today’s heavy music scene. For over a decade, Tristan Shone (author and punisher) has brought a beautiful cacophony of industrial beats and gritty melodies across eight studio albums. Having carved out a rather niche but unique niche for lovers of heavy and experimental music, Author & Punisher have now arrived at an essential turning point in their legacy.
krüller, A&P’s ninth and most progressive studio album to date, set an ambitious trajectory that is already meeting with waves of critical acclaim. Building on the sonic foundation of obscure instrumentation and ominous sound design, Tristan Shone filled in the gaps with the inclusion of melodic hooks on sheer abrasiveness on krüller. Much of it is actually highlighted by the album’s star instrumentalists, namely Tool’s rhythm section Danny Carey (drums) and Justin Chancellor (bass), as well as the guitar work of Phil Sgrosso (As I Lay Dying, Saosin).
Wielding fierce industrial doom metal embellished with sharp synth-wave notes, krüller is undeniably Author & Punisher’s most eclectic work to date. Yet beyond its dense and innovative soundscape, the lyrical themes Shone unearths paint a not-so-distant future. Inspired by the science fiction works of Octavia E. Butler, krüller provides insightful commentary on today’s polarizing sociopolitical topics like climate change, war, and pandemic response. The heavy dystopian subject matter fits perfectly into the mechanized grooves and weird drones of Author & Punisher. This, combined with Shone’s Type O Negative-esc harsh vocal embrace, makes krüller bound to connect with an array of heavy and experimental music fans.
Discuss the design of krüller and his newly announced audio hardware company, Drone Machines, Author & Punisher’s Tristan Shone dives into the details.
What was Kruller’s vision of the writing process? The density of the melodic and heavy layers is different from most of your previous work.
Basically, when the pandemic started, I was on tour with Tool and we were interrupted by about four shows. From this tour, we recorded all the concerts and for me, it was the best possible conditions to play. I had a team, I was also able to access the Tool team because they listened to it every night, and I had the best sound system. . So when we taped it all and I got home and it all went to hell, I was able to give myself a really honest look from a fan’s perspective. I wasn’t thinking “oh, I need to fix this thing”, it was “okay, I’ve probably like me a few years of no-shows, what does that look like?” It was like looking in the mirror and saying from a fan’s perspective, “does that sound good?” There were some really good things that I liked, but there were also elements that I hadn’t really looked at closely. I think the vocals and the melody, and just kind of the overall abrasiveness that I was always going for with some heavy and dark, I think some of it hit those nerve-wracking tones that I don’t usually like to hit . So this record was more about finding the balance between heaviness and melody.
What is the meaning or thought behind the title of the album, Krüller? Is it pronounced ‘Cruel-ler?’
Yeah, but you want to pronounce it. The idea for the title was basically like when I sat down with Zlatko Mitev – the artists who did the album cover – at the start of the pandemic, we started looking at this real wide separation between left and right in the United States and these survivalist mentalities. There’s this side that drives around in their heavily militarized Toyota Tacomas and sprinter vans with gas tanks in the back, like these guys are ready for war and it’s their fantasy to go that route. For me, to think of the books I used to read like Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, we’re living in this moment, this “dystopian” moment that we read about and watched movies about. For me, the lyrics, the cover, Krüller is really my kind of… if I were to write my own science fiction novel, it’s a vehicle that would be in that novel. It’s the truck, it’s the survival vehicle and I’m not on the side that wants to kill people, but rather a part of the people who still want to remain human and maintain art and humanity. I just feel like so many people here in this country just want to fight, and they just want blood, and that’s not what this album is about.
The album also contains notable features, from Phil Sgrosso on guitars (As I Lay Dying, Saosin), and from both Tool’s Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor. How did all these features come together?
Yeah, Phil’s been my manager for a few years, and I knew Danny [Carey] for a while before the tour, and Justin [Chancellor] I had met on the tour and we had just kept in touch. Justin and I had wanted to do a track when I got back and we just started sending tracks back and forth and so it was very fluid. And for Phil, it was just going to be a track on one part, and then it turned into a “hey, I added some extra stuff”, and then before you know it, he just threw a bunch of stuff on each track. And then Jason Begin who is my partner in Drone Machines, he worked on a lot of my records and he’s not a metal guy, he’s more into the Aphex Twin kind of glitchy stuff. And so he’s one of those synthesizers, and I’m more of a software VST type guy, so my sounds don’t always have the best high-end fidelity, and Jason just took everything and made it sound better and more lush.
When did you realize you wanted to start producing and distributing material through your own Audio Company store, Drone Machines?
Well, I really held myself back from doing it for a long time just because there were a lot of logistics involved. If I was 25, I think I would have started out irresponsibly, and the music hardware industry is not about making money, it’s not about making money, it it’s about getting to the point where I want to do more things for myself, and I want to be able to experiment. I can only do so much with the touring schedule, so I’ve found two people who can take a little more of that load off me; Adam Reed-Erickson, who is a mechanical engineer, and Jason Begin. Between the three of us, we kind of found a way to balance and ask ourselves how do we make the worlds of electronic and techno music more tactile, and how do we get people into that? Because electronic music is the future of music, and so how do you get people to have a more intimate relationship with their devices so that live music isn’t just a push of a button, and you’re not not just stuck in a 1 foot by 1 square foot on stage? I want people’s movements to be based on human movement, not just micro finger movements, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
And we’re also making it open source, so if you spend $1,500 on a device, you won’t be stuck with something that breaks very quickly. It’s not plastic, it’s stone, metal, wood and steel. Open source electronics allows someone to develop that over the years, so if there’s a different change in protocols, if USB-C and USB-A go away, you can swap that part out. You can still use the material but you can change things that will become obsolete.
What is your general philosophy when it comes to choosing, as well as making, the type of equipment you use for A&P?
I like this question because I think one of the things that I face as a performer is that you get these kind of fans who are, I like to call them “Burning-man fans”. They basically want to have a giant RoboCop on stage all the time. They want that big embellishment of something that keeps them entertained while they’re on drugs or while they’re on their weekend job at Google – they just want to see the biggest fire-breathing dinosaur.
I think even though I don’t try to be like over-intellectualized things I think going to art school was probably the best thing I could do because before that I was all totally doing those kind of performances that would be shiny and big. I think what you really want is what is doable and what is meaningful interaction. I always try to find those elements that are very simple movements like a spin, a slide, maybe an accelerator, something that has a recoil effect and a tactile nature. You can really look to the early industrial machines because they really found ways to say “hey, it’s somebody working, but we can’t overwork it, it can’t be too big, that can’t be too small”. I would say we are really looking at the beginnings of industrial America. Industrial tools are where we draw from.