Metal bands can find inspiration for their names in all sorts of places. Judas Priest took its name from a Bob Dylan song. The Black Dahlia Murder's moniker was inspired by the infamous 1940s homicide of the same name. San Diego-based musician Tristan Shone got the idea for his one-man project's name from a T-shirt.
"I learned a lot about the Bible when I was in school and I kind of enjoyed it, but I was always making jokes about it," he said. "I would always get T-shirts that said all sorts of religious things. And I had one that said 'Author and Finisher,' which is another word for God, I guess. I think one of my sullen roommates in high school said, 'It should be Punisher.'"
The name stuck, and it's getting around. Over the past few years, Shone has received attention from outlets ranging from Wired and NPR to CVLT Nation. Decibel Magazine picked Author and Punisher's album, Ursus Americanus (2012), as No. 30 of its Top 40 Albums of 2012. The project's most recent release, Women and Children (2013), was named the best album of the year by San Diego City Beat. Metal Injection called it "a colossal album. It's not strictly metal, but it's heavy and disturbing like a nightmare you suddenly wake from but aren't quite sure you fully escaped."
Shone has nearly finished recording a new album produced by ex-Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo. He's touring the West Coast now and will play the Crazy Horse on Saturday, Dec. 13, with local openers Deep Creeps and Heibarger.
Shone brings his background as a mechanical engineer to bear on Author and Punisher's droning, fearsome mix of dubstep, industrial and doom metal. He performs with a variety of sophisticated, self-made instruments. These include a series of masks that make different noises when he shouts into them. Other machines create a range of sounds when Shone turns knobs or slides handles along rails.
The sounds that the machines make can change depending on how quickly Shone moves. Because of this, creating an Author and Punisher song can be physically challenging.
"I kind of equate it to—I don't know, I wouldn't say dancing—but it's almost like some sort of tortuous physical motion," Shone told Boise Weekly. "It's definitely not a gentle motion; I'm really just kind of grabbing the bull by the horns."
For Shone, the effort that goes into working the machines is part of the music's appeal. It allows for a freedom that he doesn't often enjoy as an engineer.
"You find that a lot of people that you work with in engineering, they're afraid," he said. "They're afraid to [be unpredictable], and I think it comes through in lifestyles as well. I don't know, just choices that people make sometimes in life are very safe in the engineering world. And the way that they school you and the way that your life turns out—there's something about music that has allowed me to let go of some of that."
Shone's musical career hasn't followed a safe, conventional route. He grew up in New Hampshire and became involved in DIY punk and metal in high school. Inspired by groups like Godflesh, Fugazi and The Melvins, Shone performed both solo and in bands. He started thinking about making his own machines while attending grad school in Boston, where he helped build installations for artist and teacher Chris Csikszentmihalyi.
Shone's connection with Phil Anselmo came about by chance. Anselmo watched a YouTube video of Author and Punisher and was so impressed that he invited Shone to join him on his European tour.
"It just so happens around that same time I was touring in Europe," Shone told Denver Westword, "and his stage manager came to my show ... and said he was with Phil Anselmo and that [he] was interested in what I was doing. I emailed him back, and two days later, I had an email from Phil. I pretty much said yes right away."
Touring with Anselmo gave Shone a glimpse of how music could be financially sustainable.
"I like the DIY aspect of the music world, but it definitely wears on you a little bit," Shone said. "It's nice to kind of be a part of—I don't want to say 'the industry'—but just seeing how things work and seeing how maybe [you can] at least not lose money when you're on the road. That's what a lot of the last two years has been—trying to figure out, in my late 30s, how this whole music thing works."
Shone will hopefully learn more soon. He'll tour Europe again in January and possibly release the new album in the spring. He doesn't plan on quitting his day job right away, though.
"At UCSD, where I work in this lab, these guys have been really great," he said. "And they understand the other side of the engineer that they hired."