Prong InterView: Relapse and Resistance
A prominent figure in the industrial metal underground, Tommy Victor speaks with ReGen on living the rock & roll life in the modern age.
An InterView with Tommy Victor of Prong
By Ilker Yücel
Prong has lingered in the underground music scene for nigh on a quarter of a century, blasting out a vicious combination of groovy rhythms augmented with programmed beats and atmospheres, guttural bass and acidic guitars, topped off by Tommy Victor’s aggressively melodic vocals. Blurring the lines between punk, metal, and industrial, the band has defied categorization while amassing a sizeable fan base as songs like “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck” and “Broken Peace” became audience favorites, even amid the turmoil of changing record labels and lineups. After the 1996 release of Rude Awakening, the band went on a hiatus from studio recordings, releasing two live albums as the band members embarked on different projects, with Victor most notably performing in Danzig and later becoming an integral part of Al Jourgensen’s Ministry and RevCo camps. While the 2003 release of Scorpio Rising met with a somewhat tepid critical response, it was 2007’s Power of the Damager, released on Thirteenth Planet, that solidified Prong’s return to the industrial metal fold. Subsequent touring with Ministry and Danzig followed, leading to another lineup change with bassist Tony Campos (of Static-X) and drummer Alexei Rodriguez (of Three Inches of Blood) joining for the 2009 and 2010 tours with Soulfly and Fear Factory, respectively. In 2012, this lineup released Prong’s eighth studio album, Carved into Stone, chock full of the band’s signature blend of dark, introspective lyrics and mechanical, in-your-face rock & roll attitude. As well, Victor participated in the 2012 comeback album from Ministry, Relapse, and Danzig’s 2010 release of Deth Red Sabaoth. With Carved into Stone now unleashed unto the public and Prong ready to take to the road again, Tommy Victor speaks with ReGen on the trials and tribulations of living the rock & roll lifestyle in the modern age with a little gear talk, memories of the late great Paul Raven, and the strains of touring.
The new Prong album, Carved into Stone is the first album of new material since Power of the Damager, and that was released in 2007, so it’s been about five years. Aside from having toured and recorded with Ministry, what other factors contributed to why it took this many years between albums?
Victor: Well, I worked on a Danzig record, too, and I toured with that, so that interrupted the whole thing a little bit, and then there was finding another record deal. I mean, we probably could’ve went in and done a record a year or two ago, but it wouldn’t have been as good, maybe, as this one. We went through the whole process of getting the best we could do. We did 25 songs, played them several times, etc., and did like a proper demo, and then eventually cut that list down to 11, which appear on the new record. It was a long process, as well. Doing Prong, it takes a longer time, because I’ve got to write lyrics and write music, you know, and then try to figure out vocal melodies. In some instances with some bands, you have three different guys doing that, so that contributes a little bit to the length between records, I guess. So, it was a combination of all those: touring, getting a large quantity of songs written, and then, you know, shuffling duties and things are a part of it.
You mentioned the other band members. The lineup is different this time than the last record. What can you tell us about the current lineup and how it came together?
Victor: Tony (Campos) and I have known each other for awhile. He was in Static-X, and Prong did some shows with them. They were nice enough to have us open a couple of times. And then when Paul Raven died and Ministry was about to go out, we got Tony in to do the bass duties, and he had I were actually rooming together on the Ministry tour, so when it came to after that tour, I said, ‘Hey, you want to write some songs with me and help me out with Prong?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, man.’ So, that’s Tony. And then there is Alexei. When Aaron quit Prong, we needed a guy immediately, and a friend of mine suggested Alexei, and he sent me a video and was like, ‘You want to go over songs?’ and I was like, ‘You got it, man.’ He came down and nailed it. That was pretty much how those guys got involved.
How did their involvement on the record…maybe not necessarily change the sound, but in what ways do you think it affected the songwriting? How was it different than in the past?
Victor: Well, with Alexei, we could go high-speed blazing on some tracks because he’s got the chops. The double kick work he did is really outstanding on it, and it’s really like the sky’s the limit when it comes to writing stuff, because he can play it all. When you get a guy that has limitations, you have to write around that. Tony’s the same way; it’s just the technical ability and his knowledge of songs, and he’s been in several successful projects in the past, and his ideas on arrangements and classic bass parts. One of his favorite bass players is Paul Raven, so Raven was the icon when he was with Prong and Ministry, so he knows exactly what to do. Prong was one of his favorite bands back in the day, so he was perfect for that. It’s a combination of chops and having a familiarity with the group and knowing what we’ve done in the past and what are the decisions with what to do on this album.
Prong’s been around for almost 25 years. In what ways do you feel the lyrical content has changed, at least between this record and the last?
Victor: I think there are more decisive-type lyrics on here. I think it’s just more dialed in, so to speak, where I got more specific in the clarity of the lyrics. Like on the song ‘Eternal Heat,’ the opening track, where I have an almost positive outlook on things. But I say your disappointment is a good place, because then you feed on that and you take energy from outside yourself somehow to get things done, to get that action. I think in the past, there was no light, you know? It was just sheer negativity. I haven’t completely departed from that. There’s the song ‘Put Myself to Sleep’ on the new record that is just about numbness, and I think everyone goes through that, where you don’t want to take on anything so you’re sort of walking the fence a lot. There’s really no answer to that, but in this song I think it is ultimately the path of least resistance, where sometimes you’ve got to go Zen, man. You just can’t do anything, and for a good reason, so you go from numbness into action and that’s just what the whole thing relies upon and how you get anything done in the end is that you sort of go through those stages. There are other songs too, like ‘Revenge Served Cold,’ which is the single on the record; that’s something I really didn’t do before, where it’s more like a story, where it’s about a guy who just has a lot of enemies and a good approach to getting back at them is again like sort of doing nothing and letting himself get all paranoid, becoming deluded and wondering why somebody isn’t coming after him. So it’s more like a story based-approach on the lyrics. The dark vision hasn’t completely been eliminated, but there are some positive moments in the record as well.
You mentioned finding a record deal, and Power of the Damager was released on Thirtreenth Planet. Obviously you played on the new Ministry, and you’re not going to be going on the road with them, right?
But your involvement with Thirteenth Planet wasn’t completely ended. Why did you decide not to go with them releasing Carved into Stone?
Victor: It was a mutual decision. I think they got involved in another record deal, with another record company, without realizing how difficult it is these days. So I think that ultimately Al was really more concerned with promoting and working in RevCo and Ministry, and he did sign other acts to his label, but I don’t think it was intentional. I think that, you know, instinctively, there was more attention given to his projects than any of the other ones he got involved in.
As far as your involvement in Ministry, you’d mentioned during the C.U.LaTour that you were feeling a bit bittersweet about the whole disbanding, and you actually were probably the only one who predicted that you were going to do another one and, lo and behold, that came to light. What was it like this time this time around working with Ministry?
Victor: This was really brief. I couldn’t commit to doing a long stint, staying out in El Paso for months on end. I agreed to it if we did it quick and got in and out of there and there were no shenanigans, where I came in, I was there, and then got the hell out of there. There was a tendency in the past where we were having to sort of camp out there for eternity, and I couldn’t do it this time, and I wasn’t really interested in doing it. I had a really firm schedule with Glenn (Danzig) all last year, and then Prong was working intermittently preparing for the new record. So it was the matter of scheduling, and I sort of did this before, where I was out there for a long duration, and I just couldn’t do that. As far as the Ministry record is concerned, I know Al really well, and he’s got a lot of fire in him, and I couldn’t imagine him possibly stopping. He was insisting that everyone’s supposed to do their own thing, and you start getting committed to other things, and then he calls you back and he’s like, ‘Oh, we’re making a record.’ I’m not calling foul on the whole thing. It’s just…this is the way it is, you know?
Schecter guitars, while not a new company, have become a really big brand in the last few years. You’ve been playing Schecters for quite a number of years now. What is it about that particular brand that appeals to you as a songwriter and as a guitarist?
Victor: I think because of the vicinity of where I live to where their warehouse is. I can roll over there. They do a lot for me as far as servicing and I think they’re more suited for a style that is based upon simplicity, and I don’t need to have anything too extravagant, as well. They’re really sweet! That’s true even of the Korean models, the Diamond series; I can’t really afford anything other than that. The guys there, the owner, everyone’s really great! A lot of it has to do with the people who that are involved, when you’re endorsed by somebody that really affects your continued usage of a particular brand. Unfortunately, the ones that I use, the ones I become accustomed to, usually get discontinued.
Prong is often called anywhere from thrash metal to industrial thrash, and more and more bands are kind of mixing sounds and genres. As far as you’re concerned, what is even the relevance of these categories or genres as people call them? Do they even matter anymore?
Victor: I’ve always disliked it. I just consider myself a rock musician. We try to write or perform just rock songs, whatever the style of it; whether it becomes natural to what we’re doing is another issue. I think anybody who is really into music essentially will appreciate all kinds, really. If it’s a good song, you know, it’s a good song. I think that more attention should be put on that rather than categorical definitions, really. But you know, kids are kids; they want to be part of a movement of some sort, so you have the goth kids or what-have-you that they generally will spit upon you if you’re metal or hardcore. Forget it. I mean, years ago, it used to be that being hardcore meant that you didn’t play guitar solos and everything that much. There are people who get really dramatic about their scenes and stuff, and I’ve always thought I could fit anywhere. As a person and as a musician, there’s nothing I’m really concerned with, and the new Prong record is just a good rock album, and I think anybody that listens to anything from Ozzy to Slayer to I don’t even know who else to say, who else I could really compare it to. I like to put stuff out that could be of a broader scope.
You mentioned Paul Raven and this year is actually the fifth anniversary of his death and you worked with him for quite awhile, in Ministry and in Prong. After his passing, what are your thoughts on the man now after five years?
Victor: Generally, I think we miss him. He was such a comic and he always brought a really funny edge to everything. Regardless of the circumstance, it was great to have him around. It’s weird, the things he would get out of his head were like, ‘Where did that come from?’ He was a real trooper, just a hilarious character, and his musicianship, forget it. I mean, no one can emulate or come close to his bass laying, period. Again, with Tony on the bass, we’d often say, ‘Well, what would Raven play?’ And Campos is really into Raven and is really familiar with everything he’s done. He was just an original, and we would have continued working together. I mean, we’d always wind up together anyhow. Our lives would follow a lot of the same routes. I met my fiancée at his memorial service that we held for him after Prong got off a tour. He was friends with her and I never met her before and now we’re living together and engaged. I met my fiancée through Raven after his death. We’re always intertwined somehow.
Is Prong going to be going on tour pretty soon for the new record?
Victor: Yeah, we’ve got like a little West Coast run coming up and that’s just small local shows, like in Southern California and Tempe, and then we go out with Crowbar and that starts in April, throughout April and that hits pretty much the middle of the country. I don’t have the dates on me, but it’s like Texas and then after that we go to Europe for three weeks and then after that we come back here. So, we’re going to be touring for the record. We’re just still trying to dial in now in August and September. So, we’re going to be busy.
As far as touring, what do you find to be the major challenges that remain consistent and what are sort of the new challenges that you’re facing in this day and age as far as touring?
Victor: That’s a good question, because we were facing those challenges, and they were primarily financial: gas prices, I don’t know if you’ve looked recently. There’s a long distance between cities, especially when you get out west here. It’s not like Philly, DC, New York and Richmond. It’s like you have a long way to drive, and when it’s calculated, it’s really alarming. So that kills you. It’s just the gas prices. I think that’s pretty much it; everything else is pretty much the same. It’s hard to get people out to shows. Bands that were arena bands a couple of years ago are playing clubs, larger clubs, so downsizing is definitely a factor. People don’t have that kind of money these days. Everyone is struggling. It’s really brutal. It sucks. I know people, like my girlfriend, she has a lot of credentials, and even trying to get a job that pays what you did five or six years ago is impossible. It’s really tough out there. I don’t know. We come from the ‘90s, when Prong once had a major label backing, and whatever you needed, they’ll give it to you. Yeah, sure, you know? That doesn’t exist. You’re lucky to get a couple grand out of them and what’s that? That’s just a couple of weeks of gas these days. So, it’s tough, man.
Is there anything you’d like to say to close us out?
Victor: We did get money out of the label to do a new video, which is for the song ‘Revenge Served Cold.’ The industrial type people, they might like that one. We have a couple of those kind of groovy kind of things going on, and the single’s gotten a really good response. So keep an eye out for that. Hopefully, we’ll get www.prongmusic.com back up. Otherwise, just go to Facebook and look at the dates.