With the band’s tenth album now released, PRONG front man Tommy Victor speaks with ReGen on the band’s creative process, his various collaborations, and shattering the delusion of humanity’s control over the world.
An InterView with Tommy Victor of PRONG
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Since the band’s initial formation, PRONG has progressed along a singular musical path that has lasted 30 years, culminating in the band’s tenth release in 2016, X – No Absolutes. Ever representing the group’s blend of punk rock simplicity and thrash/metal earnestness with melodious songwriting and tonal experimentation, this new album is but the latest example of PRONG’s lasting appeal; put simply, the trio headed by Tommy Victor has a sound and style that has left an indelible mark on aggressive music of all kinds. In addition, Victor’s skills as a vocalist and guitarist have made him a venerable and much sought after talent, having collaborated and toured with numerous luminaries in modern music including Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, and most famously as a regular touring member of Danzig. He appeared on the Argyle Park Misguided album by Celldweller’s Klayton, was a touring member of MINISTRY during the band’s anti-Bush years, and was involved in the long defunct and almost mythical Tapeworm project alongside Maynard James Keenan and Trent Reznor. Victor also famously took part in the Teenage Timekillers project alongside members of Clutch, Slipknot, Lamb of God, My Ruin, and Corrosion of Conformity, as well as Chris Kniker’s Primitive Race with Mark Gemini Thwaite, Erie Loch, Andi Sex Gang, and Graham Crabb. Now, with X – No Absolutes released under the SPV/Steamhammer label and PRONG about to hit the road for yet another tour, Tommy Victor took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with ReGen on the band’s musical and creative course to culminate in this tenth and perhaps most dynamic and hardest hitting PRONG album yet. He also touches on the band’s 2015 Songs from the Black Hole covers album, his admiration for Klayton of Celldweller and his experiences with Primitive Race, and the perceptions of audiences toward musical personalities and the album format.
X – No Absolutes is the second album with the current lineup of you, Jason Christopher, and Art Cruz.
Victor: Yeah, they worked a little bit on Ruining Lives and then did the tours for that album; they also worked with me on Songs from the Black Hole, so they’ve been part of the band for about three or four years now.
What’s the creative process like with the two of them? Are they involved in the writing at all?
Victor: I take some direction from Jason; based on scheduling… I was writing with Chris Collier and Erie Loch on some of the material, but as far as arrangements and such, they’re involved in that. We had to do this thing really fast too because I’d just come off the Danzig tour and had to just go right into this thing. We blasted through it!
Regarding the Danzig tour, how much did that affect your writing and how you went into the new songs and what you wanted to talk about in your lyrics?
Even though PRONG’s music has incorporated industrial and technological elements, the band has mostly been regarded as a thrash/metal band. As X – No Absolutes seems the most pure thrash/metal sound that the band has had as each album has veered over the last couple of albums. How much does the technology factor into how you think about the music?
Victor: Just to get it done; I mean, not creatively that much. You still have to get on a guitar and write riffs, and nothing comes from loops or sampled sounds or anything like that. It’s really rock & roll, so it doesn’t really factor into the creative process that much. But it absolutely does factor into getting the record done at a rapid pace and being able to produce it on time for a budget that’s reasonable in this day and age.
Not counting the Songs from the Black Hole cover album, PRONG has been on a steady release schedule of a new album every two years. With touring for PRONG and Danzig and your other activities, is there a specific routine or regimen that you go through to maintain that kind of activity?
You’ve been on multiple labels throughout your career, and X – No Absolutes is just your latest release with SPV/Steamhammer, who you’ve been with for awhile now.
Victor: Yeah, from Carved into Stone up to now, and we just renewed the contract with them. In this day and age, your expectations are a lot lower, so I’m just happy that somebody is willing to get behind me and a PRONG record and be so supportive. It’s been a good relationship.
Songs from the Black Hole was released in 2015, and doing a cover album might seem like it should be a little easier when someone else has written them and you know them and play them. But in the process of recording them and then moving onto X – No Absolutes, did that help the momentum of the new material?
Is there a common theme at all on X – No Absolutes, as far as the lyrics go? Obviously, the X can relate to it being your tenth studio album, but No Absolutes has some very definite connotations to it, and there is a repetition of certain phrases – like on ‘Without Words,’ the repetition of ‘Until the light takes us.’ What were some of the overarching themes that you really wanted to put forth on this album?
Victor: I think it was just a lack of control. To summarize, as humans, we try to think that we can control everything and we work very hard to create happiness for ourselves and it’s really not up to us. We don’t like to think that we’re subject to whatever chaos or mishaps that happen, and to live under the delusion that we somehow are stronger than that is a strange aspect of humanity that… well, we all do it; especially in this Western civilization. Not to sound like a pompous ass, but it seems like a Nietzschean or even existential kind of concept that is prevalent throughout. You mentioned ‘Without Words,’ and there may be a little bit of an idea of the rapture or something like that in that song where until this whole thing blows up, we really can’t do anything about it; it’s the same old ’60s concept of imminent nuclear destruction and it’s nothing new here. I guess I think maybe people need to be reminded of it. And this applies to personal life as well, because I live in Los Angeles and the people here spend a lot of time creating a false mystique for themselves. That sort of represents the whole Western myth that we can control what’s going on worldwide, and I don’t think that’s really possible. We live in an illusion and a delusion of what we are and what we’re doing.
One song that is particularly striking on the record is ‘Do Nothing,’ which is pretty much a ballad; something that you’ve not done very much of in your past.
Fuck those people! It’s a great song!
Victor: Well, it’s received some mixed reviews, but I’m really glad you like it.
You mentioned Primitive Race, on which you worked on several songs, and you’ve done collaborations before, such as the Argyle Park Misguided record.
Victor: Right! I’m glad you know that. Well, Klayton from Celldweller did most of that, and that guy is out of his mind! He’s just one of the most unbelievable talents that you can possibly imagine, and I’m just this dork who is friends with him. It’s almost the same thing with Erie, because he’s an unbelievably talented dude, and sometimes, you need a face on that. I would’ve liked if that whole record, and this is not to take away from the other artists who worked on it, but I felt that we were onto something with that. Chris Kniker produced it and put the whole thing together… I think he recognized that too. We didn’t know what we were doing, and he was sending me a bunch of stuff from a bunch of different people who were interested in that project, and he was sending me pieces of stuff, and a lot of it, I was like, ‘No, not into that.’ But when I heard a song like ‘Acceptance of Reality,’ that was something that Erie wrote most of the music to, and I was like, ‘Well, this is awesome and I’ve got a lyric for this.’ When those moments happen, you’re inspired and you want to do it and make it happen. Erie and Mark Thwaite both had some really cool ideas; between those two guys, they came up with some really great stuff, and I would’ve really liked to do more. I would’ve liked the whole record to be like that and really contribute to it, but I was trying to fit it in between lots of other things. But it was definitely a great thing to do. I really got into the whole vibe. It was an experiment that can hopefully continue if some other people don’t make the cut; maybe we can focus on a core group of guys. I think he had a vision to make it like Pigface.
Another thing I worked on was Teenage Timekillers, which was almost in the other realm in that it had like 40 people, all really big names like Neil Fallon from Clutch, Corey Taylor from Slipknot, Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, Lee Ving… these big names, and today’s people don’t give a shit! If the record was good and had some kind of style to it, then it could’ve blown up. I mean, Dave Grohl’s on the fucking record. Figure that out! So with Primitive Race, you bring in Andi Sex Gang and Dave ‘Rave’ Ogilvie, and I don’t think people are into the personalities as much as we’d like to think. They want something that is solid.
This leads into what you said earlier about still thinking in albums, and I personally feel like that’s coming back.
Maybe I’m deluding myself, but it does seem like the format is not dead yet and especially with the resurgence of vinyl, there might be a greater appreciation for the album as a viable artistic presentation.
Now you’re about to tour with PRONG, and as you’ve just toured with Danzig, and in your past tours with MINISTRY, what would you say is the most difficult aspect of touring now versus when you started out? Or would you say it’s about the same?
Victor: Oh, it’s about the same. PRONG hasn’t been elevated to this mega-band with a lavish production or all kinds of crazy stuff. That’s even true of Glenn. Al is a little bit of a different entity because he’s always trying to put on a show and puts in a long preparation for tours. But as far as me with PRONG and Danzig, they’re both still very punk rock. We just do it! There isn’t much of a big deal. I have to be true to where I’m from too. We’ve done this, and we’ve tried to expand, but it has to be natural while sticking to the core of what the band is – we’re a trio and we’re pretty bare bones, so it’s the way that we approach it. You can prepare and rehearse for two weeks and still go out, and the first show will be terrible. You can rehearse for an hour before a tour, and the whole thing is great! You really don’t know what the hell is going to happen half the time, and if you go in like that, you’re going to hit shows that are terrible with nobody there or obnoxious people. But then, you can go into a place with only 20 people, and it’s a great show. So, it’s still the same; it hasn’t really changed that much for PRONG.
Klayton recently reacquired the rights to his Circle of Dust catalog, including the Argyle Park record, and he’ll be remastering and rereleasing it.
Victor: Oh, I didn’t know that!
Is that something that you’d be interested in doing again with him?
Victor: You’re talking about a major talent that is beyond comprehension! So, I would be honored to have anything to do with that guy. Maybe some of his dust will lay on me somehow, because he’s unbelievable.
Is there anything we’ve not discussed that you wanted to let people know about?
Photos courtesy of Secret Playground