Feb 2016 20

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.
 
PRONG Logo 2014

 

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?

Victor: That’s a good question. As far as lyrics go, what I do and all I ever really refer to… when I have an idea for something, now with smartphones, I just dictate it or type it into my phone and I can elaborate on it when I’m trying to place set it to syllables and the workings of the melody. As far as riffs go, it’s almost the same thing where I’ll document riffs as we go along here and there, and only occasionally will I go, ‘Okay, I’m going to sit down and write a song now.’ I really don’t do that too much; it’s sort of a mix-and-match process, like a wordplay puzzle almost. Now, with digital technology, so much of the work is done in ProTools and constructing arrangements is so much easier now than it used to be years ago.

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?

Victor: Well, as I said, I have to document stuff as I go along, and I was posed with the deadline for X – No Absolutes by the label. Instead of arguing that, I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can do it. I can do it!’ That actually supplied me with a regimen in order to actually make it happen in that I knew I had to have a certain amount of ideas ready in a certain amount of time and then schedule that into the actual recording process. I’ll put on a schedule if somebody sort of tells me what to do, and that’s a lot easier than being left to my own resort; like I’ve done in the past, I’ll sit around and hang out at sports bars and be by the pool. (Laughter) It’s good that I have a management and label that want to do this and have continuous records, because then I’ll get inspired and get into the process of reviewing riffs and formulating more cohesive ideas. Otherwise, fucking forget it! I’m just as useless as any musician. I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing half the time, so I just have the blessing of having other people around me that can sort of direct me in the right direction.

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?

Victor: Yeah! That was a great thing, and that was an idea by my manager to do that. We were stuck in Europe between festival dates, and being German, he asked, ‘What’re you going to do for a week?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe go to a hookah bar and drink some Turkish tea or whatever.’ He said, ‘No, no! You have to work that week. Do a covers record. What do you think of that?’ I was like, ‘Uh… all right.’ And then it wound up being a huge project; as you said, it seems like it should be easier, but that was a huge challenge. It wound up being a major project, and I’m not just saying that to have pity put upon me. It was strenuous and educational because a lot of what I learned on that definitely came through on this record. Chris Collier worked on that with me too, so we developed a relationship as far as cutting and producing the vocals, and working with Art and Jason and seeing where their heads were at was another good thing to have in the bag. It was very much a preparatory process for the actual studio record. It was really a great thing to do and we really lucked out on it.

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.

Victor: I collaborated with Erie Loch on that, and he and I had worked together in Primitive Race, which is out now on Metropolis. I was so impressed by some of the stuff that he was coming up with. As you were saying earlier, PRONG is known for the thrash and industrial style; these vicious tunes… and because I’m old and I still think in the concept of album rock, as archaic as that sounds, I wanted to mix it up a little bit and actually have some more ‘real’ songs. When you listen to the record, there’s more of that going on. I never ever would feel comfortable with PRONG if it was like an AC/DC record, and I love AC/DC, but it’s just that steady pummeling that goes on throughout. The populace loves that, but I don’t know what it is with me. I just have to throw something else in there, because otherwise, PRONG would just be average. It’s like with Al Jourgensen – he used to say that if MINISTRY took out the samples and the programming, then it’d just be some boring thrash band. I think about that a little bit every time I go in to make another PRONG record. It started out like an almost Doors-like thing, very moody, and then I put the crushing guitars in and I had no idea what it was going to come out like. I’m really happy with it. I wrote the lyric and the vocal in like five minutes, and when that happens, I feel like it’s a message from the gods to keep moving forward and continue with that sort of thing. You have to be trusting in those points, and I know we may get sandblasted by some people for that song…

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.

Victor: Really?

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.

Victor: Well, you’re right, at least in as far as what I’ve been told and what I hear; I’m not that much in contact in people who are into it, and as far as the vinyl thing… I’m not that much of a hipster. But our label was really concerned with that and the initial sequencing of this record that Jason, and Chris, and myself put together was nixed by the label because of the vinyl. There is a concern for that, and in their knowledge of the vinyl and how that works with the packaging and such, they’ll listen to the whole thing and be very aware of that, which is cool! The CD and the Spotify streaming culture are not going to do that, so we’ve got to mix and match. There are a lot of challenges in making records today, with audio standards to sequencing to having singles that will be immediate. That’s why the opening song, ‘Ultimate Authority,’ is not the most clever song in the world, but it just hits you in the face and leads the record. For the average listeners who are only going to give you 20 seconds of their life to see if they like you or not, that’s a song for them. These things are looked at, and whether you do them successfully or not is another matter.

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?

Victor: We’re going to continue putting out singles apart from the album concept; we’re going to keep plugging these iTunes singles, so that if people don’t want the whole record, they can buy the $0.99 song. Hopefully, we’ll do a video. The album is available on a very beautiful package with an insert booklet, and you get a CD with the vinyl if you buy the vinyl, and then there’s the CD digipak, which also has some great packaging. You can buy it pretty much everywhere, from Amazon to Best Buy, and we’ll have them at the shows, so we’ll be selling them on the road. That’s what the whole deal is about; we’ve got a really hardcore punk rock vibe going on these days.

 

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Photos courtesy of Secret Playground

1 Comment

  1. Jake says:

    Ive noticed people dont comment much here.
    Thanks for all the hard work and great reviews,interviews, news, so on.

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