May 2014 08

The heroes of hybrid metal are back with what is perhaps Prong’s most varied and accomplished record yet; front man Tommy Victor speaks to ReGen on what’s kept the band going for nearly three decades.
Prong

 

An InterView with Tommy Victor of Prong

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Since the band first made its debut in 1988, Prong has been traveling down a singularly dynamic musical path, taking the band from the murk of the underground to the limelight of mainstream success and back again. Spearheaded by founder and front man Tommy Victor, the band has been bridging the gap between thrash metal, post-punk, and industrial for nearly three decades, all the while enduring the hardships of record label politics and changing lineups. Driven by a distinct sense of groove and aggressive attitude, Prong’s music has amassed a sizeable audience with its mix of powerful rhythms, acerbic yet melodic vocals, and guttural riffs, the latter of which brought Victor further acclaim as he’s lent his talents over the years to such high profile luminaries as Rob Zombie, MINISTRY, and Danzig. While the band’s dissolution after the release of 1996’s Rude Awakening led to a seven year period of inactivity, Prong came back swinging with the lukewarmly received Scorpio Rising in 2003, only to up the ante in 2007 with Power of the Damager, signaling the band’s return to hard hitting, in-your-face thrash metal. The accompanying remix album Power of the Damn Mixxxer proved that the group was unwilling to give up on its experimental spirit, though 2012’s Carved into Stone maintained the blistering heavy metal spirit through and through. As a headliner on the first night of the two-day ColdWaves II festival in Chicago in 2013, Prong once again proved its mettle to a crowd of assorted rivetheads and experimental metal aficionados, showing no signs of slowing down even after over a quarter-of-a-century. Now in 2013, Prong delivers its most assorted and vibrant album since Rude Awakening, bringing in the full palette of the band’s influences from darkened post-punk to mechanized industrial to raging thrash metal on Ruining Lives, complete with a cover image evocative of the band’s 1994 classic, Cleansing. Tommy Victor speaks with ReGen about the band’s development over time, complete with a rundown of the current lineup, his new signature model guitar, and just what has kept him on his creative path for the last three decades.

 

Prong was recently included in the lineup to ColdWaves II in Chicago, and your latest album, Ruining Lives, seems to draw from a wider range of influences than any other Prong album since Rude Awakening, incorporating industrial and post-punk elements in with the thrashing metal. Was this greater palate of sounds and styles in any way a result of being involved in the diverse range of music presented at ColdWaves?

Victor: ColdWaves was a lot of fun and it was a great event to be part of. But one show isn’t going to dictate what a new Prong record is going to sound like. I didn’t have a concept going into the writing process of this record. I just focused on developing what I thought were quality ideas and let it be as it may. Whatever is out there and comes through eventually is what it is.

What can you tell us about the current lineup of Prong and how it came together?

Victor: Jason Christopher has been playing bass since Carved into Stone and was onstage with Prong at the ColdWaves festival. We’ve been having either Alexei Rodriguez or Art Cruz playing drums live with Prong for about four years now. Although we thought Tony Campos was going to be part of Prong since he worked on Carved into Stone, that didn’t work out in his schedule, so alas, we went with Jason. Alexei has been in and out based on his availability. Art, who was in Winds of Plague, has filled in and now is very solid in the drummer position. In any case, I’ve been very fortunate having all these awesome guys to jam with.

Regarding the lineup, you have been the sole consistent member over the band’s two decades; how much do you find the lineup affects the sound of the album, not just in terms of the songwriting but also in terms of the overall vibe, the sounds explored, etc.?

Victor: That’s a tough question for me to answer. I’m too close to the whole project to brainstorm on that. I think that outside sources are better to determine that when Prong is concerned.

Now for a little tech talk – you now have a signature model Schecter guitar, and you’ve been a longtime user of Schecter guitars. How did this signature model come together; what did you find to be the most valuable features for your playing style, and how were they incorporated into the signature model?

Victor: The profile of the neck is an important spec for me; the weight as well. I needed something light and streamlined with a Floyd Rose bridge and EMG pickups. I don’t need a tone knob. And it had to be a flat black finish. A nice Prong logo on the twelfth fret wouldn’t hurt either. There you have it; my signature model!

That’s a pretty blazing guitar solo on the title track, ‘Ruining Lives.’ While you’ve demonstrated your skills as a soloist sporadically throughout Prong’s music, the primary facet that many seem to gravitate to, what most consider the signatures of Prong’s sound, are the crushing riffs and the overall rhythmic groove. Does it ever concern you the possibility of repeating yourself? Or to put it another way, how do you keep it fresh for yourself?

Victor: Thanks for the compliment on the ‘Ruining Lives’ solo. I consider that solo a basic ‘trademark’ type solo for me, when I do solo. I’m not too concerned with repeating myself. Look at Angus Young, for instance. You have your style, and then you just try to execute it better. You don’t want to deviate too much, do you?

Your vocal prowess is also demonstrated on this album, with more inclusion of harmonized parts and an overall strong melodic backbone. What sorts of vocal exercises do you practice to keep from straining yourself, both in the studio and when you play live?

Victor: I do two types of vocal exercises and they are brief. I should do more I suppose. I squeal up the scale with a rolling tongue on and off for a half hour before singing, if I have time. I also do a low diaphragm growl to loosen up. Vicks Vapor Rub is good on your chest and under your nose to warm you and unclog you a bit. A basic tip I learned from Steve Evetts, who produced the vocals, is to open your mouth wide to project without straining. When you’re straining, you are not singing or even screaming. One can sing and scream without strain.

The long gap between Power of the Damager and Carved into Stone was partially attributed to your recording and touring with Danzig during that time. Ruining Lives follows a solid two years since Carved into Stone – so, it’s fair to say Prong is your primary focus at this time?
What other bands or projects are you currently involved in, or perhaps looking to take part in down the line after touring with Prong is complete?

Victor: I toured half the year with Danzig in 2013 and managed to get Ruining Lives done in three months. I don’t have any deadlines coming up now, but I may brush up on some chops or write some more riffs for Prong after this tour. Of course I’d like Prong to be the only focus, but if that’s not possible, I’m up for anything. I can’t project too much at this time in my life. I have to take things one day at a time and have a little faith that I can manage my time properly when things come up. For instance, I was kindly asked to be part of this project – Teenage Time Killers – that Reed Mullins and Dave Grohl put together. I sing on a track for that. I play on the upcoming Danzig record. I fit those things in while in the studio with Prong. If a band or artist needs help in something, I’d be willing to help out. Who that is or when, I don’t know, but one can make himself available.

You’ve been spearheading Prong since 1986; your first album being released in ’88. You’ve gone through so much – i.e. changing lineups, changing trends in music, etc. – and still continue to kick ass with Prong. What have you found to be the most important challenges you’ve faced over the years, be it on a musical, technical, or personal level?

Victor: Let it be known that I could write a book called The Challenges. The end of it would say that life is incredible. It’s an amazing journey of growth. Life has been hard for me and I’ve done countless stupid things, but I consider myself blessed. So in other words, I wish I knew that in earlier times; not to be discouraged, that the journey is what it’s all about. You have to learn to smile at obstacles. What you think you want may not be what is planned or what’s best for you. We live in this ignorance with these expectations of what things are supposed to be, what others are supposed to be like, what we ourselves are supposed to be. And it’s all delusional. We are what we are supposed to be at this moment and that’s it.

 

Prong Website http://prongmusic.com
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