July 12, 2017 Interview – Tommy Victor of Prong
To be a true artistic revolutionary, no matter the era or really genre, one must have a certain grit to them. The poise to be able to say “f*ck you” and yet the wisdom to know how and when to throw the proverbial finger up. Tommy Victor, front man and axe wielding madman of Prong has never had problem doing either. It has been been several decades since Victor ran the soundboard at the legendary CBGB’s, what did he do since one may ask? Well, since 1989 he and Prong have released eleven studio albums, with each album challenging every guitarist to out shred him. All any fan has to do is slip in a copy 1990’s Beg to Differ and the very foundation of bands like Slipknot and Static-X is undeniable. Songs such as “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck” and “Whose Fist Is This Anyway?” have become border line anthems. Even more undeniable than the influence is Victor’s dedication to doing it the “Prong way” or no way at all.
Granted over the years Victor has contributed to the likes of Ministry, Danzig, and even recording a track with Soulfly; his focus has remained razor sharp and focused on Prong. Fresh off a full scale tour with Thrash godfathers Testament and Brazil’s own Sepultura, having just released three of Prong’s best albums, 2014’s Ruining Lives, 2015’s Songs from the Black Hole, and 2016’s X (No Absolutes), and on the heels of their newest onslaught, Zero Days, it was a perfect time to catch up with Mr.Victor. So without further delay, CrypticRock is proud to offer in his own words, Tommy Victor.
CrypticRock.com – So you just wrapped up a large tour with Testament and Sepultura, how did it go?
Tommy Victor – It was a really great tour for us. Attendance was amazing, we went on a little early so some fans did miss us, but it went really well and I honestly cannot complain.
CrypticRock.com – With that line up, one would say it was almost The Thrash Metal tour of the year.
Tommy Victor – I don’t know if you could consider Prong Thrash though. There are definitely Thrash elements to it, but that was always our thing I think, merging different genres together. Testament, however, is the essential Thrash band without a doubt. I think Sepultura is closer to Prong than to Testament. A lot of folks, though, are saying how great of a package it was, with Prong being an almost “Alternative Metal” sort of flare. Sepultura is well, Sepultura. Testament is one of the greatest Thrash bands out and are simply unbelievable.
CrypticRock.com – Was that the first time you hit the road with these bands?
Tommy Victor – No, we have played with Testament before and they really liked us and it was years in the making where they were trying to get us to come back out with them.
CrypticRock.com – Looking at the Prong facebook during the tour, it seemed like you guys had a chance to do some stuff away from music, going to see the baseball games. How important is that during a long winding tour like that?
Tommy Victor – That was really great. Art was really the whole instigator on that, he wanted to at least catch an inning in every major baseball park in the country. I joined in on a few games with him. We had a lot of fun doing that, it is important to try and incorporate some historical visits or even a baseball game. To fit those types of things in is very difficult, every date I have so much to do and by the time I get done it is time to hit the stage.
CrypticRock.com – Prong’s last effort, X (No Absolutes), was an amazing album and really featured you taking a lot of chances. What was different about recording it?
Tommy Victor – Well the writing process was really not that different, it definitely had an evolution to it. One thing I can say is that a lot of the outside writers really brought a lot of their own flare to it. Erie Loch contributed a lot to it, songs like “Do Nothing” and “Ice Running Through My Veins,” he helped really helped to build the song structure. In the end, every Prong record is very different from the others, it really depends on the situations and people involved. I just go in the studio and write a lot of different riffs, and just let them out.
CrypticRock.com – The lineup changed on the last couple of records, bringing in Art Cruz who has been a madman on drums. How has it been working with the new crew?
Tommy Victor – Yeah, Art has been great in the band. It really is finding the right people, finding a drummer who can come in and really be a strong modern drummer. We have always been lucky to have some great drummers along the way, but to find someone who can really bring out the technicality and match the riffs is not always an easy thing, but Art has done a really great job.
CrypticRock.com – In 2015, you guys released Prong’s first covers album, called Songs From the Black Hole. It almost seemed like a chronological soundtrack to the CBGB’s era, which is where you got your start. Was this in a way a homage to that era?
Tommy Victor – Yeah, we really were trying to come up with a unique format to the covers album, I mean we could have gotten together and just did a bunch of AC/DC or Motorhead covers using songs that are very popular. We decided instead to take a more three pronged approach to it where it had something to do with the old days, something that influenced me vocally and guitar wise, and good songs that we liked. Any song that we were going to pick had to meet those criteria. For example, Discharge was a really big influence on us back in the day, also Bad Brains and Killing Joke. On the other side, artists like Neil Young was a really huge influence on me along with Fugazi and Minor Threat. Sisters of Mercy had a really big impact with their almost Groove type Metal. That was a really great record that I liked a lot, granted it didn’t get that much exposure, but I thought it was very strong.
CrypticRock.com – So many artists have stated that doing a cover can be very difficult with keeping the original feel of the song while also adding your own kind of spin to it. Which song on that record was the biggest challenge for you?
Tommy Victor – The hardest song to do was probably “Cortez the Killer” by Neil Young. It is very difficult to emulate Neil Young vocally and guitar wise. I tried it out several different ways, originally I tried almost barking out the lyrics and that really didn’t work out. After that, we tried out an almost Lou Reed approach to it, and that too didn’t work out. Then I tried just singing the song, and then it really came together.
We really were so happy with the results that we tried to bring that over to the No Absolutes album, I was working with Chris Collier on the vocals and he even said, “I really think you have something here.” When we got to the guitar parts, at first I was just jamming and trying out different approaches, even just trying to do what Neil Young did, which didn’t, and then when we added the jamming to it, it just came out as a mess. In the end, I really just tried to add to the hooks that Young was initially doing. I really spent a lot of time on that song.
CrypticRock.com – So the new album, Zero Days, is set for release on July 28th. How is it compared to other releases?
Tommy Victor – It is a lot heavier than the last few albums. I think we abandoned all the Pop influenced material we had on the last few albums. I mean we didn’t remove it completely as we really made them clash with the heavier music. But there is some very brutal and nasty material on there, making it very edgy. Some have said that with No Absolutes there were not enough “bangers” or sheer aggression on there, so we definitely added that on this one. We ended up with a lot of great material so it was trying cutting it down to a normal amount.
There is a lot of Industrial overtones to it, I am just really happy with this one, we worked so hard on it and it came out to be a very colossal album. There really were not any shortcuts to this album, I really put in my time on this one. From a lyrical standpoint it was very current, everything was influencing me from Breitbart to CNBC, I just put it all into a melting pot and started pulling out all sorts of ideas. Sure, there are going to be those songs on the record which fans will say, “What the hell are these guys thinking?” But, that is a Prong record for you.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent. Did Erie Loch come back for this record?
Tommy Victor – Absolutely, we collaborated on a song called “Blood out of Stone.” He has not heard the final version just yet and it is a bit of a departure from the original version he sent me, but when I heard it last in the studio all I could think was this song came out amazing.
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to see fans’ reactions once the album hits. Being that CrypticRock also covers Horror/Sci-Fi films, and Prong’s relations with Horror genre, we would like to know what are some of your favorites?
Tommy Victor – I would have to say the old ones. The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff , Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi. I loved the early Lugosi flicks, even the cheesy ones like White Zombie (1932) and The Gorilla (1939). I have to say The Exorcist (1973) really scared the hell out of me when I first saw it. If I really had to pick favorites though, it would have to be something like The Mummy or The Black Cat (1934), you really cannot miss with Lugosi or Karloff.
CrypticRock.com – Great choices. So nothing from the modern day special effects movies?
Tommy Victor – They really just don’t scare me. I did really enjoy watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I have always been a big fan of Stephen King so it had a lot of his elements to it. Which reminds me, how the hell could I forget The Shining (1980), that movie was one of the greatest of all times. I think I can still watch it over and over. Quite a few of the Stephen King movies were great as well, like Carrie (1976) or Pet Sematary (1989), but nothing really touches The Shining.