by Ryan Meehan and Blade Mancano
Thirty years ago, a young Tommy Victor was a sound engineer at the legendary CBGB’s rock club in Manhattan’s East Village. It was there that he met the club’s doorman Mike Kirkland, who also played bass. After jamming with ex-Swans drummer Ted Parsons, the trio forged the pathway for what would come to be one of the most consistent bands in the history of American heavy metal and Prong was born. February 2016 saw the release of the band’s tenth full-length album “X-No Absolutes”, a blistering assault of metal chock full of the brutality and precision we’ve come to know from the band over the years. We are raising horns high in the air today at FOH, because our guest in ten questions is the one and only Tommy Victor of Prong.
BM: I’ve never seen a bad show of yours, either in person or online…Taking you back to the “Force Fed”/”Beg to Differ” days and comparing that lineup to the current one, do you feel that the band has actually gotten tighter even though those records were released a quarter of a century ago?
TV: This whole gig with Prong has been an on the job training for me. The only schooling I’ve had has been from experience. In the past I’d freak out over the littlest things. Now, since I’ve probably encountered a certain problem several times, I may know how to handle it a little better. Which means I’m a tad more relaxed, which I think makes a better performance. This latest Prong band is outstanding. But I’ve been lucky for the most part with having great guys surrounding me. If anything, I’m the guy who’s a bit sloppy. Art and Jason are impeccable.
BM: Staying on the topic of live performances, which material is more difficult to keep up with live: The older (or newer) thrashy stuff, or the songs with more consistent rhythm patterns such as “Broken Peace”?
TV: Oh, without a doubt the newer stuff. “The Barriers” and “Turnover” off of Ruining Lives are really difficult to sing and play. “Ultimate Authority” on the new X- No Absolutes is another ball buster. The rhythm parts on our recent records have become more complex for sure. Even “Revenge, Best Served Cold” from Carved Into Stone is way harder than older songs, especially when there’s these little guitar solos in between the verses.
RM: The new album is called “X-No Absolutes”…I’m assuming the X is in reference to this being your tenth full length release, but what can you tell us about the concept of “No Absolutes” with regards to the subject matter of the album’s lyrics?
TV: Well, the album title came from one of the track titles. I didn’t have an album title going into the record like I did on Ruining Lives .There’s a strange dichotomy going on with my lyrics on this record. On one hand I talk about identity crisis and ego deflation, and on the other I write about grabbing onto ideals to get through life, like in “Belief System”. “In Spite Of Hindrances” has this good old NYHC type theme of taking personal responsibility and overcoming obstacles. But in the title track “No Absolutes” and maybe “Cut And Dry” I attack the concept of thinking one has any control over anything. On “Do Nothing” and “Sense of Ease” I question instant gratification and honor abstinence. But with “No Absolutes” and “Cut and Dry” and even “Without Words”, there’s a world view implied as well. I think we are all moving towards soul purification through crisis.
BM: What separates this record from your 2014 album “Ruining Lives”? How would you best describe the creative vision you wanted to project upon fans of your catalog?
TV: In many ways, these records are similar in their creation. But I think this one is more “dialed in” so to speak. We learned things from Ruining Lives , and built upon that. This was an even more stealth operation. We really plowed through the production of this one. And yes I do believe we were more concerned with our entire catalogue with the choice of material on this record. For instance “Sense Of Ease” refers to Force Fed and Beg To Differ, just modernized. We didn’t want to abandon the “industrial metal” too much. I think “Soul Sickness” and have a bit of Cleansing in there. The title track and “Ice Runs Through My Veins” sound like what Rude Awakening was trying to do.
RM: “Cut and Dry” is first Prong track to have dueling guitar solos, of which you shared duties with Dane Markanson of Glass Cloud…Prior to this record, how had you gone your entire career without exploring that avenue of guitar wizardry? What made you finally decide to give it a go and bring it to the table now?
TV: I think working steadily with Chris Collier has a lot to do with this. From the beginning, he started taking more of a role in the production on this record and one issue he pushed for was that we had more prominent solos. I responded “Sure! Let’s get the sounds and do it!” Even though he introduced me to Dane, I said let’s do a duel with him and he said “Hell yeah!” It was simple as that. We just worked hard and had fun. Initially, oddly enough, I thought Chris was going to be a ball buster with me with the solos, but that was quite the opposite. We spent little time on them! He was excited that I just ripped them out fast and he liked the old thrash vibe that is hardwired into me, I guess.
RM: Which one of the thirteen songs on the new album was the most challenging to record? At which studio did you record this LP; and who were some of the people who worked on its production and mastering? Why did you want those individuals involved with bringing the vision of this album to completion?
TV: I could really write a long explanation to this question. I’ll try to simplify: Some work was done at Prong’s rehearsal space downtown Los Angeles. Some stuff was done in the house in LA where I rent a room! Erie Loch worked out of his house studio. Erie worked on programming and writing for the more industrial songs. Most of the work was at Chris Collier’s Mission Black Studio in Santa Clarita. Chris did a lot of the work. He mixed it up there and he mastered it. All the songs had their challenges, but we made quick decisions and didn’t question them. That’s how we had to do this on this small budget.
RM: You mentioned in the press release that this was a particularly difficult record to sequence, which I think would have to be a pretty good problem for a band to have…That being said, how did you go about deciding on the order of which to put the track listing together? How many different sequences did you consider; and how long did the process of selecting a final order take from start to finish?
TV: That was crazy and stressful, basically because our manager was really concerned about it, for good reason. He pointed out the duality these days, where the vinyl pressing had to be considered as well as streaming mentality. I spent about a week trying to sequence it, making dozens of playlists, and I was going nowhere. Jason had some good input, but we couldn’t settle on it. I went back up to Chris’ and we did a good one, but the label rejected it. Ulf – our manager – finally made a few adjustments in conjunction with the team at Steamhammer and they finally settled on the sequence.
BM: One thing that still strikes me as fascinating while listening to “Ruining Lives” is how well you manage to mix the metal groove with some of the catchiest hooks metal has to offer, and I’ve honestly thought that since “Beg to Differ”. So that being said, do you ever listen to a lot of prog-oriented heavy music along the lines of Yes, Rush, younger bands like Mastodon, Obscura, or even Emperor?
TV: Recently I went on a big Spotify “hunt”. There are so many bands doing amazing things technically, it’s overwhelming. To be honest, I’d really rather listen to Killing Joke, where they are extremely selective to a few repetitive quality riffs. Then one can focus on the vocal and get a grip of what is being said. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of hatecore bands and even some djent. Gojira, Meshuggah, Opeth and even Ghost are brilliant. But to me the prog I really like is Tull, Yes, or King Crimson. Or Killing Joke, which is progressive in its own right. What’s important to me are SONGS, essentially.
BM: On “Songs from the Black Hole” you cover a Sisters of Mercy track “Vision Thing”…To be honest I could see Prong covering that whole album, because it is a real riff oriented record…What is the story behind how you chose that song to be on a record where you also covered Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Killing Joke?
TV: That was pretty much Jason Christopher’s concept. After being my friend and playing in Prong, he got a real good idea of where I got my vocal style from. That was initially the main focus on the record and that evolved into it being a cultural and musical tribute as well. He really had a mystical “vision” of the whole thing. He didn’t know that I brought the “Vision Thing” record into the Cleansing session and played it for Terry Date to get ideas for the production! You apparently have that same great ear! Of course I really don’t take that much from HR, but we did a Bad Brains tribute on Prove You Wrong with their song “Brainwave”. Doc No was a big guitar influence on me. So was Neil Young, because like me he never was really that technically proficient. But he made it work, something I try to do. I always tried to emulate anything Killing Joke so that’s a no brainer. With Flag I referred to Henry’s style a lot as well as Greg’s guitar playing. I always liked Flag’s lyrics too.
BM: I feel as if I have to mention your other musical commitment: Handling axe duties for Danzig off and on since ’96, and full-time since 2008…Between John Christ, Jeff Chambers, and Todd Youth, whose solos are the most challenging to replicate?
TV: I can’t emulate John Christ. The solos aren’t really that hard to get in the ballpark, but I just can’t copy him. But like I’ve sort of said, I’ve been winging this whole guitar playing thing from the beginning. I never really had time or desire to practice that much. I was sort of handed the guitar and a vocal mic and told,”Here you do it, figure it out”. I don’t even have the patience to figure out tabs. It’s all by ear. And on top of it all, I played bass as a kid. I really wasn’t a guitar player when Prong started.
RM: You’ve been doing this for three decades now…Other than the rise of digital technology changing the way we get our music, what is the biggest difference between what the industry looks like now as opposed to the way it appeared when you first formed the band? Was that change something that seemed to happen very quickly, or was it for the most part gradual?
TV: I could write a thesis on this topic. There’s a heap of info on this. All I can say really is that it’s very different. One thing that will never change in the entertainment business is that you have to be lucky. It’s the old adage: You have to be in the right place at the right time. That’s it. You have to make yourself available to that though. On the other hand, it’s harder to be an artist these days. People just don’t honor life experience and vision, they’re generally incapable. There’s no reference point. And no one cares. If they do, or say they do, it’s fake, or they were told to say so. The real rebels are dying out, will never be seen again and no one will care. That’s the reality. I’m fine with it. It doesn’t really matter. But you asked what’s changed. It’s been gradual, but I saw it happening like 20 years ago. Sometimes I think I’m delusional and plain stupid not to have run for the hills years ago. But I sort have tried. I tell you, this thing of ours is a calling. Or a gift…or a curse. You really don’t have too much control over how things will turn out! You may think you do, but you don’t. No one does.
RM: What’s up next for you guys in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Other than the tour, is there anything big in the works that we need to know about?
TV: I don’t know about “big”. I’m pretty stupid on that front as well. I always thing something explosive will happen and it never does. I’m still learning to float, and that’s fine. We have a bunch of tours lined up. Check out www.prongmusic.com or facebook/Prong. Somewhere in there I have to start thinking about another record. Why not? Let’s keep churning these babies out!
Official Website: http://prongmusic.com/
Prong on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/prongmusic
Prong on Twitter: https://twitter.com/prongmusic
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.
Meehan and Blade