The classic thrash/industrial/metal band Prong played Ace of Cups Tuesday night – their ferocious riffs and speedy, tight rhythms shaking the venue to its core. Many metal bands are out there trying to make it, but Prong’s finesse and continually evolving sound (while still staying true to their roots) have stood the test of time. I had an opportunity to sit down and talk to founder, singer and guitarist Tommy Victor before the show.
Welcome to Columbus– thanks for this cool opportunity! My husband’s downstairs, he’s a huge fan – he saw you with Mind Over Four back in the day.
WOW! That’s a long time ago! Seems like yesterday—but time flies!
Well, that’s one of my first questions… you’re a current band, continually touring and putting out albums – but people still think of you as a 90’s band; do you ever get that nostalgia of fans coming up saying “Oh, man, I saw you in ’94…”
Every night! Continually. Still, the main pocket of fans, especially in America, remember us from the MTV days… we get a lot of that.
But you’re still out there making music… one thing I was struck by on this new album is how your sound has evolved, I find your vocals and melodies particularly have become more sophisticated and I’m finding it very accessible. Was this an intentional evolution or more a “go with the flow” kind of thing?
It’s both—I feel it would seem a little silly or unrealistic to just have screaming vocals all the time. I write lyrics—lyrics are very important to me; I find that to be the main center of the whole thing, the whole experience. I like when people can pick out words occasionally! Prong stands apart because you can understand some of the lyrics. Some current bands, the words are indecipherable.
As far as melody, that came out of nowhere… I always felt Prong didn’t focus too much on the vocals maybe as much as we should have. The producer of Carved Into Stone, Steve Evans, pushed me more into learning how to sing, learning harmonies, exploring vocals more. We wanted Steve to produce the record because we liked what he did with vocalists. Whether it’s a success or not, I don’t know, because our fans know us for the riffs.
You’ve probably gotten this a lot. When you think of your early days, back in the CBGB days, how have you seen the music industry change? And even the way music is consumed today is different.
I could write a book on it! There’s really 2 different eras: One being the analog era and one the digital era. The advent of digital technology changed everything; everything is accessed by phones…We were pre-internet, pre-cell. We started out with analog tapes, snail mail and a house phone…All our promotion was through the mail and fanzines. From 1986 to ‘90 that’s what Prong did, get in a shitty van and play the northeast – kind of what we’re doing now, playing these clubs. We’re kind of going backwards in a way. The economy is what it is, in the ‘90s it was different, I think people had more money… and now people are struggling more. I span a whole bunch of eras. I was talking to my older brother –he goes, “Your generation is really weird, you remember Vietnam, you were post- Vietnam”: We went through that drug era in the ‘70’s in New York, and New York back then was a different place. It was bombed out buildings, violence, graffiti, danger…all of us just wanted to be drug addicts. We wanted to be cool – but we had to pay a price for that. Now people put on certain clothes, host a website and think they’re cool…
Yeah, almost like too much instant technology at your fingertips takes away some authenticity.
Everything is cyber… I’m not criticizing, it’s just how it is. That translates into how records are made, the costs of that. In a way it’s good for us now. I was always critical of the way records used to be made in the old days – I was the guy saying “We’re wasting too much fucking money here!” Now, you don’t have to go to an expensive studio to make a record. It’s more like being a painter or an artist, you don’t have that much overhead anymore, the art comes out easier when you have the tools that make things faster and easier.
Well it’s such a fickle industry, there are all these flash in the pans and the current indie darlings – how do you explain your longevity in this climate?
Well if you really take a look at it – it’s strange. There have been pockets of Prong when we really weren’t working that hard… the fact that these records are still around is remarkable – they’re old! But we have new records too. I can’t really answer that, I just think Prong is so different in that we can still hold our own a little bit. It’s not as big as I would like of course—there’s bills to pay, but I can’t really be that critical of my career, but it is a grind, it’s a pain in the ass.
You have done a lot of guest stints with other bands and tours. How do you feel about the difference between that and fronting your own band?
Well, I’m playing with Glenn Danzig a long time, it is what it is – it’s a different role. I try to make him happy, do whatever it takes to make him content because he’s paying me. That’s my attitude – we’ve gotten along great because of it. With Ministry I was put in more of a writing role, which is cool, but it’s still all under the umbrella of Al Jourgensen. But inevitably I’d rather put that creative energy back into writing for Prong, rather than be a ghost writer for people. With Prong, I do too much: I produce, I sing, I write the lyrics, guitar…
You’re Prince! The Prince of Prong.
(smiles) Yeah, I don’t want to burn out like him either, I don’t know how content Prince was –he probably was miserable…may God rest his soul!
What are you listening to now? Who do you like?
Well, on the road we’re not listening too much – it’s not like a big jam in the van. But I’m always curious of new current metal bands; there’s so many of them: Upon a Burning Body, I like Impending Doom, and I like a lot of the real newer, hard deathcore bands because of the guitar playing. But then my old classic rock is always rolling – the Doors, Cream, Deep Purple, all that.
But at home, not to be a pompous ass – at home I like show music a lot, classical music. I listen to a lot of Beethoven, I like him a lot, I think he’s the God of all that. I listen to his concertos, it chills me out. That’s real music.
Probably keeps the creative fires lit…
Yeah, what really keeps the fires lit is going an occasional trip to museum, talking to people, something that’s not typical. Some bands influence me, some newer bands I’ll hear and be like, that’s pretty bad ass… we’re all plagiarists! I’ll take some notes.
So you’ve had a long career, there’s something to be said for that.
Every day I just gotta go do it; I do what I’m told…
So it’s a job.
Yeah, it’s tough out there, I am grateful, I have some nieces and nephews who graduated from expensive schools and people can’t find jobs…It’s tough out there. I don’t know how people survive these days… either you inherited a bunch of money or it’s almost like right place, right time…
You kind of filled a niche back then, I think you did come along at just the right time.
I think there’s a lot to that- it’s a cliché, it’s true. Being at the right place at the right time, but to be consistently available to that luck is a grind—there’s a lot of patience involved in that. I don’t know if people today have that kind of patience, they want instant gratification…
Especially today, when you can go downstairs and cut a record in your basement…
Right, whether it’s good or not—but the long trips, the long days in the studios, is something I don’t know if kids today understand… We’d go to a room and be there 12 hours… forget it, these days… it was a grind, it was a pain in the ass. I have that experience at least where I did that. Now I can go in and do records and wait until everything comes together without being impatient and overworking. It’s all from experience, on the job training for me. It’s tough to have kids right out of music school and expect them to have an idea of the other things needed to make it happen, the perseverance. But some people come out of the box and they’re lucky – they’ve got a good formula, they’ve got the talent, and more power to them… But not everyone is going to be successful—it’s kind of like professional athletes and what they have to go through daily; the countless college players that don’t make it. Even if you do all the right things, it’s still the luck of the draw and your God-given talents.