Absolutely Prong

Alt.-metal frontman talks new album, Glenn Danzig, great crossover LPs and touring
By Peter Lindblad

Prong's Tommy Victor
The road hasn't always been kind to Tommy Victor and Prong. And being in a gritty, uncompromising alternative-metal outfit can be a crushing grind.

Victor has seen it all and lived to tell about it in his 30 barnstorming years as Prong's frontman, having also served on punk and metal's front lines as a sound engineer at the legendary New York City music club CBGBs in the late '80s and played alongside other musical agitators, such as Rob Zombie, Ministry, Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor and Glenn Danzig.

These are better days for the battle-tested Victor, as a re-energized Prong – with Jason Christopher on bass and Art Cruz on drums – gets set to unleash the blistering X – No Absolutes via the SPV/Steamhammer label. In the last four years, Prong, more prolific than ever, has been on fire, releasing a string of critically acclaimed studio albums such as 2012's Carved Into Stone,  2014's Ruining Lives and the punk covers album Songs From The Black Hole in 2015, in addition to the Official Bootleg – Unleashed in the West LP, which gave Victor and company a chance to re-make some the band's classic songs.

X – No Absolutes is as vital and ferocious as any of them, an incendiary record that's remarkably fluid and fast, while refusing to tone down the violence of its heady mix of hardcore, thrash, hard rock and metal, even as more melodic elements seep in. With a massive touring schedule on the horizon, Victor recently discussed the new record, along with a host of other topics, in this candid e-mail interview.  

With Songs From the Black Hole, you covered a pretty diverse set of classic punk and rock songs. Did the making of that album have any impact on the creative process that brought about X – No Absolutes?
Tommy Victor: I didn't notice during but looking back, yes. Especially with the vocals on X- No Absolutes. I had to interpret several different vocalists on Songs From The Black Hole. That may have broadened my eventual approach on the new record. Covering Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer" was motivational for me. That was a vocal challenge for me and Chris Collier and I built a method in making that vocal happen on Songs From The Black Hole and that definitely carried into X – No Absolutes.
In what ways do you feel you're getting better as a songwriter, and how do they manifest themselves on the new record?
TV: I think I've become a better collaborator. I'm improving there. And in the area of figuring out the puzzle of arranging songs, I have different methods these days. Steve Evetts helped me on that big time. I like getting together with another writer or two and getting feedback and making adjustments. without killing oneself doing it. We worked at a very fast pace on this record, as with Ruining Lives. I don't like overworking songs anymore. The impact of the lyrics waters down and the riffs dry up!

Prong seems to be enjoying a rebirth in recent years, with Carved Into Stone and Ruining Lives having a real palpable vitality to them – not that past efforts didn't have that as well. Still, do you feel there's something about your most recent work that has a different creative spark or a new urgency to it?
TV: Some of that transfers into the business side of things. This really started when we signed with SPV. They want consistent records and so does management, so I feel like I'm obliged to deliver to the best of my ability. It's weird when you are given a short amount of time to get things done. I think that may create that urgency that you are speaking of. I think it goes in line with this sort of music. We really haven't had time or money to overthink things. I've also gotten real lucky with having Art and Jason, Chris Collier, Steve Evetts and Erie Loch in this mix. They've really saved Prong's ass.

Prong - X - No Absolutes 2016
It seems that X – No Absolutes has more elements of thrash and hardcore than those records, even as some songs sound more melodic than ever. Was there more of a tendency to play up those elements on this record?
TV: Prong is ever attempting to find its formula, as well as keeping an eye on the successful elements of past recordings. I must say this No Absolutes record is the most stealth record I've ever been involved with. We went into this like a well-oiled machine. The old songs are so beaten into us after so much touring. And Chris Collier and I have this amazing working arrangement that has been building since Ruining Lives. So we simply seem to have been given this instinct on what Prong should be in 2016. It's nothing designed on paper. It all comes from the gut these days.

In this environment, when music is viewed as more disposable than ever, do you think "Cut And Dry," which is really intense, has a chance to be thought of in the same way as other Prong classics, such as "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck?" 
TV: I don't know to be honest. Prong was very dialed in on the preparation for Cleansing. And I think we were dialed in even more on this record. It was a whole different time back then. Prong was newer and fresher. On the other hand I think legacy bands can make some waves these days too.

Talk about the production of your most recent records, the ones released since 2012. Do you think they sound better than past efforts? And if so, in what ways has the production improved or been able to capture what the band is all about and how has Chris Collier helped this time around?
TV: I've touched on this in previous answers.I liked Steve Evetts' mix on Carved Into Stone and Ruining Lives. But I wanted a more full-throttle attack on this new one. Chris is a younger dude. He doesn't come from the analogue era, so he really doesn't care about being vintage and I wanted that for this new Prong record. That's why I've been sort of moving him up to the role of producer for Prong starting with his work on tracking Ruining Lives. Then I pulled him into tracking vocals and mixing Songs From The Black Hole. So with two records of experience in all facets of making a records with Prong, I had him co produce, engineer, mix and master X – No Absolutes. As a co-producer, I simply have to make a few key decisions on how to get a record done efficiently and of course within time and budget. Chris took the role most commonly thought of as production. He guided all the tracking and made technical decisions along the way. A lot of that is really under the title of engineering, but Chris also had a lot of input on all the aspects of making the record – from guitar overdubs to guitar positioning, phrasing, solos, and tunings. Drum parts, arrangements and, of course, sounds. He was the ears on the vocal performances as well. He's amazing.He's really a top notch dude.

Prong is Tommy Victor, Art Cruz
and Jason Christopher
"Do Nothing" could almost be described as a ballad, and the intro to "With Dignity" features some lovely piano work. In what ways do you think X – No Absolutes expand the template for Prong?
TV: I wanted some real "songs" on the record and that was the basis for getting those tracks together. Here's where Erie Loch came in. I had worked with Erie on this industrial Primitive Race record and was blown away by his talent. He wrote the basic music for those songs and Chris and I developed the treatment. Art and Jason came in with their parts after that. I guess it is about expansion. But it's really not anything too different than what Prong was trying to do on Rude AwakeningCleansing and even the last five records. I didn't want to completely abandon that aspect of Prong. Not many bands are doing this sort of thing and that therefore sets us apart. I never quite feel comfortable with being just a thrash band or metalcore or whatever. These days my biggest priority is getting those vocal hooks together. And writing current, biting lyrics. The music is really a backdrop for that in a lot of ways. That's sort of what I mean by classic "songwriting." Its just not all about the riff and technical proficiency to me anyhow.

You've been really busy lately, with recording and touring extensively. Has the schedule taken its toll or do you feel revitalized by all this work?
TV: I got real burnt out after the Danzig/Superjoint/Prong tour. I had to get revitalized by doing other things like hiking and really just taking it easy. As usual, one gets bored with the simple life and now I feel like doing shows again. I'll get sick of that and be itching to make a new record. I've been through this cycle so many times. I try not to get scared and try to live in the moment and just appreciate life.

What's the biggest lesson you learned as a sound man at CBGBs back in the '80s?
TV: I don't know if what I learned there applies to today's age. Back then it was important to be involved in the scene. I was right in the middle of it. For many years, I was a club kid. And I played in bands, hung out in clubs and then worked in a club. My whole life was centered down in the art scene of the Lower East Side. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't have had any juice to make the music business a career. Today everything is online. You don't really have to be "out there" making the sacrifices and earning street cred.

While known as a punk club, there were many crossover bands that played there that incorporated thrash, metal and post-punk. Did you have a sense at some point that the club was broadening its horizons? And do you feel that part of the club's history has been sufficiently told?
TV: Not to be an ass but based on your question, it's obvious that the club's history has not been sufficiently told. That place started out as a country,blue grass and blues bar. And it always welcomed music of any style. Yes "punk" bands like Blondie and the Ramones came out of there, but it was always eclectic with its music. Hardcore punk only existed there on Sunday afternoons. Then it would transform back into allowing art-rock bands, noise bands, acoustic artists, pop bands, funk groups – whatever – to come in. If you're talking strictly hardcore matinees, yes they would do thrash there occasionally, but it wasn't popular.

What was the most enjoyable part of your fairly recent tour with Danzig and Superjoint Ritual, and in what ways has Glenn Danzig influenced what you do?
TV: The fact that I got it done was the most rewarding aspect of the tour. It was tough doing double duty. Playing a rushed Prong set, then a long Danzig set was nerve-racking. Then I had to jump in the Prong van and do our own shows or support for Superjoint on Danzig days off. It was definitely the hardest tour I had ever done.

The main attribute of Glenn Danzig that I have appreciated over the years is his dedication to who he is. He's got big balls. He's totally committed to what he does and really doesn't care what others think.

What was the hardest tour Prong ever did, and by the same token, what was the best one?
TV: We've had some brutal tours. I must say, most of the tours we did back in the day were just not fun. There was too much pressure on us all the time and we were easily jealous of other bands. I really don't have that many good memories. I like this lineup. Or maybe it's the fact that I'm less of a little brat these days that I can somehow get along with people better. We've had some great runs recently. The last Songs From The Black Hole tour in Europe was stellar.

Has your approach to making records or the process of doing so changed at all over the years?
TV: Again I've touched on that. I really didn't have a clue what was going on years ago, and I still don't really. I just think I'm a little more trusting these days. All music is a gift. The songs or ideas that you think you come up with aren't really yours, they come from The Universe. I trust in these gifts and just make them happen now. I can't afford to question every little thing I do anymore. I just roll with a lot of things

What are you most proud of with regard to your career? 
TV: Not to act like some guru or something, but I try to avoid pride like the plague. It's too dangerous for a person like me. I'll start believing bullshit about myself and start treating people badly. Everything I have has been given to me, especially when it comes to Prong. Based on my attitude, this should have been dead in the dirt a long time ago. So actually the best moment for me in my career is right now, doing this interview with you. Everything else is bullshit. Who cares? The past is the past, it doesn't exist anymore.

What would you say are your five favorite crossover albums and why?
TV: I like early ones like Corrosion Of Conformity's Animosity. That was groundbreaking and it had all that great Sabbath overtones. Suicidal Tendencies' Join The Army. Its just so damn noisy and violent. Agnostic Front's Cause For Alarm has some great NYHC with thrash. Leeway's Born to Expire has classic crunch picking,with the CroMags style approach. Sheer Terror Just Can't Hate Enough because it's dark and dangerous.

There's that question they give in job interviews about, "Where do you think you'll be in five years?" Do you have a sense yet of what you'd like to do with Prong in that time?
TV: I'm not on a job interview! Maybe I will be in five years!

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