RISING: THE RETURN OF PRONG
An Interview with Tommy Victor
Interview by R.
Prong has returned.
Founded in 1986 by singer/guitarist Tommy Victor, the band first released two independent CDs that were noted for their brutal hardcore sound. Epic Records saw the band's potential and signed them, leading to the band's major label debut, 1990's "Beg to Differ."
"Beg to Differ" was notable for many reasons, one of which was Prong's amazing growth. Without sacrificing any of the band's raw power, "Beg to Differ" showed signs of progressive thrash, while the follow-up, "Prove You Wrong," experimented with programming and electronic samples.
1994's "Cleansing" was the CD that really put the band on the map. With a strong industrial sound that still managed to be hard and heavy, "Cleansing" contained songs that are still considered Prong classics - "Broken Peace" and "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck."
"Rude Awakening" was released in 1996 and, shortly thereafter, Prong disbanded. Founder Tommy Victor began working with legends of the rock world, including Rob Zombie and Glenn Danzig.
In 2002, Tommy Victor re-formed Prong with bassist Brian Perry, drummer Dan Laudo and touring guitarist Monte Pittman. After the success of a 42-show American tour that was recorded for a live CD ("100% Live") and Victor's claims of "unfinished business," Prong entered the studio and recorded their latest CD, "Scorpio Rising," yet another brilliant foray into their unique world.
So what's the new Prong all about? How does "Scorpio Rising" compare to other Prong CDs? We went straight to the horse's mouth and talked with Tommy Victor himself.
Rough Edge: It was eight years between "Rude Awakening" and the tour that led to the live CD. What went on in those eight years? What brought Prong back?
Tommy Victor: Was it eight years? Time flies. No, actually it was about four years when I decided to get Prong going (or a band doing new stuff and old Prong songs under a new name). It took a while to get a stable (well, somewhat stable) lineup. Other guys are in and out of LA, doing more "profitable" projects. Even Dan Laudo, who is one of my best friends and most supportive dudes around, had a lot of other things going on. I started constructing ideas on the computer and making demos that people where scratching their heads over. Finally a demo was finished with the help of Pat Lachman, now of Damage Plan, that got interest from a few record companies. Monte was in and out, based on his guitar instruction and touring as Madonna's guitar player (as seen on the Today Show!). Previous to this I spent a few years in a dark hole, unwilling to have much to do with the politics and lip service of the biz, totally disgusted. It was a either a cowardly period, or a more hermetically sealed one depending on how you look at it.
Rough Edge: How was that first new tour received? I have to imagine there were some pretty thrilled Prong fans.
Tommy Victor: Time goes on and people lose interest. However, there remained a core of fans that were still waiting. There seems to be a crew of folks that keep urging me on to do this thing.
Rough Edge: Tell us a little about the new CD, "Scorpio Rising." How is it different, or similar, to previous Prong albums?
Tommy Victor: The main entity that remained working on the songs, Monte Pittman, Dan Laudo and myself, was very well prepared this time around. We had collectively been over these songs getting them into a refined quality for quite awhile. With the help of digital recording technology we were able to know what the songs were in their recorded version well before going into the studio. This was different from earlier records where we had to wait until tracks got onto two inch and then figure out the direction. Because Monte is the major guitar prodigy, I was able to focus a lot more energy into the vocals. Dan was well familiar with the programming and stylized the drum parts to a point where we didn't need the loops that much anymore. We cut the basic tracks in two days and blasted through the overdubs in a coupla weeks.
The music is a bit of a compilation of the styles Prong has delved into over the years. We didn't ignore the early thrash, the heavy grooves, nor the song-oriented material that appeared on earlier records. But experimented on new tunings and a diverse vocal approach on "Scorpio." It's truly a hybrid, a very "smart" record in the tradition of Prong.
Rough Edge: You've been quoted as saying that the songs on "Scorpio Rising" are "more like a sequel to 'Rude Awakening'"? Care to elaborate?
Tommy Victor: This applies to the lyrics and the overall message. I spent many years on the lyrics; I really had to pen a new chapter of my life into this record. Based on the "dark night of the soul" application apparent on "Rude," I needed to answer this. Certain spiritual revelations are discussed. There's more of a response to corruption rather than a simple admittance of it. The song "Innocence Gone" on "Rude" was one of the last penned for that record. I think "Scorpio" picks up where that left off"
Rough Edge: Tell us a little about the musicians in the current line-up.
Tommy Victor: Well, I sort of already did this. Dan is a drummer that's been floating around LA for a while. We had lost contact for awhile, where I had jammed with a handful of more "name " drummers around town. Inevitably, it was realized that Dan was perfect for the project. Anyone who meets him will tell you he is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. His meter is impeccable and that's a priority over extreme chops. Monte, on the other hand, has extreme chops, but knows that Prong is not necessarily a vehicle for a display of this. He's the tastiest player I have ever been associated with. And Prong is his all time favorite band. He recognizes the challenges and limitation that the "Cult of Prong" entails. He's Madonna's guitar player, obviously one of the best around. I played most of the bass on the new record. It's my first instrument, I've been playing bass in bands since I was 11. But we collectively designed all the parts played on the record. All three of us knew what the parts were. There were no egos disallowing this, an experience I was disgusted with in the past. No one ever blurted "I know what I'm doing!" and shut anyone else down.
Rough Edge: I think the new album is brilliant because it's got such a huge, heavy sound yet never goes too far into full-on extreme territory. It's an absolutely unique mix. Can you tell us a little about what led to this sound? A little about the songwriting and production on this CD?
Tommy Victor: I've discussed a little about this in the previous responses. Thank you, I appreciate the comments! Unfortunately, these designed fine points of Prong are notoriously overlooked most of the time. There's always an "other worldly" application to what goes on under the "Prong" moniker. I don't know if it has anything to do with the numerical value of the name or what. It's unsettling, that's where the extremities lie. I believe this record to be the most honest one yet. Making records in an experience of self discovery and it's important for me to keep that element in "the mix." So the lyrics take a higher priority in a Prong record than many other artists. I've been involved in projects where the vocals are a mystery until they are performed on the last tracking session. On "Scorpio Rising" this is not the case. The lyric was completed first in some instances. To me this sets up the vibe. Other songs had an already penned lyric placed into an arrangement. On other records, because of time limitations, I had to rush a lyric to fit a syllabaliztion that was squawked.
Sometimes, to be totally honest, I wish there was a bit more of an exposé of "shredding" in the new Prong. But Monte, with knowledge that we could do it, was smart enough to point out a focus on the sounds, tunings and SONGS. Prong doesn't have to be a band to have long stretches of detailed instrumentation. Sort of did that extreme noise metal 15 years ago on "Primitive Origins" and "Force Fed." A smart choice of amps (that nobody else uses) and a guitar suitable for the tunings we use is a priority.
Rough Edge: A couple of songs on the new record seem a lot more "accessible" than previous Prong material, very radio friendly. Was this due to any special effort on the band's part or did it sort of just happen?
Tommy Victor: This ties in with the last response. I think most artists eventually experience the need to write classic songs after they have hit a point of what I call detailed instrumentation or "shredding." We have done it on occasion on "Scorpio," however. "Regal" is one of the most challenging riffs I have ever encountered. I let Monte play most of that one! Zeppelin would have a wide mix of material on later records. Every track doesn't have to be a display of technique. That's just boring for me. But I do appreciate bands that do a completely extreme high energy record. It's more about who you are. I dislike the battle between the 'nu-metallers" and the hardcore/extreme camps these days. Rock music shouldn't be pompous. That's the spirit of punk and hard-core that was so great back in the eighties. All these allegiances was one of the reasons leading to the earlier Prong demise. But it's all in the mind. One must stick to their honest designs.
Rough Edge: When I first saw Prong years and years ago at the Foundations Forum, your music seemed so extreme. Today, it's still heavy as hell, but not what I'd call "extreme," Has music finally caught up to Prong? And, if so, is that a good thing or bad thing?
Tommy Victor: Yes, it has caught up and surpassed. The goals of early Prong have been met by countless groups. Unfortunately this has been unrecognized by many. It really hurts me when I get snubbed by bands that wouldn't be around today if it wasn't for the "bold" or extreme approach Prong took years ago. On the big front I feel we didn't or don't have the sex appeal or the Satanic or campy scary imagery to hit the masses. For my pocket book, it's obviously a bad thing. But Prong's career is more honestly in line with me as a person. I've never been into cliques, gangs or genres. I never fit in, so be it.
Rough Edge: Tommy Victor is really the only constant for Prong through the years. How does that fit in with the way the band writes and records?
Tommy Victor: This could be a lengthy response! When I speak TRUTHFULLY, stating facts that happened, real events, I get labeled an egomaniac. People distort facts and tend to only want to hear what they want to, believe what only makes them look good. So whatever I say on this matter is going to be perceived as wrong. This record was truly collaborative. Prong wouldn't have been able to make a fine product like "Scorpio Rising" without the energies of Dan, Monte and Pat Lachman. As far as the past goes, I had to say that I dedicated a lot of sweat and blood to keep Prong alive.
Rough Edge: I understand you're working on the new Danzig record. How's that going? What's after that? What's the future of Prong?
Tommy Victor: I'm not a soothsayer. It's like Shea Stadium here in the Prong world, I get thrown curveballs, actually beanballs, all the time. Using a sports cliché, I have learned to take my career on a "one day at a time" basis. All I know is that about eight new ideas for a new Prong record exist and I plan to record again. Prong has been doing a lot of shows. We are touring in May in America and plan to hit Europe this summer. Please check out www.prongmusic.com.
The Danzig record is going wonderfully. It's been a blast doing a record with Glenn. The guy's a genius. I truly believe that it's going to be the best Danzig record ever. I'm really confident about it. Danzig has allowed me to stretch out in another way, doing things I can't do with Prong. I plan to do double duty as long as I can!
Rough Edge: Thanks for your time, Tommy. Great talking with you!
Tommy Victor: Thank you.
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Copyright © 2004 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400.