Tommy Victor of PRONG
Interviewed by EvilG
Questions by EvilG, Lord of the Wasteland, and Aaron Yurkiewicz
Prong are one of those bands that took different elements and styles and mixed them together and offered something completely new yet crushingly heavy. Many bands copied some of what they did, but the band never became as much of a household name as they should have. We spoke to Tommy about his career, playing in Ministry and Danzig, and asked for his reflections on things like the impact Prong has made, why the band broke up and then returned, and why in 2009 Prong is still here kicking our asses!
Tommy man! It’s a pleasure to hear from you and to be able to get your thoughts on our barrage of questions. I want to start out and take it way back to your early days as a guitarist. Your sound and style are so distinctive so tell us about your first influences, who inspired you to first play air guitar, who did you emulate, and then as time went on what players helped shape your style?
I started out playing bass. I wanted to get in a band. That was when I was about 11 or 12. I was listening to Sabbath, Purple, Bowie, and Kiss. I was totally into Ritchie Blackmore. I thought he was the coolest. He was mean, dressed in black, and would destroy his guitar. By the time I did pick up the guitar, to replace the guitarist in a band I was in called Radiant Boys, I was really into Killing Joke and Bauhaus and batcave stuff. SO Geordie and Daniel Ash can be listed as huge influences. I eventually got into Black Flag; I really loved Greg Ginn as well.
Your guitar sound is very identifiable. Although Prong’s albums each have their own identity, your guitar crunch is instantly familiar. What’s the secret behind that massive tone?
It’s my right hand and sense of rhythm really. I have a percussive attitude to the guitar. I also prefer tubeless amps. I don’t know why more guys don’t like transistors. I guess everyone wants Lexuses. I drive a Hyundai.
Have you used pretty much the same gear over the years with Prong or is it that you just can dial in your sound on almost any decent setup?
I can get a good sound out of stock, rental, Marshall gear. I’m less picky these days as I was in the past.
The saying “often imitated never duplicated” comes to mind when I think of Prong. So many bands have borrowed elements from your playing and bought it into different styles of music. However, Prong never made a HUGE commercial impact. Do you ever wonder why? Perhaps it feels better to be an innovator and a major influence?
Thanks for the compliments. It’s not better, or rather any more rewarding to be an innovator/influence rather than a commercial success. I’ve never been good at marketing myself. I’ve never been one to pick up women at a bar and such.
As you’ve been an influential part of the music scene for a long time, in a variety of different capacities, what’s your take on the current state of industry?
I don’t like the state of the industry. I guess only Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Brittany Spears , Kenny Chesney, and Metallica can really like it these days.
Prong has gone through many stylistic shifts over the years. POWER OF THE DAMAGER, PROVE YOU WRONG, and PRIMITIVE ORIGINS are all distinctly unique albums, while still sounding unmistakably like Prong. Is there a conscious creative thread from album to album or is it more organic than that?
Yeah there is a thread. Aside from Scorpio Rising, which is not included, there is a conscious rule book in my soul about what a Prong song is. I don’t know what it is. But is along the lines of figuring out who is or who isn’t an NFL quarterback when assessing a player’s impact in the draft.
(I gotta ramble on for a bit about BEG TO DIFFER for a bit here Tommy as I love that album….)
I first heard Prong with the album BEG TO DIFFER in 1990. Since then I often go back to that album as it’s my favourite Prong album, probably because it’s the first that I got into. So what do you remember about that album and period?
We were very very excited about the future. But at least Ted and I, we wanted to have a good time. That eventually caught up with us. But we knew we were on untraveled ground. It was always hard though. The metal kids scratched their heads. The hardcore audience we wondering if we were too metal. And the art rockers thought we may be selling out. It’s always been that way.
From my perspective BEG TO DIFFER was your closest album to having a “thrash metal” sound. In 1990 I was listening to a lot of thrash metal as the style was peaking in terms of popularity with many of the big bands on major labels and whatnot….but when I heard Prong, while it was similar and thrash-like, it also had more groove. What kinda stuff was inspiring you at the time when you were writing such timeless songs as “For Dear Life”, “Beg to Differ”, “Lost and Found”, and “Take it in Hand”?
Killing Joke, Chrome, Die Kruezen and other stuff outside the loop. We weren’t metalheads at all. We were art rockers from the Lower East Side posing as a metal band.
Have you heard Grinspoon’s cover of ‘snap your fingers’ and what do ya think of a pussy Australian pop-punk band ruining your song? Ha!
Yeah I heard it a long time ago, and I was wasted so I don’t remember what it sounds like. I don’t care who covers it. I wish Metallica or Madonna would cover it.
You flirted with the idea of a second guitarist for a while, but the current line-up is back to the original power-trio model. Does it feel more natural this way?
Yes. Other guitar players are either too trained, with their sweeps and thin strings, or they just don’t have the right hand muting chops down. Even Monte Pittman, who is an excellent guitar player, still played everything a little weird. He’s better as a bass player.
The RUDE AWAKENING album was a brilliant and mature follow up to CLEANSING. It seemed like the band was at a high point creatively; what prompted the breakup after its release?
Well the label, felt different. They loved the record when it was done, but when it only entered the charts at number 90 they dumped us. The band was in turmoil. Raven was all fucked up. Both Ted and I had marital problems and we weren’t getting along. I did a lot of the work on than album. I busted my ass. But I felt the other guys were being assholes towards me. I was done.
Original drummer Ted Parsons had some tough words about your decision to resurrect the band. Are you still in contact and if so, what’s the current relationship like?
He said he was happy that Prong was continuing! The last time I saw him anyway, which was last year. Ted is absolutely crazy anyway. I really like the guy. I wish we were still together. He’s just all sucked into the wife and kids thing. That’s too much for him to sacrifice these days.
Being the only remaining original member of Prong, did you ever feel it inappropriate to continue producing music under that name or do you feel Prong is Tommy Victor…period.
No, It’s a brand made in another dimension. I have no control about it’s ending. The Creator seems to always want it to continue, so I just obey.
The last few Prong releases have been released through Ministry front-man Al Jourgensen’s 13th Planet Records imprint. Besides the obvious benefit of doing business with a trusted friend, what is the new label doing for Prong?
Ha. I think if Angie , Al’s wife who runs the label, also ran the distribution and parent label it would be awesome. Thirteenth planet really have their shit together. It’s just the whole scheme they are tied into isn’t the best.
POWER OF THE DAMN MIXXXER follows the tradition of the SNAP YOUR FINGERS and WHOSE FIST remixes from the 90s and appears like it will be a another great complement to 2007’s POWER OF THE DAMAGER. The album features new mixes from a wide spread of artists like Jon Clayden (Pitch Shifter) and Clayton Worbeck (Revolting Cocks); how did you identify artists to contribute to the remix process, are the artists all friends of yours or was the option open to anyone who wanted to take a stab at Prong’s music?
The selection of the contributors is a combination of both of those thoughts. When I got an email from JS Clayden and one from Virus from Dope, my interest in the compilation was renewed. We got some really great people involved in this thing .Worbeck, and John Bechdel were naturals, being friends and all. AK 1200 is really awesome, so thank goodness we got him aboard. People heard about it, and wanted in. It was simple as that.
Do you give artists free reign to do whatever they want to a Prong song or do you still have the final say in the remix process?
Chris Kniker, the executive producer and I had the last say. There were submissions that we wanted to like but couldn’t. Some guys had to do do-overs.
MINISTRY & DANZIG
Tommy on stage with Ministry (review here)
When you were in Danzig & Ministry, did you find it difficult giving up the creative reigns to someone else after being the "boss" in Prong?
Well Al is really really really open to others ideas. He makes you feel a part of a project. And we have a great time doing it. He’s just a joy to work with and work for. Glenn is very supportive and he always is really happy to have me around. But his songs are written in his mind; he knows what he wants and I just interpret it to the best of my ability. Glenn comes from a real old school 60’s rock background, which I can really relate too. We are both big into Bowie, Elvis, stuff like Tommy James and The Shondells, Sweet. We have a lot in common musically. I guess Al and I do too, but that’s more of a common Killing Joke fascination.
You have worked with Glenn Danzig, Marilyn Manson and Al Jourgensen, all of which are pretty strong personalities, but personify the role of charismatic front man. Were you happy stepping out of the spotlight and having the attention focus on them instead?
In Ministry yes it was a pain in the ass because I was pissed off at the lack of lights on the band during the live show. Glenn is much more happier at sharing the stage and likes all the guys to glow.
Considering you and Aaron Rossi (not to mention former Prong member John Bechdel) were all involved in the last incarnation of Ministry, should we expect Prong’s future recorded output to reflect that musical collaboration?
Yes in the fact that Al is producing the next Prong record. I hope to write a few songs with Al for Prong to do as well.
The last 3 Ministry albums are considered by many to be the finest moments in the band’s career. You have to give Uncle Al credit for going out on a high note, but do you think this will truly be the end of Ministry? If Ministry does decide to get back together, would you be willing to record/tour under that banner again or have you closed that chapter of your career?
I would do it again, sure. How much does it pay? I think Ministry is done though.
On another Ministry note, what was the point of the chain link fence on the C U La Tour? It was murder for those of us in the photo pit trying to get shots of you guys!
Yeah it sucked. It was a cheap prop, supposedly simulating the fence from the Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste tour.
How does Al’s attitude differ as a label head versus a band leader?
Ha. He talks through his wife. He’s become more like Prince these days.
Does he take a "hands off" approach to the other bands or is he directly involved in band matters?
No he’s involved. He’s still very enthusiastic about things. He gets fired up about stuff that goes on. He’s too much of a cheerleader at times though.
Was the split with Danzig a mutual one? Did you depart on good terms with Glenn?
There is no split up. I did the last tour and have been playing on the new Danzig record which comes out in fall.
Have there been any talks about one day recording with Danzig again?
Going in again tonight ironically!
Back to Prong!……..
The untimely passing of Paul Raven in 2007 was sad and completely unexpected. If you could sum up your experience in working with him in both Prong and Ministry, what would you say was his defining moment as a musician?
Ha! When he was onstage at The Whiskey in LA with Prong, wearing no underwear ,having a hug rip in the crotch in his plaid golf pants, leaning off the stage having a coupla young girls giggling pointing up to his naked balls and penis above their heads. Ridiculous.
What kind of influence did Paul’s previous body of work have on the formative years of the band, and what kind of impact did he have on the band during his tenure?
He was the best bass player. He can’t be replaced. It would have been great to have him now.
Looking back you have had a long career and worked with many excellent bands and musicians. What do you consider some of your finest moments? Any regrets?
I don’t know. I look at my career with tons of regrets. I wish I became a dentist. I don’t think it’s been worth all the trouble.
After 20-plus years with Prong, what keeps it alive in 2009?
It’s still a challenge I guess. What else am I gonna do? You have a hook up at UPS or something?
It was almost 4 years between the releases of SCORPIO RISING and POWER OF THE DAMAGER. Remixes aside, when can we expect some new music from Prong?
We’ve been working on new stuff. I feel like going in the studio and writing everything. That’s what Al does. We start in September.
Any chance of a proper U.S. tour anytime soon?
Yeah we are working on it.
If YOU could put together a super group of musicians living or dead, who would you pick?
Ian Gillan – vocals
Jimmy Page – guitar
Cozy Powell – drums
Pete Way – bass
Last and most importantly….who’s fist was it? haa
Thanks to Monica at Speakeasypr.com for hooking us up with this interview.