Prong’s Tommy Victor Talks New Record, Major Label Bullsh*t, Chris Cornell and Unusual Fan Requests
The first time I heard Prong was back in 1990 on Headbanger’s Ball.The song was called “Beg to Differ,” and it was pretty much the coolest thing I had heard since discovering thrash metal.
But this was different; it was a new type of thrash. It was hardcore, but also very melodic. I was hooked and instantly became a fan that would hang on every release that followed. Prong would continue to evolve by experimenting with industrial sounds before finding success through MTV and relentless touring, only to be eventually caught up in major label bullshit and drowned out by the unstoppable grunge moment.
Prong founding member Tommy Victor would carry the metal torch forward and continues to deliver new Prong music for over a decade. The power trio is on tour now in advance of the release of the band’s 13th studio album Zero Days, in stores on July 28th. I joined Tommy on his bus in the States to ask him about the new record and a few other burning questions I’ve had as a long time fan.
On why Danzig seemingly hates photographers:
“I think he’s old school and he just doesn’t believe in it, and he doesn’t like smartphones and he doesn’t have one. So I mean, he kind of—anything that could be digitally uploaded you know he is opposed to.”
On the most unusual place he’s heard his music over the years:
“First thing that comes to mind is strip clubs, but also between periods at Philadelphia Flyers games and professional wrestling matches. Another weird one was the time I was in Boston and out of the blue I was in a hotel, and I just put on AM sports radio. It was a Red Sox post game show, and they played the whole intro to “Beg to Differ” on it. I was like—like this is a dream, it’s just unbelievable.”
On the most unusual request he’s had from a fan over the years:
“Well, I get weird ones like, now because of Facebook…I mean, people can get a hold of me very easily. Usually, it’s something like, ‘Hey man we played with you guys in ’98. You remember my band blah, blah, blah. I see you guys are playing next week. Could you put the whole band—plus our girlfriends and maybe a couple of our kids—on the guest list?’”
On how buying a disco ball saved his life:
“I don’t know how we got this show, but this pseudo-connected dude opened up a room in the back of his pizzeria. He had these disco lights and a giant disco ball that he was really happy about. He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to have bands back here, and you know this is going to be good.’
So it was a couple of hardcore bands and Prong, and I remember the guy saying to us, ‘I don’t care what you guys do here, just make sure that nothing happens to the disco ball or I’m going to beat the hell out of you.’ This guy and his crew were sitting at a table telling us this and it was something totally out of The Sopranos. When the show started, we played literally 30 seconds before a kid gets on the back of somebody else like a chicken fight. One of the guys punches the disco ball and it goes flying across the room. These guys come out almost with guns blazing, and I had to buy a new disco ball. I had to shell out $250 bucks to this guy.”
On how many disco balls he’s purchased in his life:
“That was the only one. I mean, I saved my life by doing so. Those guys were ready to kill us.”
On the one musician he would want to record with or play with that he hasn’t:
“Jaz Coleman would be a pretty significant one—and if Jim Morrison was alive. As far as guitar players, I don’t mesh well with other guitar players because I don’t—I don’t have the divinity for that. That’s why with Alan and with Glen—because I’m a singer myself—it’s complementary. If I was just singing and playing with another guitar player, that’s tough to say. Maybe Helios Creed. Vernon Reid would be a killer to do something with. I like the groove guys.”
On the news regarding Chris Cornell’s death:
“Everyone is getting into their 50s and being honest with you, I didn’t have any feelings about it. I knew Chris, but then I knew a lot of these guys when they first started out. Maybe I’m going to sound a little bit bitter right now, but it’s like I knew a lot of these guys when they started out when we were all struggling or whatever. These guys got more popular, and you disconnect with them and they’re not approachable anymore.
We started out getting together—a bunch of guys having fun and writing songs and stuff—then it becomes looking at the charts and comparing yourself to other bands. This guy is more popular than this guy and we didn’t sell that many tickets blah, blah, blah…this kind of stuff. It grinds on your soul. Guys that you were hanging out with, drinking beers with, or on tour with, later on become these guys that are on GQ magazine and you lose the connection with them.
So, I have strong feelings about fame and ego gratification, and I think when you get in that realm, it’s a dark place. It’s something that you got to keep in check a lot. I’ve been surpassed by so many bands and so many people, and Prong is always struggling. You know…maybe that’s a blessing.”
On Type O’ Negative’s Peter Steele:
“We did a lot of shows together. I know Pete, I knew him—but he came unapproachable, or you know inevitably it was like, who is this guy? You know, like I wasn’t popular enough to hang out with them. You know, I can go on and on with the list…I mean you know, Glenn is an authentic guy. I mean we’ve been friends for fucking ever, and he doesn’t pull that shit on me.”
On his favorite Prong riff of all time:
“I might be a real snob or real eager just to go back. So, right now, I mean all of them are—if they make it on a record they’re good. I mean because of that, you know usually I have hundreds of them, and they’re whittled down to a couple. The new record that’s coming out—it’s called Zero Days—it’s chock-full of unbelievably heavy riffs. There is a riff on the song “However It May End” in the middle section, and that’s by far my favorite Prong riff of all time right now. There are two in that song that are just colossal.”
On a hypothetical Prong tribute record where he would pick the bands:
“It would be my favorite bands, like Godflesh and Killing Joke, and as far as metal bands—Darkest Hour, Gojira, and Mastodon…maybe Life of Agony, to name a few. I would keep away from thrash bands…you know maybe Sick Of It All. Then weird bands like Interpol who I like a lot—maybe they could interpret a Prong song.”
On making music videos:
“I didn’t like how much they cost and how much money we spent on them. I wish I had all the money we spent—like a 100% recoupable. By the time Prong made videos for an album we lost all our profits.
It was the stupidest thing in the world, the way the labels treat the bands. Unless you were a hair band and you were selling five million records, it was sort of a disappointment for them. You know it was like, ‘Oh, Warrant’s new record only sold three million records, they’re done.’ We were lucky that we got to 400,000, but they still had the same people doing videos—it was like what the hell man—we’re wasting money. They were too expensive.”
On Prong’s breakthrough record Cleansing:
“They wouldn’t spend any money on us. The label was like, ‘Maybe these guys Prong…maybe they’re going to be popular—we don’t know. We’re not ready to drop them yet.’ So, they didn’t know what the next thing was going to be, and they were still holding on to us.
I remember just trying to get the guy on the phone from the metal department to ask him directly what was going on over there. I was like, are you guys doing anything for Prong? Just let me know. We’re playing gigs out there on the road, and there was just nothing.
I remember the guy—not naming names—saying, ‘You’ve got to understand man, you know, we got priorities here. Essentially we know what’s going to sell and we’re putting all efforts right now working the new Arcade record.’ They spent $5 million on marketing that record—and it didn’t do anything.
So then when Cleansing came out they were going, ‘Hey, maybe these Prong guys have a chance here,’ and then when grunge showed up, Rude Awakening was forgotten about because Pearl Jam and that whole grunge genre just took over.”
On Prong’s new record:
“It’s a total collision of two things. I mean, a little bit of thrash—but I think after touring consistently with Prong for four years and playing the old ones, I saw that we’re hardwired into these hardcore metal riffs with a little bit of that industrial edge—and then you know, with thrash elements as well. I’ve always been a fusion guy. I mean, my musical tastes vary, but we collide with these things pretty well. It’s the consummate Prong record.”