The latest Prong album, X – No Absolutes, will be released February 5 on Steamhammer/SPV. (Pre-order it from Amazon.) This is the band’s third album since returning from a self-imposed hiatus; like its predecessors, 2012’s Carved Into Stone and 2014’s Ruining Lives, it’s a powerful, aggressive release combining the band’s precise yet primitive thrash with a punk energy and a love for fist-pumping, shout-along choruses. (They also released a covers album, Songs From The Black Hole, in 2015.)
Stream the first single, “Ultimate Authority”:
Prong’s current lineup features bassist Jason Christopher and drummer Al Cruz, but the group’s driving force has always been guitarist and singer Tommy Victor. He formed the group in 1986, with bassist Mike Kirkland and drummer Ted Parsons, while he (Victor) and Kirkland were working at legendary rock club CBGB as soundman and doorman, respectively. They recorded the Primitive Origins EP and the Force Fed LP, and signed with Epic Records in 1989, making their major label debut with Beg To Differ. That album’s extremely stripped-down sound, and ultra-dry, virtually reverb-less production made it sound like nothing else in 1990. They quickly moved to a heavier, more industrial-tinged style on 1991’s Prove You Wrong, though, which eventually yielded a remix EP, Whose Fist Is This Anyway?, on which the album’s tracks were reworked by JG Thirlwell and Lee Popa.
Prong underwent multiple lineup changes, eventually including bassist Paul Raven and keyboardist John Bechdel of Killing Joke. They made two more albums for Epic, 1994’s Cleansing and 1996’s Rude Awakening; when the latter failed to sell, they were dropped, and disbanded. Victor joined Danzig as a live guitarist, though he didn’t start appearing on studio albums until 2004’s Circle Of Snakes. (He also played on 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth and 2015’s Skeletons.) Prong reunited in 2000, releasing Scorpio Rising in 2003 and Power Of The Damager in 2007. In between these records and the attendant touring, Victor and Raven also became members of Al Jourgensen‘s band Ministry, appearing on Rio Grande Blood and The Last Sucker. After Raven’s death in 2007, Victor swapped members in and out a few more times, before forming the current lineup in 2012.
Victor answered questions via email.
You put Prong aside for several years between Power Of The Damager (and the remix album) and Carved Into Stone. What fueled that decision, and was it creatively beneficial?
Then, I did stints with Danzig and Ministry, fitting Prong in here and there. Now I do Prong and fit other projects in. I got really fired up playing with Al [Jourgensen] in Ministry. I had a lot of creative input for, like, three records. When Al was first talking about retirement, I had started really dialing Prong in again. It was just the way things worked out. Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have done a lot of the things I did. I’m always making goofball career mistakes.
Several of the new songs have more melody than recent material. Was that a conscious choice going into this album, or did it just happen that way?
I definitely wanted to have some more “classic rock” type stuff on this record. It adds variety to the whole package. I don’t really know why I had that thought when going into this record. I guess I’m really crazy, I just like to change things up a little on each record. Also, I think Chris Collier and I discovered a new voice for me when cutting the vocal for “Cortez The Killer,” which is a Neil Young cover on our Songs From The Black Hole record. So we took advantage of that. We were definitely looking for better songs, you know?
Do you record more quickly now than you did in the band’s major-label days?
Oh hell yeah. First of all, those old records were recorded on two-inch tape. That slows down the process compared to the digital technology used nowadays.The budgets on those records were way higher. It’s hilarious to me thinking of the days we would spend “getting a drum sound” and whatnot. The writing process is quicker now, too. I learned my lesson with Rude Awakening, where I wrote, like, 30 songs and made demos and then rearranged songs and possibly strayed from the initial sentiment and impact of the vocal. I really like to have fresh vocals and ideas in order to have some kind of passion in the recordings. I like just simply blasting new songs out now. I like making deadlines, too. I appreciate and try to show respect to others involved. The label wants a record by a certain date, I feel obligated to deliver. I feel lucky to be able to have a record company and the opportunity to make records. It’s a great challenge, as well, to produce records quickly.
In what ways have you most improved as a musician over the course of Prong’s career?
Good question! This whole thing has been on-the-job training for me. I had no idea what the hell I was doing when Prong started. That hasn’t changed too much. I’m still growing possibly, in what ways I don’t know. I’m not that talented. I remember listening to Beg To Differ a couple of years back, after not hearing it for awhile. I said to myself, “How did that happen?” I don’t know, I think the whole thing is like the case of professional athletes, you sort of fall into the whole thing. You’re directed by some outside source. It’s like as though some spirit said, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this band Prong and let’s pick this knucklehead to do it.” If I don’t improve, it’s because I’m not supposed to improve. The baby steps of improvement have occurred in order for Prong to survive.
What have you learned from your time in Ministry and Danzig that’s impacted Prong?
Exactly what, I can only speculate. There’s a massive difference between working with Glenn [Danzig] and Al. I love Glenn’s old school rock ‘n’ roll attitude of just blasting things out and smashing all the rules. I love Al’s meticulous will to get exactly what he wants and envisions in the studio.They are both great artists, more than standard musicians. I’ve tried to be more confident in what I do and not worry so much about what people think. Both those guys have huge balls, bigger than mine.
There was a time when Prong seemed a natural outgrowth of living conditions in NYC, just the way the city produced Sonic Youth, White Zombie, Swans, the Cro-Mags…does that New York still exist?
I think we all know, no. It’s funny; I had coffee last night with an old girlfriend of mine from back in the day. We were talking about how great it was. No rules, all new ground, nothing established. No Internet, no pagers, really no cell phones, and we had a strong scene.We were crazy club kid rockers. Back then she looked outrageous. We had to pay, make sacrifices, to be cool. I remember getting on the subway with her and always getting hassled. I lived in a then-desolate Lower East Side. It was loosely inhabited by junkies, artists, bums, squatters, club kids and off the boat, judgmental ethnic people. Now it’s settled by trust fund babies buying cool and rich voyeurs and tourists. Say no more.
If you could go back and re-record any older material, or re-work an album that you think didn’t really come out how you hoped, what would it be?
I feel obligated, for some reason, maybe because your questions have been great, to be honest here. Firstly, I never know or have a complete vision of how a record is “going to come out.” All I know is if I like the way it comes out. These are the records that I like the way they came out: Beg To Differ, Cleansing, Carved Into Stone, Ruining Lives, Songs From The Black Hole, and X – No Absolutes. I think we “reworked” or gave justice to the key songs on the remainder of the later records on our Unleashed In The West live record that is sold at shows. Our live shows bring all the material together. I guess it doesn’t make too much of a difference, because our fans are into the songs and will overlook some of the shoddy production on some of the older records. I could go into a long answer to this. I think our choice of studios, producers, microphone choices, mastering engineers, etc. on the records I don’t like as much are really the main issues. Then my attitude at the time is another issue. Being a weirdo doesn’t help at times.
What’s the best riff you’ve ever written?
Hell, I don’t know. I’ve stolen or borrowed or been handed everything. Some people say I wrote the [Marilyn Manson] “Beautiful People” riff, but I don’t remember because I was so high on coke. Someone probably hummed it to me anyway. I would say the main riff of “Belief System” on X – No Absolutes. It was the first riff that ever came to me on a seven-string guitar. And probably the last. I have trouble enough on six.