Being from New York, you tend to be pretty thick skinned and able to roll with anything that comes your way. Case in point, Omar Cordy recently chatted with his fellow native New Yorker and Prong mastermind Tommy Victor and delved into, wide-ranging, off-the-cuff conversation. Cutting through some sidesteps, clarifying misinformation regarding the line-up, and overcoming some early barriers to end up with an insightful chat, Tommy was affable and honest as ever, remaining professional as well, which we appreciate!
“It’s not the same lineup, I had to find a way to pretty much do this myself. I mean, (drummer) Alexei Rodriguez couldn’t do it because he has a regular job and Tony Campos hasn’t been playing with me since Carved Into Stone.” Tommy explained when we asked about who really constituted the current line-up of Prong. “I’ve had Jason Christopher (Sebastian Bach), and he has been the bassist since that record. Campos, he did a couple of shows, here and there with us for Carved Into Stone. so yeah, those are the changes.”
Tommy has always been thought of a band leader and singular voice, but he actually likes to collaborate with others to get his ideas out:
“I collaborated on all the songs with this guy, Chris Collier, on this record. So, it was bits and
pieces, he helped me out a lot on some songs and on others, I had more of them together, we just split it up really in the end. I have to have somebody with me to do shit because otherwise I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. With Steve Evetts, as far as vocals go, he comes in and produces the vocals so we nailed down some questions that I had at the last stage of putting the melodies together.”
We were under the impression Ruining Lives was done in the same studio as Carved Into Stone, but Tommy corrected us:
“It was done at Mission Black Studio in Valencia, the basic tracks. And then, the vocals were recorded at Steve Evetts’ place in Garden Grove, and mixed there as well. All in the LA area.”
For a guy who has been at this roughly thirty years, Tommy been through a lot musically and personally: “Basically, it’s just room for improvement. I don’t think I’ve reached some kind of pinnacle yet, and I can do it, so those are two good reasons right there, without getting to wordy on it. I’ve seen improvements. It’s not like I’m a baseball player, where I’m hitting thirty-five and it’s time to hang up the jock strap. I can continually move on. I mean, there are a lot of things I could be focusing on musically that I haven’t and that’s even more of a challenge too. I mean, I’ve been guitar playing in the last ten years and before that, I really ignored it a lot and didn’t really pay that much attention to it. And as I work with other bands, and did other things, it’s a progression in that and it’s a lot of on the job training because I’m a lazy bastard and most of the time, I’m not going to try to sit and try to figure things out. And when I do, it’s very rewarding. So, in other words, I know there are lots of things I could be working on to get there.”
With statements like that he proudly wears that New York attitude in his sleeve… by way of Los Angeles. “(laughs) That’s just the way I talk. I’ve been out in California for a long time and everyone, the California people, always gives me a hard time about it.”
The cover for Ruining Lives has that old school feel of it. With its brilliant color scheme it’s simple but effective. It’s one of my favorite Prong covers. We asked about the artist:
“That one and Cleansing, I think they were the top ones for me. I mean, look the EP, the first
record, Primitive Origins that Shawn Taggart did; I really like that one as well. But yeah, that’s just like a black and white format. This one, was done by Vance Kelly and if you look at the cover while listening to the record, it just works; it’s because there are some elements of the record that are traditional Prong and things that only Prong does or cares to do and on the other hand, it’s a little modern and sounds youthful too, so it has a lot of energy in the record, so it just works. I’m really happy with it. I couldn’t be more happy with the cover.”
Youthful is the perfect way to describe the cover and just the overall vibe of the record. It doesn’t sound like a bunch of old guys trying to be current. It is a very genuine sounding album.
“Yeah, yeah, I agree with that and it’s really true. The process it was fairly easy, it was a lot of work; it wasn’t a lot of pseudo-professional, over thinking about every minute detail which is an aspect of making records that I’ve experienced in the past that I’ve had to overcome and realize it’s just a waste of time. A song like ‘Turnover’, that’s really fresh, I mean that’s the last one written, it was dialed in very fast and it’s one of the most successful songs on the record. It’s like the same that happened with ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck’, where the thing was written, in like, I don’t know, the lyric was written in about five minutes, then the actual song was written maybe, in about ten or fifteen minutes. So you have to be in this space, or this, I don’t know, spiritual or mental condition that enables these probational times to happen. And I’m not saying this happens all the time, it happens very rarely. And yeah, I got lucky. Lucky to do the right things in order for that to happen, either way. Some people believe in luck and I guess I don’t really, I just think that I’m fortunate.”
Prong tours and shows overseas seem to be more plentiful than there are over here in America. Perhaps the fanbase for the band is bigger over there or touring is just easier. Tommy weighs in on this: “That’s a very good question, it’s a lot easier to set things up overseas; the distances between locations are considerably shorter, and now that gas prices are so high, that contributes to a lot of financial problems while touring here in America. However we have an extensive US tour coming in the fall.”
Because any entertainment business chews you up and spits you out, only the tough, the hard survive. And sometimes people need a few years off, then they come back stronger than ever. I remember when
Prong came back on 2005 after a hiatus.
“That’s the beauty of being a musician; you’ve got guys like Lemmy hanging around and Ozzy
and you know, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. You don’t really have those major league baseball pitcher limitations on your career that much.”
We wonder how tiring it must get to teach people songs again or I have to teach somebody X song for the fifteenth time.
“It’s stressful. I’m not going to say it’s a great thing . But being as trio now I really can’t teach people the way I play and Prong guitar riffs anyhow. Monte Pittman, out of any guitar player I’ve seen or was able to jam with, he came pretty close to emulating the parts. I am sort of a strange player, based on the fingering I use, and the self taught nature that I have, that’s difficult. As far as Raven’s bass lines, a lot of people have problems playing those too because he had a very unique and brilliant approach to playing bass. And now, I’m really lucky, because this guy, Jason Christopher, he’s a fantastic bass player. He’s a rock n roll, punk rock bass player, but he’s really flexible. So I’m lucky to have him. A lot of times you have to trust what’s out there and that guys know what they are doing and pick up and be quick at knowing what’s going on. It’s just you go through a week period where some field problems, but you have to work through them and then you have to adapt to other people too. I mean, not everyone is supposed to adapt to me, I adapt to other people, and I think that’s an important aspect for the way I’ve been able to survive lineup changes and playing with other people and other bands and experiencing lineup changes and the other problems that I can work on is being patient and tolerant of other players. You have to adjust and adapt and work together on things, you know it’s not a dictatorial relationship at all. I try to work with everyone I come into contact with and that includes Glenn Danzig; sometimes I get impatient with him, but I step back and relax and we work on things together.”
With all goes on all that have an effect on what comes out, because when I listen to the new record, it’s a little more aggressive, it sounds like a combination of Carved Into Stone and Power of the Damager; it has some anger and it has some heart on it. “I don’t calculate too much these days what comes out. That reflects on what I said
earlier, I just know for some reason, I’ve been doing it for so long, when I’m working on riffs and initially that’s the way those songs start. Being the singer too, at the same time while I’m writing a riff, I’m thinking if this something I can put to the vocal tone s and lyric line at the same time. So the process is almost instantaneous, it’s not I have to write stuff and then I have to bring it to the singer and work with him and see if he can. It comes out of a lot of that period of the creation of a song. The rapidity of work this record and based on the fact I have a lot of experience in the last five years making records, whether it’s with Danzig, Ministry, or the pretty recent Prong albums. It’s not a lot of calculating for it, it’s just from being beaten into what I am now, it’s a lot of on the job training really, and as far as emotions go, I’ve always been soul-searching , very introspective, and when it comes to writing lyrics, that’s a time consuming and a very serious project for me.”
As a guy that writes all the time, Tommy already has some material in the can for the future.
“There’s some, on Carved Into Stone there was a lot of songs written. And I didn’t go the cheat method on Ruining Lives. I was talking to the co-producer Steve Evetts who produced the vocals about six months ago when we were planning out scheduling for the new record and he goes, “What’s going on material-wise?” I go, “Dude, I’ve been so busy running around touring that I don’t really have that much.” He goes, “You have all those songs from Carved Into Stone that you didn’t use.” And then I had more on top of that stockpile, which may be another ten? And I went back and listened to them and I’m like, “No.” I literally had another album’s worth of material that was ready to go, but I started fresh. I seem to do that a lot, I listen to the stuff I have and I’m just like, “Nah, no.” So it’s always new stuff.”
It sounds like too much work to reinterpret it to make it now. “I can’t even do that and he wanted me to do that on a couple of tracks he liked that were on the earlier demos from Carved Into Stone, which like were 25 songs written for that record and demoed and completed. And he was just like, “What about this?” “what about that one and I was like, “nah, forget it.”
And with that, Tommy Victor just powers along, consistently moving and always ready for anything that gets thrown his way.
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