Tommy Victor is one of the hardest working dudes in the business. In addition to cranking out a new Prong album every consecutive year since 2014’s Ruining Lives, he also records and tours with Danzig. Having recently wrapped up a Prong tour with Testament and Sepultura, we caught up with Tommy on a brief respite before hitting the road again in support of the forthcoming Prong album Zero Days. In this interview, we get the scoop on the new album and future touring plans.
Tommy, how are you doing today?
Tommy Victor: I’m fantastic! The weather is wonderful here in California and I love it. And it’s good to talk to you, thanks for doing the interview.
A few months ago on social media I saw that you guys were prepping the new album and honestly, I laughed a little bit because I was just like, “OH my God, they just put out an album!.”(Laughs)
Victor: (Laughs) Well, it’s been 15 months ago, already. I mean, I guess it appears it was a closer release than it really was and based on the fact we just got off the tour with Testament and people are “You’ve got a new record out?” It takes a little while for people to get aware of what’s going on in America, a little bit. So, yeah, that doesn’t shock me, but this records been planned for a while and the process started at the end of last year. We were able to knock it out. We wanted to have consistent records and we’ve done it. Now this is the fourth studio release in five years, there’s a covers record intermingled in there. We’ve tried to make up for some last time and put out a barrage of consistent records, hopefully of decent quality.
I was going to say, going back to 2014 you’ve released a record every consecutive year. On top of touring and recording with Danzig, where do you find the time?
Victor: It’s a little difficult, I must say. Having secure and deadlines on when these things have to be done is important. And I know I have to meet that. It’s just dedicating the hours to having to fit into that scheduling. Some nights are sleepless, sometimes I don’t have time to rest up and things have to be sacrificed in my personal life, that’s for sure.
So when were the songs for this album written? Do you do any writing on the road or are you just dedicating time when you’re off the road to come up with new material?
Victor: Well, I’m going to go back into time a little bit. On the Ruining Lives record, which came out before No Absolutes and before Songs from the Black Hole, after Carved into Stone, a lot of that writing was done on the road, actually while I was out with Danzig. And I worked on GarageBand on my iPad and just laid some in there and miraculously all that stuff was used. And we pulled it together really fast. As you try to improve upon previous releases the system was changed where I allowed myself some time on No Absolutes where I sat down for a couple of weeks and dedicated time at home to coming up with ideas and on this record this time was extended where I gave myself like a month at home to generate ideas, musically. Now lyrics I’m constantly coming up with ideas based upon what I’m reading, news-wise, books, et cetera, and that’s consistently running. So, I sort of have a bag of ideas that I refer to when I’m putting lyrics together. The phrasing, the songs, the jigsaw puzzle that emerges when that process comes around.
Check out Prong’s video for the new track “Divide And Conquer”
So, you’re kind of taking notes, lyrically, regardless if you’re prepping for new album.
Victor: Well, with the agenda that I know I’m going to have to come up with another record and have some ideas. I don’t want to have to lose those ideas, like “Oh, I’ll think of it later.” But, having the benefit of smartphones now, you go in your little notepad and jot down ideas and remember, “I remember what I was thinking at that time” and you can elaborate on it later.
This is Prong’s 11th album, and first of all, congratulations on the completion of another album. But, when you have so much material in your past and you’re going into your 11th album… on this one was there any thing different you tried? Any experimentation in terms of the writing or recording?
Victor: There’s always something new implemented into every new Prong record. I just can’t help that, I don’t know what it is. But, I always feel there’s a new challenge to be met and something always has to be improved upon. So, what that exactly is, it just comes about when you have a block of songs that are already written and we know that we’re going to use those and then seeing what else needs to be done on it. What’s going to balance the full album out together.
I was having a conversation with a previous interviewer and he was wondering about the whole concept of an album, why are we stuck to that idea. I never really thought of that before. It’s definitely a 70’s concept where we make these albums, you know? There’s a thought of just releasing singles, like a 60’s attitude. But, I always think in terms of a full-length record and what’s going to make it that interesting. Not just one song, but the collection of songs and how that record is going to flow, so it’s finding what the blanks are and coming up with later songs that will fit into what you think are going to make it more complete. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s what happens, really.
Whether that’s experimental or taking more chances, sometimes that comes into. With these last couple of records, I’ve even had some buddies of mine, or even some outside writers that will come in and help out with some writing on it and give me a couple of ideas we take into a whole other direction and just rip apart, and you know, put it into a Prong state of mind as much as possible. There’s sort of boundaries with Prong, too. We have a lot of records to refer to. We don’t want to stray too much from what people want out of Prong record, if they have any expectations of it at all any how, but there’s all these elements that come into feeling confident about a song and then the complete record. And we accomplished that on this one, you go through these periods of insecurity and that, but right to the final day we got it done. We put a lot of time into it. And I know we put that time in and let the chips fall as they may after that.
Going back to what you were saying a minute ago… with the rise of technology and streaming and digital music, a lot of artists have experimented a little bit with releasing singles or EPs. But, personally I appreciate an album. That’s what I sit down with and listen to, whereas you put out a couple of songs, I might listen to them, but then a couple of months later I just forget about it.
Victor: That’s interesting. I mean, as far as the legacy of the band, too… it’s good to have these records. Again, going back to what I said earlier, we’re making up for some lost time. There’s been these chunks of years where there wasn’t any Prong releases. So, hitting people hard with these consistent releases was important for the legacy of the group, too. Not just in terms of financial or business type compensation of the group and the identity of it. I think it’s important to for these things when there’s a name of a band that has a career that you want to have these records. And now with the advent of vinyl being popular that adds another importance to it where the sequencing does apply. Some people say, “The sequencing doesn’t matter,” but it’s something to think about as well, is the complete flow of it. That’s another tough decision to make a lot of times. Now we have two pieces of vinyl in our collection of this record and make sure those grooves are strong and open to deliver a powerful punch on vinyl. I mean, side two opens with a certain song and then you have to start again on the second piece of vinyl. So, I think that applies now and it’s a whole new dimension to coming out with releases these days.
Going back to the lyrics, I think I pulled this from a press release, you mentioned on this album that you really put in a lot of effort into the lyrics on this one. Where are you drawing inspiration from for lyrics? Are there any particular themes that interest you or is there any underlying theme on this album? Or is each song its own animal?
Victor: It’s a little bit of that. Initially, I came up with the whole idea of Zero Days, that’s going to be the name of the album, right? So, that’s the top of the pyramid there. Everything sort of flowed from that a bit. There are certain elements that tie together. It’s based upon you’re living in the now and maintaining some balance amongst all the insecurities in your personal life and the world agenda and et cetera. That’s a bit of a theme. There’s other songs in there that may reflect a general attitude throughout it. With the song “Self-Righteous Indignation,” I was thinking about that one recently where if you have an anger and you’re angry about your own anger and you’re questioning that.
There’s a lot of questioning and your quest for balance and your own perception of it and your own self versus the community of man, in a way. So, as far as like where I get the information from, I mean when I’m going into to making a record I make sure I put things into my brain and then it gets filtered out into lyrics which means keeping in touch with news, as a culture we’ve had no problem with that, it’s hitting us from all sides. The election, then there’s like a world consciousness that has to be looked out, a little bit of Eastern philosophy in there and Western self-help books, that’s also in there a bit. Some classic novels, just filling my brain with a whole bunch of stuff. Talking to people helps a lot, too. Having discussion and see where people are at and watching and looking.
The more I listen to this album, the more diversity I kind of find in the material. Initially, songs like “Forced into Tolerance,” “Operation of the Moral Law,” and “Off the Grid” kind of grabbed me and those were pretty heavy. Then you’ve got songs like “Divide and Conquer” which is really melodic and catchy. Is that is something you’re conscious as you’re writing an album in terms of maybe changing it up a little bit or exploring different territories?
Victor: Oh sure, that refers to what I said earlier. Sometimes you come across these blank parts of the material and you’re like “I need something else” looking at the whole album as a collection of songs and how they’re going to relate to one another. So, yeah I mean in all honestly we look for good songs. That’s what it all comes down to and trying to get those good songs. A lot of songs are written and they just fall off as we go along in the process of it where we don’t continue working on them because we just don’t instinctually feel like there going anywhere or they’re just not good enough.
Sometimes you gotta bring other things in. That’s the part where you’re taking chances to, like you mentioned earlier that’s experimental in itself. We’re going to take a little bit of a chance on this, it’s kind of melodic, but we think it works. We never know until the response comes in from others, but internally that’s the rolling of the dice with some of these songs and seeing how it’s going to go. Sometimes though it might fail and people are like “What the hell is that?” But, on this record I think we accomplished this where we’ve taking a couple of chances and from the responses I’ve gotten right off the bat, playing it for people, et cetera… people don’t think it’s too crazy or off the mark.
We want to have the pummeling songs, the bangers, the moshers, the heavy elements and some cool new riffs and great grooves. And we want people to have the anthems too, to sings along with. Some clear vocal parts that people can identify with and feel strongly about. It’s important for me to have that all in the record. Sometimes I go in and I have an attitude, a little cynical of an attitude, like “This whole record is just gonna be a like thrash record, it’s just going to be all just pummeling songs.” And then when it gets to that it’s like “I don’t know, man. I can’t make a record like this.” It’s gotta have some other elements to it. That’s just me. It’s based on what I liked as a kid and what I’m hardwired into. Which is a little more diverse. I have no problem with people just being Maiden and Priest fanatics when they were kids. But, I went into a lot of directions where I’ve been influenced by, so I only feel comfortable when there’s a little bit of diversity and variety in the record.
Check out a Metal or Not? video interview with Tommy Victor
Doing some research for this interview, I found another quote where you said you felt that some of the songs on this album where among the best Prong material you’ve ever done. I was curious if you have any songs you want to mention, any particular favorites, that stood out to you that you’re particularly satisfied with?
Victor: This always changes, like people like this one so I like that one (Laughs). I don’t know, a lot of times. There’s certain days where I’m like, “This is strong” and other days I’m like questioning things. What I’ve learned though, from making a lot of records is that I walk through those questioning fears, cause that just leads you down a really bad road. When you start questioning everything you never get it done, that’s when deadlines and working fast is almost a blessing. You can’t continually question a lot of things. A lot of the songs I tend to question end up being the favorites for a lot of people.
That includes Chris Collier (co-producer, engineer), too. Like, one of the songs that he questioned a lot was “Operation of the Moral Law” and I put my foot down about that… he was ready to throw that song in the garbage can. Then like “Divide and Conquer” I was questioning because I thought that… before the final lyric was written and changes were made to the chorus, I was a little insecure about it. But, we walk through the fears and made a couple of adjustments to our liking as we went along. Some other songs were slam dunks and they get ignored. But, you never know, you just never know. We’re just funneling this information from the universe and being a conduit for stuff that’s out there and come up with the best 13 or 14 songs for the record.
Well, that’s what being an artist is all about. You’ve got to take risks and throw stuff out there and see what kind of reaction you get.
Victor: Yeah, I mean based upon on what people that know, quote-unquote, you write for the garbage can. I mean, once you start stifling yourself… I’ve been there and I know what it’s like and that leads to complete shutdown which is like writers-block, which is a sad place to be.
You’ve been touring and recording with Danzig for a number of years now and I was kind of curious on how that affected your own writing for the Prong material. And I don’t mean like, “I’m going to write a Danzig-type song,” I kind of even see it as how playing with Danzig might even be like a palette-cleanser for you going into some Prong stuff.
Victor: Wow, I didn’t think of it that way, maybe it is, I don’t know. Maybe I need guys like you to come in and give me some therapy on these things, because I don’t know what really happens. In my perception, it’s a completely different job application. I see it completely differently, Glenn pays the bills there and it’s his baby and I just try to make him happy. I don’t have that much creative input into making the records other than playing guitar. Oddly enough, for all these years I’ve been doing this, based on the fact that I started playing guitar later, I was a bass player in bands as a kid, I’ve never really embraced the fact that I’m really a guitar player. But, Glenn seems to appreciate me and is very supportive of me, so I’m like “Yeah, let’s do it.” He gives me a phone call and I go in and work on his project. It’s almost as simple as that. So, if other things happen, like a palette-cleansing, it’s completely by accident. I don’t really know what goes on. I go in with a completely different agenda. The method of operation is completely different from how Glenn does things.
I know that Danzig is doing some select dates this year, mainly in celebration of the 25th anniversary of How the Gods Kill, but also the new album that you play on, Black Laden Crown, but what’s the future for Prong look like in terms of touring?
Victor: Well, I leave next week. We do a very lengthy European run with Prong, including a slew of festivals. All the dates are on Facebook or prongmusic.com. We’re hitting a lot in Europe and the United Kingdom a lot this time. As far as America goes, we’ve got the single for “Divide and Conquer” is going to come out with a video and then we’re going to make the touring plans for that. There’s a busy workload ahead for me, personally and the touring in America is definitely coming. We have the Metal Maya Festival, which is in a resort in Cancun around Halloween time. We’re thinking of doing a couple of dates around that, but nothing’s been secured yet. I would like to wait a little bit, let this record generate a little bit. Based on the fact that we just got finished with this Testament tour, which for a lot of people was a tour for No Abosultes, the last record and they just got that one. So, when things settle a little bit, hit America again.