It is 1991 and Prong’s singer-guitarist Tommy Victor, drummer Ted Parsons, and bassist Troy Gregory are glaring at me. We are inside the band’s dingy SoHo rehearsal space talking about their Prove You Wrong album for a long-defunct alternative rock magazine and Victor looks fierce. He resembles a viper who is sizing up his prey before making his strike. His razor-sharp focus is intimidating. The trio are determined to succeed and will not let anything, or anyone, stand in their way.
Nearly 30 years later, Victor still has that chip on his shoulder. Now residing in Los Angeles, the Prong founder, leader, and only mainstay continues to endure a ferocious rollercoaster ride of creative and personal twist and turns. He has, however, become a realist. Despite pioneering industrial metal and adding his unique take to grindcore and other extreme genres, he knows he will never be recognized for his creative genius. He will never be welcomed into any Hall of Fame. If he does achieve the respect and recognition he deserves, it will happen long after he has departed this mortal coil.
Victor may suffer for his art, but he is a survivor. And now with his personal demons in check, he continues to create peerless music. Prong’s latest EP, Age of Defiance (SPV/Steamhammer), features two powerful new tracks, “Age of Defiance” and “End of Sanity” and live versions of “Rude Awakening” and “Another Worldly Device.”
Who is Prong in 2019?
Essentially, it is me.
Musically, the band have been referred to as industrial metal, techno metal, punk, and thrash, to name but a few genres.
I don’t know what it is.
Prong, however, have influenced a number of bands. It’s a major part of the band’s legacy.
Some people do say that, but others have no idea who we are. Spotify is a great indicator of this. There are tons of playlists that we should be a part of, but I’m amazed just how unrecognized we are to this day. A lot of bands we influenced get more [attention] than we do.
What are the reasons why Prong don’t get recognized for their contributions to extreme music?
It might be our image or our name. Maybe it’s the changes we’ve gone through [musically]. Some of our records have been more industrial metal; others have been thrash; some have been grindcore. People are unable to put us in one category or recognize us for being this or that. The media has always ignored us. To name all of the contributing factors [to why we are continually ignored], I’d have to be a scholar.
Are you just unlucky?
I think, in many ways, I’ve been lucky. Sometimes, however, my luck runs out. In the beginning, I was at the right place at the right time. This band was sort of a mistake to begin with. We weren’t begrudging this road to success. We worked our butts off and we [achieved a level of success] at a good pace. It was not overnight, but we didn’t have to endure touring 10 years in a van.
You recently toured with Agnostic Front. Did that tour inspire the Age of Defiance EP?
It’s nothing different from what we have been doing on our last few records.
Going back to the birth of Prong during the late eighties: the band may have differed creatively and musically from Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, and White Zombie, but the bands that emerged from the same Lower East Side music scene shared a sense of punk aggression.
We fit into a whole scene on the Lower East Side, which also included Swans, Blind Idiot Gods, and Live Skull. Unsane is one of the few bands from that scene that still exists. It was kind of a New York noise scene. I was in a band called Radiant Boys and we were angry as all hell, but we didn’t play metal or hardcore, it was just pissed off [music]. It was definitely an aggressive scene. It was hardcore, but it was also the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Once you were outside of New York City, it was [referred to as] something else. People identified the scene and the music differently. It lost its genuine character.
There was also the initial exodus of bands to Los Angeles: White Zombie, Circus of Power, and Ragging Slab, just up and left New York behind. When Prong split and then reunited in Los Angeles, it was a bit of a shock for some long-time fans.
That also might have been a problem for the identity of the band. We did all of these weird things including [splitting] and then coming back. It created a problem with marketing and promotion. We have always had to patch things together. I think I am good at surviving. I have never had a complete outline or formula about this thing. There may have been a formula with the original [lineup]. When we left New York and headed out into normal America, however, that formula was trashed.
You’ve been on the West Coast for over 20 years. How did you end up there?
[The late Paul] Raven and I got stuck out here. We just couldn’t get out. At the time, there was no other place for us to go. We had brought all of our gear out here. There was no reason to go back to New York City and I didn’t know anyone in the Mid-West [at the time].
Didn’t you feel like a fish out of water?
Oh, yeah. It took a while, but Los Angeles is completely different than it was 20 years ago. In many ways, it is still a frontier town, but it’s always changing. It has taken on a lot of the characteristics of a major East Coast city. There is no Broadway, but there is musical theater. In addition to all of the amazing museums, there is a great art scene. It is very car oriented and I don’t think that will ever change. The city has tried to become more urban; add more public transportation and make it more bicycle-friendly, but it will always be a strip mall/car-oriented city.
During the last decade Prong has been prolific, releasing a number of records.
I think sobriety has something to do with that. I also think not being a side man also helped. Playing with Al [Jourgensen] in Ministry really affected me. I feel like I got a raw deal [while working] with him.
You speak of sobriety and then you mention a legendary drinker and drug taker.
These days, Al has his shit together—I’m still friendly with him. I worked like a dog while I was in that band. I worked my ass off and stayed in Texas. I devoted a lot of my time to that band. I toured while getting paid shit money and didn’t really get anything out of it. I was pissed off. I knew that I had to do a consistent run of Prong records. It was important to me to bring the legacy together. It made me feel better about myself. The fans were rejuvenated as well. We had a couple of records here and there—like Scorpio Rising (Locomotive Records, 2003)—and then we went away for a little bit. While I was with Ministry, we released Power of the Damager (13th Planet, 2007). Then we went away a little bit because I was busy with Ministry and later Glenn [Danzig], who I still work with, though Glenn doesn’t take up a lot of my time. Then I was able to do this run [of Prong records]. I found this really good producer and engineer who I could work with. These things come out of nowhere. You take it back to Carved Into Stone (Long Branch Records, 2012). That record took a year to write and the recording sessions were just brutal. I was working with producer Steve Evetts, who is a slave driver. I felt that I was spending a lot of time on things that didn’t require a lot of time; especially with modern technology. We didn’t need to spend half a day on one guitar part. I thought that was stupid. Evetts is a fantastic producer, but I wanted a guy who I could work with and churn out records without [making the sessions] so painful. So I found this guy Chris Collier. He has a good rig, a good studio, and he has a lot of input on the music, which enables me to put out consistent records. We have a system down where I demo the material and then we get the band together, or I get together with him, and we hash out the ideas and then make a record.
Before achieving sobriety, you were in the depths of addiction and I was worried for you. I had heard through the grapevine that you were suffering from paranoia as a result of your substance abuse.
It was a brief period, but I had gotten disgusted with everything. I don’t know about paranoia. I’m still paranoid [laughs]. I was isolating myself. I spent a couple of years in a room and not being productive. I was still working, but I created a bunch of stuff that just never came out. I was also doing coke and drinking a lot. I was still trying to make records, but nothing came to fruition. You always think that if you are drinking or doing any type of drug it’s helping [the creation process], but it is not; the opposite happened. It made me less productive.
Sobriety helped create this creative outburst.
I was not sober when I did Carved Into Stone. I was still drinking a little bit [at the time], but eventually, I even quit alcohol. [Being sober gives you the ability to] be more spiritual; to hit some curveballs. When you are drinking, or on drugs, problems become magnified and you are often unable to come up with solutions. These days, I am used to things being shitty [laughs]. And I roll through it. Alcohol kills pain. But pain is good. You need to have issues, doubts, and struggles [to achieve] personal growth. That is what life is. It is all about getting through things and having faith.
Ironically, this is the perfect segue to talk about the new Prong song, “Edge of Sanity.”
It is an old school negative Prong song. It’s about how everyone has lost their minds. There is so much stupidity out there. It is not a new theme for my lyrics, but things have gotten completely ridiculous in the world. Maybe it’s because of the [biased] editorializing in journalism.
You’re either a conservative Republican or a Liberal Democrat. You either subscribe to one list of beliefs or the other. You can no longer be bi-partisan and choose from multiple lists of beliefs.
Outside of Los Angeles, the perception is that all we eat is granola and sprouts. In truth, L.A. is the obesity, junk food capital of the nation [laughs]. There are ultra-healthy people, but there are certainly more fat people walking around. There are people sitting outside taco stands and In-And-Out Burger all day. It is hard to live that lifestyle and get to the beach.
Are you going to follow up the EP with a new full-length album?
There are a few upcoming tours Prong might be a part of. As for new material, I don’t know. As Eddie Van Halen once said, ‘Why would I be part of a new record if no one will care [about it]?’
You must have mix feelings about that. You must be upset that no one will buy new Prong music, but you must be ecstatic that fans want to hear the band perform “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”? They want to hear the classic Prong material.
I look at Spotify, ‘cause I don’t know any other way to decipher what is going on. There are no [mom and pop] record stores. Years ago, I’d walk into Bleeker Bob’s [in Greenwich Village] and I’d ask [the counter person], “What’s hot? What are people into? What’s selling?” They’d respond, “This new King Diamond record” or “This new Leeway record.” These days, I have no idea who the hot artists are [that people are into.] Records are just not cool anymore. Singles were cool when I was a kid. I would buy them and play them a million times. My family didn’t have many albums [while I was growing up]. We had Meet the Beatles and a Jackson Five record. Then it became all about albums. Discovering an album and following a band used to be exciting. I don’t know the reference points kids use today to get into certain bands. Everything is either in cyberspace or on your cell phone.
The hunt was part of my music appreciation. It’s lost in the digital age. Sounds on 8th Street in NYC, just shut down. It was there that I would hear artists like Kraftwerk, Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, and eve, Ratt for the first time, and I’d immediately buy it. It’s a lost art.
It is a shame. Digital technology, smart phones, and the Internet do not mix with rock music. It is fine with EDM. My daughter will tell me, ‘No one cares anymore. It’s just producers and deejays.’ It’s an industry of guys who take from the artists and create their own records; auto-tuned vocals and drum machines. And some of these people are receiving a billion plays. It’s pathetic.
You can find Prong’s Age of Defiance wherever music is streamed or sold. For more information, please visit www.prongmusic.com