From the Personal Archives of James Zahn: This interview was originally conducted for and posted on the late FANGORIA Musick section of horror magazine FANGORIA’s website on April 4, 2009
When people ask me to ramble off the names of my favorite bands, there’s a few that I always mention. Faith No More. Helmet. Clutch. And PRONG.
Prong first hit my radar in the early 1990’s. I was in high school, and MTV still played music. A weekend staple was always HEADBANGERS BALL, and it was through that show that Prong first hit my ears during the era of their 1991 Epic Records release PROVE YOU WRONG.
The music was powerful, heavy, yet uncluttered. The bass groove was infectious, the drums precise, and the guitar and vocals of front man Tommy Victor was the icing on the cake. Being a sophomore in High School at the time, I had my dad take me down to the local “CD Exchange” in search of the band’s earliest works.
After months of searching, I’d been able to go back to the beginning. Starting with 1987’s PRIMITIVE ORIGINS, I was able to catch up on all things Prong, filling in the missing gaps with music I’d missed, only because of my young age. The metal mags stocked at the Hy-Vee grocery store where I spent my after-school hours toiling as a bagger helped me learn more about the band, which had roots at New York’s legendary CBGB’s, where Victor worked as a soundman. While many first heard of the club via bands like The Ramones, I learned of it through Prong.
By hunting down the band’s back-catalog, I was able to experience the evolution of the Prong sound from it’s earliest NYC Hardcore roots, up until it’s own “Industrial Revolution”.
By the time 1994’s landmark album, CLEANSING was released, I was hands-down a die-hard Prong fan. The band had expanded itself to include bassist Paul Raven of Killing Joke and keyboardist John Bechdel of Murder, Inc. Prong had become a well-oiled machine of industrial metal power, managing to create a full album of near-perfect songs that were heavy, but still had space to breathe and a groove you could actually move to.
While working on a 30-minute TV special with White Zombie in 1994, I finally got the chance to see Prong live. Prior to the show I entered the Adler Theatre in Davenport, Iowa where Prong drummer Ted Parsons held the door for me as I lugged in some camera gear for my cable access show. Minutes later, my friends and I were witnessing Prong during sound check. Victor took the stage decked out in a ¾-length leather coat and began tearing into songs off of CLEANSING, the entire band working the stage with military-like precision, and making it look easy.
After sound check, the band walked by us in the lobby, and I have to admit that Victor and Co., were intimidating. Little did I know that 15 years later, I’d be writing for FANGORIA and catching up with Victor for this article.
The band continued to evolve, and I’d see them again in several incarnations over the years. A massive outdoor show with Ozzy Osbourne, and Filter while touring on 1996’s RUDE AWAKENING; I took the girl that became my wife to see Prong with Sister Machine Gun and Hanzel und Gretyl at Chicago’s Vic Theatre on Halloween, 1997; And after the band took a 7-year hiatus, I made it a point to catch them at a club show at a place called Oasis 160 on the SCORPIO RISING tour, while thinking it might be my last chance to see the band live.
After stepping back into the shadows for a few more years while Victor began performing with Danzig and Ministry, word came down that Prong had signed with Ministry mainman Al Jourgensen’s 13th Planet Records in 2007, where Prong would release POWER OF THE DAMAGER. Like any true Prong fanboy, I put in my pre-order for the album, which came with a t-shirt and a signed poster.
The album was a return to the early days of Prong style, as the band was a trio once more. All of the elements that initially hooked me were there, and I thought it was stellar. Sadly, only the diehard fans seemed to notice, and ‘DAMAGER was largely overlooked.
Over the past two years, Prong appeared on the soundtracks for both SAW V and WICKED LAKE, while Victor joined Ministry and Danzig again for another run of shows. 13th Planet then announced that a remix album was on the way, with Prong’s POWER OF THE DAMN MIXXXER due out on May 12th.
Yesterday morning, I caught up with Tommy Victor, the man who is Prong for a conversation about the band, movies, and some real-life horror.
JAMES ZAHN: The new release coming out next month isn’t Prong’s first foray into the remix realm, but it is the first full-length remix album. How did this come about?
TOMMY VICTOR: Well, 13th Planet wants to do a remix record for every album they put out. It’s actually one of the reasons we signed with them, because I think that’s pretty cool. However, I wasn’t really sure about this one ever coming out though, because the initial remixes I was getting about a year ago, I really didn’t like. Then I got a couple from the guy from Pitch Shifter, and went “this is pretty cool.” Then I got more people involved and started getting more and more that I liked. Eventually we just nailed it. I didn’t want to put out something that just ended up being a dance record. All the remixes had to be really cool, and it just took a little while to get it all shaped.
ZAHN: Going back awhile, Prong first dabbled with remixes on the WHOSE FIST IS THIS ANYWAY? EP (1992), and you had some off of CLEANSING. Did you do any with RUDE AWAKENING?
VICTOR: I think we did, but they were all really obscure. I honestly don’t remember which songs were even done. I think the title track was, but we didn’t put out a compilation like WHOSE FIST, or the one in Europe called SNAP YOUR FINGERS BREAK YOUR BACK. DAMAGER is the first one we’ve done since back then.
ZAHN: Lately a lot of the 13th Planet bands have been appearing on horror soundtracks, most recently WICKED LAKE and SAW V. Is that something else that the label is pushing, or did you actively want to get involved?
VICTOR: Shit, you always want to get into the movies, no matter who’s pushing for it. Al was directly involved with WICKED LAKE, so he asked us to be a part of it. It’s not the first time that Prong’s been in a movie, but for horror I think that was the first time. I was just looking at a review of a movie for this old school Alien thing that looks pretty cool.
ZAHN: ALIEN TRESSPASS?
VICTOR: Yeah, it’s a 50’s thing.
ZAHN: You’ve got a soft spot for the older stuff, right?
VICTOR: Absolutely. Anything with Bela Lugosi in particular. THE BLACK CAT is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I’m just really into the old stuff.
ZAHN: You’ve mentioned being a big fan of THE EXORCIST as well.
VICTOR: Oh yeah, I mean who isn’t really? I don’t know anyone that that film didn’t scare the shit out of when it came out. The scare-factor is really important, and I think that’s really lacking in today’s films. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but movies that really scare me haven’t been coming out. I thought that THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT really scared me.
ZAHN: I saw that one at a drive-in, and think that really enhanced the experience.
VICTOR: Exactly! And a lot of people didn’t think it was any good, but it definitely scared me.
ZAHN: Looking back 10 years, it’s been knocked-off many times by now.
VICTOR: It has been. Like that CLOVERFIELD movie that came out last year.
ZAHN: I thought that CLOVERFIELD did a great job of capturing fear on a bigger scale, but a lot of smaller movies have taken the found footage style as well.
VICTOR: Really? I’d be interested in checking out more of those.
ZAHN: Two that spring to mind immediately are both similar in nature, which would be George Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD, and a British film called ZOMBIE DIARIES.
VICTOR: Now I’m gonna have to check those out. The whole concept that you’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go is scary. It’s kinda like making records!
ZAHN: Back on the record note, I’ve been following you since I was a kid, and have seen the band in many incarnations going back to the early ‘90’s – and while each progressive Prong album was always “Prong”, there were always subtle differences. On ‘DAMAGER, it was stripped back and felt like a return to the roots. Was that a conscious decision?
VICTOR: A little bit, but partially it had to do with the fact that I thought the songs were strong and I didn’t want to go overboard with it. Looking back, I think that was a mistake. This happens on every album I do – I end up going back and thinking “why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I think of what you just told me?” I didn’t really think about it at all, and we just sort of did it. It could’ve probably been better if we’d noticed some of the things like you were talking about with the concept of going back to the beginning. Sometimes I don’t look at the big picture, and I just write songs and then in retrospect realize that we could’ve treated some of them differently.
As far as the material, some of it was definitely throwback. When we started touring again and playing the older stuff, I started realizing that I like playing the older stuff more than the recent stuff a lot of the time. Sometimes you have to reinvent yourself by going back and hearing what you’ve done in the past.
So in terms of an overall concept, there really wasn’t one.
ZAHN: You’re going to start recording the next Prong album this summer, right?
VICTOR: Yep. We’re working on material, which is probably why I’m a little self-critical. I’m going through that hell right now where you realize that you could have done things differently on the last album, and I’ve been working on songs for the new album for about a year and now, and where to go and what to use is a whole different story. With the other guys and what they like, too is another can of worms in itself.
ZAHN: What would you call the most horrific real-life experience you’ve had on the road?
VICTOR: (Laughing) Man, I’m gonna have to think about that because there’s been so many! I think the most horrific that turned out to be cool in the end was a van accident we had near Waco, TX. It was bad. We had this crazy road manager that was driving like 90 miles an hour in the van and we hydroplaned in the rain. I was the only guy awake, and the only guy that got injured, because I was holding on for dear life. I was holding onto my seat, and the whole experience felt like it was about an hour long even though the accident was over in a matter of seconds. The van just tumbled head over and it was like an amusement park ride as I held on. Everyone else was fine, but I cut one of my fingers rather severely. I didn’t think I was gonna die though.
Actually, I did think I was gonna die once on a flight to Mexico with Danzig. Lemmy (Motorhead) was on the flight too, and now every time I see him he says “We almost died together!” We hit some turbulence and the plane was out of control. Women were screaming and praying in Spanish. The thing was going down, and the wings looked like they were being torn right off of the plane. I’d never experienced turbulence like this before, and it was like the pilot had gotten drunk and fallen asleep. The plane was just nose-diving into mountains and I actually laughed and said “this is it.” The only thing I was afraid of was the actual pain that I would experience when the plane actually crashed. That was just like three years ago. I flew out of my chair and someone grabbed me. I was laughing.
Those are just two of the things, but dude I could write a book. There’s been so many experiences.
ZAHN: I was actually at a Prong show when I was 16 or 17 and you were playing with White Zombie in Iowa when the theatre got ripped to shreds.
VICTOR: I have a photographic memory of that show!
ZAHN: I was there doing a bit with White Zombie and I distinctly remember you saying “Come on up!” to the crowd as they rushed the stage.
ZAHN: The whole night got crazier from there and we were dodging pieces of seats flying from the balcony.
VICTOR: Yep. I remember that. I haven’t really gotten into the whole “crowd fear” thing, but we’ve had some scary shows. Early on, we played this place called Blondie’s in Detroit and this kid I knew booked us for like 7 shows, and we got there and there were only 50 people and they were all Nazi skinheads doing this White Power Ritual. It was horrible. They’d come on stage and do their whole thing, and I told my bass player Mike“You need to just calm down and don’t say anything.” It was bizarre.
But we’ve had the run of it, people rushing the stage, destruction, mass problems – but now it’s not like it was back then. The scene is not as violent as it used to be.
ZAHN: Sometimes I still long for those days for some reason.
VICTOR: Oh yeah, we used to like it. It was exciting. You’d play a show and say “Everyone was crazy, they wrecked the stage!” Now the whole Dimebag incident really tainted things as well. It really tamed what goes on at a lot of shows. The crazier crowds now aren’t in America, but usually in other places like Eastern Europe.
Some of the recent Danzig shows since I’ve been back playing with him have been pretty crazy though. There was awhile there were everyone at the Danzig shows seemed to be over-40, but now there’s a whole new generation of kids coming out again.
ZAHN: Are you on the road right now?
VICTOR: Prong is going back out toward the end of May. Danzig just did a run of three shows.
ZAHN: Didn’t you play a Tattoo convention?
VICTOR: Yeah! That was one of the crazy shows. It was in Cosa Mesa, and went great.
ZAHN: While we’re here, anything you’d like to say to the FANGORIA readers?
VICTOR: You’re all out of your minds! Seriously, there’s definitely a correlation between horror and music, and we’re glad to be a part of it.
Prong’s POWER OF THE DAMN MIXXXER will be released on May 12th. You can also hear Tommy on the new Ministry live album, and see him when the live double DVD is released on May 26th, 2009.