Interview with vocalist/guitarist Tommy Victor | By Nicholas Senior
When a band have inspired Nine Inch Nails, Demon Hunter, and Korn over their inventive career, it’s clear they’ve been doing something right. Unfortunately for New York City’s Prong, their influence on other musicians is often seen as more notable than their personal success. Sometimes being way ahead of your time can be a blessing and a curse. If anything, that frustration has kept vocalist and guitarist—and sole original member—Tommy Victor creatively hungry.
Their latest release, Zero Days—out July 28 via Steamhammer/SPV—is Prong’s fifth record is six years, and each album has seen Victor and company strengthening what makes Prong so innovative and entertaining. Their brand of crossover-groove metal is as sharp as ever, and Victor’s vocals are fantastic. These songs are anthemic and neck-snapping in equal measure. It’s as if Prong have grown more confident and aggressive with age.
How has Victor remained so prolific? “I just felt that we could do it,” he says. “Right now, I may be a little exhausted after this batch records, but that’s how I felt after [2016’s] X – No Absolutes. We were talking about it [after that last record], if we’d have another record in 15 months, and I was like, ‘No fucking way,’” he laughs, “but I wound up doing it.”
I don’t know how much control I have over [my creative output],” he continues. “[Collaborator and co-writer] Chris Collier helps a lot; he’s a big asset. I have a couple friends and guest artists that help contribute. All of that helps me concentrate more on the lyrics and vocals. I mean, I write most of the riffs, but the help is great.”
Victor never sounds bitter about Prong’s lack of mainstream success, though it’s clear he hasn’t lost the desire to pump out the best music he can for his fans. “I think the band gets ignored a lot, so we’re trying anything to get some attention,” he chuckles. “We went away for a while, so there were some amends to be made, and there have been some periods where there weren’t a lot of records. Now, we have a label that allows us to do pretty much anything we want. It’s a better relationship.”
“We have to [be ambiguous] with Prong,” he explains. “Unfortunately—really, fully unfortunately—we’re not Slayer, so to make it Prong, it has to be something that is annoying in a weird way. Hopefully, the Prong fans like it, though.”
Zero Days definitely feels like a record of the moment: a lot of discussion of narratives, anger, and the impulse to divide and conquer. Victor agrees, “It’s all about this moment in time. It’s kind of cliché these days—like Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ and Oprah’s stuff,” he jokes. “That’s the bane of writing music these days. There’s so much insecurity making a record. You don’t know how it’s going to come out; you don’t know what people are going to say. It is a Prong record, so most people are going to possibly ignore it or just automatically dislike it, in my opinion. You have to battle through these things. While battling through these fears, the lyrics come out as well.”
Regarding themes, Victor relays that he’s become a bit more irritated with the world around him—haven’t we all? “I don’t know, I’m kind of cranky these days,” he states. “On No Absolutes, I may not have been as cranky, but now, I don’t have as much control over my moods. I just could not stop writing lyrics. It started on the road, and it just came out of me. After reading the news—from Fox News and CNN, then Breitbart and Huffington Post—looking at them all, and I try to read spiritual books and self-help books and stuff like that. It all went into this one big pile.”
“You have to develop your own opinions,” he continues. “You can’t automatically align yourself with anyone or anything. Blind faith or allegiance is something that scares me, on either side. I’m trying to be moderate; that’s what comes out of the whole thing. The song ‘Forced into Tolerance’ is really angry and touches on how people are constantly being hit with opinions on both sides—it’s getting violent. It’s wearing everybody down. Hopefully, a record like this helps people out, that it’s a vehicle for release or relief.”
Creating moderate metal seems a difficult task. It’s hard to fight a war on two fronts, and telling everyone to come together because they’re both probably wrong is tough. How does “Kumbaya My Lord” translate to a hardcore song? Victor counters, “Music is a good vehicle for this stuff, because you can’t do anything otherwise. You got to watch out with your social relationships and social media. You have to do it in music. I think there’s a certain responsibility you have to the general audience. A guy like Elvis Costello was good. He was able to throw this stuff into his songs, and people didn’t get too alarmed by it. A good artist can try to manipulate what he’s doing, and people can think a little about it. That’s the challenge that remains: you don’t want to be too obvious about it.”
Emblematic of Prong’s career, Victor shares this story: “It’s funny, I have a German manager, and the translation between German and English is very weird. There are things that are funny to him that weren’t meant to be, but that’s just how he perceived the translation. A lot of our audience is non-English speaking, and I was trying to tone it down, and it just didn’t happen. I was listening to a couple of KISS records and—you talk about dumbing things down; it’s unbelievable, they were so brilliant about that. That’s an art form in itself. Here, in this attempt to make [the lyrics] more obvious to the general audience, it wound up just being the opposite. That’s, like, typical of my career and the way things work out,” he laughs.