Prong – Carving Their Legacy

Sunday, 31st March 2013

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During my college years, I remember hearing a lot of this New York metal act on specialty metal radio shows. Their video work would also make an indelible mark on hundreds of thousands who tuned into their weekly fix of MTV’s Headbangers Ball in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Growing up in NYC, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Victor made music with Prong that directly came from his environment, channeling the aggression and rage into a crossover platform that appealed to a wide cross-section of the world’s youth.

Returning to form with the latest studio offering Carved Into Stone, those who miss Prong’s tenacious riffing and jackhammer drumming propensity need to hear this record. You’ll feel the layers of guitars, pounding bass and rhythmic propulsion. The dirt, the grime, the grit – it’s all there to treasure. So I got on the horn with the powers that be to set up an interview with Victor, straight from the West Coast where he now calls home… The new album Carved Into Stone brings Prong back to your early major label days in terms of songwriting and style. Tell us more about the development of the album, the songwriting, and what were some of the favorite moments in terms of recording or playing?

Tommy Victor: Ha-ha, that’s good. I’ll start with the first one. I’ll go back into time – we started writing the songs about two and a half years ago, making a lot of demos, re-doing them, making more demos, more songs. We had up to 25 songs, some of them in different demo stages, playing them for managers, because we didn’t have a record deal, so we did a six song demo as a proper demo. We dumped 14 songs, so at that point we were down to around 14 songs, dumped three more when the producer Steve Evetts (Dillinger Escape Plan, Symphony X) cut those out. Then we re-arranged some stuff in pre-production, it was a really long process to get these songs together because we wanted the best songs possible. We can’t really break any new ground anymore, everything is already out there and has already been done, so let’s get some good songs for the album.

As far as recording it, we started in the beginning of November 2011 and it went into January 2012. A lot with me and Steve, after the drums were cut, [drummer] Alexei Rodriguez went home – Tony [Campos] came in and did bass for a couple of days while I was there with Steve. It was grueling, he was busting my balls all the time. He wanted the best performance, we recorded the record old-school style, and we didn’t put that much on Pro-Tools. The best moment for me – I actually did a solo at my apartment at home. We just flew it in, it was the only thing we did like that. We were running out of time, and in “List of Grievances” he asked me to do a solo. Songs like “Keep on Living in Pain” and “Revenge… Best Served Cold” remind me very much of the best material on Beg To Differ or Prove You Wrong. Do you find your lyrical inspiration changes as you grow older and more mature at the art of songwriting?

Victor: Sometimes, I am just as bitter and angry and crazy and nihilistic as I ever was. I’ve learned from a lot of my mistakes and the challenges I’ve been through, the only vehicle I have to express this to anybody is through songwriting. People that know me know that I don’t really get into any political discussions or deep conversations – I don’t believe in arguments. I’ve always been anti-social. “Keep on Living in Pain” is about putting yourself in a position for growth, like a Tony Robbins thing where he talks about being disappointed, that’s a good place. That makes sense, if you are satiated, you aren’t going to do anything. “Revenge… Best Served Cold” is a different kind of song for me. It is almost in a country and western format song, where it takes you on a little journey. What can you tell us about the video shoot for “Revenge…Best Served Cold?” How do you feel about the video process through the years? You’ve had some killer exposure in the primetime Headbangers Ball years with many Prong videos.

Victor: Yeah, it’s the only way Prong has been able to do anything through the years, whether it’s radio play, videos, or Beavis and Butthead. We could tour our asses off forever and still not get mainstream notice. If you are in the right place, people take notice. I don’t know where videos get the most exposure these days. We made a really good, cheap, professional looking video at a small price. I wish I had all the money we did on videos back then, we spent close to $200,000 on a video in the past, I could have bought a house for that. It reminds me of a 90’s video, it’s almost throwback- you have to do that with a legacy band like Prong. We did the video in Los Angeles. It has an industrial, cold feel to it. You spent your early years being a soundman at the infamous CBGB’s club in New York. What takeaways from that era do you think you applied to your own musical development and live music philosophy with Prong?

Victor: Huge influence. I got to meet so many bands and choose what I wanted to keep. I saw bands making terrible mistakes, whether it was with their live show, song selection, style of music. When you are right there and you see every band going on stage, trying to make it, it gives you a great education on what you have to do. My skills as a sound engineer are a little limited these days, it was great back then – I would record records on these 2-inch tape machines, I did a couple of Sheer Terror albums, Agnostic Front. Most musicians back then probably thought I was difficult to deal with, I started getting bitter about a lot of things. In one of your more recent interviews you mention your “keep it simple” philosophy when it comes to music in the sense of the riffing basics and arrangements for Prong. It’s not as easy as it sounds though, is it? Especially with how many recordings you’ve done through the years, how do you not repeat yourselves?

Victor: You have to write for the wastepaper basket. You can’t just stop midway. You finish a song, even if during the process it isn’t working out, you have to complete songs to work them out. Down the line, something you don’t like at first you may play for somebody else and the producer likes the idea. You mix and match from there – there’s no formula to it. As far not repeating myself – that may be to my detriment because the bands that have their own formula and seem comfortable repeating themselves tend to be the most successful ones. I am always changing, and from a marketing standpoint that’s not good. If you stay the same and have a good formula then that’s money in the bank, really. Do you find multiple generations of fans following the band these days – fathers or mothers with their offspring? Does it frustrate you when certain people believe that heavy music in general is only a youth-driven movement and that you should grow out of those tastes as you become a mature adult?

Victor: Yeah, I mean it doesn’t bother me because I know this is not true. Heavy metal as an audience goes up to people in their 60’s. Any genre comes up with things that say the music won’t last. Hardcore punk is an old man’s thing already. I am getting up there in age, but it doesn’t really mean that much to me. I have an older brother who turned me onto older stuff like Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Cream, The Who – all that stuff. Kids at my school didn’t listen to any of that material.

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