By Andrew Bansal
Influential New York heavy metal veterans Prong are ready with their ninth studio album ‘Ruining Lives’, already released in Europe on April 28 via SPV Steamhammer and awaiting its May 13 release in North America. A diverse slab of hardcore and groove metal intertwined with modern elements, this Prong record promises to please fans old and new. Yesterday on April 28, I spoke to vocalist/guitarist Tommy Victor to discuss the concept and working process behind the album in detail, and delved into his thoughts on the band’s history, the New York hardcore scene, performing live, touring with Danzig, and a few other topics. Enjoy the insightful conversation below.
Tommy, it’s good to have you on Metal Assault. First of all, you just got off a European run with Prong. How were things there for you guys?
It was absolutely amazing! It was beyond my expectations. I just can’t believe the response. We really didn’t do that much touring over there until ‘Carved Into Stone’ (2012), so people were going crazy, specially when we played songs like ‘Revenge … Best Served Cold’. So it was really good, man. The response to the new songs off of ‘Ruining Lives’ was great as well, and we played a long set to make everyone who came to the venues happy.
Awesome, man. Talking of this new album ‘Ruining Lives’, you’ve said that it’s probably the fastest written and recorded Prong album till date. Tell me about that. Why and how did that happen?
Well, there was a deadline put on me, the window being from about the beginning of February to February 20th, and I wanted to meet that deadline. I committed to myself and to others that I had to finish the record by then. I got called up to do another Danzig run in October, so that cut a month out of the process, and from touring with two bands and just wasting time here and there, sitting around doing nothing (laughs) and procrastinating, I didn’t have that much time left, and really not too many song ideas. So I had to work on a lot of it while I was on tour with Glenn, and when I came back we had to complete the album and put it together. I’ve been sort of used to having long periods between records and I had decided that it just can’t keep going on that way. I had to discipline myself to meet these deadlines and to make Prong consistent, to be able to put out records in a decent amount of time continually. So in order to do that and to meet the deadline, I condensed the process. It was only a three-month period that allowed the completion of the songs, the tracking of them and ultimately vocal production, mixing and mastering, and it was done. So I had to get that done by February 20th. The time frame was an intense period, that’s for sure.
In terms of the title itself, could you briefly tell me about what the meaning is behind it and whose lives are you exactly ruining?
I’m not ruining any lives (laughs). It’s the families that control all of the Western society are the ones that are ruining everyone’s lives. The general concept of the record is a positive one, but within the context of a society that’s putting heavy odds against us as spiritual beings or what have you. The title reflects the oppressors and it doesn’t mean that we’re ruining any lives. I think we’re enslaved to our phones, enslaved to paying optimum prices for gasoline. There’s less time and focus on where we are and how we can grow personally. We’re too corrupted by answering emails and in constant barrage of commercialism and advertising all the time.
I agree. But in terms of the music itself, would you say there’s a kind of throwback element to this album, in terms of revisiting some of the old Prong characteristics?
Yeah, I think that came naturally because two years ago we did the entire ‘Beg To Differ’ record from start to finish and actually as far as my guitar playing goes, I had moved away from the early New York hardcore and industrial thrash elements, but when I revisited that I was like, I’d played this back then and it sort of got back into my musical vocabulary a little bit. I was listening to some of ‘Force Fed’, and it just got into me. You sort of lift the filter for all these things. When it came to writing riffs, I just popped up the BPM on my computer and just started channeling some of the old vibes of those songs, along with some new fresh ideas. Prong came out before Meshuggah. That’s a band I really like a lot, and some of these math metal bands. So I wanted to try to tap into something on that end and that’s where the song ‘Come To Realize’ came about, not your traditional Prong stock beat and it’s got this crazy time signature but it adds an alternative metal thing into it. So I thought that was an interesting combination of thought patterns or something, you know.
So the album is very diverse in that sense.
Yeah, but some stuff is very basic. Chris Collier who wrote the songs with me, he had a good amount of really quality riffs too. So it was a combination of me and him on some of the other songs like ‘The Barriers’ and ‘Self Will Run Riot’. The collaboration helped me out a lot and I was able to focus more on the vocal range of songs, being able to put those lyrics together and formulate the whole record. And it was done really fast, so there weren’t a lot of conscious decisions, looking back upon it and trying to see the elements that created this record. When we were doing it, we were just doing it, having a good time and that was it, you know.
In terms of the production itself, you’ve been involved in it yourself to a large extent. Do you try to capture the band’s on-stage energy?
Not really. Going into the studio is a different experience. We put out this thing called ‘Unleashed In The West’, a compilation of all the old Prong songs performed live recently and it’s available on BandCamp. But that’s a whole different entity. These songs can be performed as a trio, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve done it. I think even though when you go into the studio you don’t think about the whole live trio thing that much, it can be accomplished regardless of how many overdubs are done on it. There isn’t that many guitar treatments on this record. They were kept to a minimum, and I like to do things that way these days. I don’t spend that much time on my solos or tracking. It’s done really fast and maintains its live energy. I’m not trying to meticulously perform every part in a consistent fashion. It takes so much time and it’s not necessary. So as a producer that’s the kind of decision I make, like how much time is going to spent on things and what really needs to be done. My belief is to do the bare minimum. There’s certain parts you have to reinforce with additional guitars, but it’s subtle and not anything extreme. The vocals get the same treatment. You just do the performance to the best of your ability, make it sound good and watch the words. Steve Evetts produced the vocals and I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of how to approach it. So it’s just about doing it concisely and not worrying about playing it live that much because the songs speak for themselves, really. When you do them live, sometimes it’s going to sound a little different but the songs are potentially strong enough on their own to play live.
Interesting, man. With the band’s long history, when you start writing a new album do you take it positively or negatively in the sense that people are going to compare it to the older stuff?
That’s a very, very good question. I’m a human being and I’m not going to say that I’m immune to what other people think. Those are the things that I have to battle, and it’s almost a blessing that I have to battle those types of thoughts and these weird ego-oriented dilemmas. That fuels a lot of the lyrics. Those types of problems that you incur, regardless of music or whatever, feeling disrespected, worried about the future or about what people are going to think, that’s just a human thing. So I have to try methods in order to get out of that way of thinking, just through action and getting off your ass and doing it, and not letting the thoughts interfere with your progress. I let it happen to me many, many times. I let myself get in the way of doing good work. I still have to battle that all the time. It’s something that never goes away.
Your music still has an element of New York hardcore, but in your opinion how has that genre developed and how do you see it now?
I think it’s a legacy scene. Not that Bad Brains are a New York band but I think a lot of it comes from them in a lot of ways and I still personally really enjoy listening to the old Bad Brains records. I think there’s an energy to it, something you can’t really put your finger on, and how brilliant ‘Eye Against Eye’ is. It’s just a classic record. I can say the same thing about the Cro-Mags. ‘The Age Of Quarrel’ was a definitive hardcore record. Those records were really important to me in my development. I think what they call hardcore today is something that is devoid of any of that street-level mentality that was going on on that side of Manhattan back then. It’s completely technical and it’s derived from those bands. It’s not the real deal. Even Prong, I have to say is a second-generation hardcore band but we weren’t strictly hardcore. The reason Prong stood out and made a difference was adding other elements into it. We didn’t just go out and emulate bands like Minor Threat. We added a lot of the Euro metal bands like Destruction, Celtic Frost and Kreator into our sound as well as having an alliance with noise bands like Swans and Live Skull. So we had to do something different, you know. But I don’t think we ever recreated or captured the spirit of those great New York hardcore bands like Agnostic Frost, Cro-Mags and Bad Brains, really.
You talked earlier about being on tour with Glenn Danzig. One thing I’ve wondered whenever I’ve seen you playing with him is, why doesn’t Prong open for Danzig? I think it would be a great fit and easier for you to schedule shows for Prong. Why doesn’t that happen more?
(Laughs) Well, when we were doing the Danzig legacy shows, we had an opportunity to do that, but the Danzig show alone would be three sets by me. I do the first Danzig set, then Samhain and Misfits and back to the Danzig stuff. Glen thought it was too much work for me. He was worried about my health and my ability to perform properly during the Danzig show. So that’s been his concern, really, me at my tender age to possibly do that amount of work (laughs). That’s understandable and I certainly don’t want to jeopardize the Danzig show in any way at all. But it may be more feasible when it’s strictly a Danzig show without the Misfits set or the legacy set. I would fucking love to do it, and we’ll see what happens.
And finally, what can we expect in terms of live Prong dates, specially here on the West Coast?
Well, they’re booked but we’re not making an official announcement until the record release date of May 13th. So that’s when people will know where we’re playing, and yes there are West Coast dates and we cover the whole country. So expect the announcement in two weeks when ‘Ruining Lives’ comes out here in America. We are playing festivals in Europe over the summer which I can announce. We’re doing Wacken and there are some big festivals coming up for Prong over there, and then we go back to Europe again at the end of the year.