PRONG “Waiting for the Reset” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

Contrary to general public perception of heavy metal performers as crude subhuman cavemen, there is actually no shortage of thoughtful artists working within the metal genre. You’d be hard pressed to find a more thoughtful…and brutally honest…metal musician than Tommy Victor of Prong. With 30 years plus in the heavy music game, he has no shortage of observation and opinion on music and society at large.

Talking to Tommy was a rare and enjoyable experience for me, as talking to such a mentally agile fellow seemed to bring out the best in me as well. The half hour I spent talking to him resulted in one of the most stimulating interviews I’ve ever conducted for Wormwood. I had the impression we could have easily continued for hours.

The new Prong album “Zero Days” is an absolute expression of everything this band is capable of. It’s full of killer grooves, heavy riffs and interesting ideas. I was glad I had the opportunity to delve into the secrets of its creation and hope you enjoy reading the conversation as much as I did conducting it…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Would you say we’re living in the “Zero Days” right now or is that something yet to come?

TOMMY VICTOR: Every day is always a “Zero Day”, you never know what the future is going to bring. It’s always uncertain. The future is uncertain and the end is always near in your daily life. Every day is a Zero Day. Right now is a Zero Day. You never know when your time is running out or when the world’s time is running out.

WC: So the song is really aimed at something more personal than towards society at large?

TV: That’s an interesting question! That song is almost conspiracy theory related. In a fantastic way, it’s an extreme version where you feel it’s a global plot to eliminate everything and start over again. And maybe that’s not such a bad idea. I think that’s inevitable where everything will be cleared away. We’ve had past civilizations that are gone. We keep regenerating ourselves, that’s just the way nature works. With knowledge of that, there’s a certain approach you can take to your personal lives. It’s a combination of both personal and social.

WC: With the stupidity that I see on a daily basis when turning on the news, hitting the reset button is maybe not a bad idea at all.

TV:  That’s what the lyric is definitely about. There is a reset button. I like that.

WC: Prong has been successful for quite a long time now. Are you motivated by the same things now as when you started the band or has it kind of evolved over time?

TV: That’s a fantastic question. I don’t know! Other people have to tell me what I’m doing. As time goes on and I get older, I’m less aware  of what I’m doing and how I am than ever before. It’s bizarre. When you’re younger,  you think by the time you hit 40 you’ll have it all together and you’ll know the answers to everything. I think I was more secure in my mentality when I was 20 than I am now. I’m almost completely clueless about what I’m doing half the time. I just sort of do what’s in front of me and what I feel has to be done in order to survive. I’m not committed to anything in my own brain in order to figure out what I’m doing. It is bizarre. It’s almost like I’m living in a dream.

WC: In all of the years I’ve been doing this, that is one of the most interesting answers I’ve had to any question. (laughter)

TV: It’s totally honest, though! It’s brutally honest.

WC: I can relate. I think more and more people of a certain generation can relate. If you were born in the 90’s, a lot of this nonsense really seems natural and normal. But to guys like you and me, you can really see the difference between when we were younger and now.

TV: Right.  It’s true. I think that as you get pushed around and curve balls are thrown at you, you start to realize later that you have to adapt more. I had more resistance back then. Now I tend to pause a little bit and try to be more maneuverable.

WC: I know you take a lot of time working on the sound of the words in the lyrics. Is the actual sound of your words, the cadence of them, is it more important than the meaning or the other way around or about equal?

TV:  They have to both be efficient enough for my own liking. If it doesn’t sound right, it can’t be used. If it doesn’t say anything, it can’t be used. Both of those elements have to be dialed in. Along with the melody and something that makes sense musically as well. It’s almost like a three pronged view of how to put this whole thing together. That’s what takes up a lot of the time. It’s fitting these words into certain cadences and phrasing and making some sense out of it based on the initial idea you were trying to present. So that’s where the time comes into it.

WC:  I know the one word that you used earlier that I always associate with Prong is “efficiency”. Everything is really efficient. It’s stripped down to the most essential it can be. Would you say that’s the essence of what you’ve been doing all these years?

TV: Initially on the “Cleansing” record, that was definitely the protocol. In recent years, that’s sort of changed a little bit. We try to develop on that a little bit more.That’s a good starting point but we’ve added elements to it to make it a little more interesting. There are certain limitations to a Prong record. We have to work in that foundation we’ve established so that may give the impression that it’s more efficient than it probably is. We work within the framework of what it is. There are boundaries to the whole thing..

WC: It sounds to me like the “Zero Days” album has almost got a little bit of everything, a mixture of everything you’ve ever done. Was it constructed as a “tour” of  Prong’s history?

TV: That’s another great question! Inevitably it turned out that way. Initially, I wasn’t sure it was going to go that route. As songs were developed and the framework of some of them were completed…not the ultimate completion, but we saw where it was going…I pulled more resources in to make it more interesting as a “whole” record.  It sort of turned out that way. It wound up being a medley of all the styles. Initially I wasn’t thinking in those terms but as we went along, it came to be that. I can definitely see that now. That was a decision that came within the process, really.

WC: This album has what might be the catchiest song you’ve ever done, “The Whispers”… 

TV: Oh nice! I’m surprised you said that because I would have thought people would say “Divide and Conquer”. That’s like one of my babies. I pushed for that one more than anything. I appreciate that.

WC: It seems to be the most accessible song, the one that had “possible single” written on it. Is the song about rumors, maybe Internet or media rumors?

TV: No. Believe it or not, what the song is about is very far from that. This is what I like about song lyrics that are open to interpretation. I don’t like to be too blatant with things. It about dichotomies. The record, the cover design, everything is about a quest for balance. There’s a West Coast version mentality and an East Coast version mentality in that song. It reflects on living in New York vs living in Los Angeles. There’s a total opposite in mentality. I interjected that into the song so it comes out resembling the two sides of politics that are in the news. It’s a quest for balance. All this stuff is screaming in my ears. One person is whispering at me and the other person is yelling at me. I’m hearing all these voices and it’s just like total confusion..

WC: That’s interesting. I wouldn’t have thought of the song that way and yet it makes complete sense. The song “Off The Grid”, is that an advocate for living that life style or is it a scream of relief when you get out of the digital fog?

TV: Ah hah, that’s very intelligent of you. It’s not an agenda of mine, it’s a fantasy. I love that term you used…the digital fog. It’s attached to you all the time with your cellphone, your smartphone. Even while I’m talking to you, I’m getting hit with emails. Everybody knows your social security number or can get it without much hassle. I’m getting drowned in commercialism. I want self –realization more than anything. I don’t need all this stuff. It’s actually keeping me from being myself. I can’t exist with all this influx of information and other people’s capitalistic designs. I have nothing against that but I just wish I could get away. You know, inevitably I’m born in Western civilization. I’m not going to become like a Tibetan monk.

WC: The publication I do is based on the Internet so it’s kind of hypocritical to be against it.

TV: (laughs loudly)

WC: I had an interesting discussion recently. The question came up what is the biggest difference in life between pre-20th century and after the 20th century. The answer was that life before the 20th century was very quiet. No mechanical devices or noise, no constant exposure to the media, no planes. Even in big cities like New York and London back then, it was very quiet compared to what it is now.

TV: Maybe you heard some horses galloping or their hooves on the pavement. Yeah, that’s interesting…the quiet world!

WC: If a person from medieval times got time warped into a modern city, they’d probably run around with their hands over their ears.

TV: That’s interesting. And the lack of quiet is going to get worse. With the population explosion in most places…not so much in America, because statistics have shown births are going down here. 

WC: Some of the pictures I see of cities in India or China…

TV: Oh my goodness!

WC: I just couldn’t hack it there. The daily traffic is like going into battle. Now another song on the new record whose title intrigued me is “Operation of the Moral Law”. What’s the idea behind that one?

TV: You know, I was looking at the lyrics to that one yesterday because I just wanted to refresh my memory on that one. I got that from reading “Atlas Shrugged”. It’s about the age of reason which seems to be gone. It seems to be dated. I think we’ve gone so far from individual responsibility  that people have gotten warped. All the answers are within yourself and not from these outside sources like the media. It’s about personal responsibility. You know what it is? It’s about a lack of conscience going on. I’m not into organized religion at all, but I think when you talk about pre-20th century or perhaps even pre 19th century, people used to have this fear of God. That’s where their moral aptitude was attached. It was like, you know, I’m not going to fuck up because I’m afraid I’m going to get punished for it. Because of the liberalization of that thought, there’s a lack of conscience in the world, especially in Western civilization and where’s that going to go to? That’s the question we’re addressing in that song.

WC: Even George Orwell could not have predicted a world where people put murder on live Internet for ratings. Even 20 years ago, it was unthinkable. Now it’s becoming a daily thing.

TV: Exactly! That’s a perfect comment, that’s exactly what I’m seeing. There’s another song on the record that talks about this, “Forced Into Tolerance”. You can’t react negatively to that because you’re looked down upon because then you’re not …I’m not going to use the word “cool”, but if you don’t have a certain liberal acceptance of anything that you might find personally objectionable, you’re blackballed. So you gotta keep your mouth shut.

WC: One of the things that’s come up in the last year are these masked people, the “antifa”…the anti-fascists. They go to concerts and do protests so the band can’t play but they call themselves anti-fascists. Their brains can’t process the hypocrisy.

TV: Yeah, the liberal thought police.That’s really what it is.

WC: When you look back at the history of Prong, what would you say the high and low points are?

TV: I think the high point was finishing and making the “Ruining Lives” record because basically I had nothing at that point. (laughs) I had a really bad break-up with my long-term girlfriend, I was living in a crappy room at my friend’s house, all my shit was in storage, I didn’t really have the band together. I was kind of broke and everything seemed it was really at the end. And then suddenly, miraculously, within a week, all these things I was afraid of, like more people throwing me out to pasture because of my wife’s situation…within a week, everything just came together. A week later I was in the studio making a new record and it came out great. Everything worked out fine. Getting that record done and on time was a miraculous experience.

The dark time was post “Rude Awakening”, where I had a good amount of funds and a long time to make the record and worked really hard on the songs with a lot of demos and pre-production. The record turned out not the way I wanted. It wasn’t a happy experience and then we got dropped three weeks after the record came out. It came out really fast and it got done on time. Whereas we had an earlier record we spent years trying to make it and it turned out like garbage. Well, not garbage totally, but it was not a pleasing experience. It was really a failure. A lot really revolves around the records. With touring, there’s always bad stuff that goes on, like shitty shows where stuff always breaks and nothing seems to work. Those are always a pain in the ass. But there’s been so many of them in my career, things like running of gas…all that stuff is fine, it’s understood. But I always look at the making of a record and the experience during that as the high and low points.

WC: Sometimes the best things happen without a lot of planning…

TV: Yeah. And essentially what that comes down to is the realization that you really don’t have control over a lot of these things. It’s like being a ballplayer…the more you press, the less successful you’ll be. You have to have a lot of faith in things. What seems to be a bad idea later turns out to be great. Just like the Rolling Stones and “Satisfaction”. This song is a throwaway, but it turned out to be the most played song in the history of rock and roll. That’s how things work out. You never know what’s going to happen. You can’t try to press things too much. If the record sucks, it sucks, but it’s nothing to slit your wrists over, really.

WC: What are some of the influences on Prong that are not immediately apparent when listening to it?

TV: That’s a tough question because I think a lot of it is there. There’s groups you can point to that might not be obvious, like ZZ Top. They have strong song structures and hooks, which is what I always look to. A band like that is influential. Old rock n roll is an influence on me. Kiss is another band I completely admire just for the power of those kooky songs. That’s something I really like, too. Also, T. Rex and that era of bands and early Bowie…that era is where I really come from. That may be unusual. Most metal guys are influenced by Sabbath, obviously and Priest and Maiden. I’m not really from there all that much.

WC: That’s interesting, because I can’ see a connection once you mention those bands, but it’s not immediately apparent. 

TV: No, no. I think post-punk music is another thing that I draw on. Bands like Squeeze and The Stranglers and those type of bands are part of my listening and where I came from. Early 80’s stuff like Spandau Ballet…the list goes on of the bands I was listening to back then. Killing Joke is the most obvious musical influence to me. I’ve said that a million times so I wanted to avoid mentioning them right off the bat.

WC: What are some of the tour plans you’ve got for “Zero Days”?

TV: I’m going to Europe next week. I leave next Tuesday and then we’ve got two months over in Europe. We’re touring with Testament over there. We’re waiting to hear on an American tour so that’s not scheduled. We’ve got festivals and clubs shows in the United Kingdom starting next week.

WC: If you could ask any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?

TV: I would say Teddy Roosevelt would be one. That would be interesting to see where his mentality was. Then I’d go the sports route…maybe Mickey Mantle would be cool to see where his head’s at. He always seemed to be humble. And then a music guy. Let’s throw Ritchie Blackmore in there.

WC: You’ve got some different kinds of egos in there, that’s for sure.

TV: (laughs) I know!  That dinner would last five minutes. Somebody would get pissed off and it would be an early evening.