Though Tommy Victor is most often associated with Danzig, who he’s been touring and recording alongside since 1996, in truth, it’s NYC outfit Prong, which Victor found in 1986, that he hangs his hat on most. Representing all aspects of a diverse heavy metal scene, Prong blends groove metal, thrash, alt, industrial, and crossover, making for a bone-crushing mix. Throughout its thirteen records, the latest of which, State of Emergency, dropped in the fall of 2023, Prong hasn’t only enhanced or blended into the scene but frequently helped define it.
At the heart of it all since day one is Victor, whose seething licks, monstrous rhythms, and blistering solos remain. But what’s gotten strong is Victor’s songwriting and ear for what’s relevant, leading to State of Emergency being one of the more poignant releases in 2023.
In short, the world is on fire, and Victor knows it, as evidenced by the tracks showcased on State of Emergency. As he prepares to hit the road in support of it, Victor took the time to dial in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the album’s creation, his process, and more.
TOMMY VICTOR INTERVIEW
Tell me about Prong’s latest album. How did things get started?
Good question! There was a point where I didn’t know if there was going to be another Prong record. When Covid hit and everything shut down, I was considering just being a stay-at-home dad. I guess it all started at the tail end of the pandemic when we went out on tour with BLS and Obituary. We didn’t have a record deal, and who knew the tour would be so great for Prong. We got an offer for an extension on our previous record deal, and I felt enthusiastic about the future of Prong again. Then, my family decided to move back to New York. That added more excitement because I decided to write and record everything back where Prong started. And that’s what we did.
What keeps you inspired to pick up the guitar?
In one way, I think it’s because it’s a tool to write songs. Creating the riffs, the parts, and the lyrics; that’s a big part of the whole experience for me. I do like playing, too, but it’s still very challenging for me. I feel a connection to that old-style vibe of digging into catchy riffs. There’s an enjoyable feeling in playing those riffs and jumping around and trying to act cool.
Of the new songs, which represent you best as a player, and why?
I think “Breaking Point” is one for sure, with the pinch harmonics and the biting rhythm guitar parts. “State Of Emergency” also highlights that groove metal, Prong sound. Then there’s “Disconnected,” which features another side of me, which is more post-punk, noise music but with melody. And “Obeisance” does what I think I do uniquely, combining an ultra-crunch rhythm with the goth, industrial style I’ve used throughout my career.
Which songs were the most challenging and why to record and write?
“Back (NYC),” I believe, is the most challenging guitar-wise and in its songwriting. It was the first song I wrote for the record, and I must admit it took a while to perfect. It came from a concept; it’s a bit of a tribute to Led Zeppelin but with hardcore punk thrown in. The timing gets crazy, and the riff changes a lot. “The Descent” was a bit testy. I think that one went through more arrangement changes than any other one. And the down-picking is pretty intense. It’s definitely a tough one to sing and play live.
How do you view the way you play today vs the past? What has changed most?
Well, I’ve been through different stages, hills and valleys. There was a time when I didn’t want to solo. Eventually, I had to learn more about soloing, so I developed a few tricks here and there. There was a time when I didn’t even really focus on guitar that much. I was caught up in loops and beats and stuff. I was treating the guitar as a percussive stab mainly. I think doing our covers record, “Songs from The Black Hole,” did something for my playing.
For instance, figuring out what to do with Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” was a chore. I had to sort of “Prongize” and maybe darken and conceptualize the long solo intro. Then, learning some Geordie Walker, Ian MacKaye, and Bob Mould for the session, amongst others, was a tall order. I think my reference point technically has broadened slightly in the last ten years. I’ve listened to djent and deathcore bands enough to get some ideas as well to add to the thrash, hardcore, acid rock, and old-school metal roots.
Tell me about your riff and solo writing process.
Some solos are designed. You try to fit something in a section that is exciting and maybe reflects the melody or makes a new melody. I rely on the help of a producer for these, most times. Maybe I’ll have something done at home, and then we’ll perfect it during the overdub session. Sometimes, I’ll just try to shred over a part, and it sounds pretty cool, and we may fix a bit of it or just let it fly. Like the solo on “Another Worldly Device” from the “Cleansing” album. I simply was inspired for whatever reason and “went for it,” and it stuck.
As far as the riffs go, most are off -the-cuff, stuff that comes out of nowhere when you pick up the guitar. On this record, I woke up and then took my son to school. Then, after listening to AC/DC or Black Sabbath in the car, I came home and wrote riffs. I would document them. Maybe for the next day or two, I’d review them, then pick a few out to be the basis of songs. Then, I wrote new parts to fit those I liked.
How do you view guitar solos in the modern era? Do they need to be deconstructed and changed from being overblown?
It’s hard to judge these days. The technical proficiency of your average young guitar player now is really unbelievable. I’m really a terrible hack compared to kids today. Unfortunately, I really just see it as amazing dexterity. I still hear simple stuff on Muddy Waters songs, and with Chuck Berry, that blows my mind more than the new stuff. Guitar solos that come from pain, vengeance, meanness, and balls are the ones that stand out to me.
Tell me about your gear: guitars, amps, pedals. What goes into those choices? Which most defined this album?
I’ve been using a Kemper Profiler for around ten years now. But this is the first Prong album where I used it completely on a record. I have a couple of Marshall profiles that I love and a Friedman. I used a few pedals here and there, like an old Octave pedal and other vintage stuff that Steve Evetts, the producer, has. But even the wah-wah is sometimes Kemper. My guitars are my Schecter Tommy Victor Signatures. I have a couple with a fixed bridge. Those work well for the rhythm parts. I have a ’90s Gibson Les Paul Custom reissue that’s really nice. I used that some on the new album.
What are your short and long-term goals? How will you achieve them?
The world is so crazy these days. I really have to be honest and say that being a better husband and father is my short-term goal if you can call it that. Long term, again, I feel things are changing – I need to get close to God or my Creator or the Universe. Life is precious, but who knows how long we got? These feelings will somehow be interjected into my music and performance. They’ll naturally have to be.
An Interview With Tommy Victor of Prong & Danzig article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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