PRONG’S TOMMY VICTOR on new Release, The Grammy’s, the current state of the Industry and of course, MINISTRY
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Tommy, Monte and Aaron
interview by Alex Zander w/ Editing assist from Shelly Z and Angie J
After a seven-year hiatus PRONG returned with a new line-up and a new album, releasing Scorpio Rising in 2003. “I had to do something, no matter what it was” states mainman Tommy Victor. “Looking back, I don’t feel like it was an appropriate release under the PRONG moniker. I feel like the best is yet to come.”
Victor spent the last year splitting his time between writing and touring with MINISTRY and writing the new PRONG album, using that time to hone the new PRONG material with a razorlike intensity.
PRONG have now completed recording of their staggeringly heavy new album Power of the Damager, set for release on October 2nd through Al Jourgenson of MINISTRY’s label 13th Planet Records.
The new album showcases an aggressive call to arms, blending the neck-snapping riffs the band is known for along with an even heavier approach to the hook and infusing that with an honest speed and aggression that lacks in so many newer acts. PRONG have returned to doing what they do best, and yet somehow it feels like something new all over again.
Alex Zander- One of the first things I wanted to ask you about is that you made a couple of comments on Hilly Crystal after he died. You know, how much did he have to do with your life and what you did at the beginning if anything.
TV- Regarding PRONG a lot pretty much I don’t know if it was directly out of any, uh, out of him being any kind of beneficiary purposely, you know being a beneficiary purposely toward PRONG particularly. Just the fact that club [CBGBs], was available to us. There were a lot of different clubs that we were able to play, down at the Lower East Side at that time. Just CB’s itself was a great establishment back then. I mean by the time that I left I could see where it was going. Where the neighborhood was changing, and it was becoming gentrified and musicians were being priced out of that area, with most of the locals being rich NYU students from all over the place and the influx of wealthy Europeans. The nature of that neighborhood changed rapidly. But as far as him as a person, like I said he was a tough guy to work for. The hours were long and he demanded a lot but it was good discipline, I mean after all, he was a Drrill Sgt in the if Marines so, yeah. In fact, being Sonny Barger’s Sgt in the marines. That’s how the association with the Angels came about. At that time he was even living with the Angels, which were around the corner on 3rd Street and that is all gone now too.
AZ- I had no idea about that. What a trip.
I just wanted to ask you as far as personally, if him being a drill Sgt. had any bearing on your personal work ethic.
TV- I don’t know. I have always had a hard work ethic, being brought up Catholic and being beaten down by nuns my whole life. I was always fearful and still am of doing something wrong. You know, that is just the old adage kids today don’t really give a crap more or less. They are more concerned about video games less there is conscientiousness on a social level. Which is maybe good too, the boundaries between upper middle class, middle class, working class and rich class in New York were a lot more prevalent when I was a kid then they are now or are apparent anywhere really. So it’s a social thing. That ethic put into you from Depression era parents of course.
AZ- You’re right, it definitely doesn’t exist any more. How does that relate as far as the music you are making now, or does it?
TV- I think it has an adverse effect on personality more or less because it makes you more servile which leads to my belief that kids that experience nepotism seem to prosper more where they are handed a BMW and they believe on maintaining that lifestyle. When you are a given nothing you expect nothing. You seem to be more service oriented where you run around and try to please everyone else and you become lax. I have experienced that a lot with my career with band members, managers, with the whole thing. I tend to burst and go into an extreme where I’m like “fuck everybody” and I isolate (myself). I don’t think it is a healthy way to grow up or anything like that. As far as music, it presents the urgency in PRONG which you have a lot of fear, self-consciousness and impulsiveness lyrically. There is a lot of craftsmanship in it too; believe it or not, even though it is raw. We take the songs to the utmost we can. I have learned to let go a little bit more in the last three years. It is a reflection of working with Al who will take things to extremes. Trying to be meticulous on stuff that I have no idea how, or why he does it. In response to that I say, “You know what guys. We are just going to lie this down. Leave it as it is. I think we have taken it far enough right now.” Al and I have this joke about I have to reel him in a little bit in the studio, because if no one puts a stop sign, sometimes he will go a year on a song. There are a lot of things involved in that old school work ethic, Depression era mentality. That resorts back to CB’s working until three in the morning and waking up going back into the same grind. Somehow we fit PRONG rehearsal in there I don’t even remember how or when we did it, but it was a grind.
AZ- Speaking about PRONG, that guy that wrote the book, sent me a copy of it. What was your take on it?
TV- I didn’t read any of it. I heard little bits and pieces about it. It’s kind of a goof to me because before we get into any specifics of it that I’m not aware of; you are probably the only one that has made me a little aware of it. I kept the thing going. I am the one that spent a lot of the hours on the project. Whoever grumbles and complains later on are still getting royalties on songs that I pretty much wrote and was kind enough to be generous and involve them in publishing credits and everything. That is my general take on the whole thing.
AZ- Like you said it was a lot of guys getting grumpy.
TV- Well that is fine. That makes me look better.
AZ- Laughs. How about Monte [Pittman]? How did he come into the whole picture? I met him when you brought PRONG back out when you did the live record. How did you cross paths with someone like Monte Pitman?
TV- Actually it was through Ivan de Prume who initially and briefly was the replacement for Ted Parsons. He had a mutual friend over at Guitar Center. He said, “You know there is this kid who came from Texas. I got to jam with him and he knows all of the PRONG songs and he wants to get in touch with you because he wants to get some gear off of you. He is a huge PRONG fan.” So I give him my number, I call him and tell him to come over. He was already in shock when he met me. I was living just as sparsely as I am now, in this bare apartment in Tarzana. This like one room nothing apartment. He was like, this is where you live? This is where Tommy Victor lives? I’m like, yea dude, I never made any money. That is why I’m selling my gear. Eventually we talked. I said you know what? I have been thinking about adding another guitar player because there is so much on me all the time. Eventually we started jamming, but soon after that what we call “the charmed Monte” from working at guitar center started giving lessons to Madonna and winded up being in her band. So he was in and out. There are certain guys that are completely dedicated to music, guitar playing and are aficionados and are discophiles, and he is one of them. There are not that many guys out there as far as guitar players go. You get the guys that sit around eight hours a day and practice arpeggios and are totally disinterested and don’t want to have anything to do with “those type of so called musicians.” These guys can play a Steely Dan song and then play some country, western like Hank Williams day and play PRONG as just good as I can. We developed a relationship on that level of respect. Song writing and contributions, His knowledge of PRONG and he knows the lyrics and songs probably better than me at times. He’s a good guy to have around. It has been unfortunate that because of scheduling we haven’t been able to solidify our relationship in a lot of ways throughout the years. That is part of the crisis the keeps PRONG for making records on a regular basis. However this period of down time on Madonna and down time on Ministry and in Aaron Rossi’s case down time on Encore so we were able to come together and collaborate to do the new, Power of the Damager, record.
AZ- You and Monte must have similar work ethics. It’s not like he necessarily has to be in PRONG right?
TV- No I mean, he is involved now that I think of it. He is very heavily involved in the session scene right now. He is constantly like all day doing sessions. It is some of the benefits of being associated with an extremely major gig like playing with Madonna. I’m envious of that a little bit, but I don’t think I could cut it. I’m too involved with my own little decrepit world of PRONG. He’s there and on the other hand I have been an advisory and played a role in his band The Citizen Vain, which has been a little hard to get off the ground. I have to laugh at him sometimes because at minor set backs he has called me in a panic. I’m like welcome to having your own band, man. This is what I have been dealing with for twenty years. You freak out about this, wait until the real bombs explode. It is always like that. That is why Al and I get along and Glen and I have gotten along so well because we just know. They don’t know what it is. You are the one who gets blamed. You are the one who gets the phone calls. You are the one who gets sued. You are the one who get all of these problems all of the time. People complain to you all of the time, whatever, they expect hand outs.
AZ- Did you record the whole album in Texas?
TV- Well we recorded the basic tracks. All of it, the basic at the Sonic Ranch, and we finished at Al’s new studio at his house in El Paso.
AZ- I was under the impression the Sonic Ranch was his studio. So that’s not.
TV-That’s a common misnomer.
AZ- A lot of people I understand recorded there like COC and some other guys. Did he have any hand in this record or was it the Tommy Victor show again?
TV- If it comes from Al it depends on what mood he is in. On an advisory role we discuss the actual production, which is half of the job really. The scheduling and where we were going to do it, the communication with Tony the studio manager. Almost acting in the producer role a little bit, as far as musically, arrangement, engineering, processing decisions etc, he had nothing to do with it. Monte had more to do with that role. He gets credited as associate producer but these things on this level are pretty laughable. The song The Banishment Al insisted upon having to do with the mix on that because that was his favorite and wanted to have something he could put his fingers into. That was about as much as he was involved. I was amazed, because I was fearful that he was going to be all on my ass the whole time. He was so busy doing business with Ministry in the other part of the house and enjoying his couple weeks off at times so he really didn’t bug me too much.
AZ- “Scorpio Rising”, a lot of people call that an angry record, but everybody is calling the new record a brutal record. Why do you think they use the word brutal so much? I mean even Mazur his first e-mail was “It’s just brutal.”
TV- I think I felt a lot of the subject involved in the lyrical content a little bit more than on Scorpio. Scorpio has almost a fluffy format. From the cover, it was almost bordering into mysticism and a little more, heady. This one is more common topics and just a general disgust and nihilism overall and there is a little bit more of a snarl to this than the other record. A lot of those projections musically, come across with the tunings. We experimented with a different tuning on “Scorpio” and looking back that was a huge mistake. This one we went back to the cleansing tuning of “C” on most of the material. I think my vocal range presents its self a little better on that and is a bit more biting. That’s on a sonic note but as far as topical I always discuss that guitar playing I just up the dose the reason why I was able to do that is with the addition of Aaron who could really respond to some of the faster ideas. We just decided to pump up the BPM on this record and that give a lot more intense feel to it.
AZ- Thirteenth Planet, how good of a fit is that for PRONG? As compared to well, no comparison when it comes to someone like Locomotive. What is the benefit of being on Thirteenth Planet for you?
TV- That remains to be seen, I’m not saying that as any knock to Angie and Al Jourgenson. I’m a very cautious person about putting stamps on things and having definitive notions on what the whole experience is yet. You know this is really a bad time for records, record companies, relationships with people in the music business, and the options are diminishing especially for older acts. I think a lot of the noted labels that focus on this type of music pull their talents form kids that still live at home with their parents. They have some kind of family support or something. Yeah, Sonny, I’ll go ahead and buy you some kind of trailer or van. Go ahead and have your rock thing and then go back to college, kind of vibe. Were as guys that have been plugging along and have been doing it as a career for many years are finding more and more difficult to find their place in the business. That is where Al and I come together where a lot of his views and his experiences parallel mine. The label is build around that vibe that is why Burton Bell is doing a record with Al and Raven as well. So the guys that have been around the block Al respects that more, knows the pitfalls and aggravations, his experience with Sanctuary for instance where younger bands that he didn’t feel deserved it were getting more attention than Ministry was. That disturbed him or hurt his pride. I totally understand that and I think that is covered with Thirteenth Planet with PRONG I get that total respect from them. They are very good cheerleaders. The sentiment is in the right place. Whether the tools are there that remains to be seen. Everything is on a really strict budget.
AZ- Exactly, It’s pretty sad when a lot of people are skipping doing PR and just putting their shit out on My Space.
TV- Yeah, It’s crazy out there it’s unfortunate too. I’m on a survivalist level and I try to make that a point to most people. I’m just skin and bones here and that is what I’ve been doing. In old school depression era terms starving artist was heralded. That is almost a forgotten term theses days. You are almost looked down upon on that. Now they are like, so how much money is involved? When I was a kid we came from the Burroughs, when living in a loft with a bunch of homeless people was cool. Now it’s like what do you mean you are like making records and are not on the radio? The whole L.A. thing has totally absorbed the whole mentality of making records and writing.
AZ- Well we have nothing in Chicago. The Virgin across form where I worked is gone. Tower Records, all of them are gone. Mom and Pop are nearly all gone. I’m stupid and go to Best Buy to get stuff and ordering it. I can’t get the new Garbage record, the new garbage greatest hits on Interscope because they are not carrying it because there is no demand for it. That is how bad it is. I was afraid they wouldn’t have Ministry.
TV- My theory on that issue has a lot to do with major corporations. What is Garbage going to sell to the mentality of the public outside of buying a garbage record? Records are just vehicles for the overhead corporations in order to perpetuate their values and their tactics to sell other products within records. You know you are sort of a bottom feeder to a major pyramid game. That is what leads me to believe why R&B is strong in record sales. It’s almost like a genocidal conspiracy to feed the masses on self destructive music that is going to tear apart a segment of society and turn them in to gun toting, dog fighting thieves and throw them in jail. That major conspiracy and a major statement to make, but I saw it happening when PRONG was on Epic. The themes behind what they are selling if they weren’t direct or in line with some corporate view of what they want to sell via the paternal corporation Sony, then, they weren’t interested in pursuing it any longer.
CD OUT NOW
AZ- So when the record drops on Tuesday, is it something that people are going to have the chance to pick up at Best Buy, or is it better for them to order off of Thirteenth Planet? Is it going to be in the stores?
TV- Well I’m hoping so. I don’t know. It is a question I have to ask. Initially I thought it was going to be. Who the hell knows? People should go and request it at a Best Buy or whatever. They are working on that supposedly, so you know I have to address that. My suggestion is to come to the shows and buy a record or buy it on line. It should be available throughout so we are going to work up that steam in order for it to be more accessible and that is part of the plan.
AZ- Your taking it out as a three piece again?
AZ- Cool. Real quick, your experience with Ministry, obviously it has worked out for you if you are going for a second round here.
TV- I wish that we could have extended the tour a bit, but it is going pretty fast. Al likes to do a tour, do a record, go out and work on other things. His operational mode is kind of quick. It been pretty easy, Al is really easy to work with. You go in and do stuff and socialize. It’s not like, a major headache gig that much. All of the headaches come with PRONG pretty much.
AZ- With the guitar playing your signature was all over the record before this one. It was unarguably Tommy Victor.
AZ- On this one you really have to listen for it. I love the leads this is my favorite record of the last four Minitsry’s. There is something completely different about it. I think the grove is back and that is something I think has been lacking on the George W related albums.
TV- Well I think this a George W related as well. Sin took up a lot of the role. Sin did a great job and Raven was involved in a lot of it. My participation is on about half of the record. There were a couple of songs that didn’t make it that I worked a lot on. A lot of time was spent on “End of Days” and “Roadhouse Blues”. Those were a different than what was going on in “Rio Grande Blood”. Then “No Glory” was another that we spent a lot of time on too. Essentially those were the ones I was more involved with. “Die in a Crash” I contributed a lyric on that. My participation due to time etc. was less than it was on “Rio Grande Blood”. That’s cool because Al didn’t want it to be Tommy “Rio Grande Blood”. We are encompassing a lot of the earlier Ministry being more of an overall Ministry record rather than a single one. Being the last album it needed to do that.
AZ- Did it feel good to be part of getting a Grammy nod after all these years?
TV- Oh, that was very exciting for me. The pitfall of that is that I had to sit next to Al, and Al was like hating life during the whole thing. His disgust of the major music scene really became apparent during his exposure to it. Right in front of his face like that. He was just out of control disruptive in true Al form, and getting away with it, which was beautiful. What was unfortunate too is that there was this unbelievable party after the whole thing. He was the first one to get in there after the Grammy show. He was waiting. He proceeded to drain the place of alcohol on our table. When I finally got in there it was gone and we had to leave. That was the downfall of the Al Jourgensen experience but we were laughing for months about his behavior at the Grammy’s. There is a tendency for guys like Al to be cynical and disruptive on a showmanship level but this was all true.
He isolates himself from that whole scene. Then he was there with all of these talking heads and it was like and acid trip for him. Being more straight, I was trying to appreciate the experience but it was totally impossible next to Al and being with him the whole day.
AZ- Well Maybe there will be one more.
TV- We were disappointed that we didn’t win because there was this huge L.A. Time article that day featuring Ministry. We were like “We won, we won.” Al called me up and said I got my speech we won, we won. The typical Al fashion always optimistic, in a strange way. It’s hard to explain. I’m like, man, don’t go there, maintain your balance. He would say well, why would they do this then? When they mentioned Slayer he had us so pumped up so much that we were sort of in shock.
AZ- I guess in this day and age it is O.K to sing about Satan, but not against the president.
TV- Yeah, unless you are a country and western band for some reason. The whole thing was Rascal Flatts, and Katie Underwood, and the Dixie Chicks and Ludacris. It was pretty weird. For Tommy Victor to infiltrate that big time music biz scenario was really exciting for me. Ironically for someone like Monty who courts Jimmy Page, and has met Paul McCartney on Madonna’s airplane, to him it would not have been as exciting, but for me it was a trip.
Tommy Victor lead singer and guitarist for the crossover thrash/thrash metal band Prong that he founded in New York in 1986. During times that Prong sits idle, Tommy Victor has worked with legends of the rock world, including Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Glenn Danzig and is currently part of Al Jourgensen’s band Ministry.