Metal Army spent some time chatting it up with PRONG front man Tommy Victor regarding the bands’ new album Carved Into Stone (Longbranch Records/SPV). Tommy is never one to hold back on any topic, so he candidly shared his feelings about the band, recording, past successes and failures, other notable projects and people he’s worked with and a look back his career.
MAA: Please tell us about the making of Carved Into Stone.
TV: It was a long process. It started about two years ago writing the material, maybe even longer than that. I had some stuff on my computer I was fooling around with out of the initial five songs I started with, maybe one little part made it on to the record. Tony (Campos) came in and we did a couple of tours together, we were writing on the road together at Motel 6′s or what have you. Then we made a demo with Alexi (Rodriguez). We got up to fourteen songs and then up to twenty-five songs and more demos. We did a last pre- production demo before we did the actual recording, kicked a whole bunch of songs out, rearranged somethings in the last ten days before we went in the studio with Steve Evetts. We knocked out twelve basic tracks, eleven made the record. From twenty-five songs completely written down to eleven on the album! In the studio everything was done on the grid, like it was done back in the 90′s where we just played it live, all the basic tracks. It wasn’t a computer record at all. There’s no samples, no drum replacement, no quantizing, no cut and paste on any of it. It was just preformed. That’s what was so grueling for me. I was working on MINISTRY records where you’d lay a riff down and they’d cut and paste it a couple of times, ya know and bam bam! That why people have been doing since people started using Pro Tools and digital technology. Steve had me play every little thing, it was all dialed in precisely, the solos were designed, there was no improvisation. Same thing with the vocals, they’re completely doubled exactly and harmonies done without the use of Melodyne, etc.
MAA: What’s it like working with Steve Evetts?
TV: He’s an extremely hard worker and I needed someone like that to kick me in the behind because I’m getting older and stuck in my ways and he directed me to be more clear with the vocals and that was one of the big main reasons we got him for the work he’s done. I was really impressed with the vocal sound and the way he was able to get great performances. At first I thought he was a lot of using technology to do it but he was like ‘No! I get the guys to sing this stuff, the way it is’. I was like ‘Oh wow! Ok he’ll take a crappy singer and make him sound golden. I’m not saying I’m a crappy, but I needed work and he was great on that aspect of things. I knew he could get the guitar sounds and drums and the actual sounds together. Until we actually got in there I didn’t know how he was doing it. Everything was done outside the box. The only difference between then and back in the 90s was its on a hard drive rather then tape. Other then that everything was external and done really pure. Having a little bit of engineering experience, I really appreciated that. We talked about that right before we went in. He’s done like ninety records and his repertoire is unbelievable. We needed somebody broad based. He’s worked on THE CURE to THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN it’s just a broad base of that. He’s unbelievable. He’s a genius all business it was strict work. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, but it was really hard, strict work.
MAA: You have been critical of your own output at times. How does this new album stack up to the history of PRONG?
TV: I thinks its one of the best ones, I mean it doesn’t have the cutting edge impact that Cleansing did where we were going in a new direction for heavy music in general. It isn’t anything ground breaking, but I think it’s up there in the quality of songs are up there with the best we’ve ever done. That was important for me. I wouldn’t know where to start to try to break any ground anymore, it seems like everything’s been done. So with that in mind, it was a matter of just getting the best songs we could possibly put together in reflection of the previous PRONG records, without going off in a complete different direction like we did with Scorpio Rising for instance. Where I think it failed, it wasn’t the right time. We didn’t work at it as hard. I just had a batch of songs I was just fooling around with. This wasn’t like that. This was much more intense. We put the work in and let the chips fall where they may. I feel this is one of the most hard working efforts I’ve ever done as far as PRONG goes. As far as anything really.
MAA: Carved In Stone has a lot more thrash feeling and a lot more lead guitar playing on it. Was that a conscious decision?
TV: It was conscious decision. I felt if the solos meant something or were designed properly, that was something I had the energy to work on. I was never been the kinda guy that practices and sits around figuring stuff out. It’s just been when I’m forced to do that like learning like with either MINISTRY: Mike Scaccia’s guitar parts or in DANZIG: with Glenn, John Christ and Todd Youth’s parts. I felt my chops got better. So I was able to do some solos that weren’t a bunch of noise or something that was completely off the cuff. I didn’t wanna do that. We had the option to design some solos that were precise that are actually part of the song, again. I wanted it to be a guitar record and a song record, rather then relying on haphazard routes like loops or other things to get more dynamics.
MAA: Between your work in DANZIG and MINISTRY would you say one or either have a reverse influence back to your work in PRONG?
TV: Not at all! PRONG is a completely different entity, it’s its own mindset. I don’t really listen to a hell of a lot of stuff. It all comes from the heart, really. I’m not out there scouring the charts or delving into countless hardcore metal records to find influences, I don’t have he energy to do that. I’m not being a snob, I just don’t have the time and energy to do that. I don’t want to do that or bring in any other project I’m involved in. I worked on the last two DANZIG records and Glenn has his own way of arranging stuff. Then with Al, I mentioned with his process, is highly computer oriented and I didn’t wanna do that either.
MAA: Where do you get your lyrical inspirations from?
TV: I think its in personal troubles and a way of coping. I try to find a way to deal with emotions. Then I have opinions too, so its a combination of those two things. There’s also some strict writing on this album, which is more like story lines. Like with the single, “Revenge Best Served Cold”, that is something completely outside. The title track also has a universal element to it where I feel there’s an external power that enables PRONG to still survive. Some outside force that is from the future, from the present and the past. Something paranormal. Then you get the angry ones like list of grievances. Then you have a song like “State of Rebellion”. I have a close friend who’s always talking politics with me. I try to leave these type of things to my songs a little bit. But when I’m hanging out or something I just don’t wanna hear about it. Let’s just ‘watch the game’ and shut the fuck up!’ That’s what that’s all about. I’m over it, ya know? I’m old school. I was brought up to never talk politics or religion with people. I’ve learned the hard way not to do that. (laughs) It’s not necessary.
MAA: Looking back did you know at the time that Beg To Differ and Prove You Wrong were going to influence so many other bands?
TV: For years I didn’t really see that. People have been saying that for a long time, its mainly people in the press. We’ve toured with younger bands, I don’t wanna name names, but the attitude we got was ‘Who the fuck are you guys?’ I mean completely unfamiliar with PRONG and didn’t like us. I almost feel like I’ve gotten more of that attitude out there then any congratulations. But on a personal side, I had to re-investigate the early PRONG records recently and I listened to Beg to Differ. I haven’t heard it in years! I was like ‘oh my god!’ How did this thing come about? It’s bizarre to me. I don’t know how that really came together like that. It’s like that song “Carved Into Stone”. It was something outside myself made that happen. I have not a clue! I wasn’t even really playing guitar that long when PRONG did that record. Its bizarre to me the things that go down. It wasn’t even calculated. On a personal level, I’m happy with the discography, but it’s not like I go down the street and people are ‘Oh Tommy!” I don’t hear it that much. It’s mainly press people, but other bands, they either don’t recognize it or they don’t know. If anything about the past, like when I was forced to re-investigate Beg To Differ, I just kinda of zap it into the void. Like anything in the past, I think everyone needs to do that, its like a personal psycho-therapy in a way. It’s all good. I don’t have any bitterness towards anything, maybe at one time I did. It’s been so worn out, I just have a different attitude about that stuff.
(Special thanks to Tommy Victor, PRONG and Freeman Promotions)
Keith (Keefy) Chachkes