By David E. Gehlke
Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of PRONG's "Cleansing", an album that birthed one of the '90s most enduring songs, "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck". Its accompanying music video received regular MTV airplay, subsequently bringing PRONG into the mainstream for metal's last hurrah before grunge herded everyone (save for METALLICA and PANTERA) out of the proceedings. Yet PRONG's impact ran deep — the oncoming nu-metal scene swiped mainman Tommy Victor's patented palm-muted, staccato riff style and blended it with rapping and turntables, making several offshoots household names and millionaires. But not PRONG, who prematurely called it a day in 1997 and reformed in 2002.
Since then, Victor and a rotating cast of characters have released a semi-steady stream of studio albums to varying degrees of quality. Yet the band's new "State Of Emergency" ranks among PRONG's post-reformation best, buoyed by Victor's recent return to New York that birthed a batch of songs that seethe with aggression and on-the-spot social commentary. With the new album on the way, BLABBERMOUTH.NET caught up with Victor while he was holding down the guitar spot on tour with another '90s luminary, Glenn Danzig.
Blabbermouth: What do you get out of playing with DANZIG? Is it nice to show up, play guitar and not worry about anything else?
Tommy: "It's very challenging. [Laughs] It's relatively different than PRONG since I wrote the guitar parts. For the most part, we play older DANZIG songs, so I have to emulate John Christ's solos. I add my own thing to it. I always find it challenging. I didn't grow up as a guitar player and definitely not a lead guitar player. I picked up the guitar as I went around. Being in this position as the band's focal point is still amazing. I have sort of been faking it as I go along. I still do. [Laughs] I'm getting away with it! On top of the whole thing, I like the guys. Glenn and I have become very close friends over the years. It's a generally enjoyable experience, but it is challenging. It never fails — I always feel nervous before I go on. It's not easy."
Blabbermouth: Do you get more nervous playing with DANZIG over PRONG?
Tommy: "Maybe a little. There are these gentle, clean moments on the guitar, like at the beginning of 'Dirty Black Summer' and 'Blood And Tears' and I'm always nervous about those. I didn't grow up as a guitar player, like, 'Play the guitar and do these acoustic parts.' It's like, 'Okay, I'm trying.'"
Blabbermouth: Is the blues part of your playing repertoire? John Christ always had that element in his playing.
Tommy: "I was really into CREAM as a kid, but I don't know if that counts as blues. Later on, I got into Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and I know Glenn is into that too. John did a lot of different things. He has a blues part and then goes into a dissonant, jazz-fusion mode. I think, overall, he's a well-balanced guitar player. These solos are like, 'Whoa! He's going into this other thing.' Then there's arpeggios that I had to learn. It's interesting. The blues side of DANZIG is one of the things I like about the band. I like playing 'Killer Wolf'. Those bluesy songs, rather than some others, are a bit modern, like the records I'm on. It's like, 'Okay. Let's stick to the first three records.' [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: You mention bonding with Glenn. Is it because the two of you have lasted so long?
Tommy: "He's a little older than me, but where we came from, like the Max's Kansas City scene when we were kids. I merged into the Mudd Club and Danceteria, post-punk scene. He was intrigued by that with SAMHAIN. We were a part of the whole thing that was going on and the evolution of punk rock in New York. There are not that many guys who did that and I have the metal chops and background that is needed for DANZIG. I said, 'Glenn. There's a million guitar players you can get.' He says, 'No, man. You're the guy because you're from where we come from.'"
Blabbermouth: You recently moved back to New York City. How much of an effect did that have on "State Of Emergency"?
Tommy: "It has to do with where we moved back to. It's not far from Queens, where I grew up. The cloudy weather, rain and the changes in the weather had something to do with it. In L.A., years go by and I'm like, 'Five years went by. There haven't been any seasonal changes.' You don't get that vibe. I got back and there was rain and the way the sky looks on Long Island reminded me of when I first heard [BLACK SABBATH's] 'Volume 4'. I captured some doom and aggro — finding the proper adjectives is hard. I wanted to do it. It was calculated. I didn't know the result, but when we planned to make a record, I said, 'I'm going to write everything fresh in New York.' We rented an apartment and did everything to make it close to when I did 'Cleansing'. Most of those songs were written in my apartment in Brooklyn. I wanted to get that vibe since some of it got lost on the West Coast because of the weather and the attitude about everything is different. Nostalgia was in my blood a little bit."
Blabbermouth: You mentioned "Cleansing". If we think about the timeline, likely 30 years ago at this time you were writing that album. Do you recall your mindset?
Tommy: "It was a fusion of many styles in New York back then. The idea was to bring those concepts together before grunge. Industrial was around; there was a big Goth scene, then the New York hardcore and the Lower East Side noise thing. We were checking a lot of things out. I worked at CBGB, so I was part of the scene. The mindset was to make a New York band that combined all those styles. I think we were successful with that record. How it varied later, I have no idea."
Blabbermouth: "Cleansing" got caught right between grunge and nu-metal, which a lot of bands owe a debt of gratitude toward PRONG, don't you think?
Tommy: "It was a little frustrating later on. I wasn't really listening to that much stuff, but I remember when LIMP BIZKIT came out. People said it was rap music with PRONG guitar parts. I listened and said, 'I don't get it!' But when STATIC-X came out, I thought, 'Okay! Jesus.' I won't say it's plagiarism, but it got very close."
Blabbermouth: Wayne Static took your riffing style and ran with it, which became clear once they became popular.
Tommy: "Oh yeah. Unfortunately, they never paid too much homage to us. It was a little bit aggravating. When he was alive, I called him on it several times. He got very annoyed with me. Rest his soul. I know [STATIC-X bassist] Tony Campos very well and he said the 'Rude Awakening' record was one of their standards. Tony acknowledged us later on. The time I mentioned it to Wayne, he got very annoyed. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: You've always been a very current, topical band. Is the "State Of Emergency" title as obvious as it seems, considering all that is happening now?
Tommy: "After looking at the lyrics to the song 'State Of Emergency', the album title came after the other lyrics. I wrote the title track based on it. After looking at the lyrics and saying, 'What will be the album title?' I didn't have one. As blatant as it sounds, I think it covers a lot of ground. There's the song 'The Descent', which is about a guy in a state of emergency. It's a singular person, a narrative and it's based on his frustration with social media and his feelings of inadequacy in comparing himself to others. The general populus is in a state of emergency. The post-pandemic fear is generated in society. 'Breaking Point' was more about the metal scene, which came from when I reflected on our BLACK LABEL SOCIETY tour during the latter part of the pandemic. In all these years, I've never seen people go that crazy. They were spending money, getting so drunk and were on drugs. It was total insanity that tour. Everyone seemed crazy. I was like, 'Oh my god. This is the breaking point. This is a crisis that's really happening with people. You can't shut them down. It's not natural.' Then the actual state and everyone knows what's going on politically and how it's divisive. It covers a lot of ground. Put it all together, it's pretty modern or maybe 'current' is the better word for it."
Blabbermouth: It sounds like it was easy pickings to write.
Tommy: "I had no problem. [Laughs] The process of this record was completed in a blink of an eye. I felt good about that. 'Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck', I wrote that lyric in two minutes. It was a narrative. It didn't take long. Just being a sponge to what's happening and watching people and occasionally putting on the TV was easy pickings."
Blabbermouth: You resurrected PRONG in 2002 and have kept releasing music ever since. By now, you can probably just work the back catalog and people would be happy. But what keeps you releasing new music?
Tommy: "I don't know if I agree with that. I think other bands have enjoyed that more — you have some of these huge bands whose careers are based on a couple of records, like GUNS N' ROSES. I see what's going on with LIFE OF AGONY and 30 years of 'River Runs Red', which is a phenomenon. People love that album. It's a classic. I remember reading an article with Eddie Van Halen and they asked him if they would do a new record. He said, 'Why? Why would we do that?' I think PRONG is different. We're always an underdog. I feel like there's more to prove. The old records are great, but I'm not happy enough with the outcome or popularity to rest on my laurels. A lot of bands relaxed and haven't made many more records, but PRONG has continued. Someone asked me, 'Are you really into the New York hardcore bands?' I asked, 'What have they done since 'The Age Of Quarrel' by the CRO-MAGS?' Granted, Harley [Flanagan] and John [Joseph] are still putting out great stuff, but it's never equal to those records. The hardcore scene ended for me back then. But PRONG isn't associated with a genre. We keep plugging along. There are new ideas as long as I can pick up the guitar. There's always something else I need to conquer."
Blabbermouth: There are too many riffs left to be played, right?
Tommy: "And we never did the anniversary thing, to the angst of promoters and managers."
Blabbermouth: So there's no consideration of doing a 30th-anniversary tour for "Cleansing" next year?
Tommy: "It's a possibility. It's probably a good idea. [Laughs] I haven't decided to do it. I'm not sure I want to do it. Some of the old records are coming back to us. I'm like, 'Do I want to put them out again?' I never thought of those terms. Glenn is always like, 'I'm going to reissue this.' He's always got some kind of plan to repackage stuff. I'm a terrible marketing person. [Laughs] I don't think on those terms."
Photo credit: Nathaniel Shannon