The SLIS Interview with Tommy Victor.
Tommy Victor has been busy.
Last year saw the release of Prong’s ‘Carved Into Stone‘, one of the band’s best to date (click here for my review). In addition he played on Ministry’s latest album ‘Relapse‘ and is currently touring with Danzig for his 25th Anniversary tour.
He’s also recently put out a signature guitar line from Schechter.
Throughout his career Victor has been an underrated trailblazer. His band Prong bridged the gap between metal and alternative rock, forging a unique sound that incorporated thrash, groove, industrial and hardcore elements. They were highly influential to other musicians, but only briefly flirted with mainstream success with their anthemic album ‘Cleansing‘ which featured the hit single ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck‘.
I was lucky to chat with him after his recent Austin show with Danzig. We discussed Prong’s history, his songwriting and guitar style, guitar line, and his work with Danzig and Ministry.
He was down-to-earth and endearingly frank about his experiences in the music business. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.
SLIS: So is the Danzig tour going well so far?
Victor: It’s a short tour really…we didn’t really rehearse that much, so it was pretty good.
SLIS: You guys sounded great. It was a good mix of material. I want to ask about playing in Danzig vs Prong; is it fun playing somebody else’s music, and not to have the burden of everything being all on your shoulders?
Victor: I’ve always been a Danzig fan…I was a huge Misfits fan early on and I always liked the lyrics and liked Glenn you know so for me to do this it was never really a problem, you know… learning John Christ’s guitar stuff has always been a pain in the neck because Prong is a totally different attitude with the guitar stuff. So it was a bit of a challenge. You know, I need to be challenged a little bit…believe it or not, the songs are so simple, but they’re hard at the same time. Prong is challenging too, but it’s not a hell of a lot different. It’s just like, I’m playing somebody else’s guitar stuff, I never really did that before because I never learned songs on guitar and was a cover band type of guy, I just picked up the guitar and went along with Prong. So it made me more versatile. Like if you listen to like the new Prong album, I’m doing a lot of bluesier guitar solos and I think the influence of working with Glenn came in a little bit. Same thing with Al (Jourgenson of Ministry), playing industrial metal.
SLIS: Speaking of Danzig; on your last album, Carved into Stone, the title track has a bluesy Danzig vibe. Do you think that came from playing with him?
Victor: No, you know the lyrical focus with Prong is a lot different from Danzig, it’s not horror punk or satanic at all, its more maybe like spiritual, and introspective than Glenn’s stuff.
SLIS: I was just referring to the sound of the song. The riff was slower and more bluesy than a lot of your stuff .
Victor: Oh, that’s just a good doom riff.
Victor: It’s a great heavy doom metal riff, you know, and I’m pretty proud of that riff, that’s a good one.
SLIS: That was a really good album, are you guys working on anything new?
Victor: Yeah, I got to work on some new material… it’s a couple outside writers…what I do naturally is like a song off the Carved Into Stone record called “Put Myself To Sleep.” That’s where I’m at basically, like where its new wave mixed with metal…Don’t know if I could do a whole record like that, I mean a lot of people want the hard thrash metal, so it’ll probably be some thrash, and then that mixed in…I’ve been working on a lot of riffs… we’re gonna go in November and do a new record with Steve Evetts, same producer.
SLIS: I wanted to mention I liked your 1997 album Rude Awakening a lot, but I know you had some issues with it, because it wasn’t as successful as Cleansing, but is your new stuff going to be more in that vein?
Victor: It’s in that vein, too. That’s always in Prong, like that style is always there. Whether it is more prevalent or not is just a matter of what songs we pick. Like the last record…we wrote 24 songs and demo’d them out, then we sat and picked what were the better songs. So, I had a lot of songs in that vein, and we just like “You know what, nah, let’s can this,” and we try to dial in Carved in Stone where it had the thrash metal, the industrial metal, and then the weirder stuff, like “Path of Least Resistance,” and those kind of songs that were more ethereal; we combined them all, the best songs of those different styles into one record.
SLIS: I really liked Carved in Stone a lot.
Victor: Yeah, it is a strong album We spent a LOT of time on it. That’s why I’m a little panicky about the new record… we didn’t have this long period where we were really dialing in the songs, but maybe that will make it better, too…I know how Glenn works, like Glenn will write 12 songs and that’s it for the record. He doesn’t care about the outcome that much, he’s just like “This is the song, that’s it.” You know, “Fuck people if they don’t like it or not.” That’s the way he is.
SLIS: (laughing) I remember the last time he was in Austin at Fun Fun Fun Fest, that was a little bit of a crazy “adventure”… do you want to talk about that or not?
Victor: Yeah, that was really crazy, but playing with Glen, I’ve had a lot of crazy “adventures”… it’s a lot of those type of events where uh, just like chaos… (laughing) Today was not as chaotic, ‘cause I think he was concerned about it being chaotic, and the next show will probably be more chaotic.
SLIS: He seemed like he wanted to make amends for the last one.
Victor: That’s the way he operates. You know, I think that energizes him, where he has to be angry about something.
SLIS: (laughing) You were talking about New Wave Music, I know that Killing Joke was a big influence on you.
Victor: Oh HUGE.
SLIS: What other bands have influenced you as far as getting Prong started?
Victor: We were into Die Kreuzen a lot..Killing Joke of course, I was totally goth back then, I was into Bauhaus big time, and Black Flag, and far as like hard-core I was really into Bad Brains…A cross-section of a lot stuff…I was into everything from Parliament Funkadelic to Yes, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple is a BIG huge influence…And then Euro-metal like Destruction and Creator and Celtic Frost…A little Slayer, I still love Slayer, I mean they are one of my favorite bands. And Metallica, a lot of the thrash bands – there was like hordes of them back them… we combined that with New York hardcore and our knowledge of bands like Killing Joke and goth stuff.
SLIS: So as far as Bauhaus, I hear that kind of guitar tone in your sound.
Victor: What guitar style?
SLIS: Daniel Ash’s guitar style.
Victor: Oh Daniel Ash! Yeah, I mean just like the simplicity of it.
SLIS: Just like that serrated tone.
Victor: Yeah, I always liked Daniel Ash. I love Bauhaus…But as a kid, I didn’t play guitar, at all, I was a bass player. So I was more rhythm oriented, so I had to learn…I was doing the sound at CBGB’s in New York, and Mike the doorman, was like “Yeah, you know, this band Damage is breaking up” and his old girlfriend knew me from Queens…and he said “I know Stacy said that you play music…we need a guitar player” …So I picked up the guitar then. And then I went through a crazed phase from like right then, when we started, I was like I gotta figure out Metallica, and learn how to play solos…I didn’t know how to play any of that stuff. So…the remembrance of listening to like Daniel Ash and Geordie from Killing Joke. We were big Stranglers fans, too. They had that. Just that vibe.
SLIS: That dark vibe…
Victor: yeah, so Bauhaus…I still listen to them….I’m really into Peter Murphy. I love the Cure too. The Cure is a big influence as well.
SLIS: Yeah, there is something about that sound that’s still cool.
Victor: It IS cool. Yeah, I mean, especially Joy Division, oh my god- that is probably one of my favorite bands of all time.
SLIS: And they’ve never gone out of style.
Victor: No. So many bands have copied them. You know, I was into Interpol and you know like I loved anything that’s related to Joy Division. Y’know She Wants Revenge? That really cracked me up that record. That’s so great…what they did, like electronic guys picked up on Joy Division and they made a fucking huge career out of it. It’s like, “Damn, I wish I would have done that…”
SLIS: I actually saw them live, they aren’t around anymore but they were good.
Victor: Yeah they had a good run. You know dark wave and electronic music…now it’s all related, sort of heavy, hard-core, electronic music, but like when I was playing with Ministry I had a lot of exposure to a lot more electronic stuff. We played this Mera Luna Festival in Germany, and it’s just all these techno acts and goth bands. And I was like wow this is so cool…But I like rock and roll, I love ZZ Top…I can go all over the place…I’m really into Robert Johnson…the most unbelievable guitar player I’ve ever heard…And I love Hendrix.
SLIS: So tell me about your new Schechter guitar line.
Victor: Yeah, I have a Tommy Victor signature model. Completely built from scratch… it’s like nothing that Schechter had ever put out before. It’s related to an old Charvelle guitar I used in the “Beg to Differ” days…it’s got the shredder style in there…a very thin profile neck. It’s got the high energy pickups that I use with Glenn, too. We were trying to get it out on here, but this is the 25th anniversary, so I’m using these Danzig guitars that have the skull on them.
It came out great, it’s a good modern guitar. There’s a lot of retro guitars, and if you’re gonna buy one, you might as well buy a real retro guitar. This one encompasses everything…anybody who wants to play modern stuff can use it. It’s got a single coil sound…a tremolo bar, which I need to use, it’s 24 frets, cause a lot of my playing is way up on the neck.
SLIS: There’s a lot pinched harmonics in your stuff. What brought that into your sound? That’s a real trademark of your style.
Victor: Believe it or not, Mick Ronson, he didn’t really nail them, but he used that technique (guitarist for glam-era David Bowie), he had a really harsh down picking thing… It just sort of came about. I didn’t really know anybody that was doing it that much. There’s a couple of punk guys..like Cheetah Chrome, from the Dead Boys, did that a little too…It just came by accident, really. But now every heavy metal band uses that. You know what I mean? It’s one trick I knew… I’m pretty limited to a lot of the stuff I’ve been doing. There’s Prong records that there’s not really any solos on them, too. I try to make melodic solos-like Killing Joke, didn’t really have any solos, The Cure didn’t really have anything, and I was into noises, and harmonics. You know, now I’m able to do more blues scale shit.
SLIS: Yeah because that’s stuff that you didn’t really do much of before.
Victor: No. Now on the last record, I have. It’s a lot of pseudo-Kirk Hammett style and I’ve gotten into arpeggios…being in Danzig I’m doing stuff I normally would not have learned.
SLIS: On your last album, there were songs like “List of Grievances” that seemed political. Was that referring to Occupy Wall Street?
Victor: No, I think it was before that. I mean, the lyrical stuff was more generated from people I meet, or books I’ve read. It’s like an older man’s lyrical concept. Where it’s like “I’m over this, I don’t need this anymore.” That’s what it was about, like maturation and things of that nature. Like “Eternal Heat” is almost influenced by Tony Robbins or something. Where it’s just about personal power.
Victor: Yeah, motivational type of thing. It’s kinda a funny thing, I need to listen to that kind of stuff otherwise I’ll just sit in front of the TV and I’ll watch a football game and I won’t do anything… I need a like a coach, you know. I’m just using those techniques, like ‘get off your ass and do something.’
SLIS: Are you playing on the new Danzig Cover’s album?
Victor: Yeah, it’s all done, it’s finished.
SLIS: Any idea what to expect on that?
Victor: It’s raw, I’ll tell you that much. Glenn picked great songs to do..his personal favorites. For instance on his last album “Deth Red Saboath“, I really wasn’t heavily involved in that. I played all the guitar on it. Glenn says he plays a couple of things on it, gives himself credit for it..like he would go in there afterwards and put a couple of overdubs and you know he’s like (imitating Danzig) “Here’s a song” – I’m in there really fast, and I’m outta there really fast. I have nothing to do with the construction. Circle of Snakes was different, where I had a lot more involvement in the development of the songs, you know.
SLIS: I always wonder about that. Every Danzig album always says ‘all songs written by Danzig‘, but he didn’t write the guitar solos…(laughing)
Victor: I know, but that’s just the way the business side of it… comes with him.
SLIS: He’s a character (laughing)
Victor: Yeah. Technically, for the record, he’s right … if you go to a music lawyer… if you really wanna be a stickler on it, if you initiate the song…and then puts the lyrics as 50% of the song…legally, you can take the credit. On ‘Saboath’, Glen told me what was going on..and I just had to learn really fast, and a lot of the solos on that were really embarrassing because…everything is s one-shot deal, it’s like, (speaking really fast) “Time for a solo! Okay, next song!” (laughing) I spent maybe about 20 hours doing all the guitars on that record.
SLIS: Yeah, it’s a really raw sound on that album.
Victor: Yeah, expect more of that on the cover album. It’s even more, the rapidity has increased a lot. (laughing)
SLIS: He’s lucky to have you. You’re a great guitar player.
Victor: Thanks, man.
SLIS: I saw you when you were here with Prong at Emo’s for ‘The Power Of The Damager ‘Tour. It was a great show. Unfortunately, you also just came to San Antonio a few months ago and I didn’t find out until after the fact and my wife and I were SO bummed.
Victor: Yeah, that was with Crowbar – yeah, we’ll be out again. I think Carved Into Stone has gotten a little more momentum, y’know it took a while for people to hear it…you know in Europe it did really well…we have a European tour in March. America has been weird, you know, we were jumping on all kinds of tours last year…a lot of places we didn’t even hit, but the response to the record was great. Things have downsized…Legacy bands are getting popular now so just gonna keep plugging at it.
SLIS: Why do you think that metal is bigger in Europe than it is in America? A lot of metal bands I like are still big over there, but here they’re just not as big of a following.
Victor: Actually, not to be racist, but it’s more of a white culture over there…You really have to look with a magnifying glass to find any signs of a melting pot over there. It’s like all white people who are more rock music oriented. You don’t have the big hip hop scene, and the cheesy white R&B pop music that much like you do over here. Kids grow up with metal over there…you know the media is so much more powerful in America, too. Kids are really influenced by what is thrown in their face on television, etc.
SLIS: Yeah they don’t even play videos on MTV anymore…
Victor: And there’s more public transportation in Europe, so you can go out to shows, can get on a train, or walk to a gig and not have to worry about having to drink and drive. America’s just so big, and you gotta drive everywhere, and it’s just so suburban…the way it’s set up is completely different in Europe.
SLIS: There’s a lot of bands I think have borrowed from your sound. Do you feel unsung in that category? That you were pretty influential?
Victor: A lot of people say that, so I don’t think I’m like unsung about it…there’s a lot of bands that were influential that didn’t really reap the rewards, so I don’t feel like I am singled out or anything.
SLIS: Did you get credit on that album at all?
Victor: It said ‘special thanks‘.
SLIS: Did you play the riff to “The Beautiful People”? I read that somewhere.
Victor: Well, I worked on it…they used my amp. They wanted my sound on it, I went down there and Trent Reznor (who produced) was like ;“what we’ll have you do is bring your amp on the plane and come down here and hang out,” and you know at that time, Trent was like “yeah, here’s a bunch of coke” you know, so were like all coked out fucked up for two weeks (laughing) it’s like “that’s your pay, bye!”
SLIS: So let’s talk about Ministry. Did things end badly with you and Al?
Victor: It really did end badly. Literally on Rio Grande Blood I wrote 80% of that record, and I just couldn’t get paid…I have a hell of a lot of respect for Al, and what he has done for music, but on the other hand…he’s a CROOK. I love Al as a person hanging out, I just can’t do business with him, you know? He wants to hang out and drink and do other things and it’s like, making records is a thing of the past for him…He’s like (imitating Al) “Oh yeah, come on down and we’ll play a bunch of songs and let’s do this record” he’s got a studio, he likes to be in control and live like a king and everything, but yeah so I’m over it. It’s like, unless I’m going to get compensated, I’m not really interested anymore.
SLIS: Were you close to (late Ministry guitarist) Mike Scaccia?
Victor: Oh yeah, very, big time.
SLIS: It was so tragic about his passing.
Victor: Yeah, Mike actually got me involved with them…he got sucked back into Al, you know, they talk a lot..and then they get people back in there busting their ass for no money, you know I’m like “what the fuck?” Everyone’s gotta earn somewhat of a living. You know I’d rather like sit around and sell shit on eBay or something rather than write a record for somebody and then never get any money out of it. I’ve been trying to do things legally with it, and it just get stalled a lot. It is very frustrating. They don’t recognize the amount of work that was put into those last 4 records that I worked on, and then Al, he’s such an egomanic…his emotions get involved where he thinks he is deserving of everything. Which, he didn’t even do any work! Just because it’s a Ministry record. I mean look at the amount of people who were working on that record label, like Paul Barker got screwed…
SLIS: Yeah, he left.
Victor: Yeah, Chris Connelly, lots of people got fucked by him.
SLIS: That’s a shame.
Victor: Yeah. He’s lowered the standards of the guys in the band, like the first tour I went out with him, we had Joey Jordison on drums (Slipknot) and Paul Raven (of Killing Joke and Prong, who passed away in 2007) on bass, and Scaccia on guitar, and he’s like … I don’t want to pay these guys anymore, they ask for too much..and then you get like a bunch of rookies in there and they suck… At least with Glenn, I’ve got Johnny Kelly’s (Type O Negative) a fantastic drummer…it’s someone with a pedigree involved, not a bunch of guys that just wanna kiss Al’s ass.
SLIS: So if you had to pick one album, that you would say “this is the ultimate Prong album” what would that be for you?
Victor: It’s definitely the last one…based on the history of the group, there’s a tip of the hat to every stage of Prong’s career…the blockbuster record, obviously is Cleansing… it really set us apart. So my favorites are Beg to Differ, Carved into Stone, and Cleansing. Beg to Differ is an amazing record. That is just a killer album, man, as far as like New York hard-core that was different.
SLIS: Well I think your stuff’s awesome, and its been a real pleasure to talk to you tonight Tommy, I really appreciate it.
Victor: Thanks, man.
Thanks again to Tommy for the interview! And you can order his guitar (and get all the specs) by clicking here.