On January 25, 1994, Prong released its fourth album, Cleansing. Featuring stand-outs like “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck,” “Broken Piece” and “Whose Fist Is It Anyway,” Cleansing propelled Prong into new heights and made them one of the 90s most underrated influences in metal. 20 years later, frontman/guitarist Tommy Victor is keeping the legacy of Prong alive and active, with Ruining Lives (album number nine) getting its physical release on May 13. We spoke to Victor himself about the fast-paced recording process of Ruining Lives, and reflected back on the game changer that was Cleansing.
So I understand that Ruining Lives marked the fastest that you’ve written and recorded an album. Despite that, though, the album still sounds extremely focused and tight. How did you manage to maintain such a focus and energy despite the fast-paced nature of the recording process?
When you focus on anything, you need to get away from any distractions and there’s a lot of self-discipline involved in that. As soon as I got off of a tour with Danzig, I went right into the studio and put in the time, twelve hours at least a day. Having the deadline that was presented to me and that I was committed to was actually beneficial to me because when I put that structure in my life, I won’t roam around and question everything. This has been a learning experience for me because now I realize that things can be done if you put your mind to it and trust other guys. Steve Evetts was involved and he helped out tremendously, and so did Chris Collier the engineer who also worked on the songs with me too. All great help and I was really lucky to at the same time have those guys.
Would you consider working on such a short time frame for future releases, or do you just play it by ear next time?
I thought about that a little bit. This was a little strenuous. As far as working on the record, I would probably do the same process. As far as writing goes, I would have liked another month. The process of writing was quick, I mean more than any other record ever.
Despite that, though, I really thought that especially from a songwriting point of view the songs just sounded great and were well-written. And it really was a great combination of not just one era from Prong in a sense. It really combined the best elements over the years. But was there = a particular time period of Prong or maybe any specific subgenres that maybe you had in mind that you drew inspirations from?
These are new songs, they’re all new. It’s not even like with Carved Into Stone where there’s a song like “Revenge Best Served Cold” that was written a little earlier than some of the other songs. So it was really hard to decipher and we didn’t have any time to reflect into early records that much. In all honesty though, in recent months before the record I did listen to Force Fed, a record I haven’t listened to in maybe 10 or 15 years. And then having to play the whole Beg To Differ record from start to finish may it embedded or hardwired something into me. A lot of this stuff is subconscious and channeling whatever is out there. And not to sound all serious and mystical about it, but I don’t really have any time for all of these conscious decisions on where I was going to derive information from.
Well going back, you mention that you have a really great support team working with you on the album. And I know that you mentioned how proud you are of the vocals on this album. What do you think you and Steve Evetts did differently from the past to accomplish this strong performance?
Well this process with Evetts started with Carved into Stone. He taught me a lot [during the making of that album]. I didn’t trust him at first a little bit. I thought he was off base. The way he wanted me to use my voice was something that I wasn’t used to doing a lot. And as far as the differences on this record, that learning curve with him didn’t exist anymore and I completely had trust in his direction. So that enabled me to be more confident. He’s such a genius, an amazing guy and you really have to search to find anything wrong with this dude and his knowledge. I’ve worked with some big producers in the past, and this guy’s got the techniques, he’s got the knowledge and it’s great to be around him. So a combination of those technical aspects in the studio and some upgrades to gear, and giving me more confidence in the performances under his direction made this a better record, vocally and overall.
And I’d rather actually [be able to hear] the lyrics. I had to put my foot down on that in a lot of ways, because when dealing with other band members and such in the past, they just wanted me to scream, they just wanted me to go in and be “macho.” It’s not necessary. Believe it or not, my voice is loud enough without having to scream, according to Steve and he’s worked with countless vocalists. I don’t need to strain [my voice]. That enables the articulation of the words, and I think that’s important. With past records, not including Carved Into Stone, I still get people questioning what I’m saying, even on “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.” At my age, and with how long I’ve been in the music business, I like songs that involve stories in lyrics, and that’s important to be heard regardless if it’s metal, punk rock or what have you.
The album is streaming on Spotify right now, but I know that the album officially comes out in North America on May 13 (a few weeks after it’s released in Europe). I’m sure it’s a very complicated reason and whatnot, but why is there such a huge gap in between the time releases?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. Maybe it has something to do with a press thing? There’s a lot more press generated in Europe [for us] than there is in America.
Does it frustrate you that the album isn’t available everywhere at the same time?
No. For some reason it didn’t alarm me, I don’t know why. I keep away from micromanaging and I allow things to happen, and that’s not for reasons of business success because maybe if I micromanaged everything and drove everyone nuts, then maybe I’d have a lot more money in my pocket. And it’s not out of laziness; I just don’t feel that it fits my method of operation. It just doesn’t work for me. There’s so many things like that surrounding the music and bands, and producing records and guitar playing, that can be continually frustrating. I mean there’s other things that may be more, as I said, alarming, but I just let it go, I just don’t get involved in those things. Anyway I’m not disappointed with the release dates – these things I do trust inherently that they’re all for the better. That’s how much faith I have these days, even if things are like “oh that’s weird” or “this isn’t right”, I have the faith that it’s all for some kind of strange reason.
That’s certainly a good way to look at it. It also helps that the album was made available on Spotify at the same time to keep U.S. fans at ease.
Well you know, and I’m probably using a hyperbole with this, but it’s almost like you make records to be on Spotify now. That’s an outrageous statement to many, especially label people, but Prong is becoming a legacy band. People need to know that we’re still making records, that our name is out there and we’re doing all good stuff, regardless of if they’re going to purchase a physical product or not.
Well on somewhat of a side note, and this might be a little hard for you to believe, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of the album Cleansing.
That is hard to believe.
Ohh… Yeah, in the studio there’s a lot of fond memories. The preparation for it and the chaos that consumed the whole pre-production period, and I’ve been through it so many times in my career. Member changes, namely Troy Gregory leaving, and again the bulk of the work being thrown on me to solve all these problems while handling the business and personal matters. I remember that being extremely stressful. I think it catered to the inevitable/possible disappointment with Rude Awakening, and I just remembered how much work and how much sacrifices I had to make in order for those records to come into fruition.
But the process was great – I mean working with Terry Date was always a pleasure, more so on Cleansing. I got to mix a record with him at Electric Lady Studios in New York, which is an experience I will never forget. We had a lot of fun with the guitar tracks, and again with Prong it wound up being a solitary experience. That’s just the way it is. I mean, people tend to think a lot of times that when you’re making records, and I guess if you’re a rap artist this may not apply, your surrounded by thisposse and everyone’s partying, you’re in the studio listening to the same track over and over again bringing your buddies in to hear stuff, like as if that was the 90s. It wasn’t like that for Prong at all. I was in the studio all day long with Terry, making decisions, laying guitar tracks on it, vocals, and the traveling. At that point, the budget was enough where we did sessions in multiple places. Then when you finish the mixes, there’s always the mastering problem. That record was mastered four times before we settled on the brilliant mastering that we inevitably had. So I mean, it’s a great sounding record. The last time I listened to it was maybe two years ago. There is an amazing magic to that record, and a lot of that record came together by accident. It was just one of those great moments in my life.
If you could travel back in time to the moment you were in the studio recording that album, what one thing would you tell your past self?
I sort of touched on this before, but you live under this delusion that when being in a band, your personal life is going to be [full of] accolades and all these people are going to run all over the place worshipping you. That never happened with Prong, and I think because of that I felt maybe like left out or that I was missing out on something. And really, I wasn’t. I wasn’t missing out on anything, and I should be proud there it was some sort of subliminal integrity about the band that doesn’t attract that mentality that much. I should have been more proud of myself. So I would’ve said to myself just chill out, appreciate what you’re doing, and not worry about what the benefits of this process is going to be.
Stream Ruining Lives in the Spotify player above. While Prong will be touring in Europe this summer, they’ll be back in North America with Overkill in the fall.
[photo taken by Tim Tronckoe]