Overdrive grabbed some time with Victor while on tour in Germany to talk about the process of writing, working with Glen Danzig and bat-shit crazy-man Al Jourgensen, as well as the prospect his very own autobiography in the coming years.
OD – Firstly let’s get the latest on Zero Days. This is your 4th studio album in 5 years! That’s something that you don’t see these days. You have obviously hit a rich vein when it comes to writing. Have you always been like this or did something happen that just put you into this mindset of writing?
TOMMY – To be honest, you would have to hire a psychoanalyst or psychotherapist to talk to me and get information from them, because I really don’t know the outcome or the attitude that I have when it comes to writing music. I can’t really describe myself that well and I really attempted to answer that question, it would just be bullshit because I really don’t’ know where it all comes from (laughing).
I think that it takes somebody outside to really see what the answer to my inspiration and influence would be. I guess it’s part of the strategy and duration to time that this slew of albums is now flowing out of me.
There was a period where there was not really a lot of Prong albums coming out due to financial problems and also being involved in other things. I was basically not really focused on the band during this time and then when I started getting back into the “Prong mindset”, the strategy that we had discussed at the time was to release a consistent amount of records in order to make amends for those times where there weren’t any albums, so that’s a big part of the reason why there has been a lot of Prong stuff happening in recent years.
Don’t get me wrong, the records could have been shit, which thankfully they haven’t been, so maybe there is something like an outside force or something that has subliminally influenced this course of creative behaviour. Whatever it is, I just don’t really know.
OD – Did you have any doubts when approaching each record?
TOMMY – Yeah, I totally had my doubts but all of us that were involved with the band just pulled together and made it happen. When there is a deadline presented to me, I like to meet it and that’s really what it came down to at the end of the day. We had our agenda and a specific time-frame for everything and we just wanted to make it happen.
OD – There is no denying that your legacy within music but more importantly heavy music, in general, has been the stuff of legend. You’ve played with such a vast amount of musicians and have a track record that would make most other musicians in your field scratch their collective heads. Do you feel that you have made an impact on the evolution of heavy music to what it is today? Do you feel you have played an important part in that?
TOMMY – No, I don’t! The reason why is because I look at my bank account and it’s a humbling experience, to say the least (laughing). Honestly, though, I really don’t know about me having so much influence on other people. On the other hand, I always think of the true catalysts in music seem to always be the ones who end up being broke (laughs).
The masses are weird, you know? I mean, if you can play music for the masses and they dig it, then go do that and I’m sure you’ll be successful. For me, I just try my very best and see what comes out. I still think I have a lot to learn and am still very insecure about my guitar and vocals and to be honest, I’m never completely secure about it all, thinking that I’m some sort of master musician or lyricist. I don’t think that I’m extremely talented
I don’t think that I’m extremely talented, I just sort of try my best to make things happen and that’s the way I’ve been doing things for as long as I can remember. There’s still a part of me that’s like a little kid that just wanted to be in a band.
There are certain things that happened in my life that has influenced the direction that I’ve taken and has led me to where I am today. I just kind of fell into playing music and just kept rolling with things, trying to make a career out of it which everybody knows, is a real struggle at the best of times.
OD – Did you ever consider doing anything else instead of music?
TOMMY – Well, it got to the point where I was like “what else am I going to do” and to be honest with you, it’s still fun and extremely challenging. There’s never really a “slam-dunk” on anything in this business. There’s always a tremendous sense of urgency with every record and that can be stressful at times. I’m not sitting on a huge pile of money or anything like that (laughing) and maybe that’s got something to do with it.
I always have to stay under the radar and stay low and try to humble myself in order to make better music.
OD – I’ve heard ‘Divide and Conquer’ and it has all the signs that ‘Zero Days‘ will be another strong album. Can we expect a consistent level of heaviness throughout or are there any surprises on there?
TOMMY – There are some guitar oriented tracks on ‘Zero Days‘ that I’m particularly proud of as they are way more brutal than the last three records. People have been commenting on the variety of the album, saying that it hits you hard from the get-go and then ventures into some old New York hardcore style’s riffs with a little bit of Thrash in there also. I’ve got some Industrial style shit going on on some of the tracks too before the album closes out with more of a metal vibe.
The one thing about all of the tracks on the album is that they all have that distinctive Prong sound that’s loaded with hooks. It’s just part of the Prong formula, where we really try to create anthems, whether they are successful or not is not really something we have control over but dealing with the trio format of the band is a boundary in a way that doesn’t rely heavily on the technical aspects as much as really trying to get the song structure and that is really what we focus on when trying to put a record together.
We worked our asses off on ‘Zero Days‘ and it all came together within the deadlines that we gave ourselves, which we are all very happy about.
OD – Lyrically, you have commented on the fact that you were very meticulous with penning the tracks. What was it about this batch of material that inspired you to do so?
Production wise, you nailed it?
TOMMY – It’s very hard to explain the way my brain works when it comes to describing the creation/writing process for each album. It’s more like a reaction to the nature of the project if you know what I mean. My frame of mind towards making records has kind of evolved into approaching writing with a really intense approach.
For this album, I had the title “Zero Days” in my head way before I started writing lyrics or melodies. The title stemmed from the idea of a sort of jigsaw approach to things. After making so many records over the years and figuring out the approach and trying to get this into a certain timeframe it just came about from that process.
I was doing a lot of reading/research and putting ideas into my phone and then elaborating on it at a later stage, trying to put it into some kind of song structure. When I was undergoing the pre-production for this album, I was up until three/four in the morning trying to figure out one line in the lyrics, thinking “what’s the missing line to this song?“, it was really that crazy at times.
Ther is just no other way for me to approach the process of recording these days. It’s all or nothing. There weren’t any shortcuts with the lyrics with me and my approach. I’ve been in sessions, where I’ve seen certain individuals who are writing lyrics just be like “oh well, I guess I can get away with just sticking in this line here” and they just passively fill in the blanks with no passion. I didn’t do that! I was obsessed with the fact the lyrics have to mean something and not just be sounds that rhyme with other words.
The lyrics had to have the right connection to the rest of the song and I just got really obsessive compulsive about that. I’ve done that in the past but not to this degree.
OD – Do you find that being so involved with everything from writing, recording, producing, touring etc, that sometimes you just need to step out of the kitchen and take a breather?
TOMMY – Yes, totally man! I try to do as many outside activities as possible to enable me to maintain my creative side. In the past, I may not have done the healthiest things in my life and diversions are important for that. I really enjoy meditative walks and hiking to just clear my mind from the day to day mental clutter that builds up from time to time.
When I get into the studio, I’m there to work. Looking back on some of the albums of the past we sort of approached the recording process as a kind of like a party of sorts. That just ends up being so unproductive and a huge waste of time. Expensive time! Taking two-hour lunch breaks and going for drinks afterwards, none of that stuff happens anymore as it’s just massively unproductive for the timeframe we have to complete the album.
We go in there and just get down to business. We have a particular strategy that involves laying down a huge amount of work in a very short period of time and being extremely focused is mandatory when it comes to making this happen.
OD – Some recent comments you made at Hellfest about working with the likes of Glen Danzig and Al Jourgensen seemed to suggest that things are not in a good place with those guys and although you have worked with Glen a few times now, do you see yourself going back to either of those guys down the line, or are you done with that kind of stuff and just want to concentrate primarily on Prong from now on?
TOMMY – Well, I’ve been working with Glen (Danzig) sporadically with the few shows that he does and was part of his last album ‘Black Laden Crown‘. When I was working with Al Jourgensen (Ministry) on the ‘Rio Grande Blood‘ album, I basically wrote that shit and Al would just come into the studio and throw some vocals down, then put a load of effects over the top and take all the writing credits.
That’s all fine and dandy as that’s what Ministry does, but it got ridiculous after a while, so why waste all of these cool riffs on somebody else’s shit. With Glen (Danzig) it’s different as he actually writes it all himself and I come in and try to interpret what he’s come up with. The big difference between Al and Glen is that Glen actually pays me!
OD – With all of the year’s experience and the legacy that you personally have trailblazer as well as the importance of PRONG, could you ever see yourself releasing a book about it all?
TOMMY – I’ve been approached a total of three times with the prospect of doing a book. With all the tales and the dirt that I’ve witnessed over the years with other artists as well as my own life, I’m just gonna have to wait until I’m going into semi-retirement because if I’m ever going to that, it’s going to be bombastic!
I would never put anything to paper if I knew that it was going to be censored or watered down. Why would I let that happen? I want it to be true to life and a real account of what I’ve seen over the 30 odd years in this fucked up business. If people are willing to pay money for dirt then yes, I’ve got that dirt but there’s no way I’m going to reveal it while I’m trying to maintain relationships with people in this business (laughing).
Just thinking about that now, if I were to do a book, it’s gonna take at least six months to sit down and dictate all the stories and tales, not including all the stuff I don’t remember. I’de have to reconnect with some old faces that I’ve not seen in a while to get the full story on some tales. (laughing)
OD – Of all the achievements that you have under your belt, what are you most proud of?
TOMMY – I don’t really like the word ‘pride’ that much. I kind of think it’s a little pretentious. This game that I’m in, there’s a lot of luck involved with it and it’s kind of like being in the right place at the right time if you know what I mean.
I’ve had a lot of lucky breaks and a lot of bad breaks over the years so any achievements that most would say I’ve accomplished, just doesn’t really connect with me. My life has been a series of luck and not such good luck which has determined the direction that I’ve taken with things. It’s more of a mystery as to how I got here. There was no master plan or anything like that.
I’ve been very fortunate in having some great people help me out over the years and still do. Even making ‘Zero Days‘ has been a process of other peoples help, knowledge and kindness. Everything I’ve done has been a collective accomplishment between the band, label and everybody that’s involved. It’s not really something that I can do on my own.
‘The Cleansing‘ album is a good example of this. During the process of making that record, I was married at the time and had a very unsupportive wife and as a result of things which I’m not gonna go into, most of that album was written on an acoustic guitar in my bathroom. It was bizarre, to say the least! That album was sort of a weird achievement in its own right as I literally had to find the will to continue making music and that will that I have to get something done is God given anyhow, it’s just the way that I am and I’m not even sure where that came from.
Then there was ‘Ruining Lives‘ and that album was an unbelievable lucky break which still amazes me to this day. At one point, I had no songs and nothing prepared and within a week and a little bit of luck, I was in the studio and getting it done. So you can see, I can’t’ really take the credit for things as I just see everything as a series of lucky breaks that happen during the normal mundane day to day happenings.
Luck always runs out, so we’ll see how long I can hang on to it (laughing).
Pre-Order your copy of ‘Zero Days‘ here.
Prong will be taking to the stage in Belfast tonight (July 19th) and Dublin’s Voodoo Lounge on Thursday, July 20th. Tickets are on sale now via Ticketmaster and Sound Cellar priced at €20 (inc booking fee). Please contact DME Promotions for updates.
Photography – © Prong Official
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