After three decades, history has caught up to Tommy Victor and his prescient industrial-strength metal outfit Prong. Its latest effort, last year’s “Zero Days” — one of its angriest, most lyrically ferocious — is inspired by today’s turbulent political times and Russian-influenced U.S. presidential election. “Songs like ‘Off the Grid’ and ‘Divide and Conquer’ are about social media being used against us, which I think is really destroying people’s souls,” says the pitbull-voiced singer, 56. “And now, a year into Trump’s presidency, with the bipolar mentality of the news media, I don’t think there’s any honesty left. So this record was definitely written at the right time.”
With albums like 1990’s “Beg to Differ” and 1994’s “Cleansing,” Prong was a crucial bridge between punk, speed metal and industrial. Do you clearly understand your legacy now?
I totally do. But we were actually under a lot of pressure back then, and I could write book about all the reasons. I remember when we signed our contract with Epic Records, we were so happy about it. But the lawyer we had then said, “Well, the party’s over now.” Because we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, and we were just pretending and bumbling our way through. And we were partying back then on top of it all. We had some good times before we got signed to a major. But as soon as we got on that label, everything changed.
But you had the coolest of all moonlight gigs — sound engineer at CBGB.
Yeah! For four years, from ’86 to ’90. I worked audition night, then hardcore matinees, and then I started doing a good 90 percent of everything there. But I’d been hanging out at CBGB since I was a little kid, and I lived in the neighborhood, so it was relatively easy to get a job there. And bands like Big Black and Soundgarden would roll through, way before grunge. There was this wide-open landscape of uncharted territory with music in those days, but I haven’t seen anything like it in 20 years.
You’ve also happily downplayed your bandleader profile over the years to play humble sideman to Ministry, Glenn Danzig, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie.
Well, it’s just a role you put yourself in. And it’s not easy being the frontman and guitar player of Prong. But technology has made everything easier. Figuring out a band’s songs as a kid, I’d have a record player and a stylus. And I’d have to stop, put the needle back in the groove again of a particular riff of “Paranoid” until I learned it. This was way before tablatures — you had to figure stuff out by ear, and by destroying records.