Prong (Contemporary Musicians)
In the late 1980s, New York's Prong hit the scene with a vengeance, blending their own combination of thrash, industrial, and post-punk doom. Their sound made it difficult for critics to classify them into any one particular genre, as Chris Gill wrote in Guitar Player, "In a world where music is segmented into countless subgenres, Prong defies categorization." Singer and guitarist Tommy Victor, one of the group's founding members, says the group doesn't try to limit themselves by writing and recording music that fits into a particular category. "I don't want to align myself with some kind of subculture in order to get popular," Victor told HM. "I just want to feel good about myself ... and avoid these classifications."
Victor started his career in music as a bass player for local R&B, ska, and funk bands. He switched to guitar as he moved toward more aggressive rock music, and when he joined Prong, he decided to take on lead vocal duties, as well. At the time, he was a sound engineer at the famed CBGB's nightclub in New York. He formed the band with bassist Mike Kirkland and drummer Ted Parsons. Kirkland, who used to play with the band Damage, worked with Victor at CBGB's as a doorman, and before joining Prong, Parsons played for heavy artrockers the Swans and studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
The newly formed Prong trio began rehearsing together in 1986. By the following year, they had released their first album, Primitive Origins, on their own British label, Spigot Records. They continued to write, perform, and record, releasing their second album, Force Fed, the following year, this time with a U.S. distribution deal through Relativity/ln-Effect Records. In 1989, Prong released The Peel Sessions on the Strange Fruit label, featuring four re-mixed tracks from their first two albums. The BBC originally broadcast the sessions on the John Peel show on Radio One. That same year, Prong signed their first major record label contract with Epic Records.
When they released their 1990 LP, Beg to Differ, Victor and Kirkland still held their jobs at CBGB's. The album included one live track, "Third from the Sun, " which was recorded at CBGB's. The widespread distribution of a major label deal increased the exposure of their unique sound. Kim Neely wrote in Rolling Stone, "Prong's musical approach is a schizophrenic minimalism; the band pares its songs down to skeletal form and then grafts meat back onto the bone."
The following year, founding member Kirkland left the group and was replaced by former Flotsam & Jetsam bassist Troy Gregory. Once Gregory was firmly in place, Prong joined forces with producer Mark Dodson for their next release Prove You Wrong. Before the album was released, Gregory left the band for personal reasons. Former Killing Joke bass player Paul Raven quickly stepped in to fill Gregory's spot. It started as a temporary replacement, but the chemistry worked so well that Raven soon joined the band on a permanent basis.
Prong's next project broke new ground. Whose Fist Is This Anyway, included five re-mixed versions of Prong's songs recorded by various artists, plus a new song called "Talk, Talk." Once Prong released the EP, the idea took off within rock music circles. Other bands, including Nine Inch Nails, Megadeth, Pantera, and White Zombie, used the same guest re-mix concept on their own albums, yet Prong never received any recognition for the idea. "We never got any notoriety for that, " Victor told Chris Gill in Guitar Player. "That EP went nowhere, and the label is still apologetic about it, because they realize how a lot of groups picked up on that afterwards."
Undaunted, Prong continued to tour and record, releasing Cleansing in 1994. Cleansing featured guest keyboardist John Bechdel who played in the group Murder, Inc., and was produced by Terry Date, who had previously worked with hard rockers Pantera and Soundgarden. The album showed Prong to be able song writers, as Tom Sinclair wrote in his Entertainment Weekly review, "What renders Prong's fury more engaging is the way it sometimes pulls honest-to-God songs out of the din, proving that metal and melody don't have to be mutually exclusive." Cleansing begins with a song called "Another Wordly Device." According to Tommy Victor, the song establishes the concept of the rest of the album. Its lyrics revolve around the theme of eliminating outside interventions and personal obstacles from one's life. "I think there's a unique fairness to society," Victor told Chris Gill in Guitar Player. "I live by my own values, do my own thing, and do away with the things that are unnecessary. I'm more confident about myself because I've eliminated many obstacles."
After Cleansing, Victor began to reflect on his musical growth, as well. Since he had not performed as a singer before he joined Prong, he decided to spend some time developing his voice, and by the time their next album, Rude Awakening, was released, he had improved his abilities enough to highlight the vocals more throughout the album. In addition to Victor's vocals, Prong hooked up with Nine Inch Nails keyboardist Charlie Clouser to play on the album, which added a new dimension to their sound. "Prong has always walked the tight rope between hard rock and industrial," Sheila Rene wrote in Rocknet. "There's just enough on this album to keep those industrial folks happy."
After the release of Rude Awakening, Prong headed out on a world tour, playing throughout the U.S., Japan, and Europe. Continuing in the vein of the album, Prong hired a guitarist to perform on the tour, allowing Victor to concentrate more on his vocals in concert. During the tour, bassist Paul Raven was injured and could not continue to perform with the band in 1996. He was temporarily replaced by World of Pain bass player Vince Dennis until he could return.
Although Prong had not attained the huge commercial success of hard-edged contemporaries Nine Inch Nails or Soundgarden, they continued follow their own artistic path. They had just enough popularity to keep going without having to compromise their musical direction in order to maintain their fan base. "I'm just looking to reinvent the group constantly, without completely abandoning all that we've done," Victor told Rene in Rocknet.
Primitive Origins, Spigot, 1987 Force Fed, Relativity/In-Effect, 1988.
The Peel Sessions, Strange Fruit, 1989.
Beg to Differ, Epic Records, 1990.
Prove You Wrong, Epic Records, 1991.
Whose Fist Is This Anyway, Epic Records, 1992.
Cleansing, Epic Records, 1994.
Rude Awakening, Epic Records, 1996.
Billboard, December 14, 1991.
Entertainment Weekly, January 21, 1994.
Guitar Player, April 1994.
Rolling Stone, March 22, 1990; May 3, 1990.
Wilson Library Bulletin, June 1990.