On March 31, Prong will be releasing Songs From the Black Hole, an album of cover songs from the band’s influences, including their take of tunes by Bad Brains, Sisters of Mercy, Killing Joke, Black Flag, Husker Du, Fugazi and more. When speaking to Tommy Victor about the 25th anniversary of Beg to Differ, we also asked him about the new album. He spoke to us about how the album came together, what songs didn’t make the cut, and also about working with Danzig on three (!) albums.
How did the idea of doing a covers album come about?
It was one of these weird things where it wasn’t planned and there’s something to be said about that. I was given a project and it seemed like a good idea. We had a week off last year between festivals we couldn’t fill in any of the dates. It was a matter of finances initially where we’re going to sit around for a week in Berlin, pay for a hotel, drink a bunch of tea and eat nuts or something for the week. Our manager asked if we had any new songs and I said’ not really.’ I had some ideas, but I’d just finished and was burnt out from doing Ruining Lives a couple months previously. He suggested doing some covers and we could just put it out as another bootleg record, just something so we could generate income. I said ‘okay.’ I wasn’t really sure what direction to go in with the songs. As far as managers go of course they’re going to shoot for your typical AC/DC and Black Sabbath. I didn’t really want to do that. I started asking around and I really didn’t commit to it til I got an idea of where we were going to go with the whole thing, and then I was inspired to do it. It actually turned into a pretty big project. It just started to snowball. What started as just going into the studio for three days to jam out to covers turned out to be a real release. And that was pretty magical.
Did you still manage to get it out in a week?
No, Because we were touring, we really didn’t have any rehearsal time. I was going over my idea arrangements backstage and whenever I had an opportunity to. We did two days of rehearsal in the studio, banged out all the arrangements, did the basic tracks in Berlin, and then took the basic tracks back here to L.A and finished up the vocals, put in a couple more guitar tracks then mixed it. It wounded up being like making a regular record. Not with as much production, but it was a process.
It seems like it’s a pretty diverse track listing too and it’s definitely not all the old standbys you would expect. It seems almost punk influenced. Was it a conscious effort on your part to not go with any obvious songs and/or bands?
Yeah, being in the Prong tradition, we didn’t want to do anything too obvious, that was important. When it comes to Prong there’s some kind of screen or filter that comes through everything. Choosing those songs was part of that in some ways. So right off the bat, instinctually, when I was imposed with certain songs I was like ‘no way.’ As far as working with Jason, the bass player, he had a lot of input with the songs selection and some of the stuff I posed to him. I’d say ‘what about this?’ He’d be like “no, I don’t think we should go that route.” I respected his opinion and it was a communal decision on a lot of these things. Like there was a Buzzcocks song I wanted to do and those guys said no. There was a couple other songs floating around, like a Bauhaus song and then we decided that lyrically it didn’t really fit in with the other ones. Even though it’s diverse, there’s a continuity with songs lyrically and their part in Prong history too, sonically, was important. Of course during that time Metallica really influenced everybody. We were thinking that if we ever did this again we would tackle some more of the thrash influences, but I thought it would have been too all over the place. It would have not really respected our New York roots if we went the thrash route, because even New York thrash was based on Bay Area thrash. We’d have to reflect L.A. music so we’d have to start going into your Dark Angel and we were thinking that would be something for another release. It didn’t really work with the format of a Lower East Side vision with the packaging. Some compromises had to be made with the whole thing.
And you’re touring finally. Big tour announced this week. Are you going to be playing songs off the covers album?
Yeah, as much as we can do. We do Europe for three weeks and then we hit America when the summer ends so it’s going to be a good amount to fit the covers in. I mean, we aren’t going to do all of them but the ones that we think we can tackle.
You’re still playing with Danzig as well. How’s the recording process coming along?
It’s hard to say right now. We’ve been going in really sporadically and finishing up on the three records that he’s working on. He usually has an idea of what I have to do and I just go in and do it and leave. So there’s not really any kind of band type of atmosphere with the whole thing. He’s working on the records and I’m pretty much playing guitar on them. We always have a good time, Glenn and I get along fantastically so we just go in have a good time and then I leave.
Wait, three records?
Yeah, it’s a known thing that he’s working on the Elvis Presley EP and a covers record, as well as the Danzig record proper. I have a supporting role, guitar playing, and I help him out on that. When I go in, I don’t know which one I’ll be working on. He’s been trying to knock them out at the same time. It’s a scattered process, but it works.
So the Elvis thing is really happening?
Yeah, I’ve worked on that. Glenn did most of that himself so there’s some things that he didn’t need me for, so I didn’t work as extensively on it. He had a lot of the arrangements and music worked out already and I went in and polished up some guitar. It’s raw and Glenn has a certain way of working where he wants everything to be absolutely perfect. So you do your thing, everything’s fine, and then we leave.