Saturday, April 22, 2017

John 5 Dominates Detroit

John 5 is one of those musicians that quietly dominates the stage.  His guitar is not quiet, but often his demeanor is, as he is known to hide behind masks and makeup, often not uttering a word the whole performance, letting his guitar speak for him while on stage.  Though he has gotten a lot of attention over the years, he is not the first guy jumping up volunteering to give interviews, as he has often allowed musicians such as David Lee Roth, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson to get the limelight, quietly dominating the stage with his guitar behind them.

Though it may appear as if he likes to lurk in the shadows, donning scary masks, often hiding his real identity with stage techniques, on his recent tour, he has stepped forward to own his skills and make people truly aware of the talent he possesses.  Though many know he has talent – he must if he works with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie – it is on this solo mission that he owns the limelight himself.  Stepping forward to tear up the stage by himself, his stage performance is truly a wonder, as he showcases talent that crosses over nearly every musical genre.

Denying vocals on the tour, John 5 lets his guitar speak for him.  He has a drummer and a bassist to keep the beat alive, but he is the main star on the stage, wailing on his guitar as if he is a puppet master of the crowd.  It’s not like a Buckethead concert, as John 5 puts little twists throughout the show, such as a having an evil clown that sprays the crowd with silly string.

Sure, there’s masks and creatures lurking about on stage, but isn’t that to be expected from John 5?  He has always embraced the theatrics of stage, and his own tour is no exception to that.  Between each song, there is a different surprise awaiting the audience, which makes it fun to watch, as you can’t help but wonder what will happen next.

Again, there’s no vocals.  He tells the crowd that if they know the song, they should sing along.  He played all kinds of favorites, from songs that he has worked on, to cover songs that many people know, allowing the audience to sub in for a traditional lead singer.  What’s interesting to note is that he does not stick to one musical genre; instead, he bounces around, covering nearly ever genre in music, from country twang to hard rock and even softer sounds.

Not only does he play different genres, both covers and originals, but he creates a storyline with the music.  Even though there is no lead singer telling people how they should feel, the music itself captures those traditional emotions, varying from country twang with some of that hard luck feel, sweeping the crowd up with slow romantic numbers, pounding them with thrashing beats, and luring them back into the dark abyss where only he knows what will come next building tension with a dark and slow impending doom, as if the audience is part of a horror movie, and something scary is coming.  That is why John 5 is very much a puppet master, as he commands the emotions of the crowd through his music without the help of any vocals.

To close the concert, he says, “this is going to be the last song, as we don’t know any more,” which you can tell by his sly smile is a big, fat lie.  He does a compilation of the biggest hits and random favorites that everyone in the crowd can identify, with riffs varying from AC/DC to Michael Jackson.  The thing that was hilarious though, was the entire crowd broke out singing for one particular riff:  “Roxanne, you don’t have to turn on the red light…”

Of all the songs he played, all the familiar rocking hits, Roxanne was the one that brought the entire crowd together to belt out the tune.  Whether that was planned by John 5, or whether it just happened to be the crowd at the show who knew that song more than the hundreds of others, perhaps it’s a little influence from both.  Still, one couldn’t help but laugh that the crowd of hardcore individuals gathered together in harmony for that song of all songs; not to say that it is a bad song, just that one would think people would sing any of the other popular songs that he played, and it’s interesting that that many people recognized that throwback of a song with only a few guitar strums and felt compelled to sing it at the top of their lungs for Easter, as at that point, it about midnight, which meant it was technically Easter in Detroit.

The Token Lounge was rather full with John 5 on stage.  Perhaps, it was because it was a hometown show for him, and that’s why it was so crazy in there, but he definitely could have filled up a bigger location had he wanted to; that much is for sure.  Unless you had been camped out long before he took the stage, it was nearly impossible to get to the front of the stage, and that says something about how many people are sweating and sliming up against one another in hopes of catching a glimpse of this famous guitar playing hometown hero.

If you’ve never seen John 5 dominating the stage, it’s worth checking out.  No matter what type of music you like, he can not only play it, but play it with a passion that will move the audience.  He might be the quiet type sometimes, but grandma always said, “it’s those quiet ones that you have to watch out for,” as those can sometimes be those most passionate, as is the case when it comes to John 5 playing guitar with a mastery that will suck in the audience and take over.

Marisa Williams earned her Master’s in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University and teaches at a college in Florida.  She is the author of more than 100 books:  Also, check out

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tommy Victor of Prong talks new album and tour

To date, Tommy Victor is still the only musician who has done my I-Ching reading.  He is a fabulous musician, appearing in a number of projects, playing regularly with bands like Ministry and Danzig, but his music in Prong has spanned over decades, featuring a number of noteworthy musicians throughout the years.  Though he is a great person to converse with about a number of topics, from conspiracy theories to the apocalyptic feel of the upcoming album, we kept the chat mainly to music... after a bit of catch up chit chatting, as it is easy for us to get off of topic sometimes. 
He surprised me, having had my number programmed in his phone since 2002, and he could identify me by my laugh, even though I had not seen him in a few years.  I remember talking to him back in 2002, and he had asked me what I would like to know about the music industry.  When I told him I wanted to see what being on tour was like, he asked me why, and I said I always heard people talk about it, so I wanted to experience it for myself; within a couple weeks, I joined the Ozzfest tour.
Tommy is the nucleus of Prong, but he's one of those musicians who has had his hands in so many projects that people don't even realize.  Even with as many famous people as he has played with, he still remains humble, totally approachable, and being down to earth sets him apart from the others.  If you ever get a chance to really sit and chat, Tommy's vast knowledge can be mind blowing.

Author Marisa Williams:  It seems like Prong has gone through waves of activity, and with the recent additions of new albums, it seems as if Prong is in a surge cycle right now.  What brought about the resurgence of the band?

Tommy Victor of Prong:  The fact that I haven’t been playing that much in other bands, as I was previously spending time in Ministry, and Glenn hasn’t been that busy, so I’ve actually been able to make records with Prong and tour. 

Marisa:  You have played with so many bands over the years, including Ministry and Danzig.  What other irons do you have in the fire at the moment?

Tommy:  I do have two other projects, very much side projects, that I’ve been working on.  There’s so much, but they’re not completely off the ground yet.  They’re still in the process of getting finished, so I don’t want to talk too much about it.  I’m hoping to finalize the one within six months.  The other one, I don’t know, whenever I have time to do it.  We’re on the road, and the new record is coming out on July 28 for Prong, but I do have two other things; one’s a metal thing, and the other is more electronic.  I don’t know how to explain it, and I don’t want to be all mysterious, but there are two projects that will be forthcoming.

Marisa:  You played with COC’s drummer Reed Mullin in Teenage Time Killers.  Are you still active with that project? 

Tommy:  That was a while ago now.  I worked on it four years ago, so I don’t think I’d get involved again.

Marisa:  As people in the music industry age, some musicians have developed hearing loss.  Is it a challenge working with musicians that have such disabilities, and how do you overcome those difficulties?

Tommy:  I haven’t had that experience.  If anyone, it’s probably me.  In conversation, I’m a little bit deaf.  I haven’t experienced it with others so much.  My bass player of Prong wears ear plugs, so it’s not an issue.

Marisa:  You had previously laughingly described your heritage as having a bit of gypsy in it, and with the popularity of that show My American Gypsy Wedding, would you ever consider having your daughter have a dress made by Sondra Celli for a sweet 16 or wedding?

Tommy:  No, she’s way passed her Sweet 16.  I don’t know.  I disbanded that whole thing.  My brother tried to get the DNA thing going.  It was inconclusive, but I live in CA, and I’m more like a Californian really.  If anything, that’s more East Coast, clinging to some heritage.  In LA, nobody gives a fuck about the past, unless you’re Mexican, and even then, you don’t know if that’s their real heritage either.

Marisa:  You have had a lot of musicians play with you over the years.  Who is on this current tour with you, and how did you decide on this version of Prong?

Tommy:  Art Cruz has been with the band for five years on drums.  Jason Christopher quit, because he didn’t think Prong was big enough.  We got Mike Longworth.  He has been in and out over the years, but we’ve got him back.  Mike can play, and he’s really easy to get along with, which is really important for me these days.  I don’t need any antagonists around.  I just want to get through the day peacefully; that’s one of my priorities.  You can’t control things.  Who knows what will happen, but I don’t need a lot of lip – that is what it comes down to.

Marisa:  What are you doing on this tour, or what can people look forward to on this tour?

Tommy:  We switch the set up every night pretty much.  Some nights play more from Cleansing, other nights, it’s more from Beg to Differ or more from No Absolutes.  We only get 40 minutes on the Testament tour now, but we have headlining shows, which are not in front of me, but Grand Junction, CO, Big Shots in Indiana, and Omaha are headlining shows.  You can check on website, and I think there’s Sioux Falls, too.  Those are long sets.  We had a headlining show last night, and those have everything in there.  We’ve been playing Disbelief on Primitive Origins.  The John St. Pub in Ontario on April 25.  Doing New England Metal Fest Friday.  We have Richmond and New Jersey, then we head to Canada and the Majestic Theatre in Detroit.  In Europe, we’re playing Hellfest, Poland’s Woodstock, Wacken Open Air Festival, and a lot of other festivals this summer.

Marisa:  You have played with all kinds of bands in the past, and you’ve had a number of other members come and go from Prong over the years.  In dealing with all those different musicians, has your approach to writing your own music changed throughout the years?

Tommy:  Yes, I’m more collaborative these days.  There’s only a few instances where I completely wrote something on the last few records; I work with other guys a lot more.  They’re all like friends, so I definitely changed over the years.  I reach out for help a bit more.  Chris Collier played on Zero Days; we work a lot on song writing and arrangements, do the records ourselves nowadays.  Mike Longworth contributed on the new album and other records.  Erie Lock wrote with me on No Absolutes.  There’s one song on the new album that Fred Ziomeck from Darkest Hour wrote with me.  I collaborate a lot, bring people in and out of the band.  Mike’s playing with the band now, but Jason contributed on Ruining Lives.  I put the puzzle together to make the records.  I’ll sit around for a year, so I need help from other people. 

Marisa:  Was it hard to give up the reins to your music, allowing other people to step in to help?

Tommy:  It was easy to give up the reins. I still have the reins for all the vocals and vocal melodies.  On new records, the riffs are mine but with help.  I still have a lot of work, feel unappreciated, and I’ve gotten disgusted with it.  I try not to burn out.  With Rude Awakening, I put everything into that, wrote 50 songs on my own, and the record didn’t come out the way I wanted.  I basically quit for years, burnt myself out on it.  I have a tendency to do that.  Do all this work, expect to come out on me, then it’s not the next thing.  I don’t want to carry that load that much.  Considering how many records I put out over the last five years, it is astonishing.  It’s almost like nobody cares.  People have asked me if I’m going to write a book, and part of me worries that nobody would care.  My typing skills suck, and I tried to strengthen them with a program. 

Marisa:  Can you talk more about the new album coming out?

Tommy:  The new Record, Zero Days, I think it’s the first record I did lyrically that is currently political in a general passion.  It started sinking in.  When I start working on records, I get a lot of sources, read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Moby Dick, long books, and they sunk in.  I would read Huffington Post, and I tried to be current, then read thick books, and sort of meshed all this stuff together.  I’m really happy with the lyrics on the records.  It’s eight political, social songs, kinda cool.  I really focused on the lyrics.  Obviously, with a name like Zero Days, it’s apocalyptic, done before the whole North Korean bullshit, but it’s kinda interesting, current with a good metal fashion, kinda dangerous.  We’re still really pushing the No Absolutes record that came out last April.  Zero Days ends the trilogy of Ruining Lives, No Absolute and Zero Days; it’s a trilogy of records over the last three years.

Marisa:  Any final thoughts?

Tommy:  With Testament and Sepultura, it’s a really great bill.  People are really happy with the show.  All the bands are really good, definitely worth the money, definitely a good tour for Prong.  There’s good stuff going on. 

For more on Prong: 

Marisa Williams earned her Master's in Writing at the Johns Hopkins University and is currently teaching at a college in Florida.  For more by Marisa, visit and