Interview with Traa, P.O.D., Testify, The Warriors EP II, Payable on Death

Interview with Traa

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In 2003, P.O.D. released Payable on Death with new guitarist Jason Truby, after the very difficult and very public exit of original guitarist Marcos. Now, hot off of releasing The Warriors EP II in November, P.O.D.’s new album Testify drops this week. Newly-married bassist Traa took time out of his schedule to chat with Bullz-Eye about his favorite soda pop, the meshing of a new guitarist into the mix, why the Payolas' “Eyes of a Stranger” was the cover they picked for their last EP, and what it was like to work with über-producer Glen Ballard, dude.

Bullz-Eye: Congratulations on the recent nuptials.

Traa: (laughs) Thanks a lot, man.

BE: How’s that going?

Traa: It’s going good, man. You know, we’re kinda still newlyweds, so you know….

BE: Yeah, it’s been a long time for me, I can hardly remember. I’m 15 years into the game.

Traa: Really? Congratulations, bro, it’s rare.

BE: In today’s world, yes, it is. Thanks. Since I have you on the phone - and again, thanks for taking timeout to talk to Bullz-Eye, we appreciate it – I wanted to talk about the EP, The Warriors EP II, for a minute. I really liked it, but I was mesmerized by you guys picking “Eyes of a Stranger”.

Traa: Ahaa. (laughs)

BE: You want to give me some genesis on picking that song for a cover?

Traa: Dude, we are old school, bro. Everybody from our era has seen “Valley Girl,” right?

BE: Right.

Traa: What’s that dude’s name?

BE: Nicolas Cage.

Traa: Right. That’s one of Nicolas Cage’s first films, where he had the eagle cut on his chest and his hair. I think it was a situation where the song stuck out to Sonny. I remember we were playing some flashes from the past, where bands sit around and say, “Dude, do you remember this song?” I think one of us pulled that song out, “Eyes of a Stranger,” and Sonny’s like, “I remember that song.” So he went out on the Internet or something to research it and he found out it was the Peyotes.

BE: The Payolas.

Traa: The Payolas, right. Sonny went out and found the album, and he’d been singing it to his daughter and the song became a real personal song to him. All of us mutually were like, “One of these days, we have to cover this song.” Dude, it turned into to what it turned into. This album - we were sitting around thinking of the songs we could do, because we did “Bullet the Blue Sky” on Fundamental Elements of Southtown album. We just wanted to do something different, come up with a different song that not too many people know about, but some people know about, and that song was it. It kind of fits the vibe of P.O.D. It has that reggae vibe to it and that is how that song came about.

BE: I think what’s really interesting about that selection is that Bob Rock was in the Payolas, and Bob Rock went on to produce the last four Metallica records…

Traa: Yeah.

BE: What I find interesting about it is that you guys ended up with Glen Ballard producing your new record. People say that Bob Rock made Metallica more accessible. I think that Bob Rock got James Hetfield to put out the best vocal performances of his career.

Traa: Right.

BE: Now switch that over to Glen Ballard and you guys. Listening to Testify, I think it has some of Sonny’s best vocals to date.

Traa: Right on, man. Glen Ballard was amazing to work with, bro. This is Glen Ballard’s vibe. We went in there and we gave Glen Ballard the songs. By this time, we had been in the studio recording and writing for, like, eight months or something like that – maybe six or seven months. We had all the music pretty much recorded, and had worked with Greg Fiddelman, an amazing producer, and got some really good sounds from him. We worked with Travis Wyrick, who did our demos, which turned out amazing. A lot of our stuff that is on our Warriors EP are Travis Wyrick recordings. We went in there and Glen Ballard says, just like this (in a far-out surfer/hippie kind of voice), “Yeah, man, this stuff’s bangin’, man. I’m gonna take this music and piss all over it and see what happens, man. I’m just gonna pee on it a little bit, just piss on it.” That’s exactly what he did, bro. He took the music when it was done, and pretty much musically sat down with Sonny, and he peed on everything. You know what I mean?

BE: Yeah. (laughs)

Traa: Little here, a little there, and he really had Sonny reach in, and those guys sat down. I mean, Glen Ballard is a songwriter, but he really pulled some special stuff out. I think that is why we went with two different producers, man, because we really wanted to be everything that encompasses what P.O.D. is within one album. You really can’t do that with one song, I don’t think. You can, but you can’t. We wound up recording twenty-something songs for this album. We broke it down into 13. I just think those producers were very different from each other. Glen Ballard is an amazing producer to work with, and he pulled a lot out of the music, that little extra something that wasn’t there before Glen got there.

BE: His body of work is amazing.

Traa: I went to his house, and was blown away by the people he had produced. I had no idea he produced, like, Paula Abdul. He (wrote songs on) Philip Bailey and Phil Collins’ Chinese Wall, which is one of my favorite (albums). I’m like, “You did not do this album.” He’s like (in the surfer/hippie voice again), “Yeah, man, I did that, yeah, and all of that.” This guy is amazing, bro.

BE: When you talk about putting out a record that encompasses the range that is P.O.D., that is what I thought about the new album. There is heavy stuff on there that people have come to count on, but this album has the biggest range. All of your stuff varies, but this one was really all over the map.

Traa: Yeah, man, this one is all over. I mean, we’re not in our twenties anymore, but I don’t want to lose track of what excited P.O.D. in the beginning. It’s all about going back to those things, and those things that started the P.O.D. movement, that started the P.O.D. train. I mean, we all have very different backgrounds and we tell each other all the time, we were not meant to be playing with each other, we are not. We come from way too different of backgrounds. I am very R&B, jazz-funk. I didn’t even listen to rock before I joined P.O.D. Our guitar player is very classically trained. Sonny is all hip-hop and reggae. Will comes from AC/DC, Cheap Trick, U2 and all that other stuff. So we all got together and started playing music together and we were like, “Dude, how is this supposed to work?” But when we play together, it just happens, dude. It’s not forced or anything like that. I’m a funk guy, an R&B guy, and don’t have a rock background to pull from, to put a bass line to a song. The only thing I can pull from is more of a jazz influence and that’s what I play. The same for Sonny. He’s the hip-hop and reggae guy, so he doesn’t necessarily know how to sing rock or be rock. When he does his version of what he thinks rock is, it comes out special, and I think that’s what makes it happen.

BE: You mentioned Jason Truby, who is obviously new – or newer – to the band. He does have one record under his belt, but he does have the least amount of time in the band. How has that transition gone? It sounds pretty good on record.

Traa: It takes time, dude. I mean, it just takes time. Our first album (together with Truby), Payable on Death, by far to me is one of my favorite albums that we have ever done. Now, some people are gonna beg to differ, but I think the road of a band – if the band is really being true to itself –the audience is gonna get where the band is at. There is no mystery to that. The year that Jason came into the band was a very dark, emotional time for P.O.D.

BE: Right.

Traa: So that manifested itself into Payable on Death. You know, when I listen to that album, it has very deep, deep meaning to me. We were going through the loss of our long time friend and guitar player, Marcos. We had a situation with the record label. There were personal problems within the band. There were issues that regular people go through. So when we wrote Payable on Death, that was where P.O.D. was at during that particular time. Jason came in and he did what we were all feeling at that time. Now, we’re at a different place. We don’t write for any particular, you know, chase albums or chase sounds or chase what’s happening in the industry. We write where we are at, and right now P.O.D. is in a really good place. Spiritually, emotionally, family-wise, with our band and what it is we are doing – so what you see now is where we are at, right now. Jason has definitely gotten his groove with us, and we got in our groove with his playing, and this is what we have with this album, dude.

BE: The Police is one of my favorite bands of all time, and I think Andy Summers is an underrated guitarist, because what he did with fills and how he complemented the music was unbelievable.

Traa: Yeah.

BE: From listening to the record, I think that kind of guitar playing is an element that Jason brings. Everybody wants to rock out or blast out and sometimes I think people overplay their stuff. His work on songs like “If You Could See Me Now”, “Let You Down” and even “The Grind” (from Testify) – some of the weird stuff he is playing is really cool.

Traa: It is, man. Jason just needed to find his groove. When Marcos left and we did a song from “The Matrix” – you know the song (“Sleeping Awake,” which appeared on the soundtrack to “The Matrix Reloaded”)? The song from “The Matrix,” you know what it is?

BE: (Shuffling Papers) I know what song you’re talking about, but I don’t have it front of me.

Traa: We did that song, dude. We hit the ground running, literally. We had a situation where Marcos left, and we called Jason, and a week later Jason was in L.A. in the studio recording with us with a guitar that had a broken neck. He didn’t even have a decent guitar. We had to rush out and get him gear. We got in the studio and boom, we wrote songs. That, and Payable on Death, and everything from that point, he just… people gave him a bum deal. You know, people kind of gave him a hard time. But, I have faith in Jason. I’ve played with him for a long time and I know what he has done in Living Sacrifice. I know what he can do. Again, getting some air between everything that was going on, which is that time off we took - we needed that time – and then writing this album, and then having eight months to sit down and write 24 songs and record 24 songs. That was a lot of time to sit and refresh and go, “Okay, this is what we are going to do. No pressures, no this and no that.” He really upped the bar, and Jason did an amazing job, and he is an amazing guitar player. I really enjoy playing with him a lot, man.

BE: I went back and listened to some old Living Sacrifice stuff, and that is like an axe in your forehead.

Traa: Yeah. (laughs)

BE: That stuff is a freight train running you over, and P.O.D. has some of those same gears, but it is very different. He has done a nice job of melding in.

Traa: Yeah.

BE: You guys went through that difficult time – with Marcos leaving, and all the controversy, and the not-so-nice things said in the press while Living Sacrifice had a lot of personnel changes – so maybe Jason and you guys found each other at the right time?

Traa: Yeah, man. You know, I would say it was definitely like that, dude. I don’t think Jason was planning on coming back into the music industry. I don’t think he would have even done it, except for the fact that we were like bros. We go back. We’re like family. I’ve known Jason for years. We used to tour together back in the day, us and Living Sacrifice. We have real emotional memories together that you can’t buy those types of memories. We ate together, slept on floors – you know, we’ve done it all, our band and his band. When it came time for him to be in the band, it was like a natural fit. We were like, “Dude where have you been all our lives, bro?”

BE: It’s tough to lose a guy you have been through the wars with, and especially the way it ended. I am sure it makes it better to be able to have a guy join with all that common experience. I bet those old shows with Living Sacrifice and P.O.D. would have been fun to see.

Traa: Definitely.

BE: Are you excited to get out and play this new stuff?

Traa: Definitely, man. We had been locked up in the studio for a long time. The beauty of doing this job is there are so many different levels to being a musician. You have writing. You start from scratch with nothing. You then give birth to 24 beautiful babies, and then you have to pick out the babies. There is a whole lot of emotional stuff that goes into the process. When you get to the end product and that whole vibe – chilling and growing your beard out and doing whatever – then we have to do the touring thing. The touring thing is a whole other animal from the recording thing, but it is equally as fun, and then equally hated, too. It’s a love-hate relationship all the way around. It is part of what we do and it feels good to get out, play the music, be in public, touch people and do what we do.

BE: You guys write everything as P.O.D. and the songs are credited as being written by P.O.D. so you can split the royalties and take care of each other from a business perspective. Queen didn’t do that until their last two records. When you guys are in the pit trying to pick from 24 different songs for a record, how difficult or personal does it get if you are attached to something?

Traa: It’s a fight, bro. It’s a battle, dude. Some songs are more personal than other songs, but the bottom line is this, dude: all of us mutually want what’s best for the album, period, hands down, whatever that may be. Are there some songs on the album that maybe that one person brought a bigger portion than another person? Yes, there is. The reality of it is – and make no mistake – that those songs would not be P.O.D. songs, or would not be as great, if Will didn’t lay his drums down, Sonny didn’t write the vocals, I didn’t lay down the bass and Jason didn’t do his guitars. There are songs that I have brought to the band that are more complete than not complete. It is a unit – the four of us that make a great song, the four of us that make a P.O.D. song and never losing focus of that, and understanding the value of each member individually in the song. Out of 24 songs, all of us brought so much material into the equation that they were all personal to all of us. We picked the songs that best fit the album the way the album was going. We have songs that ended up on the cutting room floor that didn’t end up on the album that you are going to hear some day and ask, “Dude, why didn’t that end up on the album?” You can’t put them all on.

BE: Who breaks the tie in the studio?

Traa: It is a band decision. A lot of things are taken into account, it isn’t just one thing. It’s, ‘How does if fit into the album? How does it fit with the rest of the songs?’ Those are some very painstaking things. The band makes the final decision. Our management, our band, our A&R sit down and come up with the best possible solution and scenario for the album. Sometimes there’s a fight, dude. Sometimes it is a difference between pulling a straw and four against one.

BE: You have been really kind with your time, so I can to ask you a couple of silly questions before I let you go?

Traa: Sure, man.

BE: Okay, what’s your favorite soda pop?

Traa: Hmmm. I don’t drink soda now, but Dr. Pepper used to be my favorite soda pop.

BE: Okay, what is a song or an album that is in your personal collection that no one would ever guess that you have?

Traa: Hmmm. A song or album that is in my personal collection that no one would know I have? Tears for Fears.

BE: Which one?

Traa: Songs from the Big Chair.

BE: Really.

Traa: (Singing) “Shout! Shout! Let it all out…”

BE: I just saw their reunion tour about six months ago, and it was great.

Traa: Yep, that’s the one, bro. Don’t tell nobody.

BE: I won’t, but I may have to write it up. Please do more covers. Those are a lot of fun.

Traa: (laughs) We are trying to work on some of that stuff right now, dude. We thought it would be cool to do some songs that we like, but it will be a very weird montage of songs. People think it’s gonna be a bunch of Metallica songs. They ain’t gonna be, bro. It’s gonna be crazy. People will be like, “You covered that?” You wait and see, bro, it’s gonna happen.

BE: Thanks a million for spending some time with me.

Traa: Right on, man.

BE: Hope to see you in the Chicagoland area, because that’s where I’m based.

Traa: Right on, man. We love Chicago, man.

BE: Again, thanks for your time.

Traa: Take care.

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