Californian metallers P.O.D. surprised everyone when they produced Atlantic Records’ best-selling album of 2002 – Satellite.
Unwittingly released in the US on September 11, 2001, its anthemic affirmation of life in the likes of Alive and Youth Of The Nation added positive waves to the turbulent waters surrounding the terrorist attacks on New York City.
Since then, founding guitarist Marcos Curiel has left, they recorded the lead song to The Matrix Reloaded and they’ve released yet another superb, but very different, album in Payable On Death.
musicOMH managed to catch up with the band on two separate occasions around the release of the new album to discuss line-up changes and staying true to one’s roots…
It’s a Friday morning and we’ve just spent the last two hours sitting in a room inside a saluburious Kensington hotel, being given a sneak preview listen to P.O.D.’s fifth studio album. It’s sleek but raw, melodic but heavy, and we’ve managed to garner complaints from some of the five-star establishment’s residents. An album that wakes up the neighbours without you even trying? It’s gotta be a good sign…
A few minutes later and we’re ushered into the presence of drummer Noah “Wuv” Bernardo and bassist Traa Daniels who are sat at a window overlooking Hyde Park. Wuv is wearing shades, both are dressed in black, and if only one thing is clear it’s that these guys really are rock stars.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Still, not a lot of people realise that P.O.D. spent years touring the States in their own vans and releasing independent albums before tasting a million album sales with 1999′s The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown. Wuv explains that they still have to pinch themselves at how far they’ve come.
“I don’t expect nothing, dude. I don’t expect anything from this new record. I’m just happy we get the opportunity to come back… There’s something to be said for being independent, for spending nine years underground… They were the building process to where we’re at right now but now we’re part of this machine and everything trips you out… Did we ever think it would be like this? Nah. Is it a good or bad thing? I think it’s good – we wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t!
“Did we ever think it would be like this? Nah. Is it a good or bad thing? I think it’s good – we wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t!”
- Wuv is honest about being successful.
From being nobodies to having even stuffy English broadsheet newspapers do full-page interviews, you might expect the members of P.O.D. to have changed as their circumstances have. Not so, insists Traa.
“We’re musicians… And I think we’re all mature enough to realise that, man. We’re just regular dudes who play rock ‘n’ roll. We play rock ‘n’ roll in a rock band, we have families at home. Reality is when I get home and I’m not on the road… I think the fact we played for so long and it didn’t just go (makes shooting star noise) helps. It was a snowball effect and we’re still the same, it’s just that more people know who we are.”
“I can imagine how a band can go from being nobody to making it and all of a sudden they’ve got chicks all over them and they think, “You know what, I am fine! I am cool!” But when you take the slow road for so long… It’s like growing a beard! When it’s long you’re not shocked!”
At this point, Wuv is in stitches, but manages to concur in between fits of laughter: “Yeah, you don’t suddenly look in the mirror and go, “Hey, I’ve got a beard!”
The long road to success may have been like growing facial hair, but it’s not been without it’s fair share of razor-cuts along the way. Many magazines, particularly heavy metal ones, have tried to undermine P.O.D. because all four members are professing Christians. The battle for credibility is something that is not lost on Traa.
“I have no shame about telling you about me. It (Christianity) may have kept us from getting things in the past. I think it says a lot that we haven’t wavered from what we believe through all of it and have just dealt with it. Every place that we’ve gotten to is because of our work, basically. Nobody gave us a free ride. We had to work for everything.”
“It may have kept us from getting things in the past… Every place that we’ve gotten to is because of our work… Nobody gave us a free ride.”
- Traa on how being Christians didn’t endear P.O.D. to a prejudicial media.
Wuv takes up the baton: “At the same time I don’t want people to think that we have an agenda to force what we believe on people that don’t believe the same. That’s never been our intention. We’ve always just told our story. Why do we write positive music? Because you know what: I have something that I believe in which has given me life which is beyond this world and there’s something higher that keeps me straight, makes me a better person, makes me want to be a better father / dad, friend, band-mate, whatever. So those are the things that keep the band driving for strength. And does it get in there lyrically sometimes? Well yeah it does! But it’s never like (adopts serious maudlin voice), “Be a Christian.” There’s no like hidden message in there. It’s what makes us happy, man.”
Frankly, having a heavy metal band who don’t stick their middle fingers in the air and preach a modern (“nu”) form of nihilistic misanthropy is a breath of fresh air. Fans will be horrified to learn, therefore, that the positivity of P.O.D. almost came to an end when guitarist Marcos left. Wuv reveals:
“We never thought that if anyone left the band we’d keep on going… But we still had music to make and we still felt good doing it and when Jason came in it was a natural thing…. Basically, if he hadn’t come into the band, we probably wouldn’t be here. We didn’t want to go out and put an ad in the paper. We wanted to know the person. We’d known him for years and we knew that he was a stand-up guy and stand-up character and that he was someone we’d be able to get along with as well as write music with.”
A couple of weeks later and we’re back at the same hotel, only this time sitting with frontman Sonny Sandoval (Wuv’s cousin by the way) and the man who, according to Wuv, saved P.O.D. – Jason Truby. Sonny confirms that this is the case:
“We always knew he (Jason) had the skills. We always respected him as a person and as a man. When he came in it was just like, he was qualified to do it, and he was the only person we would ever even consider. At one point we thought we were going to throw in the towel. At that point we had Jason in mind and it was like, ‘Man, if you could help us out,’ and he did that…”
“At one point we thought we were going to throw in the towel.”
- Sonny reveals how P.O.D. nearly split up when Marcos left.
Hearing both Wuv and Sonny talk about “character” and “respect” in the context of a new band-mate is more than a little unusual. Jason explains that, to them, P.O.D. is more than a day job:
“For us, it’s not just a business. It is a business but if we couldn’t hang out then… Obviously no-one on the planet sees exactly eye to eye on everything – we have a respect for that – but we have the same core beliefs, we have the same vision and we want to talk about life and hope and things of that nature… It would be a bit of a conflict if I wasn’t down with life and hope because that would come through in my writing if I was pissed off with the world.”
At this point Sonny interjects: “It’s just like being married, man. You’re not gonna be with someone you can’t stand! (Laughing). I know lots of people do, but that’s when it is strictly business. We know bands that can’t stand each other but they’re also not gonna work 9 to 5 so they choose to stick it out.”
Given that Jason used to be in Living Sacrifice, a band who were at the extremes of heaviness (think a more positive, cleverer version of Slayer), it’s interesting that Payable On Death is probably more streamlined and “sing-y” than any of P.O.D.’s previous albums. As Wuv and Traa had done a couple of weeks earlier, Sonny explains that this was a natural result rather than a pre-made decision:
“When we started to write we just gave him (Jason) free rein… Whatever he wanted to play he could play and we’d follow him if it sounded good… It wasn’t like we have to be Satellite or we have to be what P.O.D.’s known for… We’re gonna do what we wanna do – that’s the bottom line. By no means is this album less hip-hop influenced, it’s just less rap vocals but Jason’s guitar calls for something else, the music called for something else.”
“If I just had an amazing meal with a great dessert and you asked me what was my favourite part I’d be like, er, the whole thing’s good!”
- New boy Jason on the difficulty of naming his favourite P.O.D. song.
So no chance of any Living Sacrifice death metal covers then? Sonny cracks up:
“We would but he’s (Jason’s) a little bit more hesitant! We all loved Living Sacrifice, man!”
Jason explains why he is less keen: “That was another chapter in my life and I have mad honour and respect for when I did it but this is a new day for me so… I’m not completely killing the idea but right now everything’s so new and I’m so excited about P.O.D. that I don’t want to.”
Sonny is obviously taken by the idea and presses Jason one last time, “So, maybe?”
“You can say maybe…”
Remember readers, you read it here first. As our time draws to a close as security guards, record company execs and press people mill around, there’s time for one final question. What is each band member’s favourite P.O.D. song? Wuv had said Southtown, Traa and Sonny were unable to choose from the whole of the new album (“On this album I love every song. It’s like having 12 babies. We had 12 children and every last one of them means something.” – Traa), but it’s Jason whose answer is most informative:
“I can’t answer that. If I just had an amazing meal with a great dessert and you asked me what was my favourite part I’d be like, er, the whole thing’s good! There are songs that I’m really excited about playing. I’m really excited about playing Revolution, that has a good feel. But I like all of them so I can’t answer that.”
He’s not wrong. With P.O.D., the whole thing really is good…