tes-ti-fy : To express or declare a strong belief, especially to make a declaration of faith.
With their fourth Atlantic Records release, San Diego multi-platinum hard rockers P.O.D. are ready to Testify. Testify to the power of rock; to the sway of perseverance and sweat; to the valor of hard work; to the might of unity; and to the importance of remaining true to your convictions.
‘To us, that word speaks for itself. It’s powerful,’ Sonny says of the one-word album title. ‘In our 14 years together, that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been testifying to the things that we believe in and that we’ve come to know.’
‘After all these years, the things that we believe in haven’t changed,’ explains Sonny, deliberately choosing his words and delivering each one with conviction. ‘If anything, from the struggles in the early years to the success that we’ve experienced and things gone through the past few years, it’s just reinforced what we’ve believed in all along. What we’ve been saying from the beginning and the faith that we have stands on its own, with or without music. But, music is our voice. On this record we never let go of that because it’s the cornerstone of who we are as people. It just comes down to the love we have in our hearts to make music.’
And with TESTIFY, the band showcases some of their strongest songs to date, thanks in part to veteran hit maker Glen Ballard. After several months of writing and recording on their own, the band had laid the groundwork for the new album. Impressive as the new material was, they knew they could take it to another level and invited Ballard to produce the album with them.
‘Glen pretty much took the best of what we had already recorded up to that point and made it even better. And, unlike the usual studio process of just recording one instrument at a time, all of our gear was always set up so we could record anything whenever inspiration hit,’ recalls Wuv.
More than the technical side, Sonny says that it was the experience of hanging with Ballard that the band will remember. ‘We really bonded with Glen; each night, we set aside a couple hours and sat down for a beautiful dinner. We ate as a team and literally broke bread with him and his crew. After it was all said and done, I told him, ‘You inspired me to keep making music.’
The 13-song collection finds the band branching out musically with a variety of sounds that reflect P.O.D.’s own wide range of influences, each capturing its own vibe. Testify opens with ‘Roots In Stereo,’ a reggae-meets-rock collaboration featuring Hasidic artist Matisyahu.
‘We’ve known about Matisyahu for awhile now,’ Sonny recalls. ‘His personality, his character, his discipline and his faith – it’s encouraging to us. He was actually in Jerusalem when we expressed how much we’d love to have him on the record. He came out to LA the day after he got back.’
‘When we got to the studio, Matis was already there with Glen. He heard ‘Roots In Stereo’ first and wanted to be a part of it. We never really discussed a common message or anything. We just gave him the freedom to do his thing on the song. And that’s what’s magic about it – you listen to his lyrics, they’re right in line with what we’re trying to say and do.’
‘He’s a special dude,’ adds Wuv. ‘He just carries around that much integrity and it demands respect. I hope that people feel that about P.O.D. That we have real things that we want to talk about.’
Testify is without a doubt the band’s most varied offering to date. ‘On The Grind’ is an intense rap-heavy treaty bolstered by the presence of the hip-hop legends, Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. and Sick Jacken from underground Los Angeles rap duo The Psycho Realm. The straight up, reggae jam ‘Strength Of My Life’ is a powerful, self-admitted worship song (which also features Matisyahu). The familiar sound of aggressive guitars take the forefront on anthems like ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Mistakes & Glories.’ And while, listeners can simply rock out to these headbangers, according to Sonny, there is still an underlying message.
‘In the ‘Mistakes & Glories,’ the lyrics read, ‘If you don’t stand for something, then you don’t stand for nothing.’ I don’t care if you don’t believe the same thing that I do. We testify to the things that we believe in and things we stand for. We expect the same for anyone, whether we agree or not. Just have the balls to do it.’
Tracks like ‘This Time’ and ‘If You Could See Me Now’ are marked departures musically for the band. The latter was the last song written and recorded for the album, and perhaps one of their most beautiful to date.
‘We don’t always go into the studio wanting to record heavy songs,’ explains Wuv. ‘It’s just whatever comes out, comes out.’
‘I think this is one of those songs where it was just a feeling,’ adds Sonny. ‘And you can find whatever meaning you want in it. Truby had originally written the music for his adopted son, Elijah. To him, the lyrics reflect what Elijah would tell his biological mother. For me, it’s about my mother or my grandfather. It’s an extremely emotional song.’
The passing of Sonny’s mother when he was still in high school has had a profound effect on his life and finds its way into many of his songs. While the poignant lead single, ‘Goodbye For Now’ may have a personal meaning for him, it’s really aimed to be much more universal.
‘When I sing ‘If joy really comes in the morning time then I’m gonna sit back and wait until the next sunrise,’ I’m talking about that promise we have of a better tomorrow. It might be tough right now, but I have to stick it out. I relate that to my mother’s passing, other family members who have passed away, and how I had to deal with it. But, anybody can relate to the song. It’s all in how you take it and how the lyrics relate to you.’
Since forming in San Diego in 1992, P.O.D. has never stopped testifying to the values that are at the core of the group. Touring the country and connecting with fans firsthand, the band built a sizable following on their own. Known affectionately as the Warriors, this fanbase has remained fiercely loyal and continues to grow. With the 1999 release of the band’s major label debut, The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown, P.O.D. got their first taste of national exposure and platinum success. The groundbreaking 2001 release, Satellite, went triple-platinum, spawned such hit singles as ‘Alive,’ ‘Youth Of The Nation,’ and ‘Boom,’ and propelled the foursome to the elite of a new wave of hard rock acts.
With the addition of guitarist Truby just weeks before the quartet was to begin work on what would eventually become 2003’s Payable On Death (which went on to sell a million copies worldwide), the band only continued to expand their sound. Each album has seen continued musical growth and complexity in the songwriting. And, yet with each release, one thing remains constant – the band has continued to speak to their fans in a voice that resonates with honesty, integrity, and, perhaps most importantly, love. Indeed, Testify is a word that has become synonymous with P.O.D. during the band’s 14-year odyssey.
‘We’ve been in this game for a long time,’ reminds Sonny. ‘And what we’ve learned in our experiences, not just professionally, but even in own walks of life, we want to put that in our music and pass that down to people who are listening. We knew very well that the word testify has its spiritual meaning. But, these are the things that we believe in. These are things that we’ve laid our lives down for and would die for. If you believe in something, then say it…and, even more importantly, do it.’
Sonny on Testify, Track By Track:
‘Roots In Stereo’
The chorus is really about representing the things that you’re about. When Matis came in, he really put his faith into the song, which totally blended with us. Musically, that’s one of those songs that has the signature P.O.D. sound, reflecting all the diverse things we’re into.
Musically, it’s pretty simple, but it’s just got a groove that you can’t deny. The working title was actually ‘ESPN’ because as soon as we heard the music, we could imagine it on sports highlights. It actually inspired the lyrics – ‘lights out, game over.’
‘If You Could See Me Now’
With this song, it was just a feeling. This song is about my mother, my grandfather…it’s meant to be for anyone who has someone looking down on them from above. It’s the last one that we wrote and recorded for the album.
‘Goodbye For Now’
This is about that promise we have all have of a better tomorrow. That’s the message that I really wanted to get across in this song. The lyrics read, ‘If joy really comes in the morning time then I’m gonna sit back and wait until the next sunrise.’ It might be tough right now, but you have to stick it out.
‘Sounds Like War’
Originally, the lyrics were ‘sounds like Jah to me,’ but then we realized we were talking about war. Not necessarily the war that surrounds us in these times. We’re talking more about that unseen wickedness or craziness in all of us, that war within that you fight through in your own personal life everyday. And, how just knowing your strengths, you can make it through.
‘On The Grind’
The lyrics got changed when the Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. came in. The song took a whole new meaning when [Boo-Yaa T.RI.B.E. member] Gotti started singing the chorus. He got really emotional. That guy got shot ten times in the back years ago and almost died. So, he changed all the words from ‘we’ to ‘I’ because he was relating the chorus to himself.
Glen has such a different way of recording. Usually, you record your part, whether it’s the drums or the bass or whatever, and when you’re done, you pack it up and move on to the next instrument. But, Glen didn’t work like that. We left everything set up the whole time. The mics were always live. He said, ‘We’re musicians – we shouldn’t be shutting that down just because that part of the recording is done.’ One night, Glen said he wanted to get away from the record for a second and just play with the band. This song came out of that late night jam.
‘Mistakes & Glories’
Truby actually came up the title. He said, ‘it’s my mistakes, it’s my glories.’ There’s times that you regret and that you’re sorry for, and then they’re times that you actually shine – you have both. I just hope in this lifetime, my glories outshine my mistakes.
‘Let You Down’
We know a couple of people that had attempted suicide in the time that we were working on this album. One was successful, one wasn’t. It’s a plea to people that are feeling so lost. You mean so much more, not only to the people that love you, but to the God that created you. This world is just not worth it.
‘Strength Of My Life’
This is a Psalm of David – Matis had dug into his Scriptures and chose this one. The lyrics read, ‘Even if there would be an army against me, my heart would not fear.’ King David placed his heart and trust into the God he believed in. This is a worship song for us.
We met a young man through the Make-A-Wish foundation when we were recording this song. He came out to San Diego and hung out with us. We took him all over town and then back to the studio. Truby taught him the chords on guitar and we got him in the vocal booth to scream out in the chorus. He’s actually on the song with us – so, no matter what, he’ll be with us forever.
This is to the people that live to see you fall. They bet all their chips on you to lose and to fail. They just don’t want to see you win. The main lyric is, ‘Let me introduce you to yourself.’ I’m basically saying, ‘If I’m the bad guy, then who are you? The good guy? Why don’t you worry about yourself?’
‘Mark My Words’
Musically, this song is just so heavy. And the lyrical flow is straight, Southern hip-hop. But the lyrics themselves are really straightforward. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe inspired them. There are so many different, Biblical and Godly references in that book. We wanted this song to be last, because it closes it all up.