P.O.D. emerged in the late '90s out of the then-red-hot rap-rock scene, but their true style spreads far beyond that. Now they finally have a record to prove it.
"We go from hip-hop to reggae to rock to metal to everything that you can think of on this album," bassist Traa said of the just-released Testify. "This album defines who we are musically as a foursome more than any other album that we've ever done."
"We have one of the heaviest songs we ever wrote and one of the softest songs we ever wrote," singer Sonny Sandoval added. "And you have a rock song and then you have a hip-hop track and every song doesn't sound the same."
Maturity certainly plays a part, but some of the credit also belongs to producer Glen Ballard, best known for his work with No Doubt and Alanis Morissette.
"He had worked with rock and roll bands before, but never as heavy as a P.O.D., so he had the elements that we were looking to grab hold to," drummer Wuv said. "We had worked with Howard Benson for the last three records and it was one of them things where we just wanted to make a little change stylewise."
P.O.D. had been writing and demoing songs for six months before the band even met with Ballard, but the producer helped pick which songs to record and shaped them with additional elements, including his own piano work.
"We pretty much just brought him the sketch and he showed us how to color it in," Sandoval said. "We didn't even expect him to work on the heavy stuff, just more of the laid-back stuff, but once he heard everything, he wanted to be a part of it."
"What we tried to do on this album — what we try to do on every album but what we really hit on this one — was to take people on a journey musically," Traa said of Ballard's influence on the final product. "I think we have a lot of different elements."
For one of those elements, the band brought in reggae rapper Matisyahu to lend his unique flavor to "Roots in Stereo" and "Strength of My Life."
"If anybody knows P.O.D., they know that we are huge reggae fans," Wuv said. "And he was someone that we were listening to, and not only that but we thought that it would be cool, more on a personal level. He is a Hasidic Jew, and everybody knows that we are a spiritual band, and we just thought that collaborating with him and the way that he believed and the way that he conducted himself would be something special. And so Sonny reached out to him ... [Matisyahu] was actually in Israel at the time and he said, 'Fly me out when I get home.' "
Perhaps it was the influence of Matisyahu, but Testify finds P.O.D. as spiritual as ever before with their lyrics.
"We've always been open about our faith ... we've never denied it," Sandoval said. "If anything, in 14 years [as a band] we've learned so much, we've matured in so many ways. We're not the same gangsta kids who will die and fight, I mean we will still die for the things that we believe in, we're not going to battle or fight and we don't need to battle anyone down if they don't believe in the things that we do. But we have learned and that's why the album is called Testify."
One of the album's central themes is finding encouragement and inspiration in dark times, a topic the first single, "Goodbye for Now," tackles head-on.
"It's more of a laid-back track, it's more of a vibe track, it's definitely not the heavy side of P.O.D., but lyrically it's a hopeful song," Sandoval said. "We know with just dealing with the people around us and just coming across so many people that there are a lot of people struggling out there. And being that positive influence that we like to have in our music, we are just trying to encourage people. No matter how bad today is, tomorrow has a bright promise and a bright future. There's a lyric that says, 'If joy really comes in the morning time/ Then I'm going to sit back and wait until the next sunrise.' And in our faith, we believe that joy does come in the morning time, so just hold on and hang out and tomorrow is a whole different day."
Although details have yet to be announced, P.O.D. said to expect a Testify tour this spring. "We're trying to put together a stripped-down, cool little package, trying to keep the tickets down as much as possible," Sandoval said.