Exclusive Interview: Joe Fraulob From Trauma

photo by Ken Eaton – May 15, 2018 – Whisky A Go Go

Trauma is highly revered by those in the know as an important evolutionary entity in the intersection of traditional heavy metal, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and the more melodically minded classic rock influenced bands on the Sunset Strip. This is the band responsible for the much sought after classic ‘80s album, Scratch And Scream, featuring killer cuts like “The Day All Hell Broke Loose” and “Lay Low.”

With reverence for the past but eyes sharply focused on the future, Trauma just released their landmark third album As The World Dies, staying true to the signature sound that came before but with a very modern edge. The potential for heavy metal greatness inherent in the revitalized lineup of veterans is powerful. Determined to make a mark in the metal world of today, founder/vocalist Donny Hillier and longtime Trauma drummer Kris Gustofson put together a monstrous lineup of amazing players to create and record their highly anticipated third album. Guitarist Joe Fraulob is a former member of multi-platinum hard rockers Danzig, Steve Robello played guitar in Dublin Death Patrol, and bassist Greg Christian was a founding member and integral part of Testament. The power and chemistry of this devastating new line-up is evident on As The World Dies.

We caught up with guitarist and producer Joe Fraulob to talk about becoming a member of Trauma, writing and producing new material, and his choice of live and studio gear.

Thanks for taking time out for this Joe. How are things going?

No problem, thank you, brother. Well, things have been pretty busy and hectic since the new album came out, but that’s a good thing. Life is crazy but good!

Tell us a little about yourself and explain what it was like to join an iconic band like Trauma.

I’m a heavy metal guitarist and record producer from Northern California. It’s been very cool playing with Trauma – I still have my Scratch And Scream cassette from the 80s and knew that it was Cliff Burton’s band before Metallica. The songs off that first album are really great. When you hear them it makes you wonder “Wow, whatever happened to these guys? They really could have done something.” So it’s very cool to be creating a phase two for the band that I think stays true to their initial sound but also sounds very 2018.

After you joined the band, how long did it take before you guys started writing new material?

Actually, right away we starting working on a song that became “The Rage.” I joined the band early last year – they called me because they had been booked to play on the 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise, and they needed another guitar player. Basically we hit it off immediately, had great chemistry, and really liked playing together so even before we did 70,000 we talked about making a new record. I presented them some riffs I had, and we ended up playing a brand new song on the cruise. I think it had different lyrics then and we called it “Disengaged.” It’s actually pretty crazy, because I think we only practiced maybe three or four times before that show.

How did you write material for As The World Dies? Did you present ideas to the band or was everyone involved in songwriting?

I ended up writing the music for six of the songs. Steve Robello, our other guitarist, wrote three, and bassist Greg Christian wrote one. Donny Hillier wrote most of the lyrics, but Steve and I contributed a few and Greg wrote the lyrics for his song, “Cool Aid.” We experimented with writing stuff all together in the jam room, but for me it’s really hard to write that way. You can’t always hear exactly what the drums are doing or what notes the bass player is hitting or exactly what the vocal melody lines are, so I like to demo everything out first. I would send an MP3 of the guitar riffs to everybody, then we would get together and add drums on the electronic kit, then bass, then Donny would come in and sing on everything. While recording the demo, we worked out all the kinks, figured out the correct tempos, got the arrangements how we wanted, and basically sketched out how everything would go on the final recordings.

What was a typical day in the studio like for the recording of As The World Dies?

We did all the drums first at Trident Studios. Juan Urteaga who has produced about every major metal band in the SF Bay Area recorded the drums. I think it took about four days to get drum tracks down. Then we did the rest of the recording at my home studio The Dungeon. Rhythm guitars first, then bass, then vocals, then guitar solos were last. Then I sent the tracks back to Juan to mix. He did a fantastic job of getting it to sound exactly how I wanted. So basically every day was different; one day would be guitars all day, the next day maybe bass all day, the next maybe vocals all day, just adding more tracks until the thing was finished.

Did a particular track set the tone for the record early on?

For me it was “As The World Dies.” Obviously, it ended up being the title track, but I think it also reflects the themes on the whole album, which are pretty dystopian. The cover artwork was inspired by that track, and so was “The Rage” video.

We’re premiering the lyric video for “The Rage.” What can you tell us about that track?

My friend Michael Spencer from Flotsam And Jetsam turned us onto Andy Pilkinton from Very Metal Art, who produced the video. He is just an amazing talent and has done a ton of fantastic videos. “The Rage” is basically a song like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” – it’s like fuck the establishment, we’re tired of being pushed around by some corrupt system/surveillance police state that only works for the benefit of mega-corporations, billionaires, and politicians – We are the RAGE! The video captures that idea and also really ties in well with the overall vibe and theme of the album. I love that its black and white like the cover artwork.

photo by Ken Eaton – May 15, 2018 – Whisky A Go Go

Does it feel like the new record is a rebirth for the band?

Oh, definitely. We are all super stoked on the new album. So far it’s been getting great reviews, getting played all over on metal radio, and yeah I think its going to open up a lot more opportunities to really get Trauma out there. We have just a killer line-up now, everyone is just a stellar musician, and we are all hungry to just blow people’s minds with our live show. The other guitarist Steve and I have styles that mesh together very well, and he puts on a great show so he pushes me to up my game. The drum and bass combo of Kris Gustofson and Greg Christian is just insane. Greg was originally in Testament so he can play anything you throw at him instantly and it’s just awesome to have somebody that good laying it down and keeping the rhythm so solid and powerful. And Donny Hillier is just a spectacular singer, although very Bruce Dickinson-ish, he has his own sound. He really pulled off some amazing stuff on the new album.

Besides writing the music and playing guitar on the record, you also produced it. Is it easy to balance the transition between artist and producer?

It definitely can be difficult. On the one hand you have to inspire everybody to turn in great performances, but on the other hand you have to be super critical and honest with people when a part isn’t working or a song isn’t good enough or whatever. You’ve got to stay creative but at the same time constantly be dealing with all the technical stuff like is that vocal or guitar in tune, is there too much compression on the vocal, et cetera. It’s also hard to remain objective when you are dealing with your own material. It’s easy to get attached to a riff or a lyric which may not be the best thing for the song. The other side to that though is you have to be confident enough to trust your decisions and intuition and just go for what you believe is the right choice. I’ve been recording stuff since I was like 20 years old and love producing as much as playing and writing so I’m glad I got to produce this record. It is definitely the best recording I’ve ever made in my life. I’m super proud of it!

What inspires you as a musician?

Not to get too spiritual with you, but its those magical moments that you get every once in a while, could be listening, or playing, or producing. It’s like sitting and listening to an album all the way through, experiencing all these different feelings from it, then it ends and you are just like “Wow, holy shit, that was incredible.” Or playing a show where the crowd is super into it, and they are giving you energy, and the band is giving them back energy and as a player you just aren’t thinking anymore, the music is just happening, almost like you aren’t playing the music but it’s playing you. Or spontaneously creating music in a room with other musicians and it’s like you are all on the same wavelength, it all just locks in perfectly. Or hearing a song that gives you chills and the hair on your arm sticks up. Or being at a concert and hearing something so incredibly beautiful you start crying. In recording, that’s what you are trying to catch, the magic that happens where you can hear and feel the emotion of the performance and capture it on tape – or computer I should say. It’s the pursuit of these moments I think that made me sell my soul for rock and roll!

Who are some of your influences? Was there a particular artist that had more of an impact?

Oh man, so many. Guitar-wise: Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker, Uli Roth, Jimmy Page, Hendrix, Dimebag. Band-wise: Maiden, Priest, Sabbath, Scorpions, Dio. Also all the thrash stuff. Early Megadeth, Metallica, Mercyful Fate. I would say the biggest influence would be Randy Rhoads and the first two Ozzy records. But it’s all of it really. I’m influenced by a lot of non-metal stuff as well: Zappa, Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola.

photo by Ken Eaton – May 15, 2018 – Whisky A Go Go

Tell us about your live gear and what gear you used in the studio to record As The World Dies.

Live I’m using a Kemper profiling amp, which I cannot say enough good stuff about. You just take this box, which has profiles of my real amps which sound exactly like the real amp, and you can run it through a cabinet or just direct into the PA, and boom, I’ve got all the tones on the album and I can carry my amp and guitar right on the plane. We flew out to Chicago and just did a run of shows on the East Coast where half the time the backline hadn’t showed up by sound check – or didn’t show up at all – so we just ran straight into the PA, and all our onstage sound came through the monitors. So that’s my whole live rig, the Kemper and a Line 6 wireless. My main guitars are Gibson Les Paul Customs with EMG pickups.

As far as the album, before we started tracking guitars, Steve Robello and I profiled all our amps into the Kemper running through some Neve mic pres. On As The World Dies all the rhythm guitars were done using a profile of my old Mesa Dual Rectifier – one of the first ones ever made – that was modded by Voodoo Amps. I’ve played this amp forever in Deconstruct and Danzig too, and now Trauma. The lead solos and clean parts were done on Steve’s Diezel VH4 amp. The bass was done through an Ampeg amp. So all those amps were profiled into the Kemper then we just plugged into the Kemper, played and recorded the signal from the Kemper. I also recorded a direct line thinking we would probably re-amp the signal later during mix, but the tones direct from the Kemper are unbelievable, so we didn’t reamp anything.

As far as the instruments, I played all my rhythms on my 1982 Gibson Les Paul Custom with EMG 85X pickups that I’ve had since I was 16. I still haven’t found a better sounding axe. Steve played rhythms on his Ibanez Iceman, Paul Stanley style with the broken mirrors, with EMG 85 pickups. The bass was all done on an older Fender Jazz Bass. For you serious gear heads, Donny’s vocals were recorded on a Neumann TLM 103 which is a great mic for metal vocals in general, but really sounds excellent on his voice.

I wanted to make just a great classic metal guitar record. Right in the beginning when we hired Juan Urteaga to mix it, we talked and I said I’m going for a sound like an old school great metal record, Iron Maiden Number Of The Beast or Dio Holy Diver or Screaming For Vengeance, for example. I want to have two rhythm guitars only, and mostly just one voice singing. You know Halford and Dickinson aren’t doubling everything they sing. But we have to make it huge with that. Of course there are lots of leads and guitar and vocal harmonies but the bedrock of it is two rhythms, bass, and one vocal track. I tried to make the production super clean, the guitars not too distorted, and not everything so bassy and overcompressed with no dynamics – how a lot of modern metal albums sound. Anyway, Juan mixed it exactly right and I know he is really proud of the work he did on this album too. Also it was a conscious choice to make the album 10 songs and 45 minutes, again it’s like one of the classic records I talked about. Growing up, I remember the feeling of just playing an album start to finish and then when it was over going, “What? That’s it? I gotta hear it again,” and starting it over. I feel that most albums nowadays are just too long – 14 songs, an hour and 20 minutes or whatever. Then four of the tracks on the back end easily could have been left off. So we worked hard to make sure As The World Dies is just a solid metal record start to finish – 10 songs, no filler that hopefully leaves people wanting more!

The record has been out a couple of weeks. What’s next for Trauma?

We are going to be making another video here real soon. “From Here To Hell” has kinda blown up on Spotify, and we also planned on making a brutal horror movie inspired video for “Savage,” so I’m not sure which one is next. Hopefully we will get over to play in Europe by the end of summer, and also we are working to get a support slot on a tour with a bigger act in the USA.

Thanks again, Joe. What would you like to say to wrap up?

Check out, of course, our brand new lyric video for “The Rage” right here on Rock Confidential, and then go play the whole album As The World Dies! It’s available for streaming everywhere – Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Pandora, YouTube, and of course you can download it everywhere too like on iTunes and Amazon. For updates on Trauma or to check out more stuff from us or just to say “What’s up,” visit us on Facebook or our website. See you all on tour soon! Thanks for the interview, man, we appreciate the support! Stay heavy!