Guitarist Joe Fraulob of Trauma Interview

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.” Three decades passed before the reconfigured band reemerged in support of a re-mastered edition of their debut and delivered its 2015 follow-up, Rapture and Wrath. Soaring melodies and fierce riffs collide in songs that are equal parts sharp, fierce, grandiose, and theatrical. Since their formation, they’ve assembled the strongest elements of seemingly disparate strains of metal, with passion and proficiency.

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Guitarist Joe Fraulob of Trauma Interview

Scott - Hi Joe, Thank you so much for doing this written interview with me and my site Guitarz So why the Electric Guitar?

Joe - Well, I became obsessed with rock music from the first time I heard it - probably about age 12.  But once started going to concerts I was hooked, I knew I wanted to be the one up on that stage.  I just gravitated to the lead guitar - I wouldn’t know the words to songs, but I could always sing the guitar solos to you. 

Scott - Are you a self-taught player or a schooled player?

Joe - Both - initially I took lessons at the local music store and learned stuff like popular rock songs and how to improvise the blues, but I really kicked it up a notch in 10th grade when I started playing guitar in my school’s jazz band.  I knew nothing about jazz so I started studying with this killer jazz guitarist - learned all the chords (major and minor 6ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, diminished, augmented, etc).  I was in so far over my head that I just started practicing all the time.  But also at that time, I started figuring out songs off of records, so I started teaching myself.  I would stay up all night learning songs and solos off records, spending hours on just one lick if that's what it took. Sometimes I would slow the record player down to 16 rpm - so played it half speed and octave down.  I haven’t had formal lessons since I was 17 probably, but I'm still teaching myself by continually figuring out how to play other people’s music.  In fact just today, I learned a Buck Dharma solo that I thought was cool so I could see what he was doing. 
Scott - Where are you from and where is your stompin' grounds?

Joe - I grew up in South Sacramento, CA, and now I live close to there in a city called Roseville.  That's where I hang mostly. 
Scott - What is the music scene like there and do you jam with the local musicians?

Joe - The scene is definitely not like it was when I was in my 20s - then we would hit clubs every night seeing bands or playing and always hanging at after parties, where a lot of the time we would have jams too until the sun came up. Those days are long gone. I still jam with local musicians, I'm fortunate to know all the best players in town and couple times a year will have a big show with all the Rock Stars that live in Northern Cali - next week I’m playing with Brad Lang (former Y&T), Steve Brown from Oleander and Montrose, Atomic Tommy McClendon (ex-UFO), and Dan McNay from Great White just to name a few of the people involved.

With reverence for the past but eyes sharply focused on the future, TRAUMA enters 2018 preparing new material for what is certain to be a landmark third album, 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. Instantly familiar vocals and melodies merge with modern riffage in the TRAUMA of today, a band that stands renewed and reinvigorated with a new lineup of seasoned players functioning as a supergroup assemblage centered around a classic nucleus. Cofounder/vocalist Donny Hillier and longtime Trauma drummer Kris Gustofson put together a monstrous lineup of amazing players. Guitarist Joe Fraulob is a former member of multiplatinum hard rockers Danzig. Steve Robello plays guitar in Dublin Death Patrol, the Bay Area supergroup formed by the singers of Exodus and Testament, and was formerly with the group Heist. Bassist Greg Christian, the newest addition to Trauma, was a founding member and integral part of Testament.

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Scott - How long have you been in Trauma?

Joe - I’ve been with Trauma about a year and 1/2. 
Scott - Can you give us a quick run down of who is in the band and how you y'all hooked up?

Joe - Donny Hillier is the singer, Kris Gustofson on drums - these 2 guys are the original members from the 80s who played on the Scratch and Scream album back then.  Also we have Greg Christian formerly of Testament on bass and on guitar Steve Robello who played in Dublin Death Patrol with Chuck Billy and Zetro Souza.  I hooked up with these guys because they were playing on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise and needed another guitar player.  I got recommended, tried out, got the gig, we went and played on the cruise and killed it. 

Scott - The album "As the World Dies" sounds very tight with a modern sound but with the ol' Skool Thrash Metal stylings. Tell us a little about the recording process... Did you spend a lot of time on the overall sound and cohesiveness of the songs?

Joe - Yeah we did spend a lot of time on the sound.  As you know I was the album’s producer.  I wanted it to sound very consistent tone-wise, but also wanted the songs to be diverse, a lot of albums that come out sound like 10 versions of the same song to me - same key, same tempo, same arrangements - so we spent a lot of time crafting the songs so they had a cohesive sound but were also very different from each other. Sonically, the production is kind of sparse, just 2 rhythm guitars, bass, drums, and one vocal part. Of course there are a ton of leads and harmony vocals and ear candy stuff all over but for the most part, I wanted it to be raw and clean like classic metal albums that we were influenced by Iron Maiden Number of the Beast for example.  And we set out to make a great guitar record that can stand up to any great guitar album.  So you hear the guitars up front and in your face!  I think that gives it the old school vibe, since a lot of the modern metal stuff coming out now is very dense and really pushes the hell out of the low end.

Scott - Musically, what is you favorite song on the album?

Joe - I think my favorite is As The World Dies - it starts off very Black Sabbath with slow tempo and low guitar harmonies, has clean parts with just clean guitar and singing, has super fast double bass stuff, evil chorus and guitar solo.  But its a song about the end of the world, so we made it as intense as possible. 

Scott - Kris' percussions are huge and thunderous and just blew me away! And Donny's thought provoking vocals take you deep into parts unknown. Did you spend a lot of time on percussions and vocals?

Joe - Before we even started recording, we did demos for all the songs, and spent quite a bit of time on those, working out all the kinks and making sure all the parts were as strong as they could be.  For the most part, that’s where we experimented and tried different drum beats and vocal melodies so when it came time to record the actual album, we had a pretty solid road map of what we were doing.  The drums were recorded at Trident Studios by Juan Urteaga, who also mixed the record.  They took probably 4 or 5 days, but at least one day was just getting tones, and we ended up recording a few extra tracks that didn’t end up making the album - we will probably be releasing them soon though.  Kris did an awesome job, there are some bad ass performances on there for sure.  Vocal wise, Donny did all his singing at my home studio, The Dungeon.  We spent a lot of time on the vocals because they are the most important part.  Every take has to have the right emotion and intensity, and of course be properly in tune.  The release of the album got pushed back a few times, because we were adamant that we would make the best record we possibly could and not rush or leave things we weren’t happy with. 
Scott - The songs are catchy and have soul to them. Who are some of your musical influences?

Joe - My main influences are all the music I grew up on.  From the earliest heavy metal bands like Sabbath, Judas Priest, Scorpions, the first 2 Ozzy albums, to the NWOBHM bands like Maiden, Diamondhead, and Angelwitch to the early thrash stuff like of course Metallica, Mercyful Fate, Megadeth.  But the list is endless really, I could go on forever... Pantera, Rush, Riot, Ted Nugent, UFO, Blue Oyster Cult, Motley Crue, Hendrix, Zeppelin. You can hear that the album incorporates just straight up rock influences too.

TRAUMA was born in California’s Bay Area in 1980, a crucial year for metal music. It was within that fertile musical climate that TRAUMA developed a sound evoking the electric energy in the air around them. Donny Hillier consumed a steady diet of Zeppelin and Sabbath and shared a love of Priest and Maiden with guitarist Mike Overton. And of course there was Trauma’s legendary early bassist, Cliff Burton. In 2013’s Birth School Metallica Death: The Inside Story of Metallica, legendary Bay Area thrash singer Steve “Zetro” Souza of Exodus recalled seeing Trauma as a music-hungry teenager. As Zetro remembered it, several voices in the Northern California scene heralded Trauma as “the next big thing” to emerge from the Bay. The band built a strong reputation in places like The Stone, late music impresario Bill Graham’s Wolfgang’s venue, and Hollywood landmarks The Troubadour and Whiskey-A-Go-Go, a launching pad for The Doors, Van Halen, and Guns N’ Roses. Much like Metallica, Trauma’s first recorded appearance was as part of the compilation series curated by Metal Blade Records. Metal Massacre II (1982) featured “Such a Shame.” The band shot a video for the song “The Warlock” in Santa Ana, California, not long before Burton left the group to join Metallica. New members entered the fold, including powerhouse double kick drummer Gustofson. The highly-skilled-musicianship-centric Shrapnel Records, the label formed by record producer and Guitar Player columnist Mike Varney, issued Trauma’s debut. Scratch and Scream arrived to enthusiastically positive reviews from the worldwide metal press, including tastemaker publications Kerrang!, Circus, and Metal Forces.

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Scott - You are a melodic guitar player as well as a pentatonic player. And, I hear your "call and response phrasings" in both your riff playing as well as lead playing. You know how to work a kick ass slamin' motif. Where did you learn this skill?

Joe - What you are trying to do as a player is convey emotion to the audience through your playing.  Essentially its communicating or talking to the audience in a different type of language.  So when you think of it like that - soloing has to be conveying all this information in a way that the listener responds to emotionally.  Its like a mini composition or a story you are telling with the solo.  Not just shredding up and down a scale.  Thats the way I think of it - what is the story trying to say, is it sad, pissed off, confused, happy, sexy, ugly, funny?  Does it start on one emotion and resolve to another?  All the players I like do this with their solos - Michael Schenker, Uli Roth, Alex Lifeson, Randy Rhoads, Hendrix, Page.  I just learned by listening to these guys and trying to play from the heart, so it really means something.  I think doing a lot of improvising helps too - where you are forced to spontaneously create based on what you are hearing from the other band members and feeling in the moment.  Trying to get to a point where you are not thinking just playing - where the music is just coming out of you.  Straight from the heart and balls, baby!

Scott - Who wrote the music and and who wrote lyrics?

Joe - I wrote the music on 6 of the songs, Steve Robello wrote music for 3, and Greg Christian wrote music and lyrics for one song.  Donny wrote most of the rest of the lyrics, but Steve and I contributed a few things lyrically here and there. 
Scott - Can you give us the overall message "As the Word the Dies" is trying to tell listeners?

Joe - In literal terms, the song is talking about nuclear war, which again is something that unfortunately people of the world have to worry about happening since maniacs are running the show. But beyond that, the album is commenting on the state of the world, and that we are all just slaves to a corrupt system and watching “As The World Dies” all so the billionaires running shit can have even more money. Hey man, when the book 1984 has basically come completely true, we are not on the right path.  But you know, rather than tell people what I think, people should read the lyrics and come to their own conclusions about what its saying - there are some deep lyrics on the album definitely.  (Lyrics here -
Scott - Can you give us a quick run-down of your main guitars and rig?

Joe - My main guitar since I bought it new in 1982 is a Les Paul Custom.  I have 5 Les Paul Customs, but my 82 is the best and I play it all the time.  The main amp that was used for rhythms on the album is an old 2 channel Mesa Dual Rectifier, that was modded by Voodoo Amps in NY and sounds incredible. I use Marshall 1960B 4x12 cabs.  Currently live I am using a Kemper Profiling Amp (that has the Mesa Dual profiled into it) into an ISP Stealth Power amp into Marshall cab.  I also use Line 6 wireless.  Lately when I do jams around town I’ve been playing a Fender 5153 50 watt head into their 2 x12 cab.  Those amps sound killer too.

As fate would have it, TRAUMA did not survive the era, but much like the Misfits and other important bands who accomplished so much in such a short time while flying under the radar, the story of the band grew for generations of fans; enough that demand continued for their seminal debut, the follow-up album, and the group’s first ever appearances overseas, most notably at Germany’s Headbangers Open Air. The Big 4 of Thrash Metal continue to deliver the goods. Iron Maiden concerts are cross -cultural events for legions of fans around the world. Judas Priest churns out incredible albums. New generations of fans form vintage sounding thrash bands everyday. And the Bay Area’s prodigal sons, TRAUMA, are ready as ever to attack.

~Ryan J. Downey

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Scott - What other music have you done we should know about?

Joe - The album I did that I’m most proud of next to the new Trauma was with my band Deconstruct called "The Human Condition". You can get it through iTunes or anywhere you can buy mp3s online.  I recorded and produced that, and wrote all the music for it. Its a very strong album that enabled us to do some really cool stuff when it first came out, like tour all over the US a bunch.  I would definitely recommend listening to this if you like the Trauma album.  Its also very dystopian and dark.
Scott - What other instruments do you play?

Joe - None really, I have a baby grand piano in my living room that I mess around with, but I’m not very good.  I play lap steel cuz I do like playing slide now and then. 
Scott - What are you listening to these days?

Joe - Dude, its different every day.  I listen to new shit but I’m addicted to finding old stuff I missed or forgot about or even stuff from other genres to get inspired by.  For example today I listened to Jimmy Page / Black Crowes Live; Riot - Thundersteel, which is a fucking great power metal album that I forgot totally about;  Allan Holdsworth - I.O.U. live; Mastadon - Emperor of Sand; Orange Goblin - Wolf Bites Back (like Ted Nugent meets Sabbath); Visigoth - Conquerer’s Oath. So its all over the place.

Scott - What do think about the music biz these days? Good or Bad?

Joe - I guess in some ways its good, I mean you can literally find anything you want to listen to on the internet so that’s awesome.  As a consequence though people are not buying music. If you get millions of streams I guess you can make some cash, but I miss the old days of buying records and CDs.  Also live music in USA is a lot different than when I was in my 20s - then we were in clubs seeing bands nearly every night.  Now its not like that here.  Our main priority now is to get on as many festivals overseas next summer that we possibly can.  We want to get to Europe especially and play over there. 
Scott - What else besides music is really close to heart and where you are trying to make a positive difference in life?

Joe - Well I have a day job also where I work with disabled people who often times are homeless and really at the end of their ropes emotionally.  Also currently I’m coaching some bands in a music program trying to impart some of the musical knowledge I’ve picked up over the years. 

Scott - Joe, give us a parting shot across the bow with some wise words of wisdom when it comes to the music business.

Joe - I would just say play what you believe in.  Don’t try to be something you are not. If you play from the heart and play music that means something to you, you will have success.  And also get the new Trauma album! 


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