Songwriter Interviews

Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D.

by Dan MacIntosh

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P.O.D. cares about a lot of things, but making fellow Christians comfortable isn't one of them. From their controversial album art to their singular "F-bomb" explosion heard 'round the world, the outspoken rock band from San Diego has ruffled a lot of feathers in the Christian community. But lead vocalist Sonny Sandoval isn't worried, because he's making music for the lost, not for the saved.

Whether he's singing about the joys of fatherhood, as he does on "Alive," or bemoaning the scary trend of teen-on-teen violence, exemplified by "Youth of the Nation," P.O.D. remains steadfastly relevant to the culture, Christian or not.

Unlike so many of its contemporaries, P.O.D. is not touring the county fair circuit, but is writing and releasing hard hitting rock music, seamlessly incorporating elements of rap and reggae.

However, P.O.D. is not just the kinder, gentler hard rock model. In addition to receiving three Grammy Award nominations, the band has remained a radio staple.

The group went on hiatus in 2009, only to return stronger than ever with their 2012 album Murdered Love.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Is there a regular way that P.O.D. goes about writing songs? Do you have a process?

Sonny Sandoval: Yeah. It's a guitar driven music, so normally it starts with a guitar riff from Marcos [Curiel] and when he brings it to the table we just start jamming as a rhythm section. And then once we construct the song, it's whatever the vibe the music brings out lyrically. But we usually write the music first and then I'll put the lyrics on it.

Songfacts: Do you get involved in the musical part at all?

Sonny: Yeah, we do them together. We all sit there and discuss them, if it's a cool riff or not. Then once we construct the song, we all add our two cents to whether we think it's cool or not. And then if it feels right, we'll put lyrics on it.

Songfacts: It has been a while since you've last recorded an album. How would you describe the experience of recording it?

Sonny: It was great. Especially going back with Howard Benson. We have a long time relationship with him, and he's got a lot of love for us. But he's one of the guys that really encouraged us to hurry up and do a new record. So we were writing songs throughout the last couple of years on our own time, we weren't rushing anything. For me, I put down music for personal reasons. And then when it felt right to get back together, we just started putting songs together.
Howard Benson has produced everyone from Motorhead to Kelly Clarkson. He's worked on many hard rock records, such as the kind P.O.D. make, including Three Days Grace, Sepultura and Seether. Furthermore, he's produced many other Christian acts, such as Flyleaf, Skillet, Creed and Blindside. He works exclusively at West Valley Studios, in Woodland Hills, CA. More than just a record producer, however, Benson is also a successful A&R executive. He's done A&R work at Giant Records, Enclave Records, Elektra Records and worked as an A&R/Production Consultant at Warner Bros. since 2007.
Then we showed Howard some of our demos that we were working on and he loved them and he kept encouraging us to keep doing it. So I just kept writing more and more songs. And once we get in the studio with him, he's like a fifth member - we respect his opinion and it's good to get an outside perspective. But he allows us to be us. A lot of times, especially now, you have the same four writers writing all these rock records and that was one thing that the band was adamant about was we weren't trying to have any new writers come in and write our music.

Songfacts: I like that. It's sort of that DIY mentality, right? You like to create your own music and not have other fingers in the pie.

Sonny: It works. But you get around industry people and their opinion is, Well that's just how it's done now. It's like, you know what, that's the problem with the industry. (Laughs) Everybody just says that's how it's done now, whereas, this is our band, we write the music. But we also go on the mentality of, you know what, if we never get radio or we don't sell 20 million records, then that's what it is.

We're writing the music that we love to play. Part of the hiatus of the band was the politics and labels and the industry in general. You feel like you're not a 4 piece anymore, you're a 2,500 piece, because everybody has their opinion. Hey, we're just this band that started in our garage in the 'hood and loved playing music for whoever would show up. And now it's become this business thing and it's like, you know what, we're going to make music and whoever comes out, comes out. And whatever records we sell, we sell. And we're grateful regardless.

Songfacts: You have a song on the new album called "I Am" that is one of the angriest songs I've ever heard you guys do. Can you tell me a little bit about how you created that song?

Sonny: Yeah, it was actually one of the first demos that we had done and got to our management. It's just a heavy song by nature, and it's from me in the whole hiatus period. I've been involved in a lot of charity and outreach type work, and I'm always hanging out with young people and being able to sneak into their lives. You hang around with these teenage kids, and it's a scary place. There are a lot of suicidal kids. Kids that are cutting themselves, they're so confused, whether they've been hurt physically, sexually, or are lost in the cultish religions, there's just so much stuff.

Me being up close and personal with these kids, that's what came out in that song. I'm a man of faith and I'm a follower and a believer of Jesus Christ, and in talking to these kids, and even in talking to people just throughout my career in P.O.D., a lot of these bands and athletes and all these people that you meet, they don't have a problem with Jesus. They have a problem with people that are religious and claim to know Jesus, but aren't living it or acting it and aren't loving the way Jesus did.

In my faith, if I believe that Jesus paid for the sins of the world, and I'm all these things, this is what's going on in the real world, and do you still love someone like me? And even though I know you do, and I believe in you, I believe in your forgiveness and your grace and your mercy, there's still so much confusion around me that everybody's getting in the way and trying to take your place. Everything gets in my way from seeing who Jesus was.

So I just wrote it out, I felt it, and I know it's already caused controversy because of the infamous F bomb. (Laughing) It's like, wow, all the things that are said, every single lyric in each verse and the content and self righteous Christians want to focus on the fact that I said the F word. It's absolutely pathetic. And I knew it would happen.

Songfacts: Yeah, you were kind of prepared for that, I'll bet.

Sonny: We had that song for almost a year, and I didn't take it lightly. I'd been praying on it for over a year. I'd actually took counsel and let people hear it. And it was 50/50. Some people are like, you know what, go for it. Because my heart is like, I don't write music for Christians. I don't write music for people that I believe are saved and going to heaven. If it's a breath of you and encourages you and gives you a sense of power to go balls out for what you believe in, then by all means. But ultimately we're trying to reach people fed up with religion that are sick and tired of it, and people that are in the real world that really are lost and confused.

Our music has always been a tool to bring hope to those people. I'm sorry we can't please everybody in the church, but ultimately in our faith, I believe you're taken care of. There are a lot of people that live in the real world that are out on the streets, that are prostituting themselves, that are being sexually abused, that are being murdered and killed, and it's an evil world. And sometimes you've got to just give them the truth flat out. And it might offend some people. Might offend a lot of people. But at the end of the day, if they understand it and they get it, and they allow God to speak straight into their soul, then I think it's worth the slap on the hand.

Songfacts: Well, Jesus offended a lot of people, right?

Sonny: He offended them so much they killed him. (Laughing)

Songfacts: Yeah. So you're not alone.

Sonny: But he had a good reputation with the sinners of the world. So I guess it didn't look too good for him either back then.

Songfacts: On a lighter note, "Lost in Forever" is kind of a meditation on heaven, right?

Sonny: Yeah. It's definitely more of a thought on the afterlife. Sometimes I find myself thinking about it a lot, because here we are. The meaning of life, the question, heaven and hell, everybody's wondering what's going to happen after we die. And being of faith, I have a peace of where I'll spend eternity, but at the same time, I have a heart and a burden for people that don't know and don't understand. So if I believe that heaven and hell exists, then well, wait for me, because I believe I'm going to go there. But what about the people that are lost and maybe aren't? My heart breaks for them. So that's just a thought of sometimes it's a peaceful thought, and sometimes it's a very scary thought.

Songfacts: I want to talk about a couple of your more popular songs and what they mean. So if I could just throw a couple of song titles at you, maybe you could just give me your thoughts about what were you thinking when you wrote these songs.

Sonny: Sure.

Songfacts: This ties in with what you were saying earlier. With "Youth of the Nation," would you say that came from your encounters with young people and dealing with their issues?

Sonny: For sure. I mean, when we were actually writing the record for Satellite, we were two blocks away from the Santee high school shootings. We had taken a break and went out for some coffee, and we see all the fire trucks and the police department and the helicopters and news. And we're like, something's going on. We turn on the TV and all of a sudden there's a young kid who has trapped everybody inside the school and he's shooting. Here we are, glued to the TV and we're literally two blocks away. All this is going down, and here we were supposed to write music. It kind of just set the tone for how we felt that day.
In 2001, a 15-year-old freshman at Santana High School in Santee killed two schoolmates and wounded 13 others at 9:20 a.m. at the campus, which is about 10 miles northeast of San Diego.
We had always been a touring band and we had toured through Colorado, even when Columbine had happened, and we had an awesome underground following, even of kids in Colorado. So when we toured through Colorado, some of the kids that survived the Columbine shootings put on a fund raiser, so we've always been kind of involved in that. We're hanging out with young kids, we're talking with kids, and that was one of the things that was going on when we were touring so many years ago. So it had always been something that was on our shoulders.

And then when this happened it was like wow, what's going on with these kids? And it was like here it is, these are the youth of the nation. So it just sparked that whole story.

Songfacts: So did you just go right into the studio and start writing that song after you saw all this?

Sonny: We had the title and we had the music. It was just this very drone like echo of this guitar. And that's just how we felt. And here we are having conversation and the title "Youth of the Nation" came up, and then we kind of hummed out some ideas of the chorus. But the lyrics for the verses weren't written until we actually got into the studio and started to write out tracks. But I knew I was going to be telling the story of what we experienced and what happened. So it was more about this story of certain individuals, or just this kid who feels like he's lost in this world. The lyrics all came out once we were in the studio.

Songfacts: On a lighter note, let's talk about "Alive," which I think is a great song. When I hear it, it's just inspiring. Can you tell me about writing that song?

Sonny: Yeah. Again, it's one of them feel good songs. But it's funny, because we were recording in Valley Village, and I was going back home for the weekends to San Diego. So I'd literally leave late Friday night and then come back late Sunday night. And then hit the studio on Monday. But it was my turn to start laying down vocals. And my daughter was very young - she was not even one yet. And so here I was supposed to record the song "Alive" on Monday, and I hadn't even finished the lyrics yet.

So it's a funny story. My wife's driving so I can sit and just kind of concentrate. I always know what I want to say, and I work better under pressure. So here we are, it's nighttime, we're driving late Sunday on the 405 freeway. It's dark, and from the traffic light, I look back and I look at my daughter. And I don't know if you have kids or not, but you always hear people say, "He looks just like you," and "She looks just like you." And like forever I never saw that. And everybody's like, "Oh, she's the spitting image, she looks exactly like you." And I just didn't see it, because it's just my little baby. And for some reason with the traffic light shining in, I look at her and for the first time I see myself in her. I can finally see it now. And it was like, wow. That was just the moment. That's almost completely what the song's about. For the very first time I see myself in my daughter. It was a beautiful moment. I see me.

But it's just whatever moment that is for anybody. If I'm talking of faith, it has to do with my faith in God. We always keep it open for interpretation, because I never want to sound religious or preachy. It's kind of like a painting: 20 people can look at a piece of art and have 20 different interpretations. I believe it's supposed to speak to your soul. So the same thing with our music.

I've had kids come up to me and tell me what my songs mean to them, and I'm like Wow. You know what, you just spoke to me, because I'm blown away right now. That's amazing. But it's the way they heard it. It's their life, it's their situation. It could be one or two words, it could be a phrase.

Songfacts: That's so cool. What are some of your favorite songs to perform? Are there ones that you look forward most to during your set?

Sonny: Yeah. "Alive" and "Youth," definitely, because I think those are the most radio played, so obviously you have the big response. But then there's songs like "Southtown" that the more hardcore fans, they just love that aggression. That's kind of a genesis of P.O.D., because that was our first real video and it got some MTV love and people started to recognize this little band from San Diego and just the rawness of it. And so that song continues almost 13 years later to still go off every night. We break it up, switch up the vibe to have more of a reggae feel to it, but "Southtown" will always be on the set list.

Junior Seau died on May 2, 2012 of a self-inflicted gunshot, in Oceanside, a city just outside of San Diego. Seau was a 10-time All-Pro NFL linebacker. He was also a San Diego sports legend. He grew up in San Diego, was drafted by the San Diego Chargers as the fifth overall pick of the 1990 draft, and was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame. Although they came at it from different angles, Seau and P.O.D. had similar social aims. Seau created the Junior Seau Foundation in 1992 in order to empower young people through the support of child abuse prevention, drug and alcohol awareness, recreational opportunities, anti-juvenile delinquency efforts and complimentary educational programs.
Songfacts: With all the media about Junior Seau, and you guys being from San Diego, did you ever cross paths with him?

Sonny: Yeah. We've met Junior a few times. We're huge Chargers fans. I actually have met him a couple of times just doing community outreach stuff. He was heavily involved he attended one of the biggest churches in San Diego and he would do a lot of youth outreaches. So I've crossed paths with him a bunch of times that way. I think we heard about that before it even hit the Internet. And I was still kind of puzzled about the whole thing.

But you know what, man, everybody's got their opinions and ideas, was it a concussion, was he kind of lost in there at the end after his divorce and just trying to deal with real life and all that stuff? I see all that stuff and I think all that plays a factor. But the bottom line is, being a man of faith, we live in a twisted and evil and wicked world, and we go through so much stuff. Especially someone like him, a celebrity. You have money and people want stuff from you, and then you go through tough times and then, especially when you wave this banner of I'm a Christian, I'm of faith, and then all of a sudden you have a bad incident, and everybody crucifies you immediately because you're not the perfect standard of Christianity. It all takes a toll on you.

I'm not saying that's the reason why he did it. I just think ultimately I know that I believe we have an enemy that wants to rob, kill and destroy us of all the joy and all the life that God wants to give us. That's the truth. And I'm sure he battled with his demons. And at the end of the day, it might have just gotten the best of him. My heart goes out to him and his family, because it's tough, man.

You look at the same with these kids, and there's no morale, they have no hope, they're lost and numb to absolutely everything that is good and righteous. I'm scared for my kids. I want to shelter them and lock them up in a cage, but I know I can't do that. But I'm so afraid for their future. It goes across the board. If we're a morally decayed society, we're ultimately going to end up perishing. It's sad.

Songfacts: I read that Katy Perry sang on one of your songs at one point. Is that true?

Sonny: Yes. When we did Testify (2006 album) with Glen Ballard. Glen Ballard's got a million Grammys, he's worked with Alanis Morissette, he's just an amazing, amazing man. So that was his protégé at the time. So when we did that song "Goodbye for Now," we're like, you know what would be cool is if we just got a cool female vocal. And he's like, "I got just the perfect person." And here comes little Katy Perry. She's a little studio rat, she'd just come around, and such a sweet girl. You could tell she came from a good family, and just wanted to show the Jesus tattoo on her wrist, and she was like, "I think I saw you guys in a youth rally so many years ago." I'm like, "That's so cool." But here she was in Hollywood trying to do her thing and make her career.

And so again, the same thing, it's like choices and decisions. We heard she made this Christian gospel record and all of a sudden here she is in Hollywood just trying to figure it out. That's just the journey of life. So we're good friends with her, she'd hang out all the time. She did Jay Leno with us and a couple of other TV shows, and we'd always see her in and out of Hollywood just networking and stuff. And who'd have ever guessed she'd be one of the biggest pop stars in the world right now?

Songfacts: Well, I think we should probably wind things up here, but Sonny, you are so candid, and it's such a breath of fresh air to talk to somebody like you that just gives straight answers.

Sonny: I appreciate it, man. You know what, though, I've been in this game for so long, and I've been to the top of the mountain and down it again. And ultimately, I love what I do, but a lot of this is just a facade. It comes down to us being human and loving one another and taking care of each other. There's so much deception that takes your focus off of just loving people and serving people. I've been on the red carpets, I've been on the private jets. Those are all nice moments and what have you. But at the same time, it all ends.

I write music, I play music because some kid is listening. It's not to sell records. There's no money to make in music these days unless you tour 14 months out of the year. And I'm a daddy first. I don't want to tour 14 months out of the year. I do want to get out and I want to hang with people and touch people physically, like lay hands on people and just say, Dude, we're all together in this thing called life. Why are we destroying ourselves? But I'm back in it for the right reasons.

July 22, 2012. Get more at payableondeath.com.
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Comments: 9

  • Tim from Pgh, PaAlison - "SD" is their hometown San Diego.
  • Crandon from Seymour TnAS A GODLY MAN YOUR SURPOSE TO LIVE IN THE WORLD,NOT BE OF THE WORLD,when you try to put the world view with God's view it won't work, plan and simples. plus when your doing a ministry your held to a higher standerd by God, because we as Christian are surpose to live by example, were called to be like Christ.
  • Jr Pereira from Jersey City, NjI know I'm mad late on this one, but reading these messages set me off. People tend to forget that Christian or not, Bootist or not, Muslim or not, at the end we are all human, and susceptible and capable of the worst. It's who we are, from the moment of birth, sin and evil look to destroy our lives, and it's a fight to the Very Last Breath. My boy Sonny gets a lot of hate, and it's for one reason yo, Jesus Christ, but it's all good cause that's how we earn our stripes! It's funny how you can do so much good in this life, charities, tours for benefits, youth rallies and outreach, have Real Love for people and all people want to do is acknowledge and praise the bad and ugly in someone. I'm not perfect, sonny ain't perfect, Mary ain't perfect, which is why we have to stop arguing over dumb [*oops*]. We should jump on the same boat as sonny and make this [*oops*] hole of a world ( thanks to our enemy) a better place, how God intended. Sonny is the first one to say he doesn't have it all together, he struggles with things like the rest of us. The moment someone says they believe in Jesus Christ becomes a target. POD changes my life for the better and opened my eyes to so many things I was blinded by, thanks to religion, which I hate. The words got a hold of me and never let go. Sonny, ull probably never read this, but thank you for all you do. Much love sent from Jersey out here in the East Coast, keep doing what youre doing, full force with no apologies.
  • Alison from Tucson AzWhat are you referring to when you say the big SD in your song Boom?
  • Mary Morenothanks steve. learn how to type first off. and i know chino and sonny PERSONALLY and it's hilarious how UNCHRISTIAN sonny really is. fuck is a word used almost daily by these two also. SO FUCK YOU AND STANK ASS? you must be smelling yourself.
  • Steve from LaThats stupid Mary people like you are why i dont claim to be involved with "Christians" I grew up listening to POD i even was in band produced by Marcos in 05. And to be honest Im glad they said Fuck cause you know what yo stank ass has said it before too so keep talkin about the stuff others do....its for sure gonna make you a better person ;)-Luv ya-Steve
  • Bob from Farmington Hills, MiMary, your words don't appear to line up with the way of Jesus - "Don't condemn, lest you be condemned...take the beam out of your own eye..." - his words, not mine. Which is no big deal if you don't claim to follow his way, but if you do claim to follow him then you may want to reconsider your approach. Your choice.
  • Jacques from South AfricaSo, I guess you only hire Christians to work with you and you only use the services of "Christian companies?" Right?
  • Mary Moreno from UsaIf he is such a man of god, why wanna write a song with chino moreno? Cuz lets face it, chino and his group might as well be satanists! What bull[*oops*] sonny, save it
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