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.
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?
Sandoval: 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?
Sandoval: 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.
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.
Sandoval: 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?
Sandoval: 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.
Sandoval: 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?
Sandoval: He offended them so much they killed him. (Laughing)
Songfacts: Yeah. So you're not alone.
Sandoval: 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?
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.
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?
Sandoval: 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.
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?
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?
Sandoval: 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?
Sandoval: 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.
Sandoval: 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?
Sandoval: 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.
Sandoval: 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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