The first time I heard about P.O.D. and their mesmerizing vocalist Sonny Sandoval, it was the dark ages of the 1990s while I was reading a hard copy of this very magazine, HM, when it was in print. They were one of the most distinct bands in the Christian rock scene at the time, which had me and my friends listening to their third full-length – and, arguably, their breakthrough release – The Fundamental Elements of Southtown, religiously. They offered heaviness, passion, and hope in an innovative way that other bands of that era hadn’t figured out and would later frequently try to imitate.
“Southtown” pounded the band into the populist rock scene. P.O.D., short for Payable on Death, was no longer a band solely found in the halls of Christian schools and churches. They were on mainstream rock radio, licensed songs on major motion picture soundtracks, and had videos on MTV, even performing live on their flagship after-school program Total Request Live. At the dawn of the iPod era, P.O.D. could be found selling out of the front rack of CD shelves at Best Buy and records stores. They were a household name among heavy music listeners, even expanding beyond those with a flair for the rap-rock invasion.
P.O.D. was larger than life.
With Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, and other rap-rock acts of the early 2000s, P.O.D. had a lot of brothers-on-stage, and the band helped shape the rise of the scene through a groovy rock sound mixed with a reggae backbone, hip-hop, melody, and, surprisingly, faith. It’s now been 21 years since The Fundamental Elements of Southtown was released, but P.O.D. and their frontman, the ever-dreaded Sonny Sandoval, is hard at work, constantly evolving and creating good music. Contributing writer Andrew Voigt sat down with Sandoval to talk about the band’s past and future, his evolving faith, and how Fernando Tatis deserves the MVP.
Before we talk music, I have to ask: Since you’re from San Diego, are you a Padres fan?
What do you think of Fernando Tatis, Jr.?
Killing it, man. He’s making Machado earn his money, that’s for sure (laughs).
Definitely! Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll get to the music. P.O.D.’s most recent album, Circles, was released in 2018. What have you and the guys in the band been up to since the release?
We toured overseas more last year. February and March, that was all spent in Europe. We headed over to Ukraine and Russia, then we came home and did a couple of tours here in the States, and then we went back to Europe. I don’t think in our entire career that we’ve ever been to Europe twice and toured in one year, so it was pretty exciting for us. They still appreciate concerts and music over there in Europe (laughs).
This year, we were set to tour and go back to Europe for all the festivals. We had a New Year’s Day gig out in Texas. We were planning on heading out in March and then everything hit.
Has the band been thinking about putting out another album soon?
Yeah, I think we waited a little bit – not intentionally. As we had shows set up for August, we were in hopes that this was going to clear up and we were going to be able to do stuff. Once we realized that this might last all the way into next summer, we really had no choice but to start writing. Not that it’s a hard choice, but it’s trying to fill the time. As soon as March hit, I had spent time at home working on solo stuff.
Solo stuff? Interesting. Tell me more about that.
I’ve been wanting to do a solo reggae/pop/hip-hop type record for years and have just never had the time or P.O.D. has always taken priority. So, as soon as I started putting things in the works and when everything hit and we knew we’d have some time at home, I started attacking it. I got about 15 songs in, messing around with friends that I met online. Back then, you couldn’t meet in person, so it wasn’t like you could sit around and jam. I was finding guys online who I’d never met before who made music. I started a conversation and they’d send me over music and I’d lay down vocals and clean it up and mix it and show it to them. It’s just forming.
Do you have any timeframe for when your solo work will be released?
I’ve got about six songs semi-mixed that I know, for me, are good enough to go on an EP right now.
Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D. in 2015 | Photo by Brooke Long
I am really looking forward to hearing this! You are also very involved with your organization, The Whosoevers. I saw recently that you’re doing a skate park tour. How did that come about?
Well, Ryan Ries and I’ve been doing this since 2009. Back then, I took some time off music and really focused on The Whosoevers. Once I jumped back into music, it was up to Ryan to handle. We used to do outreaches; we used to speak wherever they’d let us, Me, Ryan, Head (Brian “Head” Welch of Korn), and other speakers. They’re all believers who just have an awesome story. They aren’t necessarily considered teachers or pastors, but they’re interesting characters who love the Lord.
Ryan never really focused on schools, so we felt like that was a need. You have a captive audience, a little bit. It’s our kids who are going through the craziest stuff. There’s a lot of hurt in our young kids, so that’s been the focus. When I’m home off tour, I’ll jump in wherever I can. A lot of times, it is assemblies and a makeshift stage after school on the playground or basketball courts, and we’ll bring about 100 pizzas and skateboards and just fun stuff.
Most of the kids hang out for the food. Most of these kids don’t even know if they’re going to get dinner when they get home. Who doesn’t love free pizza and free schwag? All we ask is that they listen. We’ll have a band play and, sometimes, we’ve had poetry or we’ve had spoken word or rappers come up. The kids – they’re all too cool and they hang out, but we know they’re listening.
“If we get to get deep with somebody, cool. Or if we get to smile with somebody or laugh with somebody or do some kind of good, we’re totally content that there’s a seed planted and someone else will get the privilege of bringing the harvest.”
Sometimes we get invited by the Christian club or the Bible club and, that way, we can be a lot more open. Then it really is voluntary if kids do come. We’ll still pack in these gyms or these rooms and these kids come in and we get to completely share without any restrictions.
(This) summer, Ryan went up to Idaho. I think he was going to go on a mini-vacation. and, because he’s always ministry-minded, he stopped at skate parks. Now, with social media, all you’ve got to do is throw up a post and say, “Hey, we’re coming through. We’re having a skate contest and we’ll be giving away some stuff.” Really, it’s by faith to see who shows up. Last time Ryan did that, he was really pleased with the turnout. This time, since I’m home, we’re like, “Let’s just go together; let’s put the word out.”
We believe seeds are planted. That’s a lot of the things with Christianity and ministry. Everybody’s looking to close the deal right then and there. (I’m reminded) that it has nothing to do with me or my band. It has everything to do with that divine appointment God has with an individual to say, “Hey dude, I want to make something clear to you.” We go with the attitude that, man. If we get to get deep with somebody, cool. Or if we get to smile with somebody or laugh with somebody or do some kind of good, we’re totally content that there’s a seed planted and someone else will get the privilege of bringing the harvest.
P.O.D. in Zurich, February 2019
As a follower of Jesus, faith has always been a central part of the culture surrounding P.O.D. How has your personal faith grown and evolved?
I’d say since 2009 when The Whosoevers was birthed, that’s when I took time off of music. I was willing to lay it down because the lines were growing blurry with my faith, and I had so much bitterness and anger towards Christianity and Christians. At the same time, being thrown into the world – maybe even unknowingly… It could (have been) making simple compromises in my own life and then calling it business or networking or “part of the game.” When I started to see a lot of things happening in my band’s life and my personal life, if anything, it drew me closer to my family and to God in saying that, “You know what? I don’t want to just believe I’m saved because I said this prayer so many years ago.” I don’t want that to be it. Even though I believe that that’s it, I feel like my walk with God wasn’t as intimate and as close as it was in the past. I wanted to get rid of some things.
Even now, in these trying times, dude, it’s hard. It gets harder and harder, not that you ever walk away, but dude, it takes work. It takes a lot of work, man. It’s not a magic potion. It’s a commitment – like everything else – to say, “This is what I believe; this is what I’m going to stick by.” Here I am in these crazy times trying not to get lost in the unknown. Every day is me trying to surrender everything I know.
P.O.D. in the early years, unknown date
When you released Circles, how do you feel the album was received by listeners?
I believe we are in a position in this industry where we’re always fighting to prove ourselves. It’s never a given. We were at the highest point you can go, and you think you’d just stay there, but that’s not true. There are a lot of factors in that, but I believe that being as open as we have been in our faith has always been something that we’ve had to fight and defend. Not that I care about it; we’re always doing that. We’re just not always on rotation. We’re not a given.
With the hiatus, we’ve had some ups and downs with labels. This record, we went in with a little bit of freedom to not care as much. It was a cool process. It was never like, “We’re going to make the heaviest record of our lives,” or, “We’re going to make the catchiest record.” It was a natural thing for us.
I think the real P.O.D. fans who have been following us forever know that we’re like this. We’re not like all these bands that give you their one-trick pony. We’ve been like this forever. We’re not worried about if it’s too soft or whatever. It was whatever felt good.
We released (Circles) and, as soon as we went over to Europe, we were blown away. We were selling out venues and people were singing B-sides off the record. We were like, “This is crazy!” I think that’s why we got to go back; there was such a demand. We took complete advantage of it and realized that there are people listening, man. If we’re not trying to fit in the matrix here in the U.S., we’re just like, “Why not just go where the fans are?” Not that there aren’t real fans in the U.S., but we’re all fat, you know? We’re all fat off the hog – off the music hog – and that’s just what it is (laughs). But you go to those countries and they’re like, “You haven’t been here in so many years!”
It’s like old-school days. We’re coming through their little rock and roll venue and they’re like, “Man, this is legendary!” There’s history still. In the U.S., it’s just different.
2020 has been a very difficult year for everyone. With being off tour and at home, what have you and your family been up to?
We’ve been following the rules pretty tight. But for me, man, I’m just enjoying being home. We’ve been able to hit the beach, do a little road trip for my kids’ birthdays… This is all make-up time for me. This never gets old for me. I’m trying to let the future of what’s coming not take me away from actually enjoying these moments that I have because we know that, when things get busy again, we’ll probably be wishing we were sitting in quarantine (laughs).
Nah, I’ll pass (laughs). Since it is 2020, The Fundamental Elements of Southtown just turned 21, which is wild. As great an album as it was, when Satellite was released, I really, really resonated with that record above the rest. “Youth of the Nation” was practically the anthem during the heartache and pain of 9/11. Did you guys feel the same way about that song and that album?
I think it has become an anthem. There are staple songs on that record that it’s a must that we play every time we hit the stage. I think “Alive” was No. 1 on rock radio when 9/11 happened. (Editor’s Note: “Alive” peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart in Dec. 2001.)
At that time, the world and America in general wanted answers for what was going on. All of a sudden, through that tragedy, there was a time of reflection and of priorities and of what’s important and of what’s right and “life is short.”
At the time, radio didn’t want the Slipknots of the world. They didn’t want the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll or the “I’m so sad” songs. All of a sudden, we became unified and we were caring about one another, and we realized that there was an evil out there against us and we had to bond together and keep the faith.
At the time, whether it was MTV or radio, they only wanted bands who had that positive message. I remember that first week when they were trying to revive and encourage New York, I think I was one of five people they called to just say something. I remember sitting there, scared out of my boots, thinking, “What can I say? I’m going through this myself.” But encouraging New York and encouraging people… People were searching for something that was good or something that was important.
Obviously, that dies down and people go back to the usual and the normal (laughs). I just wrote something for a post. I wrote that I believe that album is even more relevant now than it was then. If you really listen to “Youth of the Nation,” we still have these tragedies going on. There’s a lot of searching still going on out there.
Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D. was posted on October 8, 2020 for HM Magazine and authored by Andrew Voigt.