Sonny Sandoval on the Resurrection of P.O.D.
P.O.D. entered an indefinite hiatus more than four years ago. Spawned by frontman Sonny Sandoval’s disenchantment of the music business, it was unclear if we’d ever hear from the band again. But with the passing of time and a return to their roots, the band was able to get back to what really made them excited about making music from day one. The results? P.O.D.'s latest disc, 'Murdered Love.'
We recently caught up with Sandoval to talk about P.O.D.'s hiatus, the band’s return, and his basic outlook on life – one that is both honest and inspired.
It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from P.O. D. Can you talk about the band’s hiatus and your thoughts going into it on whether or not you’d ever return to music?
I think for me in my heart of hearts, I put it down and I was willing to put it down forever. I just got tired of the industry and how it just kind of becomes business, show after show. We just became like this brand, everyone goes through their own personal challenges and struggles and sometimes you don’t face those head on because you’re so busy in the business part of it. For me, I take all the responsibility. I canceled a huge European tour. I wanted to come home and be with my wife and kids. After awhile of doing some other things that I wanted to do I felt like it was the right time to make some music.
When the band started writing again, it wasn’t necessarily for a full length disc, you had another project in mind right? How did it evolve into writing a whole disc of new music?
We had already had some committed charity events and outreach type events with the community. I was down, to me that was selfless, it was giving back, so I was like cool, sign me up I’m down, and that was one of the only reasons I would do it. After maybe a year the guys got together just throw some ideas around. There was always talk of maybe doing an EP just to put some music out, and I was like ‘Cool dude, do what you want’ kind of thing but for me I was still kind of searching and thinking, ‘Am I going to do this again or what?’ and then some other smaller opportunities came up for us to do some things. We never knew, it wasn’t like we had a plan.
Do you think that down time reinvigorated your passion for the music?
For sure, for me, I didn’t grow up thinking that I wanted to be in a band. It’s just not me. I’m a laid back shy kinda dude and it wasn’t until when I was 19 that my life kind of change. I was trying to change it for the good and I felt like I had something to say and when they asked me to be in this band I was like people think I’m tripping anyway because I’m making this change in my life of faith and I’m not doing the things that I used to, and I’m not even really into this whole metal thing. I was born into hip hop and reggae and then I started listening to more hardcore and punk bands like Bad Brains and the Suicidal Tendencies, they opened up a whole new world for me. They had something to say and I could relate to them.
When the guys asked me to join the band, they were playing keg parties and I was like ‘You know what, we’ll just play parties for the homies and the community and we’ll have something to say.’ That’s the only reason why I jumped in this band and people started listening and thinking ‘Wow this is cool.’ Sometimes I think when you lose sight of that it just becomes business. I always said when it stops being fun I don’t want to do it anymore. This band is a huge part of my life but it doesn’t necessarily define who I am as a person. I’m a daddy first, I’m a husband and I’m a lover of God and people.
You can get caught up in everything, that’s Hollywood. It’s just a lot to take in. All those stories, like sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll – it exists but it’s so phony and fake and I don’t want to be a part of that. It’s almost like a sacrifice of music to make sure I wasn’t locked in to all that stuff and after taking some time off and getting my head straight, and getting inspired again, I was like, okay I want to make some more music. That’s the only reason to do it. There’s no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, we’ve already hustled for 20 years. We’ve always been that band right at the peak, there was no million dream, it happened for a lot of bands and even bands that came after us but there is no rock and roll dream. We hit that peak and now we’re the underdogs again. You either play basically because you love it and somebody’s actually listening or you don’t.
You mentioned being the underdog, and I’ve heard you say that before. Do you really feel like the band is in an underdog position?
Because we were doing this before, we had independent records, and even before ‘Alive’ broke on radio and ‘Youth of a Nation,' we were packing clubs in the middle of nowhere, over a thousand kids on Wednesday night on a school night. That’s the only reason we got signed. Atlantic Records saw us and thought that they have guys selling tons of records that aren’t even selling out a bar. It was because of our fanbase. So we kind of went the mainstream route and had some success and sometimes you lose fans because of that, it’s a trip. It’s funny because we just got off the road and talking to bands, and they would say, ‘You took five years off, that’s rock 'n' roll suicide!’ and I’m busting up because it’s kind of true but you don’t think of it that way. But I think on the other hand, a lot of bands in our genre are whoring themselves out so much.
Some of them need a brief hiatus?
Not even that, people just get sick of them, so it could have worked to our advantage. I think a lot of people are thinking ‘Man I thought you guys were done with, it’s cool to see you back.’ So it’s almost like we just need to get out there again and just keep doing it. With the cool tours we’ve been on, people remember us and I think it’s coming back around again, they’re appreciating what it’s all about – it’s the live show, it’s the experience, it’s not just the same old bubblegum stuff that’s out right now.
Is it true that the writing process for ‘Murdered Love’ was a return to the same feeling you had when you recorded for first two discs – was it hard to find that place again?
Once I got with the guys I think we all felt that way. Writing was just fun. We had a whole new team this time – a new label, new management, no one’s looking to tell us what to do. We just went in, it was us four feeling like teenage kids again and going into the garage and just turning it up, jamming, and having fun and not trying to keep up with the times. I think we did that. With [producer] Howard [Benson], he knows what kind of band we are, and he allows us to be us. For us, it’s the same four writers. When they asked us if we’d be willing to co-write, we said hell no, that’s just not us. That’s why music sucks, everybody sounds the same. I think we’ve already accepted in our souls that we’re not here to make a million bucks and we’re not going to sell out for that. One thing we do have control over is the music that we write. So we showed him demos and he liked it. We work well with Howard.
Working with producer Howard Benson is familiar territory for you. What does he bring to the process for P.O.D. that makes it so easy to work with him?
We went from making our own records independently to working with Howard Benson as our first producer. We didn’t know what a producer did, we learned how to write songs with him, we came to him with ten minute songs back in the day, he taught us structure. We were his first Gold and Platinum record, he went to the moon after us. It’s kind of like we revolutionized some kind of sound together.
After ‘Satellite’s’ success he started working with Papa Roach and all the bands in that era. Then he went on to do the 'American Idol' stuff, I think that he’s been so overworked with album after album, that even now where he’s at, he’s realizing he doesn’t need the money, he just wants to work on records he wants to work on. So, he was a big influence in calling us all up and asking us if we were ready to do this. I kept in contact with him and he always said that whenever we decided to do a new record, he was going to produce it. That was an incentive because he was on top of the moon with success and he still believed in us.
Let’s talk about the diversity of 'Murdered Love' a bit because your sound has always been influenced by a lot of different types of music. Is that something that comes naturally to the band?
I think if you listen to our demos from 1992, we had our buddy who was a DJ come and scratch stuff, and sample stuff. That was part of our upbringing. We would try to do reggae music, we’d try to mix punk rock with hardcore, and it’s just because that’s what we loved and the shows we were going to all the time. We’d go to a reggae show one night and a punk rock show the next. We’ve always done that, so I think with this record, it’s not really caring what’s hot, or someone telling us how it has to sound, if radio catches on, right on, we realize the effect that it has. Look at ‘Satellite,’ and even ‘Testify’ with Katy Perry on guest vocals on 'Goodbye For Now' – that was never suppose to be our first single. They’re so busy trying so hard. I remember Atlantic, on the first record, they were so desperate that they’d take five bands and just go drop them off at a radio station and say ‘Please, just pick one.’ It’s just such a hustle. We were doing fine on our own. When we get together and it’s fun, it really is natural. We love to jam. Lately we’re playing these big radio shows with all different bands, and we’ll be the only band not playing to a click track, not playing with protools and backing tracks – it’s a trip, it’s a new day for music. We’re like a dying breed.
The first track from the album that anyone got to hear was the song called ‘Eyez’ which featured a guest appearance from Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta. How did that collaboration fall into place?
That’s one of the perks for us, we’ve always incorporated guest appearances on every single record, it’s just something we love to do and it’s more like a gift for us. When we write music we always think, who can jump on this and on this song we wanted a heavy vocal. It’s weird because you can go different ways. You could go with a Dave Mustaine style or you can go with a grimy hardcore Jamey Jasta style. It’s funny because I was trying to figure out the whole Twitter thing, and he posted something to us and I was just like, 'Dude, what’s up, long time!' I told him we were in the studio and that his name had come up a few times and we were just having a twitter conversation. He was like dude, I’ll do it! And I thought no way! We sent him the song and we had it back in two days. That’s not no rock star stuff. We’ve known Jamey for a long time, he’s a good cat. He was just awesome.
I wanted to ask about the song ‘I Am’ because I read that it was inspired by the outreach programs you’re involved with and talking to kids at schools. How did that experience help shape this song?
That’s actually like one of the first demos that we had done music-wise. The guys had never even heard the lyrics until I jumped in the vocal booth. We had been sitting on that song for awhile. It’s nothing new to me but just in today’s day and age its bananas for our kids. I get the opportunity to go to a lot of public schools whether it’s rehab or community outreach and hang out with these kids. I’m looking at these beautiful little kids and they’re suicidal or cutting themselves, half these kids are addicted to prescription drugs or other drugs or even pornography. It’s almost like they’re like shells of themselves, not allowed to be innocent and young, be in love with life. They’re so caught up in so much stuff, it’s heartbreaking.
For me, just being a man of faith, I’m not religious at all, I believe religion hides the faith and the heart of god, but even me, even taking my time off, I’m not trying to live up to this standard of Christianity, I believe in Jesus. I don’t want to talk religion, I don’t want to talk everyone’s doctrine and politics, I believe in the scriptures, I believe in this man who did awesome amazing things, and for me personally I believe it’s the truth. The only way for me to express that and the only way to show that is to live it. The church and Christianity, they’ve done enough talking. Now it’s just they have to live it so people see it’s really in your life. When I do these kinds of things, I get a chance to share my own struggles and my own beliefs and faith. A lot of these kids, they don’t have a problem with Jesus, its religion and the hypocrisy. They’ll tell you, ‘I’m cool with God; I just don’t like the people. I’m not perfect like them.’ The church has created this image of perfection when that totally defeats what the gospel is and who Jesus was. He didn’t come for the perfect; he didn’t break bread with the perfect or the religious. He hung out with dudes like me and he offered them love.
When you hang out with these kids, it’s the same thing. The song just says ‘I Am’ all these things and at the end of the day asking God, if I believe that you came to die for the sins of the world, what about me because I’m jacked. It’s like you’re asking that question, I can even except that he did, but what about everything else around me that blinds me from knowing who you are. That’s what that song is. It’s real, and if anything, it’s an honest prayer.
In the past P.O.D. has been labeled a Christian band; do you define the band that way?
You know what, never ever have we said ‘Hey we’re a Christian band.’ We were always just a hardcore band that came out and said what we believed in but we also talked about the streets and the stuff that we were into and the struggles and everything we were going through. Once people found out we were Christian, it was always ‘Is that Christian music?’ We’ve always fought against that because we didn’t want to be labeled. I didn’t grow up with the church; I didn’t know there was Christian music. I didn’t know who Stryper was; I couldn’t name a Stryper song.
The first time we ever got asked to play a church event, we got kicked off the stage. We would play anywhere – a house party, a Y.M.C.A., a church too if there’s going to be kids there that like music. Far beyond that, I’ve never marketed my Jesus to sell a record. I fear that too much. I know that people do that, and it pisses me off. It makes me sick, even the Christian industry, you put Jesus in your title or because it sounds like a worship song. You’re not doing that for free, there’s always money to be made. The church never considered P.O.D. Christian enough but to the world because we were so outspoken we were too Christian.
I can do an interview with Rolling Stone because all of a sudden we’re getting some love because we sold a million records, so that’s a different story. When you’re underground, no one cares. When you sell a million records, - ‘Who are these guys? They’re Christian?’ and then it was kind of like ‘Christian Rap Rockers’ and we were getting pissed off. We never called ourselves that but you’re labeling us that and putting us into a box.
So I remember just getting sick of it and thinking, why can’t we just be a rock band? We’ve never put ourselves in that category so why are you? After awhile you get so frustrated with the whole thing. We make music for everybody. This is my band and we say what we want to say and you say what you want to say. The moment I say Jesus they want to put me in some kind of box. I’m still the same guy from the hood and I’m just trying to walk a life of peace but sometimes people get it twisted.
Fans can check you out on Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival later this summer. You’ll be headlining the second stage. That stage features a lot of new up and coming bands, do you see yourself as mentors to those bands given your history?
This is new for us. I think a lot of these shows we’ve been doing, that’s why we feel like the underdog. We’re so used to being on the main stage and now we’re back at the ‘FUN’ stage as we call it. You get out there, and that’s where all the kids who want to have fun and go crazy are. That extends from even this past tour, playing all the weekend dates, some of the big stages have chairs. I’m so sick of that. That’s the one thing I hated about Ozzfest, we’re playing to people in seats. I’m really excited about Uproar. Again, I’m a fan of music so I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of those guys and that’s the blessing of being able to do things like this. We’re on an amazing tour with amazing people and we get to watch these bands and break bread with them. I’m looking forward to it. I know P.O.D. is going to murder it every night.
Watch the Video for 'Murdered Love'