Q’s With P.O.D. Vocalist Sonny Sandoval

Scott Legato
– P.O.D.
Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D. rocks The Fillmore in Detroit Feb. 7,

With more than 26 years in the music industry, P.O.D. has seen plenty of highs and lows and is still touring and releasing records. 

The band, whose name is an abbreviation for the phrase Payable On Death, broke through into mainstream success with its 2001 sophomore studio album Satellite, which contained hits “Alive,” “Youth Of The Nation,” “Satellite,” and “Boom.” That album went triple-platinum and throughout its career the band has sold more than 10 million records.

At one time touring with Testify, in ’06.

Early on in its career the band made waves with themes addressing Jesus Christ and Christianity addressed in its lyrics. At different points in its existence the band would face pushback from rock and religious forces in the industry, but the band prides itself on always doing things its own way.

P.O.D. currently consists of its longtime membership with Sonny Sandoval on vocals, Marcos Curiel on guitar, Traa Daniels on bass and Wuv Bernardo on drums. The band released the song “Soundboy Killa” in 2017 and is currently out on the Gen-X Summer tour with Lit, Buckcherry, and Alien Ant Farm. The band is scheduled to play three shows today, two in Minneapolis and one in Sioux City, Iowa.

After returning from a trip to Israel, Sandoval took some time to speak with Pollstar on the band’s history, the relationship between his faith and music, and why he doesn’t like P.O.D. being marketed as a “nostalgia” act.

So you were recently in Israel?

Yeah, this was my fifth time. Actually this year I did it my own way, I put it on social media for a group signup and anybody that wanted to go could come. I had 21 people sign up with me and we did a merging with a church in LA that I’ve gone with before, which made 205 people. I just had fun with that, helped lead it. It was a lot of older people, doing a bucket list thing from the church. We just go and help lead the group and serve them. It’s awesome, it brings me a lot of joy. …

Did you meet with fans over there?

Yeah, Austin Carlile from

I just have a real passion for Israel in general. I’ve tried to do things with a lot of different artists. And a lot of my friends in other bands see my trips on Instagram and say “Man, I want to go!” So I’ve been trying to get together with a group of musicians to go down there. It’s just the touring schedule is always such a pain. 

I want to organize one where I can take guys from all different faiths. I’ve talked to David Draiman, who is Jewish, I have friends that are Christian, friends that are Catholic, friends that are Muslim. I want to try to do this musical thing to get people down there to get an idea of the culture, the land, and at the same time help out with humanitarian stuff that helps all people. It’s not just a Jewish thing. It’s people from all walks of life. I’ve been trying and trying to get that organized. I’ve got a blueprint for what I want to do, for me it’s just trying to raise the funds and organize everybody’s time and schedule. 

Jim Hill
– P.O.D.
Sonny Sandoval soaks it in at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., May 4, 2016.

You’ve said you don’t call yourself “Christian Rock,” but people still seem to use that label.

I think we’ve been labeled that because we have been so open about our faith. But I would never market Jesus as a selling point. When we started playing I didn’t even know that music even existed. When I was 19 and I came to faith, I just wanted to tell my friends about what I was learning. We used music as a tool to do that.

There were other bands that grew up in the hardcore scene, whether they were Christian, Buddhist, straight edge, or vegan, everybody had something. We were a band that, on our own terms, had come to faith in Jesus, and it was just normal for us to scream that. I think, especially when it comes to Jesus and you’re screaming that, you’re gonna get labeled. 

But we played wherever they would let us play. I didn’t even know there was “Christian Rock” scene until we started playing. But it’s not like I grew up listening to them or anything. 

I think once we started getting some popularity and success, I’ve always kind of seen it as a negative thing. It was always rock magazines saying “the Christian rap-rock band,” but I always took it as a negative thing, and even sometimes as a mocking thing. I’ve never marketed my faith in Jesus to sell records or even to appeal to a certain audience. We felt like “We’ve been making music for years, we’ve been playing with the best of the best. We are one of the best out there.” 

I always felt, with rock magazines, it was always like “Hey, if you’re a Christian, you can listen to them, but if you’re not then it’s not for you.” But we make music for all people. That’s just something we never wanted to get labeled or stuck with. 

I know when I talk to another Christian and they say “Hey man, that’s cool that you make Christian music,” I’m not gonna argue with them, I get it. But I never wanted to be put in a box. At the time there weren’t too many bands that were known to be “Christian.” I think after P.O.D. sold a million records, labels didn’t care what the title was. All of a sudden they were coming to us, asking if we knew any other bands that were Christian.

Even with me on a personal note, even the term Christian can be defined in so many ways, I’m just tired of arguing about it. I just want to love people, I love Jesus. I make music, I’m from the hood. It is what it is. 

What were some of those early influences on your music if it wasn’t Christian music?

For me, I mostly grew up on reggae music and hip hop. I grew up in a rock and roll family. But I was more about music that was street conscious and had something to say. I found that in reggae music, it was about the struggle. 

Even the spiritual side of reggae music was deep, it was about the people. And hip hop was about the people, what’s going on in the street. I never related Punk as being “street” because when I was young I thought that was something that was White. That’s a British thing, the Sex Pistols. 

Until I discovered Bad Brains or Suicidal Tendencies. You see dudes of color and you start to think ‘OK, wait a minute, if they are into it, what am I missing? What’s going on here?’ Then you start to open up to other types of street music. 

The only band that I knew that was labeled as Christian when I was [young] was called The Crucified. And they heavily influenced bands like Pantera. There was another band called The Scattered Few that was a Christian band, but they were touring with Bad Brains. So it wasn’t like they were stuck playing churches. They were making music like everybody else, they just happened to be saying what they believed in. So that was something we modeled ourselves after.

So it was important for you to be included with other popular rock acts at the time you were coming up. 

Right, we never wanted to be separated. At the same time, it’s not like every Christian in the world is buying a P.O.D. record or coming to the shows. I wish. I always say we were too Christian for the world, but we weren’t Christian enough for Christians. 

When we did it 26 years ago with tattoos, this style of music, and just being where we are from, that wasn’t how your average Christian looked or even thought was of God. We had more Christians at the time were against us than anything. We weren’t making music or even playing for that audience.   

It wasn’t until we had some success and started selling records, all of a sudden you had that community saying “Oh, yeah, we love P.O.D.” No you don’t, and no you didn’t. You haven’t supported us ever. 

We weren’t mad at it, but if anything, the Christians that were coming to our shows were like-minded. They weren’t stuck in a church. They were more like, “These guys believe like I believe, they are badass! I’m going to a show and I’m gonna jump in the pit, lose my mind, and go nuts with these guys and scream at the top of my lungs the same thing that they are saying.” It was almost like breaking that barrier, to say “I’m a believer in Jesus, but I’m no choir boy.”

You’ve had a history of having your album covers censored by labels. Can you explain some of that?

Through our careers, when we did stuff independently, we were approached by Christian labels and we said “No, that’s not where we want to be and that’s not where we are at. We are a regular band and we want to be signed like other bands.” We did stuff on our own, we went as far as we could, and we held out for a major label. When we got signed to Atlantic Records, it was about the music. It’s not like they were saying “We support your faith and we want you to spread the word.” They saw a cool band and they did it. 

But we acknowledged that there was a following that was Christian and they bought music in bookstores, so we wanted to be respectful of that. We had mentioned that to Atlantic and they created a sort of “Christian division” to help out with that side of the world because they were so unfamiliar with it. From their signing us and learning from us, they learned there is a whole other side of this music thing in the Christian world. So they signed a handful of people out of Nashville. 

When we did our artwork and everything, that Christian “division” got our artwork, and they said there were too many symbols there. What they ended up doing, there is a black border around our CD cover that blocks out a lot of the images, which was ridiculous. We felt “So are you saying that the heart of this music is not of God? Or just the artwork? Because they’re still gonna listen to the music, you just don’t want them to see the artwork.”

So … they blacked out our first album, The Fundamental Elements Of Southbound, because they were worried that the Christian audience was not gonna approve of it. Then the third record we had problems with it [again] because of the symbolism.
Have you found it difficult talking about religion from a non-traditional perspective throughout your career?

Well we’re coming off with music that is in your face. We’ve always been upfront, whether it be that we are from the streets or that our music is loud and aggressive, so it’s a bit of a harder pill to swallow. When you listen to Bob Marley or Carlos Santana, you can say “Yeah, this is good vibes, it’s all positive.” 

If we had come out with something with a little bit more mellow, there’s a chance it wouldn’t have been found so offensive. But since we were in your face, we were playing with hardcore bands, we were out there in the punk scene doing our thing in the streets, it was like “Whoa, dude, these guys are really screaming something.” 

Before [us] it was the Beastie Boys, where some of the guys became Buddhist, but you never hear people calling them “Buddhist rap.” But we got labeled. And you can’t please everybody. But we were never Christian enough for that world and, at the same time, because we said Jesus in an interview or maybe in a lyric, in the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” world, it was like “Hey, don’t preach at me man.”

But it’s not anything that we’re not used to. Being on Ozzfest, you fly a big ol’ banner of Jesus and the whole audience is tripping out, you’ve got dudes flipping you off in the form of a cross, because they’re tough guys. 

I think the way we came off was aggressive. I wasn’t raised this way, but when you find faith, in our early years, in our independent days, we approached our faith kind of like you would in streets, almost like a gang mentality. We were very militant about it in the beginning until you mature and you learn ‘Ok, I don’t have to defend anything, I don’t have to fight anybody, I don’t have to scream this across and make you believe or agree. I can be me. Even though the music is aggressive, we still want to come across with love, because that’s the ultimate recipe for what we’re actually singing about, love. 

So we have to make sure, even though the music is heavy or aggressive, that it still comes across that we love people. We’re not some bible belting people, throwing it in your face, because that’s not who we are.

John Davisson
– P.O.D.
P.O.D. rocks Carolina Rebllion in 2016.

Can you talk about the dynamic within the band now that Marcos is back?

Obviously, we are brothers, we love each other. We fight, argue and make up just like old married couples. But at the end of the day we are brothers.

We’ve even changed a lot in our mindset, ideas and views. When we started we were teenagers. Now we’ve gone through this journey of rock ‘n’ roll and life experience, so we’re not eye to eye on a lot of things. That doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. 

I used to feel like I spoke for the band just being the frontman. But now, I know I can only speak for myself. But I still know the hearts of my guys: they want to love people, they want to inspire people, they want to make people smile. And we can only do that in the kind of music that we love to play. 

We’ve mixed up our music, if you listen from our early demos to our latest song, we’ve never really been one style of music, our albums have never been the same song all the way through, it’s always been a mix. Because our influences are huge and our ethnicities are huge, we are so scattered and mixed as guys and in our culture in Southern California and San Diego. There’s all kinds of influences musically and for them to get together, we can only play what we like to play. 

As we got older, with the last record, you’re not trying to please a metal fan, or a punk fan, or a hardcore fan, you can only make what you feel like making in this moment. We’ve already been through the ups and downs of the industry and trying to do what the label says … everybody’s got an opinion on what your band should be and what you should do next. We’ve been through that and made our sacrifices. We left the scene for a bit just to clear our heads for our own sanity, and to not be a puppet in this rock ‘n’ roll machine. And it hurt us in a lot of ways. 

But here we are, still able to call our own shots and play the shows we want to play. And we’re still doing it together. With this new record, it might put us out for another two years and, who knows, this might be it. But we’re still just enjoying the moment, still excited and grateful that we have fans after 26 years that come out to our shows, still buying the t-shirt, still buying the music. We’re still grateful for those people.

Why did you decide to do the Gen-X Tour?

Well, I know all those guys, and I love all of them, we’re all friends. To me, that’s just the bottom line best part of it. We’re all friends and we’ve all been doing this for a long time. From Buckcherry, Alien Ant Farm, Lit … One of the guys said ‘We’re pretty much the last of those platinum babies that sold over a million records [in the early 2000s].” There was a cool moment in the late ‘90s and early 2000s and we were all a part of it. We’re all friends, we all like each other, and we’re gonna tour and have a good time.

I hate the fact that it’s all presented as a nostalgia thing. “All these ’90s bands,” sometimes it feels like [saying] all these “has beens.” I know how we play, and how we write music. When we play with the bands that every 14-year-old thinks is hot, we still jump on the stage and still murder it, and [the youth] are still on the side of our stage watching us play. 

I don’t want to be put into a box. But the cool thing is when they actually presented it to promoters, they dug it. So [we figured] let’s do it. 

Dude, this is a hustle for us. We work. We’re paycheck to paycheck to paycheck in this rock game these days. That’s just how it is for the bands that are hustling. So, it was like ‘Wow, they’re really digging it and they’re paying well.’ So cool.

I didn’t like the Gen-X angle [laughs]. I was like “Why can’t we call it something related to summer?” And they said “the promoters actually dig this.” So it’s whatever, I’m not gonna fight it . Dude, I get to go out with my friends in the summer and make a paycheck. We can only be who we are, go out and play, have fun. Maybe next time we can jump on another tour that’s hot.

Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D.
Jason Moore
– Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D.
Rock On The Range, Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Have you seen changes in the industry over the years?

We get so saturated. I think if you don’t go out with some kind of package, people get spoiled. They say “Oh, I’ll go see it when it comes back at the radio rock show, or at a festival.” We’re kind of losing that intimacy of going to our local rock ‘n’ roll venue that we go to all the time, seeing our band play there, because that’s the spot to see them. Now people will just wait to see them at a festival. But I guess that’s just the touring game right now. …

[The bigger shows] are more bang for your buck. Even though I’m paying more, I get to see all these bands. It’s kind of like bargain shopping, a sale. Whereas back in the day, it was like “Nah man, I’m gonna support my band.” I don’t think we have that mentality, 14-year-old music consumers don’t have that mentality. And there’s no mystery either. “Oh I missed the show? I’ll just watch it live on my phone.” … 

As a fan you [would] take ownership of the fact that you allow them to make music. You want them to keep going on forever and don’t stop. You paid for a ticket, you bought t-shirts and you bought whatever they had because you’re helping to keep this band alive. 

Now we don’t see that anymore, it’s just here today, gone tomorrow. You just kind of like bands for the moment, everything is so fast paced. That’s the thing that sucks, being from the old school. We just don’t have that kind of [long-term fan support] with these kids.