The phone rings and the person on the other side picks up and greets me with a relaxed, California drawl. Answering the phone himself Sonny Sandoval, vocalist from P.O.D. (Payable on Death), makes quite an impression. I have a trove of questions and he listens to each one patiently and answers extensively, never rushing or becoming edgy or bored.
Off the scene for several years now, P.O.D. returns with the release of their latest album Murdered Love. Drawn back to producer and long-time collaborator Howard Benson, Sonny explains: “we have a long-time relationship with him and he has a lot of love for us and knows the band so well”. He tells further that there was never any pressure, Benson assuring the band “I want to do it when you guys are ready”. Sonny describes their decision to go back to Benson as being backed by the fact that “you know he’s going to deliver. With him it’s not like work”.
With diverse songs ranging from the rap-inspired Goodbye for Now to the harder Alive, it begs the question: what did they listen to in their youth? “I grew up in a rock ‘n’ roll family, so I was listening to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath; but then I chose to listen to old school rock ‘n’ roll and reggae and hip hop. I liked reggae because it was conscious and peaceful, while original hip hop had that street element to it and I vibed with that.” This is evident within their own work, when you look at a song like Youth of the Nation, which was written in response to the shootings at Santana High School and Columbine High School. Sonny’s whole world, musically, opened up for him whilst savouring these new musical flavours. “Bands of colour were doing what he thought was white music and I thought punk was something that I’m not and then I saw four bros from DC doing it with dreds. We grew up in Southern California and the music is so diverse down here – there’s everything from rap to metal right next to salsa and mariachi”.
Taking these influences into account, and the diversity within their own music, balancing all this must prove quite a challenge. “It does come naturally because we love it; we play and jam and if it sounds natural then great, but if it’s not natural we scratch it”. Looking at the various influences the practice of categorising their music seems redundant and when asking Sonny about the current state of music, and metal specifically, he quickly allays the assumed categorisation. “We wouldn’t consider ourselves metal, more hardcore and punk. We have done rock and even pop. We’ve always had an aggressive style, but then we also have songs that you can sing along to.” But, in terms of metal, he explains that “metal will always be metal and it will always have an audience – it’s like a wave”.
Their latest album, Murdered Love, takes its title from the crucifixion which, as Sonny explains, was called “the day they murdered love”. They have signed with Razor and Tie and their decision to change labels arose through time and experience within an industry they have been part of, as a band, for 20 years. “We’ve been in this game for so long and everything is so different now. There’s no money unless you’re touring, but we’ve paid our dues. We’re going with a different label and going on tour just to be on stage. We still have to put our kids through college though…but we’ve done the industry thing and we’re not going to have someone tell us what to do. We’re looking for a partnership. Razor and Tie want to put out quality and they have that indie mentality, but also have the drive and the hook ups”. He also points out how the scene has shifted: “There’s a completely new audience. We’re touring with 3 Doors Down right now and you gotta do it because you love it, because it has become such a marketed industry. They’re not looking to find great bands anymore and there are no more careers.”
Of course I have to know whether we will see them in South Africa anytime soon, particularly now that they have released a new album. “We did plan to come in 2011, but the shows fell through. We hope to come and know it will happen. The band really wants to and we even have family ties there.” When I ask him whether they are familiar with any of our music, I am very pleased that he does not provide any conventional or expected names. In fact, he takes me by surprise by mentioning The Arrows, a band that even I am only dimly aware of.
The band has had a lengthy hiatus since their last album, something which Sonny himself pointed out initially, and with this in mind I question whether it was easy to return to the writing process. “It came quite easily, because we got rid of the distractions and took time to not think about the business. You clear your mind, sit in a room with the guys and write down what comes, with no expectations. With the break, stuff got stored up as well so there was a lot in the back of our minds and hearts – so it was a fairly easy process”.
Sonny proves truly inspirational, however, in the way he and the band defy convention. It is nothing overt or intentional though and this is what makes the band and their music authentic. Sonny is a staunch Christian and the band has often been labelled as such. When one takes a superficial view of Christianity, any correlation to rock ‘n’ roll seems obscure. “I was never Christian enough for the church and too Christian for music.” This tension that he has had to contest with makes the band’s success and the devotion to their faith all the more admirable. “I’ve been a believer for 20 years and with the band for 20 years and in the end it all comes down to you. My own walk. You gotta want it. I had my own frustrations with Christianity, but then you see the rock ‘n’ roll life, you see all the fake stuff and you see through it and it all comes down to being true to yourself. I know I’m not perfect and I just surrender all that I have, to be what God wants me to be.”
Their music is not overtly Christian and it is certainly not what you would term gospel music, but as Sonny validly points out: “My faith influences everything; it’s the most important thing in my life. My life is my ministry to God, but music is part of my life so that will come out. I just live and play to give glory to God.” The irony is that although they may not fit a certain mould the band’s attitude of defying expectations and allowing their music to be driven by who they really are, is what makes them 100% rock ‘n’ roll.
Photography by Leann-Mueller