P.O.D. is back after four long years to bring the house down for a whole new generation with Murdered Love on Razor & Tie. Sonny Sandoval, the lead vocalist, was nice enough to sit down and discuss touring plans for the summer, the current state of the music industry and of course, what to expect on the band’s upcoming follow up to When Angels and Serpents Dance. Check it out below.
You guys have had quite a ride over the past decade. First Marcos leaves after Satellite & you recruit Jason Truby as a replacement. You release a few albums with that lineup & then leave Atlantic Records. Within 6 months Jason steps down & it is announced that Marcos is back. You guys sign with INO, release When Angels & Serpents Dance, and then almost disappear again. Now you sign with Razor & Tie. How have all of those experiences shaped you as a band and band members? Were there times where you guys considered stopping altogether?
Yeah definitely man. I think that was more of my call. Just needed to sit out and was kind of tired of this industry. (Laughs). It becomes a business and then you stop having fun. Not only that but all the other struggles that you have to deal with and that everyone is going through their own sometimes you tend to not take care of those things because of this machine that’s moving and show after show. It’s how you make your money and you just keep going. Then, it’s like ‘you know what? I just need to go home.’ For me, I’ve always said that this band doesn’t define me. I’m a daddy first, I’m a husband, I’m a brother, and I’m a friend. I just need to go home and get myself together. I was willing to lay P.O.D. down to do that. So, in doing that it I think I’ve rekindled a love and a fire for the things I believe in. For the music and for the people that I touched me. I think in the last 20 years, it’s just the journey. At the end of the day, I’m called to these guys in this band. You know, they’re my brothers and I love them. Sometimes things that don’t make sense but tends to make sense that hour we get to play with each other. Now, I honestly believe that we’re the underdogs again. We’ve been to the top of the mountain and back again. Truly, we’re doing it because we love to do it. There’s no money to be made. There’s no fame to be grasped. It’s just whoever shows up, having a good time, and playing music in front of them.
It’s been 4 years since the release of When Angels & Serpents Dance. Besides working on new material, what have you guys been up to over that time period?
Some of the other guys jam a little bit in some side projects and do a lot of stuff with a lot of artists. For me, I just really put down music completely. Except, that we had done a lot of charity shows. I’m working real close with the family of Chi Cheng of the Deftones in the One Love for Chi Foundation. We’ve done a lot of fundraisers for him and to get him the help he needs. We’ve done a lot more of the charity stuff. Just free shows that we would do on our own time and on our own dime, for the love of it. I’ve been involved in the group called The Whosoevers. It’s really an accountability group that allows us to do a lot of speaking engagements for young people and go into high schools, rehabs, and youth faculties . We’ve also been able to do a lot of free concerts with the best of the best. We’ve been able to just give these kids just a hope, and a love in the things that we believe in. In doing that, I got to realize the platform that P.O.D. has. That’s one of the reasons I continue to do it.
Many bands, who have been with reputable labels for years, have recently decided to go independent with new albums this year by utilizing new funding services like Kickstarter. Did you ever consider going independent?
I think the way things are rolling now is that it’s great for new bands that have that access pro tools and can record a record in their bathroom and put it out. Social networks are such an opportunity for these new bands to get out there. We’re trying to adapt to all that. I think we are very old school, you know what I mean? I think for us, even going with Razor and Tie. Was like ‘With all the labels that still exist’. They’re ripping out the soul of these artists because there’s no money to be made in record sales anymore. So now, they want publishing and royalties. So for us, we’ll do it on our own if we have to. We all have access to studio and access to put it out. With Razor and Tie, I think they’re more of a distribution that anything. They just want to put out good records. Luckily, they do have a little money. They allowed us to go into the studio and do what we do, and because they took us on. We’re grateful.
As a veteran of the industry what is your opinion on crowd-funding services like Kickstarter?
I think it’s great, I think its old school grass roots style. Don’t get it fooled. A lot of these bands are three car garage bands. They all have money to make records. If it’s true and it’s legit, and I see the band struggling and selling their blood out of their van to make it. That’s what I’m about. Most of these kids don’t see that. They don’t see these bands that are hustling and struggling. Again, that’s what I hate about this industry. You have these kids who have these record deals and they’re playing on the same stage you are. They’ve never even played before and they already have a record out. They have a shirt design and they haven’t even paid their dues. That’s part of the frustrating part. I think it’s great if there really is true fans that are supporting you. That’s the way to do it. We need these fans to come out and buy the record. If they’re not buying records anymore, come to the show for God’s sake. At least, buy a t-shirt. Just go old school. I think everyone is so spoiled with music. It’s turned into ‘I can download that band on my phone in two minutes’. It’s become love them this week, hate them the next. I feel like we’re getting back to the old school.
What led you to decide to sign with a bigger label again & how did you guys connect?
Like I stated previously, Razor & Tie is more into distribution. They’re more into putting good records out. They have the mentality, ‘we’re recouping our money and then we’ll split.’ That’s the way it should be. That’s a partnership. For us, the reason we left Atlantic, we were supposed to do our fifth record with them. All of a sudden, we had this, what I believe was a million dollar recording budget. They had shelved our last two records. This is the point where people are getting fired and nobody is working. They just stopped pushing their artists. Here we come from the biggest album of our careers, four times platinum. We’re jumping into this amazing new record. We have a number one song on TRL and we’re on the hugest rock tour of the summer. Nobody is working our stuff. It happened for that record and it happened for this record. Here we are about to make our fifth record with a million dollar budget. We literally, begged them ‘can we just get off the label?’ They wouldn’t let us and we pretty much had to threaten them. “You give us that million dollar budget and we’re gonna make a five dollar record and keep the money.” We even told them, don’t even pay us, just let us off the label. So it basically took a million dollars to get off Atlantic Records. We were like, “why give you some more of our hearts and souls, and shelf it like you did our last two records?” It doesn’t make any sense. We’re at the peak of our careers and you guys shelved our last two albums. It’s absolutely insane. We were making records with Santana and all these people, and our label just wasn’t doing anything. I think they sucked us dry for what they got out of it. I don’t think they ever expected us to sell ten million records. So, they made their money and they were like ‘why push these guys anymore?’ I think we kind of sensed that. We owed them a Greatest Hits and they still sucked us dry one last time. They got a Greatest Hits out of us. Greatest Hits? Don’t we have to be like 80 to do a Greatest Hits? That was another reason that got us off that label.
When we went with INO, it was more an indie feel at least. We knew that they had a Columbia backing but that didn’t go through. So, when we signed with Razor & Tie, we said “let’s just do the record we want.” Let them put it out there. At this point, it kind of is indie for us. We used to do it on our own and now with Razor & Tie, it’s like ‘we’re just gonna throw it out there’. If people respond to it, they respond to it.
Did you sign with them prior to recording or did that follow the record?
Once we kind of worked out all the politics with INO, and let us go. We already had songs on the back burner. Once we got the go-ahead with Razor and Tie. They gave us a budget to go and went right in to finish the record. As soon as we got the budget, we went into the studio with Howard Benson and here we are back on the road.
How has the relationship been with R&T so far? Have they given you guys the freedom to do your thing & what you do best?
Yeah man. So far, it’s been amazing. So far, so good. I believe in this record, I believe in everything we did on it. I’m excited about it and it’s still a very fresh relationship. Here we are on the road again and we’re still meeting people. We’re starting to get some radio love. Everyone has their pieces in places and so far, it’s been pretty good. They trusted us to deliver on the record. So, now we’re trusting them on selling records.
You’re back with a new label, a new album, & you also decided to go with a new logo. What made you guys decide to go with a new logo after so many years with the last one?
I don’t think it’s necessarily change, just a run of things. It’s been, like you said, just a theme of new. I believe we are kind of re-birthed in a sense of just going for it again. We have new management, new booking. That was just something again, talking about the whole social media thing, trying to stay in contact with our fan base. Let’s let our fan base do a new logo. They know what the best is. We had hundreds of hundreds of submissions. It came down to a few and we just try to stay connected with our fans. That’s ultimately all we have. We’re not just let’s get a radio hit and climb to the top of the mountain again. These are the kids that have been coming out. Regardless of whether or not, we have a radio hit or our record label drops the ball on us. These fans come out to a show and buy a shirt. We’ve always been that band. We’ve seen some many bands come and open up for us and just sky rocket to the moon. We’re blessed to have a fan base as hardcore as the one we have. Twenty years down the line and still making music. This is just like insane. We’re just taking advantage of the blessing that we have.
You decided to head back into the studio this time around with Howard Benson who you haven’t worked with since the self-titled. How did it feel being back in the studio with him?
It’s awesome man. We’ve always been great friends with him. We’re his first gold and platinum record. When our careers kind of took off, so did his. He started recording everyone under the sun, making platinum records after platinum records. He’s got a love for P.O.D., that is special just between us. He’s one of the guys that really encouraged us to write a new record. When we went in with him, we trusted his opinion and you know, he respects what we do. I think now that he’s made every record under the sun. I think he’s just really trying to go back with his roots with making rock records and artists that he really wants to do. Not just whoever is gonna pay him the most. I think it really shows on this record. You can tell that he really put his love into this record because this is what he loves to do. Not another bubble gum, copy cat record of whatever is gonna sell and make him so money. He’s already got the money, he just wants to make the records with P.O.D. that he can be proud of.
So let’s dive into Murdered Love which releases July 10th. With a title like that there has to be some sort of meaning or story behind it.
“Murdered Love” is a song on the record, that starts off with the title [originally], The Day We Murdered Love. Just a dark and eerie song. The concept was just us thinking about the moment that Christ was crucified. Whether you’re a believer or not, in scripture it says that the ground split and the sky went black. We were just thinking that we believe that God is love. Even in this dark and very eerie moment. Not just for the people that loved him but just to show the world of his love. It just kind of struck this vibe in the music. When I wrote the lyrics, it was more about butchering love. Which I believe God is love. I believe that’s what happened on the cross.
After the success of Satellite, the following few albums saw P.O.D. move further away from the rap/rock combination that you’d become known for. Instead you seemed to pursue more of a melodic rock sound. With what we’ve heard so far from Murdered Love it appears that this album is a return to your roots (Fundamental Elements, Satellite). How do you feel the new album compare to your past few releases?
I think it does. A lot of people are saying, ‘Hey, it reminds me of Satellite, or even before then.’ I think so. I think we just made a continuous decision to really do what we wanna do. With the last couple records, that just it, so many people had their hands in the cookie jar. “We need this single” ; “We need this…” Everybody is just pointing you in direction that they feel is best for your career. I think even subconsciously you kind of just start to go in that direction. You become so numb, like I said earlier, you just kind of go for it and do it. Trust and hope for whoever has your career in their best interest. We’re writing what we wanna do. We’re gonna play the songs we wanna play live. We grew up hardcore and punk kids, yet we still have that SoCal heritage to us. So we really love reggae and hip hop. We’ve always just blended them together. We were making this music before it was ever big. At some point it got kind of destroyed. Once Limp Bizkit made it big, then everyone and their mother switched sounds. For us, it was always a lifestyle and now it’s more of a sound. It was something that came and then died. We didn’t wanna be lumped in with that sound. I think it’s something that really does play with your head. We’ve always been this way and this is the kind of music we love to make. I’m a huge hip hop fan and I love heavy music. This is what feels right.
I think listeners will quickly hear that the first few songs you’ve released sound more like a follow-up to the sounds on Satellite. Was this is a natural progression back to that sound or something you guys mutually decided upon? How has the response (radio/fans) been to the new songs?
The response has been amazing and you still have those fans that have been with you since before the mainstream and still follow us. You have real fans and then you have diehard fans. So far, it’s been amazing. I think that people are seeing that. I think that it’s natural for me to do that. When I hear a heavy riff or we start jamming the first thing I wanna do vocally is, just to spit something over it or rhyme something over it. I think in the last few records it was more like, “hey, we’ve never tried singing before. We should try singing.” It kind of worked out in our favor. It was cool, we’re now growing and maturing. This is more melodic stuff and it’s cool. We did it. With the rise and fall of the “rap-rock”, it was me more or less still wanting to do it. I don’t think it was shunned by the band but it was that other people’s opinions were for the progression of the band. We’re gonna come back. We won’t go heavy with hip hop roots but we’ll keep it mixed up. With this record, it was ‘I’m gonna spit over whatever I can’ because I like to do it. I think its natural and I think the old school fans will be satisfied.
Though the only tracks to have been released feature a heavier sound for P.O.D. there is considerable variety on this album. What are a few of your favorite tracks musically & do you think your fans will be surprised with any songs?
I don’t think that anything on this album will be a surprise. If you’ve followed P.O.D.’s career you know that this album features nothing that we haven’t previously covered. If you listen to our demos from 1992, we had DJs on it. We’re doing reggae music back then. We had jazz influences, had heavy moments throughout all of our records. I don’t think it’s a surprise for fans. Some of our favorite songs as a band are heavier songs. However, when you talk to label and stuff like that, they tend to think of stuff more like radio friendly stuff. If anything that is a lot of the disagreements we have. We wanna come off heavy like with “Murdered Love”; but “Lost in Forever” is friendlier. It’s like you kind of have to pick your battles. Ultimately, they’ll all our songs and we love them all. If it were up to us sometimes, we would have come off heavy. That may not react that well to radio, so you have to take that into consideration. Ultimately, I think I just want people to get the record and at that point decide. We’re still showing people our record. We’re just talking to them trying to find out what songs they like the best.
The last album had a bunch of guest appearances on it & we already know that Jamey Jasta appears on the new one. Are there any other guest spots that you can let us in on?
Yeah we got our boy Sick Jacken from Psycho Realm. He was actually on the Testify record. He’s actually featured on the self-titled track, “Murdered Love”. He’s just kind of lending his vocals to kind of the beginning hook. Then, he had Sen Dog from Cypress Hill on “West Coast Rockin Steady”. They’re the ones on the record, right now. I had actually talked to Chino from the Deftones about doing some stuff. Our schedules didn’t line up, it didn’t work out. I’m still hoping to do something. Say if the record is moving and it’s doing alright. Do like a B-Side or something. In which, he comes in and does a remix of one of the songs.
The song “I Am” features some intriguing lyrics & what appears to be some editing out of language. Obviously this might come as a bit of surprise to many of your fans. Can you discuss the lyrics & the meaning behind the track?
First off, I get both sides. I tend not to give power to silly things like that. I think it’s just more an aggression of where the song is coming from. It’s sad that even already people are already hearing about it. You have the self-righteous religious view; people paying more attention to one word instead of the whole song, full of lyrics. Look at the content of the situation. They tend to focus in some on one word, rather than everything that is being said. First off, that to me is the most shameful part of it. The meaning of the song speaks for itself. For me, hanging out with young people and seeing what they go through. Seeing the craziness of this world throws at you. For us to be dwelling some much on a word; to me, is that we’ve already lost sight of what really matters. I get it because we do have a Christian base. If Christianity is based on whether or not we swear or not, that’s the least of our worries. I’m not that kind of Christian and I normally don’t speak like that. However, it’s an expression for how intense the song is. I recorded it that way and after the long process of thinking about it and praying about it and seeking counsel over it; it was just like ‘let’s just bleep it out’. For other reasons, it just keeps it clean. There’s still other words in that song that still might make the record carry an explicit sticker on it. I get it ultimately. We don’t write Christian music, so that Christians can ultimately feel good. We tend to live in the real world. You know, I don’t live in a religious bubble. We’re surrounded by people that don’t have it figured out and who are lost. Again, that song on this record and everything that P.O.D. has ever been about is offering hope. We’ve found hope in the faith that we have in Jesus and in God. There are people that are still searching. This song discusses everything that I see people going through. This is just honest questions and asking God honest questions. People wanna focus in on a word, rather than on the content. If we happened to get smacked on the back of the hand, it’s not gonna be the first time. I know from my experience, some kid will approach me saying ‘hey man, that’s my favorite song, this song really spoke to me because I am this person.’ That’s when it all makes sense.
It was just announced you guys will be taking part of the Uproar Festival this year, which is a huge tour to make a “comeback” on. What are you looking forward to most on this tour?
I love getting out with crowds that wanna rock and roll. On our last tour, we were doing the intimate shows during the week and we were doing the big radio rock shows during the weekends. There’s a lot of fans out there and all they want it old school rock and roll. I think, there is so much stuff out there today is just entertainment. You sit on the lawn, listen and sometime fall asleep. There’s no life in this industry anymore. There’s just no passion in this music anymore. I think when we jumped on these shows, we’re always gonna be that band that’s been there around for twenty years. That band that like to fly off the walls, get in the crowd, go bananas. That passion is just lost in today’s scene. It almost become the 80s, where’s more about glamour. For us, you know we’re the same old guys. Khaki’s, chuck-wearing, t-shirts, baseball on the back; go in the crowd get nuts. Just ultimately have some fun. I think, when crowds see that, it’s a fun reaction. There’s a new generation of kids that don’t know what that stuff is because they’re radio listeners. All they know is whatever rock and roll is played on the radio today. They’ve never experienced the passion of old school hardcore/punk. I think P.O.D. brings that. Whether you’ve ever seen us or heard us, when you come out to see whatever big band you’re there to see. When you see the reaction of the crowd and the band, it grabs your attention. Hopefully, they’ll take notice and buy a record or come out to one of our other shows.
Are you guys planning on being on the road for most of 2012 with other tours & festival dates?
I think once the record gets out and gets going, we’ll get some headway on the radio charts the opportunities are gonna present itself. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t mind jumping on these tours, having fun and going for it. I honestly wouldn’t headline for a while. I don’t if it’s gonna happen. Like I said, we’re underdogs, just going out again. It’s fresh, we’re a new band again. We’re getting our feet wet in front of a younger crowd. When the record starts to do well, hopefully it will be successful, then we’ll do our own headlining tours. It’s easier. I love jumping on tours with bands that I admire, you know we’ll just see what happens.
You have been mixing rap and rock together for nearly 2 decades now & were doing Christian hip hop before there was much of a following. Over the past 5 years or so we’ve seen a huge expansion in Christians in hip hop gaining exposure in the mainstream. A good example would be Lecrae who you worked with on a track called “Children of the Light”. As someone who has roots in hip hop & who has also gone from the Christian underground to worldwide exposure what are you feelings on this movement?
To be honest man, I really don’t know much about it. It’s a long story. I don’t know too much about Christian hip hop. To me, I feel that it’s a marketable industry that people can stick to. I don’t get it. I believe you make music. I met Lecrae, I wasn’t really too familiar with his work, but I met him at a youth convention where he spoke at. I thought he was a great dude. I thought his heart was genuine. When he asked me to do something with him; I was like ‘cool, let me hear the track. I’d love to do it.’ It wasn’t anything like let me do a Christian thing or whatever. It was just love making music that’s positive. I believe that with the success of P.O.D. that we were used by God to break down a lot of those walls. We were always being labeled as Christian this or Christian that. I believe that for a while it was always a message that if you’re not a Christian, you can’t listen to this music. Now, there’s always been bands that has “Christian roots” and make great music they just weren’t allowed to get the exposure because they were labeled as for Christians only. So now, with P.O.D.’s success broke down those walls. Where now as people label them not Christian, but whether it’s good or bad. Now you have bands like As I Lay Dying, UnderOath, The Devil Wears Prada and all these bands that being attacked or judged because their Christians. They’re looked at for the music they make. I talk to kids all the time that tell me they’re not a Christian but they love this music. That’s what it’s about. Music is supposed to speak to your soul and do something for you and ultimately, have an impact on your life.
With Christian Hip Hop, I think it’s amazing if that’s what it’s doing. What I would love to see is Lecrae and all these bands opening up for Snoop Dogg. You really wanna be a light for the world. You need to stop categorizing yourself as a Christian artist and Christian only. You’re trying to be the fire for this world but you’re standing within the same four walls. We need to go outside and set up this wild fire. You know what I’m saying? P.O.D.’s mentality has always been let’s go and play for the woLet’s go play with bands that make music, not to stand in a genre. That’s not why I’m making music, I don’t wanna be in that bubble. Lecrae has so much talent; I think it’s a waste that’s only playing shows with Christian audiences. I think if they have a gift and a talent, they should be one the SmokeOut tour or something. It doesn’t necessarily make mean that you support the bands or artists. Or ‘If I’m on the SmokeOut tour, I smoke weed’; it’s not like that. You’re putting your gift out there. You’re putting your light out there for a dark world to see. I think that light gets snuffed out when its mostly in churches, youth groups or Christian clubs. I think sometimes us as Christian, pigeonhole ourselves to these genres.
This interview was co-conducted with Josh Murphy.