Staying Alive

P.O.D. singer talks about how his rap-rock band caught a second wind

P.O.D., Eye Empire, Impending Lies 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 Peabody's 2083 E. 21st St. 216-776-9999 • Tickets: $20 ADV, $24 DOS

Last summer, rap-rock act P.O.D. came out of hibernation to headline the side stage on the Uproar Tour, a huge multi-city swing that included a stop at Blossom Music Center. The surprising thing about the performance—a relatively small operation on a satellite stage set up in the Blossom V.I.P. parking lot behind the box office—was that the group didn't just attract thirty and fortysomethings who remembered the band from back in the day. Rather, it drew many young fans that wouldn't have been around when it first formed in the early '90s.

"It was great to headline the side stage," says singer Sonny Sandoval via phone. "That was the stage where all the kids went and they got to go nuts. When P.O.D. first blew up, a lot of these kids were young and now we have a second generation of fans. All our old-school fans have kids now so that's part of it."

While the band came to prominence in the early 2000s, its roots go back to 1991 when the group emerged out of San Ysidro, a lower-middle-class San Diego suburb that's spitting distance from the Mexican border. Sandoval, who grew up in a young family of "teenagers having kids," says he was weaned on AC/DC and Led Zeppelin when he was a kid but then later discovered punk and reggae. You can hear all those influences converge on the band's latest album, last year's surprisingly eclectic Murdered Love.

"I also listened to a lot of street music, early punk stuff and hip-hop music," he says. "I also got into the whole reggae scene and that was my choice of my music. That was more about consciousness and it made me think about other things than sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Once I found out that guys of color were doing punk rock, that threw me into that world. I always thought punk was more of a white music and I always thought metal was more a white music. Once I found Bad Brains and Suicidal Tendencies, I knew I was missing something. I started digging into all of that stuff."

Sandoval says he originally gravitated toward Run D.M.C., KRS-One and LL Cool J and then identified strongly with the gangsta rap that emerged out of South Central Los Angeles.

"I realized they were writing about a lot of the same things we saw," he says. "There is a bigger black population up there but they have a lot of the same problems."

When it came time to record their first album, 1994's Snuff the Punk, Sandoval and the guys drew upon both their rock and rap influences, delivering one the first albums to be categorized as nu-metal.

"When we were doing this back in the day, people told us we sounded like Body Count," he says. "Then it was Rage Against the Machine and then it was Limp Bizkit. We've been doing this a long time and we don't get the credit. We're the pioneers. When Limp Bizkit blew up, everyone switched their sound and then it switched again and everyone wore make-up and did this wrestle rock thing. We've never switched our sound. We're just a rock 'n' roll band."

A breakthrough came in 1999 when The Fundamental Elements of Southtown tracks such as "Southtown" and "Rock the Party (Off the Hook)" got commercial radio airplay. The momentum from that album continued with 2001's Satellite, which yielded "Alive," a sing-song-y rap-rock tune that would become the group's hit.

"We had been around for nine years, going on ten, when that album broke," Sandoval says. "Nothing much had changed. We were still touring our butts off and if anything, we saw bigger crowds and that we were on MTV. But we felt like we needed to keep going or people would forget."

But then internal tensions led the band to splinter and in 2008 the band went on hiatus after a South American tour.

"We had to take that 4 to 5 year hiatus for our own spiritual and mental health, just to get away," Sandoval says. "In my heart of hearts, P.O.D. was done with and I was going to move on to the next chapter. It wasn't that I didn't care but I wasn't worried about being this brand anymore. I didn't need to worry about being a touring machine."

Sandoval kept in touch with longtime producer and friend Howard Benson (Daughtry, Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson) and when the band reconvened in 2011, it recruited him to produce the album.

"When we were on hiatus, he told us that if we ever got back together, he wanted to do our next record," says Sandoval. "He wants to put out records he liked, not like today where everyone is writing songs for everyone else. We have a punk rock approach. It's like we were going to do a record that sells one copy if that's what it's meant to sell. We weren't going to pay to get outside writers."

The album ventures a little more deeply into reggae and hip-hop than previous releases have but ultimately stays true to the band's Christian message, which is sometimes hard to hear given the loud guitars and hoarse vocals. "I have a love and respect for God and I'm trying to be a better person," says Sandoval when asked about his religious beliefs. "That does come through in our music. I wanted people to say that inspires them. I don't want to be another band that says what everyone else says. That reggae positivity tends to come across on in our music, but it's just more aggressive. Just because I raised my hand in a crowd and said 'I believe in God,' I got lumped in with other Christian bands. But at the end of the day, I'd rather play with Metallica than with some Christian band."

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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