Rejected by the church, nu metal band P.O.D. (Payable On Death) powerfully reached out to the young and the lost with their uncompromising message of Jesus Christ through the multi-platinum 2001 album Satellite.
“For my heart, I want to see people get saved. [P.O.D.] might not be Bible scholars, but we sure know how to spot a broken heart and be able to make them smile and say, ‘Hey, God’s got you.’ Despite even our own doubts sometimes.”
~ Sonny Sandoval, lead singer of P.O.D. in an interview with CCM Magazine in 2015
Founded in Southtown, southern San Diego (four exits from the Mexican border) in 1992, the ethnic makeup of P.O.D. reflected the Hispanic, Pacific Island and African-American communities that the band members came from. With their roots set in the local culture of street gangs, custom lowrider cars and the Southern Californian surfer-skater scene, P.O.D.’s formative days were spent performing under the moniker of Eschatos, playing Metallica and Slayer covers as minors at local keg parties, clubs and bars.
Wanting to switch up their sound and also find a way to look after his cousin who had just lost his mother to leukemia, co-founding member and drummer, Wuv Bernardo asked Sonny Sandoval to join the group as the band’s vocalist.
At 19, Sandoval had recently become a Christian after witnessing the dramatic change in his mother after she gave her life to Jesus before she died. During his mother’s passing, Sandoval prayed and asked God that if He could prove himself real to him. If He could, he wanted his life to be used to bring this Jesus that his mother knew to his friends. With that powerful prayer in mind, and also with encouragement from the members of Christian hardcore band, The Crucified, Sandoval stepped out in faith and joined P.O.D.
Battling his own natural shyness and raw singing ability, Sandoval struggled in his new frontman role and at his first gig, unable to face the audience, he instead stood facing his drummer singing lyrics from a sheet of paper he held in his hand. Not letting these early setbacks hold the band back, P.O.D. became ever militant about their Christian faith and their music, challenging all those who opposed their message.
As new believers, the band members also had to deal with their own confrontational attitudes which they had all gained from living on the tough streets of south San Diego. Sandoval said in an interview with The Times in 2021: “We grew up with this gang mentality, and we found faith in Jesus and realised some people won’t like you because of that. I was like, ‘No one is going to tell me, I’ll fight them.’ But then you get a few years older and you realise well, no, that’s not how my faith works. I believe in loving people.”
Unbeknownst to the band, they also found resistance within the four walls of the church. With the buzz they created in the local San Diego music scene, P.O.D. was asked to play for a large youth event at a Southern Californian church where youth groups were about to embark for Mexico to build an orphanage. Bringing with them a large entourage of unsaved teen gangsters and skinheads, P.O.D. quickly won over the young audience before a panicked youth pastor, seeing four heavily tattooed men playing thunderous rock music, shut down the performance mid-song. With the band left hanging on stage seeing the disappointment on the faces of all the young Christians in attendance, P.O.D. realised that their audience was not to be found primarily in the Christian church.
AN ALBUM FOR SUCH A TIME AS 9/11
In 1994, the P.O.D.’s lineup was finally confirmed. With Sonny Sandoval on lead vocals, Marcos Curiel on lead guitar and backing vocals, Traa Daniels on bass and backing vocals and Wuv Bernardo on drums, rhythm guitars and backing vocals, the band was signed to independent label Rescue Records which was operated by Bernardo’s father, Noah Bernardo, Sr. During their time with Rescue Records, the band did whatever they could to build their fanbase.
“We released our first two albums on our own little indie label. Not that we knew what we were doing!” said Sandoval in a 2018 interview with Rock Sound. “We’d all work jobs, save up all of the money that we made and put it into recording demos until we eventually had enough songs to make a record, and then we pressed it up and sold it at shows. Even the recording was done on the fly, with people in the local area letting us record in empty studio slots or after hours for very little money.”
After releasing three albums under Rescue Records—Snuff The Punk, Brown and Payable On Death Live—P.O.D. was offered a $100,000 recording contract with Essential Records. But Sandoval told his manager to turn the offer down because he believed that God had bigger plans for the band. Those bigger plans eventuated in P.O.D. signing with Atlantic Records, owned by Warner Music, one of the largest music labels in the world.
In 1999, P.O.D.’s first album released on Atlantic Records was The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown, and with the label’s support, the album was a success, spawning hits like the explosive hometown tribute of “Southtown”, and “Rock The Party (Off the Hook)”. Both songs featured heavily on MTV’s Total Request Live and MTV2. Notably, both songs were also included in the soundtrack of the Adam Sandler movie, Little Nicky. The album was certified platinum in 2000 and laid the platform for the extraordinary success of the band’s next album, Satellite.
In 2001, P.O.D.’s release date of their second album, Satellite, ominously coincided with the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York. The band had performed at Battery Park—a few hundred metres from the Twin Towers site—the day before, and had thankfully left the area before the tragedy occurred. In the aftermath of soul searching that had begun across the United States, the American public sought signs of hope and faith and in their search, they found solace in the positive message behind the first single from Satellite, “Alive”.
The uncanny timing took the band by surprise. Marcos Curiel talked about it in Fortitude Magazine in 2017: “Other countries have fallen victim to various terrorist attacks; that was a major one for us because we had never experienced anything like that, so… And just being so close to it the day before, when a major historical event was going to happen the next day, that was a big bit of our career. And our record came out on 9/11, and we all thought man, our record’s going to be doomed, no-one’s going to be buying music. We weren’t thinking selfishly, we were just thinking about our career, but we were shocked: the world took to ‘Alive’—it became an anthem and it went platinum in four weeks!”
The song “Alive” features many aspects of P.O.D.’s signature sound: passionate, powerful and uplifting lyrics, pile driving guitar riffs and a message that a listener can interpret through the lens of their own understanding. Sandoval explained in an interview with Songfacts in 2012 that the song’s lyrics were inspired by the moment he recognised his own features in his young daughter’s face. He elaborated on the faith based elements in the words he penned: “It’s just whatever moment that is for anybody. If I’m talking of faith, it has to do with my faith in God. We always keep it open for interpretation, because I never want to sound religious or preachy. It’s kind of like a painting: 20 people can look at a piece of art and have 20 different interpretations. I believe it’s supposed to speak to your soul. So the same thing with our music.”
Sunshine upon my face (sunshine upon my face)
A new song for me to sing
Tell the world how I feel inside
Even though it might cost me everything
Now that I know this, so beyond, I can’t hold this
I can never turn my back away
Tragic events were also a catalyst for the second single, “Youth Of The Nation“, which was written after the 2001 Santana High School shooting tragedy where a 15-year-old gunman killed two students and injured 13 others when he opened fire in school. The band were writing songs for the album only a few blocks away when the shooting occurred, and watching the television footage of the police, ambulances and helicopters circling their neighbourhood, Sandoval was led by his bandmates to write a song to try and make sense of what was happening. “Youth Of The Nation” touches on the many senseless and destructive events that can impact a young person’s life and in the ensuing lyrics detailing school shootings, broken relationships, parental neglect and teenage suicide, there is cathartic attempt to rid the hurt of those who have been effected the most. With its haunting and droning chord sequences synced to a militant drum beat, the song’s chorus is further emphasised by a youth choir, giving a honest and sombre voice to the message.
SATELLITE: LOUD AND SPIRITUAL
Satellite boasted guest appearances from the likes of HR (Paul Hudson) from seminal hardcore punk band Bad Brains. HR added his unique freestyle vocal styles to the riotous track “Without Jah, Nothin’” (“Jah” refers to Jehovah/Yahweh, not Rastafarianism.) The bludgeoning opening of this praise/worship mashup has the swirling intensity of being sucked deep into a heaving mosh pit and then, without warning, being carried away by the laconic reggae swing of HR calling out a righteous worship song. The vocal interplay between Sandoval and HR is seamless, and with its sumptuous and trippy delayed rhythm, “Without Jah, Nothin’” is a deeper album cut that holds its own.
The spiritual workout doesn’t stop there, either. In the slow burning and confrontational confession song “The Messenjah”, P.O.D. lays down epic and punishing riffs, belting out a prophet’s pledge to follow God at all costs.
I and I unfold the mysteries told
From the futuristic realms to the days of old
Make straight through the path of the one voice calling
Truth shines, back again two times in the Second Coming
The tornadic screaming backing vocals from guitarist Curiel through the song’s bridge is like a lightning rod of energy and power, highlighting to the listener the precarious life and death circumstances prophets lived by in the Bible.
From hardcore punk to straight power metal and then on to nu metal with slices of reggae roots and soul, Satellite not only packs a kaleidoscopic punch in the way it melds its musical genres but it does it with a heart that is God-centred. Wanting to spread God’s message as far and as wide as they could, P.O.D played at Ozzfest (a heavy metal music festival headlined by Ozzy Osbourne) in 2001 and 2002, the heavy metal Hellfest festival in France in 2013, and also opening for the nu metal giants Linkin Park and Korn.
Sandoval shared the band’s deep motivation for outreach in a 2018 interview with Time-Tribune, “If you ask me, do we want to play this church event or do we want to play this satanic event, [and we play the satanic event], it might not make sense to religious folks but to me it does. I want to be in a place where people need to hear the message or they want to hear the music and know that God is love and that I care for them and the band cares for them.”
Even amidst the trappings of platinum sales and touring success, P.O.D. have remained humble, grounded and, more importantly, together, guided by their own positive gospel message of hope and salvation in Jesus Christ. Examples of the band’s continued focus on Christ can be found in Christian youth outreach platform, The Whosoevers, co-founded in 2009 by Sandoval and former professional skateboard team manager, Ryan Ries. Both Ries and Sandoval, and invited guests such as Korn guitarist Head, tour in vans across the United States, sharing the message of Jesus Christ at skate parks, high schools, churches and rehabilitation centres. Leveraging his music celebrity status gained from the success of the Satellite album, Sandoval has had the opportunity to the speak into the lives countless young people dealing with issues of identity, depression, suicide and pornography.
From P.O.D.’s inception, the roots that anchored the band are still firmly planted today. Through subsequent albums releases, and weathering the seismic changes in the music industry as they moved from major to independent recording labels, Jesus Christ remains foremost in the band’s vision. Now celebrating their 30th year as a band and currently touring with Korn and Evanescence, these boys from the South certainly show no signs of letting that vision go.