With more than 10 million albums sold, movie soundtracks to their credit and having had the honour of playing New York City's Times Square on New Year's Eve, heavy metal band P.O.D. has done it all. But behind P.O.D. frontman Sonny Sandoval's success is the story of a mother's love.
“You should really get down here … your mom doesn't look too good,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
As then-19-year-old Sonny Sandoval headed to the hospital, the words of his mother echoed in his mind: “When I die, I want to make sure that you'll be in heaven with me.”
Raised in San Diego, Sonny grew up in a loving yet broken home. His uncle was a drug dealer and by the time he began high school, Sonny was into drugs.
But changes were already in the offing. Unexpectedly, Sonny's uncle quit the drug trade after becoming a Christian.
“Little by little, God began to change my uncle's heart and he became a new person,” says Sonny. “His example began to affect the family one by one. It was like a chain reaction.”
Sonny was still not ready to accept what many in his family were quickly embracing. He was just trying to live what seemed to him like a normal life of attending community college and getting high. It took something closer to home to finally make him see clearly.
Death in the Family
In 1991, Sonny's mother was diagnosed with leukemia. Over the next year, Sonny watched the cancer ravage her body. But that wasn't the only thing he witnessed.
“I watched her the whole time. She had this joy about her,” reflects Sonny. “I was amazed by her faith, her love for God and her trust in Him. She was right where she needed to be and praising God throughout the entire time.”
One evening, a call from his aunt informed Sonny that he needed to head to the hospital. A frantic Sonny dropped what he was doing and rushed over, staying by his mother's bedside for a week until family members convinced him to go home for a while.
On his way out to the car, he knelt in the hospital parking lot and asked God into his life. Upon returning to the hospital, Sonny whispered into his mother's ear that he had decided to serve God. Later that same day, he and his cousin, Wuv Bernardo, went to get some food. When they returned, the faces of their relatives said everything—Sonny's mother had passed away.
His life changing before his eyes, Sonny drew closer to God and walked away from drugs.
To keep Sonny from dwelling on his mother's death, Wuv, a drummer, invited him to join him and guitarist Marcos Curiel in their new band. Shortly after Sonny's arrival, bass player Traa Daniels joined the group as well.
Having never dreamt of singing professionally but recognizing an opportunity to share his newfound faith, Sonny accepted and the band, now renamed Payable on Death (P.O.D.), was formed. Its name is based on a banking term, but was also chosen as a reflection of how Jesus died on the cross to pay the debts of all humankind.
It was still a slow climb to the top.
“We never played Christian concerts; we didn't even know they existed. We were that green!” laughs Sonny. “We played underground warehouses and clubs alongside white-power bands. But we were being P.O.D.: 'Yeah, dude. I represent Jesus, so what's up?' ”
In 1998, after years of touring independently, P.O.D. was finally signed to major label Atlantic Records to release their first mainstream album. With the signing came the success of playing in large music festivals such as Ozzfest, being featured on soundtracks such as The Matrix Reloaded and performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A reputation was developing on the street of P.O.D.'s stand for Christianity. Yet despite all their achievements and their openness to share their faith, they still struggled to win over favour from some Christian circles.
“We were never embraced by the actual Christian scene,” says Sonny. “It wasn't until we signed to a major label that people began saying, 'Yeah, P.O.D. Them's our boys. They come from us.'
“And yet we still had other people picketing us at concerts. It was very confusing.”
It was partly for this reason that the band decided to take a lengthy hiatus in 2008, after the release of their seventh album.
“You can blame me,” says Sonny. “I needed to get away. 'You know what, God?' I prayed. 'I'm done. I don't see You anymore—too many people get in the way. I need to know You, to see You again.'
“And we all wanted to get back to our personal lives and families,” he continues. “We want to enjoy what we're doing, not to do it to pay the bills or tour just to tour.”
After taking a three-year sabbatical to get away from the spotlight, the members of P.O.D. returned to the music scene in 2012. Joined by their former producer, Howard Benson, they released Murdered Love in July and supported the album with an extensive North American tour.
“This is the best record we've ever done,” says Sonny. “And that can only come from what we've put into this. We're the same four down-to-earth guys we were when we were putting out indie records. There's an honesty and an underdog vibe to everything we do that you can definitely hear in our music.”
When asked how he remains pure in an industry that is so impure, Sonny replies, “First of all, I'm the furthest thing from pure. It's Jesus and His mercy that gives me a fresh start every day. And that's the thing: through all these years of my Christianity, I find myself more wanting to be close to God.”