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A LIFE IN MUSIC: SONNY SANDOVAL, P.O.D.

Ryan Bird
Ryan Bird 21 November 2018 at 13.53

The frontman looks back on his career as the band drop their tenth album 'Circles'.

Sonny Sandoval has seen it all. Starting off in the hoods of San Diego, the vocalist and his P.O.D. bandmates went from printing their own merch and playing any and every show available, to selling millions of albums and performing in sold out arenas as the nu metal boom reached its peak. 

As he and his bandmates celebrate the release of their tenth album ‘Circles’, Sonny takes us through some of the most important lessons he’s learned over a career that’s spanned nearly a quarter of a century, and explains why he’s got no plans to give up just yet.

DO IT YOURSELF

“We released our first two albums [‘Snuff The Punk’ and ‘Brown’] on our own little indie label. Not that we knew what we were doing! 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."

"We were just kids figuring it out, really. When it came to merch it was the same - we would press up our own shirts and do anything that we could and put every penny we had into the band. I think that’s a lost art in many ways, that real DIY mentality. A lot of bands now have people taking care of that stuff for them even when they’re just starting out, but we did it all with our own hands. I’m glad that we went through that, because it gave us the skills and the knowledge to exist outside of the normal structures.”

 

SIGNING TO A MAJOR LABEL DOESN’T MAKE YOU RICH OVERNIGHT

“You gotta understand - we’re from the hood! We’re ghetto kids who started making music as a way to stay out of trouble, first and foremost, and who never thought they’d leave San Diego. So for us, eventually signing to a major label like Atlantic Records was a dream come true. It’s funny, because when you’re a kid you have all these images of signing a deal and buying a fancy car the next day, but even after we signed with them myself and my cousin [Wuv, drums] were still working construction." 

"I remember digging a ditch with him in like 100 degree weather after we signed, and looking at him and going, ‘Did you know that you’re a signed, major label recording artist?!’ And then we laughed and just went back to our digging. Don’t get me wrong, we went on to have some amazing success and we made some good money, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”

 

YOUR FAITH IS IMPORTANT, BUT IT DOESN’T NEED TO DEFINE YOU

“Our faith is incredibly important to us, it always has been and we will never shy away from that, but in the early days it was surprising to me how big of a deal that was. I remember even when it came to signing to a label for the first time, we were being contacted by all sorts of huge, Christian record companies - good, very large labels - primarily because of our faith. To us, though, it didn’t make sense to pigeonhole ourselves like that. Sure, we played showed with bands of a similar faith to ourselves, hardcore Tooth & Nail bands and the like, but we were also playing shows with Green Day and Cypress Hill. We’ve never been ashamed of our beliefs, but we didn’t want it to consume everything that we are, or to be treated differently for it.”

 

YOU WON’T ALWAYS GET THE CREDIT YOU MIGHT DESERVE

“Genuinely, I feel as though we’ve never been given the credit in terms of pioneering a sound and a movement. Rap-rock, rap-metal, whatever you want to call it - we were out there making that music and playing shows before the world even knew it existed. We were always being compared to other bands who got signed before we did, but we were making that type of music and playing shows all over the place for maybe six or seven years before we actually got a record deal." 

"People always used to come up to us like, “Oh you guys remind me of Limp Bizkit!” even though we put out our first record and did our first tours off our own back three or four years before Limp Bizkit even had a record deal. Even people like Zach de la Rocha from Rage Against The Machine used to come out to San Diego and watch bands who we grew up playing with, like House Of Suffering. That whole scene started out in the hoods - it was street music - but a lot of the first bands out were plucked from the suburbs. The rest of us kind of got passed off as copycats as a result."

 

SUCCESS IS AN UNPREDICTABLE BEAST

“When we made our second album for Atlantic, ‘Satellite’, it was a really crazy time. It was the first time that we got to make a record in a real, fancy studio, and suddenly the label took an interest in us on a global level. That was the first time they actually fully released our records overseas, they started marketing singes, we were travelling in tour buses… it was a different world. That was when things started blowing up, and fast. Suddenly we were being sent around the world not only to play shows but just to do press and radio." 

"We were turning up in countries for the first time, be it the UK or Germany or Japan, and when we arrived people were already holding gold records to give to us. Until then we’d been in a bubble in the States, we really had no idea how big things were getting, and suddenly we’re in Dublin being handed a gold record. We’d be in airports looking at magazines with our faces on them, and then we’d get home and have a barbecue with our friends and family and they’d be like, “Dude I just heard your song all over the radio on the way over here!” We went from being tadpoles to swimming with sharks. To this day, it still doesn’t feel real."

TIMING IS EVERYTHING, BUT IT GOES BOTH WAYS

"We were very fortunate that we arrived on the scene at a really great time, not just for our style of music but for the industry as a whole, but by the time it came to making our self-titled record in 2003 everything was changing. Downloading had ripped the heart out of the business, labels were struggling to make money and all the people we’d spend the last four or five years working with were scrambling for their jobs and getting fired. It was really like watching a tornado and an earthquake taking place at the same time. In the space of two years we went from selling millions of records on an album that while it was being made had very limited interest, to being rock stars with dozens of people putting their hands in our pockets while the entire business was crumbling.

"Simultaneously we’re losing a member and trying to rebuild internally, but we’re also getting shorted on the money that we’re owed even though we’re touring with Linkin Park and making a huge single in ‘Will You’. The next thing we know the album is being shelved, videos aren’t being submitted to MTV, and the whole thing kind of falls apart. We still sold a million records, even though nobody worked the album. It really was the best and worst of everything, all in a few short years."

 

STEPPING AWAY CAN BE THE BEST THING FOR YOU

"Around the time that we made ‘Murdered Love’ [in 2012] I was in a really strange place. I had a lot of things going on in my personal life and it had affected everything about me, including how I felt about the band. I needed to find that joy again, and that came in my family, my faith and actually, a lot of community work. I was doing a lot of volunteer work in the local area, stuff I wasn’t earning a penny for, rather than going on tour to support the record. I needed to do something that had real meaning to it, and what it actually did was make me aware of the feeling that so many people have taken from our music. I felt a sense of purpose through helping people, and it made me aware of how much good the band actually does for people, albeit on a slightly different level. It gave me something real and positive to take back to the band. In many ways I think that actually, stepping away is what allowed this band to continue. Sometimes you need a fresh perspective that only comes from stepping out of the fire."

 

YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO TRY NEW THINGS

"When we made [2015s ‘The Awakening’] we’d been a band for more than 20 years, but it was the first time that we did something new in terms of making what people might call a concept album. When we were kids what people class as a concept record now was the norm - that combination of audio and visual - and a lot of records had a really cohesive, intelligent thought process behind them. It was a huge risk, especially for a bunch of dudes in their forties! A lot of music nowadays is aimed solely at the teen market, because they’re the ones who indulge the most in streaming and as a result they’re the new consumer, but in the nicest way possible they don’t know anything about music beyond that."

"It was the first time we focused on more than just making songs, and there’s so much stuff in there, from coded messages to subliminal elements that might take 20 years for somebody to finally crack. A lot of people probably wonder why we made a record like that at this stage of our career, in this climate, but really we just wanted to challenge ourselves and make something bigger than a collection of songs. I think that whether you’re 20 years old or 60 years old, you’re never too young or too old to do something that pushes you."

 

DON’T EXPECT A HELPING HAND FROM PEOPLE

"The funny thing for me is playing sets at a festival, looking over to the side of the stage and seeing it absolutely packed out with people in other bands. We are a band’s band in many ways, and we still go as hard as any of them even when they’re half our age. They come up to us afterwards and say how much they loved the show, or tell us how much they loved our band growing up, but do any of them take us on tour? Do any of them tweet about us or tell people about us? I could sit around all day and complain about things like that, but there’s no point. We don’t need to get bogged down in that negative mindset. All we can do is play until we can’t play anymore, and to put everything that we have into our music and our shows every single night. When that day comes we’ll move on and see what’s next, but until then we’ll keep going, even if it’s completely on our own."

 

NEVER FORGET WHAT, AND WHO, MATTERS MOST

"Despite everything we’ve been through and experienced over the last 25-odd years, the only thing we collectively know how to do is play live music together. It’s still that hour onstage that makes all the sense in the world, even if the 23 hours outside of it are confusing. There are still days when I’m on the road away from my family, I’m tired and cold and sick, and I ask myself why I still do this. But then we play a show, and I hang out with somebody after the set who tells me that our music changed their life. People who have cut themselves, people who have put a gun to their head, and who heard one of our songs and took something so powerful from it that they pulled themselves out of that darkness." 

"That’s when I realise that I’m a part of something bigger than me, and bigger than music. It’s a real, human connection, and nothing is more important or more special than that. A lot of musicians nowadays like to say they’re there for people, but then after a show they won’t even meet their fans because they have a cold. That’s not what this is about. You want five minutes to talk to me about how our music changed your life? You can have an hour, bro. You’ve got all the time you need."

‘Circles’ is available now on Mascot. Check it out on Spotify below:

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