Paul “Sonny” Sandoval
April 18, 1998
North Park College
Chicago, Illinois
Interviewed by Linda T. Stonehocker

“Sonny” (Paul Sandoval) is the rapid-fire mouth of P.O.D. (Payable On Death), a San Diego-based band which has used that torrent of words to gradually establish a beachhead on the rocky shores of their sphere of influence. With an urban sensibility, they praise the Lord and exhort His followers with one of the heaviest guitar barrages touring today. Their hardcore rapping tends to alienate middle-aged rockers, so naturally, the young people love it. This interviewer is among the alienated, but her teenaged children still talk about the one decent show they saw at Cornerstone Festival ‘97--P.O.D.

Tollbooth - How did P.O.D. get started?

Sonny - When I got saved, I asked, "What do I do now? How do I tell people about you?" God put me with this music that I was unfamiliar with. I had no desire to be in music, on stage, anything like that. I just wanted to serve God and tell my friends about this love that I found. I remember praying about it, and I felt that God was telling me to jump in and play with these guys. Before I knew it, I was in this place called The Dungeon. It was a secular club, and there were eighty-five people in front of me, mostly skin-heads, white power people. I remember just being scared and God whispering in my ear, “Do you still want to tell them about Me?” Yeah, Lord, I do, but...I didn't know there was a Christian industry, a secular industry, Christian music, secular music. I just figured that if you are going to play,  you are going to sing about what you believe in and what you love. Our ministry is directed to seeing people get saved. It is not considered an entertainment type thing. We're interested in ministry before anything else.

Tollbooth - Would you say then that this is really a ministry that happens to take the form of music?

Sonny - Yes. This is our way, our tool, for getting in, because we play clubs with a lot of secular bands, bars, and whatnot. But once they hear us, it establishes a plateau. “I like these guys. I like what I'm hearing.” By the time we're done playing, not only do they see worship on stage, not only do they see our hearts on stage, when we get the opportunity, we get to share with them and say, “This is the bottom line,” and give them Jesus. That’s our heart.

God has given this ministry a vision. We're not about “making it,” we're just about going the routes that it takes to make sure that we're ministering to the people that like this style of music.

When I got saved, not only did God do a character (work)--because God is continually growing my character through my spiritual walk--I learned about this music, and all the different lifestyles that surround this type of music. There’s another whole world that is into this style of music, and we've got to bring Jesus to them.

Tollbooth - Everyone hates labels, but what sort of category would you say P.O.D. falls into?

Sonny - They're calling us rap-core, but our characters are so different musically when us four get together that we write what we feel. Two albums from now, we want to do a Latin-reggae-jazz project. Those are just other doors that we want to enter. If that allows us to get into a coffee shop and then we can do our ministry, we're going to do that. Whatever it takes. Our heart is to see people get saved.

Tollbooth - Who do people compare you to?

Sonny - We get compared a lot to the whole Rage Against the Machine category.  Everybody has some type of similarity to another group. We're just playing what God has put in our heart.

I never listened to this style of music, but I know that there’s a lot of hurting and dying kids that do. I feel that in my heart, even with this music, this music just gives me the opportunity to share the love of Christ. If it wasn't this music, and if it was folk, or country punk rock, I would do that, as long as that time was for God to minister.

Tollbooth - Have you been able to tour much outside of  your home town, San Diego?

Sonny - We've been around six years, and been full time ministry for two-and-a-half years. Before then, when we would work, we'd take our three weeks vacation time in the summer and do mini tours. But God put it on our heart two-and-a-half years ago to go full time. Ok, Lord, are you sure? Everybody quit well paying jobs--we all had families--and it was a big step of faith to say, “Ok, Lord, this is what we know You've called us to do.”

Tollbooth - How do you get the word out about P.O.D.?

Sonny - We do everything independently. We started with my uncle and Rescue Records. Before we had distribution, we'd just sell them on the road, and whatever local record stores we could get into. Most of Rescue Records’s artists had albums, but no distribution. We were just underground. Now we have distribution through Diamante Music Group. That’s helped a lot. Puts the music into a lot of people’s hands.

Tollbooth - Do you have another album in the works?

Sonny - We just finished a live one from TOM Fest last year that is about to be released. What we have been doing the past seven months is writing new material. We're negotiating, and as soon as we wrap that up, we'll go into the studio, and hopefully, have an album out by next February. There are a lot of exciting things happening here.

Tollbooth - And then the next one will be the Latin-reggae-jazz you spoke of earlier?

Sonny - That’s just the flavor and the spices that God has. God has different varieties. God’s not just limited to one thing. God has all the good stuff. Like I said, we love music, and we want to worship God with whatever music we do.

Tollbooth - I remember last summer at Cornerstone Festival, you led the kids into a communion service.

Sonny - God had put that on my heart months and months before Cornerstone. That was awesome. I just watched the tape a few months ago with my youth group kids. I had never seen it before, and it just blessed me. I sat back and said, “Lord, this is totally You.”

The day before we played--you know how those little towns are--we bought all their loaves of bread, and any type of juice that they had because I knew that God had put it on my heart to do that. When we got up there to witness, I was just blessed by it. Who knows what God has for us this year?

Tollbooth - Was that unusual for your shows?

Sonny - You can't have communion in a wicked club, but that’s also the talents that God has given us to be creative. We do have a little more freedom in the Christian venues to sit down, and even open up the Bible and read if God puts it on our hearts. When we first started, clubs and bars labeled us as so militant about Jesus. I know that God used that, but at the same time, we shut a lot of doors that way. We're not going to go in and say, “OK, we're a Christian band, now listen to us!” because they're going to turn around and they're going to go drink their beers. We just get up and play and use tact and say, “This is the bottom line, Jesus loves you guys. That’s why we're playing. We want to tell you that.” Then you get to come back a few months later, they won't kick you out, they won't shut down the system, turn off the lights, get their big security guys and pull you right off stage because the Gospel is offensive to this world. So we need to be creative in the way that we do it. As long as you are loving them on stage, even in bars, they are going to see that. And if they're going to hate me because God’s love is huge in us and we love them, then they're going to have to hate me and take me off the stage. I can't apologize for loving you.

Tollbooth - So you find a way to put the message across without angering anyone.

Sonny - Sure. I remember one time we weren't even playing on the bill, but some friends of ours in a secular group we went to see allowed us to play a few songs. I remember I did not share one thing outside the music. I just said, “Thanks for listening to us. God bless you guys.” As soon as I got off the stage, I had this guy come to me with a beer in one hand, holding the cross around his neck in the other, wanting to talk. That’s God ministering to hearts. The same time, a bunch of girls at a table called me over. One of the said, “Out of all the bands that played tonight, I only heard every single word that you said.” I said, “That’s funny because we're just as loud as the rest of the bands that played tonight. That’s God ministering to your heart.” That is just the love that we want to put across.  We want God to touch people’s lives.

Our heart is for the world to see us worship on stage. And that’s what we do. When we go into the bars and we worship the Lord, they see that and say, “OK, this is a trip. These guys are talking about Jesus, and they're going for it!” And that’s when God starts to do His work, and start talking to hearts.

Tollbooth -You are wearing an anti-racist T-shirt. Is that part of P.O.D.’s message, also?

Sonny -  P.O.D.’s message is the cross. Our ministry is the cross. On our first album, we did have a song that dealt with racism, and another song that dealt with abortion. On Brown we dealt with gang issues, and if God puts an issue on our hearts to do a song about an issue, we'll do it, but we're not an issues band. I don't want to get caught up in issues. When we witness off the stage, we need to give them the love of God, not tell them what they are doing wrong, and the parts of their lives that they need to change. I believe if you just love them to the Lord and you take them to the cross, that’s when God makes sense. That’s when God sorts everything out. That’s when God builds character in you to where if you are a racist person, that’s going to go. If you are strung out on heroin, and you learn that Jesus loves you, and you have the love of God in your heart, then you are going to know that God doesn't want that for you.

Tollbooth - It will fall away.

Sonny -- Exactly. If your marriage is on the rocks, and you learn to give it up to God, that’s when God sorts everything out. All issues are issues, but God’s love is the ultimate healing. That’s one thing--that even in our music, we try to keep it at the cross.