P.O.D. singer Sonny Sandoval recently spoke to Beliefnet about the band's new album, "When Angels & Serpents Dance," their recent switch to a small Christian record label, and how he started a nationwide trend by naming his daughter Nevaeh, which is heaven spelled backward.
Your mom, who was a Christian, passed away when you were a teenager. Did she ever try to get you to embrace your faith when you were growing up? I read you were in a gang…
We weren't raised in a Christian family. I actually come from a young, wild family…a broken family. And so, long story short, my uncle had gotten saved and my family pretty much watched him--the last guy on earth [they thought would become a Christian] talk about Jesus. His life reflected [his faith] and God restored his family. Then, one by one, people in my family started to go to church and then find their faith in Jesus.The same thing with my mom. It was later on [in life that she became a Christian]. I always respected it because I watched it change a family that was destroyed.
I was raised Catholic and this whole Christianity thing…it was real. I believed it, because I saw lives changed. But it wasn't really until she passed away that I was really faced with the decision to get my stuff together or lose it all.
Do you identify yourself as Catholic now, or as a [Protestant] Christian?
I'm a born-again Christian—if everybody can agree what that means. I believe in Jesus. I believe that He died for my sins. So, Christian it is.
Studies have shown that people embrace their faith more as they get older. Do you feel, as you've gotten older and as your music career has progressed, that you're more in touch with your Christian faith?
I would say just within the last year I've actually been challenged to draw closer. When I say challenged [I mean] almost even forced, just to get closer to God than I thought I was, because it's a crazy world. I watch people that know about Him and believe in Him fall away like it's nothing. It really disturbs me.
I'm trying to make sure that for myself and for my family, I'm staying as close to the heart of God that I possibly can. It's a crazy time. It's a crazy world.
Do you think that's reflected a bit on your songs and songwriting, particularly with your new album?
Hindsight… I definitely see it. I see the struggle. When [I was] going through it all, everything kind of hit personally, family-wise. [There were] a lot of things…internal in the band. I was trying to get through it. I was just trying to do my job in L.A., go back home to my family on the weekend. Now when I listen to the record and go through it again, I realize how close God was in all of the things that were going on. I see the struggle, the pain. I see the hope that's in the record. It's all there and I'm excited about it.
Is there a specific song from the new album that you feel most passionate about?
That's a tough one, because they're all kind of like children. You spend so much time on each one, and each is its own chapter. And then, there's other reasons—some of the collaborations, the excitement of those.
I believe "Tell My Why" is a powerful song. Obviously, it's not the heaviest song that we've ever done, but it's powerful. "It Can't Rain Every Day" is awesome and powerful.
You guys changed labels recently, right? You're now with Columbia/INO?
Yeah.We spent two summers ago getting off Atlantic. We still opted one record with them, but because of the way labels are going downhill these days and firing everybody, we basically just asked to leave the record. We knew that they hadn't worked the last two records. Why would they give us all this money up front to record a record if it was going to be same way? We wanted to move, and we started talking to a bunch of different labels. INO were the most honest and real people, and it was a fair deal that every band should have.
We were in talks with all kinds of other labels, and it was the same deal. It was just--same snakes, different cage. And then we met Jeff [the owner of INO]. He wasn't trying to rip anybody off. He's a fan of the band. He wanted to get our music out.
It's wonderful that you guys teamed up with Matisyahu on "Roots in Stereo." What was it like working together?
It was awesome. At the time [we collaborated with] Matis, he wasn't even known. I knew of him just because I'm a reggae nut. I knew of him not only because of reggae music, but because of his religious beliefs. That's what struck me.
Originally, we just [wanted] to get him in on and do a reggae track. We're known as Christians [in a] Christian band…so let's get a guy who's Jewish, and let's do a reggae song— which is from Rastafarianism.Then it's going to be about the music. It was just a cool idea.
But, then, on a personal level, he came through. He called me when he was in Israel, when the talks were up, and he said, "I would love to do it. I'm a fan of the band. My wife loves you guys." I was like, "Let's get together, man. Let's break bread." And so we did. He's an awesome guy.
As Christians, we're just an extension of Judaism. We had a kosher meal with him. We hung out. We just talked. We got to know each other on a human level. I love the nation of Israel. I love Jewish people. My King was Jewish, and I embrace that. None of us at any time were trying to convert him to Christianity.
Do you think you guys will ever work together again?
I would love to. He went off and did his thing. He's having his success with his records and stuff.
What do you think is the biggest challenge Christian youth face today?
Oh, man. I have three kids and I'm scared to death for them—the stuff that they have to go through as Christians. I think that's why a lot of the Christian kids who are young embraced us because we were up front with the things that we believe in. It wasn't like this little, neat, scared, dorky little Christian in the corner that didn't have a say. All of a sudden, you had guys that came from the streets that weren't afraid to battle if they had to stand up for what is right.
Even when we went to secular and mainstream, it was those kids who had a reason to stand up. They said, "That's my band. I knew about those guys. They played in my youth group years ago. They played in my church. Those guys believe the things that I believe." They stood up for us.
I think with so many things coming at kids today, not only is it hard enough just to stand up for the basics, but now in schools you're being taught everything that you believe [in] and what you're being taught at home is not right. The government doesn't allow you to speak about the things that you believe, and it's telling you different--not only in the public places, but in school. It's tough.
I think the older you get, you draw more into your faith, [but] I think our kids need to do that now. Our kids need to follow up with the Lord more, so that they don't follow that repetition of becoming teenagers, and then becoming young adults, and then wanting to experience a crazy world that they know isn't good for them. Now's the time to dig deeper. Don't worry about what the rest of the world thinks, because if you care only what God thinks about you and your relationship with Him, you're going to dive in deeper. I would encourage all of the kids to just do it. Don't be embarrassed. Don't be ashamed. We're the ones who have the power, the secret--these secrets have been revealed to us. We're God's people.
Do you listen to Christian music?
I listen to a lot of old-school worship music.
Like Bob Bennett.My absolute favorite, Terry Clark, Phil Keaggy, Keith Green. My own church music, worship tunes, and stuff like that. It just puts me in a place where I need to be mentally and spiritually when I'm listening to it.
I don't need to be entertained by Christians. I'm not into it for the entertainment value. There's a lot of stuff that's good. It's entertainment. It's alternative to the rest of the garbage that's out there, and I get it. I understand it. But the music I listen to has to move my soul first.
Do you listen to mainstream music anymore?
There really isn't much that has impressed me. I'm not saying that arrogantly. I'm waiting for that band that's like, "Wow, those guys are awesome." This industry now, they're putting bands together left and right. There's no real true, organic music anymore. You don't hear about the guys who have been around for 15 years and they struggled for the first 10. And now, they've got their break, and they're doing their thing. You see these bands selling many records. It's like, "Dude, when did you guys get together?" They're like, "Earlier this year." It's like there's no story. There's no history. There's no struggle at all. For me, it's mostly stuff I grew up on, old-school stuff.
Do you have a favorite cheesy band or group that is your guilty pleasure?
My radio is on the Disney Channel 24/7, because of my kids.I'm not going to lie—I know everything on Disney, the Jonas Brothers, Miley…
How does it feel to single-handedly popularize the name Nevaeh?
It's cool. There was a whirlwind for a second last year. My daughter is awesome. Now we'll be at her softball games--she just turned eight—and you'll hear someone yell out "Nevaeh," and it's some other little girl out there. At some points it's kind of a bummer because it's like, man, I just want her to be Nevaeh. But it's an awesome, beautiful name.
Are your children at an age where they're asking you about heaven? How do you describe it to them?
My second child will be four in July, but they're [all] very intelligent kids. We raise our children in the ways of God and we go to church, and my girls go to their Bible studies on Sundays. My oldest daughter, she goes to a private Christian school.
Heaven is where their grandmother is. That's what they know. Heaven is where people that we love [are] and even people that they never had a chance to meet because they weren't even born yet. But that's where they went because they loved the Lord. They believed in Jesus. We explain to them it's paradise. They're still too young to have to get all the details. They just know it's the best place ever.