For this week’s Music in Review issue, I chronicled the creation of Spring Jam Fest, a Christian rock concert conceived by a Jonathan Slye, 17-year-old from Northern Virginia. It takes place this weekend, and P.O.D. and Head (of Korn fame) are headlining.
It’s been a while since the rap rockers P.O.D. have been in the spotlight, so to gear up for tomorrow’s big festival, I talked to lead singer Sonny Sandoval about where the band has been and what it’s like to exist in both the mainstream and Christian rock worlds. You can catch them headlining Spring Jam Fest tomorrow.
Ryan Little: What has the band been up to lately—-it seems like you’ve kept a lower profile for a while.
Sonny Sandoval: For a few years, I would say. We took a long time off. We did a couple tours in South America and a few spot dates in the U.S., but then we needed to come home and take a rest. I just needed to be with my family to get my head straight.
RL: When did you hear about Spring Jam Fest?
SS: A few months back? We were approached by management and our agency. They told us about the lineup, and some of the bands we knew—-it seemed like a cool lineup. Now, we’re just trying to promote it—-we hear the promoter is pretty young and pretty excited about this, so we’re hoping it goes well.
RL: Were you nervous when you found out it’s getting run by a 17 year old?
SS: Obviously, that wasn’t told to us in the beginning, but once we heard about the details—-I mean, I I believe in this kid, he’s got a heart like mine, and sometimes you’ve just got to go for it. You live by your convictions and your faith, you believe God says you should do something, and you do it, and whether or not it’s a success depends on God.
RL: Are you playing other festivals?
SS: We played Vegas a few weeks back, we’re playing Rock on the Range, but we’re keeping the schedule kind of open so we can jump in the studio. Since that’s up in the air, it kind of stops you a bit from booking shows and booking tours, but like I said, we’re going to Europe for a month, and we’re going to South Africa for some dates. Hopefully, we’ll get a tour later on in the year.
RL:How does a Christian rock festival compare to a general market festival?
SS: For me, it’s my preference not to do the typical, average Christian festivals that I believe are mainly [comprised of] Christians. When we’re kind of on a lineup with someone like Michael W. Smith and TobyMac—-my heart’s just in a different place, I’d rather be a light to the world. I’d rather play the bar across the street for free if I truly believe I’m being effective, if we’re playing our music and people are paying attention to what’s going on. One of the reasons I did agree to do this festival is because I did believe it has a chance to reach out to people outside the Church. It’s not just a hallelujah fest, it’s not just getting together and having a Jesus party, which is all good, but I think kids and people are going to come because they’re attracted to the music. Hearts will be open to listen and receive the message behind it. The only reason I agreed to do this show is because I did feel it has that potential and I still do.
RL: Is there ever a conflict between sharing faith and putting on a rock show for a general audience that just wants entertainment?
SS: It’s a balance. We’ve done that for so long; when we first started off we were on a mission and we were more militant about the things we believe, but then you realize there are people that just like the music. You have to trust that God is in the music, and he’s speaking to whomever he chooses speak to. Then you try not to go too overboard. Obviously, we were on secular labels and there’s times you hear people’s opinions who think we are going overboard. Then I just get to the point where I’m like, we’re just going to play music and shut our mouths. You know, you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t. There’s this balance of everything you have to find. You can go to a Christian festival and everybody wants to hear you say things and everybody wants an altar call. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been on this hiatus to get rooted and get grounded.
This has never been about entertainment to me. This is a privilege for me to play music, and it does something for me and my walk with God. I’m not ashamed of the things I believe in, I’ll talk to anybody and I’ll say the things I believe in on any stage, but I’m not going to be tasteless about it either. Just because I have a platform doesn’t mean I should go and offend everybody. I want to win people over, I want them to say these guys rock, and maybe their hearts will be opened.
There really is a balance, and there is wisdom, and I’m on a different level now. There is an urgency—-people do need to know the truth, it’s desperate times right now—-but I want to do it in a way that people will receive it. I don’t want to have some captive audience and read scriptures in the public square whether you hate me or not. I just want to play music and have people respond to it and at the same time respond to what’s going on spiritually.
RL: Do you feel like over the years the band has oscillated between focusing on your message and focusing on your music?
SS: We’ve always taken pride in what we do, and we’ve never used our faith to sell anything. Either you like the music or you don’t. When we approach a secular audience, we know that we have to captivate them with the music. But then you hear it from the other direction, and you hear from a Christian, “I went to see P.O.D. and didn’t hear anything about the gospel.” It’s hard to please everybody, but this is about the music. I’m the same person whether I’m your trashman, your dentist, or your local mechanic—-I live and breathe my faith in God, you know? I know it’s the truth and I’ll die for what I believe in. It’s about being genuine. If we can’t connect with people, why would they listen to us?
Music really is universal though. We can go into countries where they don’t know our language and they’re singing our songs. They’re telling us in whatever broken English they have how god touches us through our music. That’s touching and humbling man. We’re hoping we do give off some type of god’s love and grace, but at the same time we’re trying to live through these things ourselves.
RL: Do you think the band has changed after going from playing church basements to playing stadiums?
SS: I think we’ve grown and changed in all kinds of different directions. For me, and I can only speak for myself, it’s like we have big experiences. You go around the world, you meet people from all walks of life, and you grow in so many different ways. We’ve dealt with bitterness and anger, we’ve dealt with the realities of living through that kind of fame and money. For me, that’s why I needed to take time off. We are a business, that’s how we pay our bills, but I don’t want to play music if I’m not having fun. I’d rather go home and make sure our souls are intact. You have to take that time out for yourself.
I think about the unity we had when we started the band, and sometimes I wish we were like that, but that was 10 years ago, you know. For me, and I speak for me only, I feel like I’ve been re-born again. I’ve been diving into my bible and my scriptures, and He’s given me a new life. I’m back to square one again. I started this band because I wanted people to hear the truth, and that got blurred because we were trying to please to many people. you’re trying to make music and make money and please labels and please Christians but be likable to the world, so many different things… now I’m called to the guys in my band, if there’s a platform out there, I want to rock the crowd, but I want to be genuine and I want to tell them God loves them and He is real. However you or anyone perceives it is out of my control.
RL: Well, best of luck at Spring Jam Fest. I hope it turns out well for you.
SS: You know, whatever it’s like, I’m there. I’m ready to meet people and meet [Jonathan Slye] and make connections. I know if my heart’s right and his is right, that’s all that God asked for. Whether two people or two million people show up, it’s the fact that we did what was on our heart, and God is in the details.
Also, a clarification. In my Summer Music Guide story, I wrote:
Their publicity budget is marginal—a few church volunteers have sent out emails, but there’s no money for a media blitz. So Jonathan reached out to radio stations. “It’s either too Christian [for secular stations] or it’s too hard for Christian stations.” Jonathan says DC 101 declined to promote the event—even through paid advertisements—because its annual chili cook-off takes place the following weekend. Jonathan reached out to Christian station WGTS-FM: “‘Can I do a short interview, do a promo ad, give you tickets to give away, anything?’…They wouldn’t even put it on their community calendar.” Calls to both stations were not returned.
That was true as of press time, but WGTS has since had Jonathan Slye on the air to talk about Spring Jam Fest and featured the event on its website.