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No Sympathy for the Devil

P.O.D. will play at this year's OZZfest, but unlike the other bands, it will celebrate God and faith.

August 27, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | Randy Lewis is a Times staff writer

Don't look now, but there's an infiltrator lurking among the head-banging bands on this year's OZZfest lineup--a sheep in wolf's clothing, if you will.

It's San Diego hip-hop/metal quartet P.O.D. (short for Payable on Death), which on the surface sounds right in line with the likes of Methods of Mayhem, Slaves on Dope, Godsmack and others on a bill headlined by rock's Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne.

Yet while P.O.D. pounds out a bone-crunching sonic amalgam of rap, hard rock, punk and Latin music that's at home alongside its fellow OZZfest decibel-lovers, P.O.D. parts company with the majority with songs that celebrate God, not the devil, and profanity-free lyrics that champion spirituality over nihilism, hope over despair.

Their major-label debut album, "The Fundamental Elements of Southtown" came out last year and has sold more than 500,000 copies, according to SoundScan.

It's also getting a boost from the popularity of the current single, "Rock the Party (Off the Hook)," which last month topped MTV's influential "Total Request Live" countdown, a spot usually reserved for the lighter sounds of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. P.O.D's video has finished in the TRL top 10 for much of the summer, and the album has spent most of the year at or near the top of Billboard magazine's contemporary Christian chart.

So how did P.O.D. wind up playing an event whose logo features the image of a red-faced, screaming, horned Satan?

"Man, we don't care what the other bands are singing about," says drummer Wuv (real name: Noah Bernardo). "Whether we play with Ozzy or with Marilyn Manson, nothing shocks us. Nothing fazes us. If we have the opportunity to play in front of 10 people, we'll do it; if we can play for 100, that's cool too, and if we can play in front of 10,000 people, that's even better."

Adds singer Sonny Sandoval, "OZZfest is cool. It's a great opportunity to play for people who normally wouldn't see us play or listen to our music. There are a lot of old-school metal-heads out there."

Wuv simultaneously laughs and fumes at any suggestion that P.O.D.'s appearance at OZZfest is akin to the lamb doing lunch with the lions.

"Dude, there are a lot of misconceptions about us," Wuv says. "A lot of people know our faith in God is a big part of what we talk about in our music. But it should be that way with anybody--you should sing about what you're passionate about, and for us, it happens to be God.

"We didn't grow up religious, in Christian homes. We came to find God later in life and we're grateful for it, so that's what we sing about."


Indeed, Wuv, Sandoval and guitarist Marcos Curiel grew up tough, in neighborhoods just north of the Mexican border ravaged by poverty, drugs and violence. (Bassist Traa, born Mark Daniels, came to Southern California from Cleveland.)

Wuv witnessed his parents salvage their troubled marriage and his father give up drug-dealing through religion. Sandoval saw how faith in God bolstered his mother as she was dying from cancer.

Both youths found in Christianity a dramatic alternative to the troubled lives for which they seemed destined. Consequently, the group members don't shy from discussing their beliefs, but neither do they pound the pulpit. They don't even describe P.O.D. as a Christian rock band.

"We don't go out like we're on a mission where we've gotta convert the world," Wuv says. "Basically, it's like, 'This is what we've got to offer--this is what we found and it helped us--and we offer it to you.' That's it. If they catch on, that's cool."

Besides, he says, "kids are tired of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. That was the '80s--this is 2000. People are tired of getting cussed at going to shows. There's a new generation that's like, 'That's played out.' "

For Atlantic Records, which signed P.O.D. in 1998, key selling points included its soft-sell attitude and the contrast it represented to what's more typical in rap and heavy rock.

"A lot of music recently has become very much about hate and coming from a place of malevolence," says Ron Shapiro, Atlantic's executive vice president and general manager. "It hasn't escaped us that P.O.D. is ultimately "We don't go out like we're on a mission where we've gotta convert the world. Basically, it's like, 'This is what we've got to offer--this is what we found and it helped us--and we offer it to you.' "


P.O.D. drummer whose real name is Noah Bernardo

about positivism, and it feels good to be in support of that sometimes and to bring that to a wider audience."

With religious music as a genre increasing its percentage of the overall music market in recent years--up more than double from 2.5% in 1990 to 5.1% in 1999--according to figures from the Recording Industry Assn. of America, major labels have another incentive to keep closer tabs on bands that are on the way up in the Christian rock world.

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