More than two decades into their career, P.O.D. enjoy the kind of popularity most rock bands would envy. The San Diego quartet continue to be a rock radio staple, with newer songs "Lost in Forever" and "Beautiful" drawing the kind of airplay the band's early hits "Alive," "Youth of the Nation" and "Boom" once did.
However, P.O.D. has built this successful career by never letting themselves be pigeonholed. "If you listen to all of our songs side by side, we don't focus on one style of music," says frontman Sonny Sandoval. "We have reggae songs; we have punk rock songs. We've done jazzy songs. We've mixed in loops and DJs, and we've experimented."
P.O.D.'s tenth studio album, Circles, marks another leap forward. The band members decided to shake up their creative process by collaborating with an L.A.-based production duo called the Heavy, who provided behind-the-scenes musical tweaks, and served as a sounding board for vocal and melodic ideas.
"We started with guitar riffs—more of a core P.O.D sound—and on some of these songs, the Heavy would add ambient stuff to it that just really brightened up the songs," Sandoval said. "Or maybe we changed up a heavy riff and made it more catchy and more hooky. Vocally, there's also a lot of stuff that's going on—even some three-part harmonies, four-part harmonies in certain choruses or verses."
The results are contemporary-sounding without losing any of the band's core sonic signifiers. "Rockin' With The Best" is described by Sandoval as having an "old-school P.O.D. sound, very rap-driven and Beastie Boys-ish" vibe; the reggae-inflected rocker "Always Southern California" has a massive sing-along chorus; and the groove-heavy "Soundboy Killa" is the kind of chugging hip-hop/metal hybrid at which the band excels.
Other songs find P.O.D. pushing themselves into slightly new territory. The midtempo "Dreaming" mixes snaky blues guitar with glacial digital programming, while the Linkin Park-reminiscent "Circles" shows off P.O.D.'s command of dynamics: Moody electronic flourishes, glassy piano and laid-back rapping verses give way to a bridge that explodes with chugging guitars and ferocious drumming.
Sandoval's long-time collaborators in P.O.D.— lead guitarist Marcos Curiel, bassist Traa Daniels and drummer Wuv Bernardo—were fully on board with this forward progress. "They're some of the most underrated musicians in our genre," Sandoval says of his bandmates. "They're all self-taught musicians. If you listen from demos 26 years ago to now, they just continue to get better and better. They continue to get more creative. My guys are players. They jam, they hear the music, they feel the music. They're musicians first."
This versatility was a big plus on Circles, since P.O.D. didn't have any preconceived notions about what the new music should sound like. But as it turns out, working with the Heavy brought out the best in the band, and gave them a new perspective on their own work. "We've always been so stubborn about writing with people, and we never have," Sandoval says. "This really was us going in a little bit vulnerable. We had an open mindset. But they let us do our thing."
From a lyrical standpoint P.O.D. kept a similar open mind. As per usual, Sandoval didn't scribble ideas in a journal or notebook in advance, with plans to write songs around a set theme. Instead, he let inspiration come to him as the music evolved.
In many cases, Circles turns to optimism for inspiration. The title track addresses trying to get out of an unhealthy cycle in which someone feels stuck, while "Dreaming" envisions seeking out a brighter future even if the present day is tough. Other songs grapple with how to navigate life's biggest challenges. "Home" emerged after Sandoval suddenly lost a close friend who was more like a brother to him. "Fly Away," meanwhile, acknowledges that all of us sometimes struggle, and need to rely on others for help.
"We're looking for answers—and we're going to people to help us get through things—but at the same time, no one's perfect," Sandoval says. "Everybody's going through stuff, and we're all kind of on this same level and the same journey of experience and just trying to figure out our course of life."
Above all, Sandoval always wants P.O.D.'s songs to resonate with listeners on a deeper emotional level, and make people see their lives—or challenges—in a positive light.
Being open to new experiences and sounds is just one more way P.O.D. has continued to thrive and reach new fans, even as they keep challenging themselves to become better musicians.
"On Circles, we didn't limit ourselves and say, 'Hey, we need to please the metal crowd, or the hardcore crowd, or the punk crowd,'" Sandoval says. "We just wanted to play and write songs that we hope are relevant and catchy to a new audience—while, at the same time, still being true to ourselves.
"We are touring and making music because it still means something to the people that are coming out to see us, and people that are still listening to our music," he adds. "We're humbled, we're grateful, and we're thankful for people that still enjoy what we're doing."