Their album 'The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown' has recently gone gold Stateside, showing that PAYABLE ON DEATH (P.O.D.) are, in more ways than one, making a big noise.


Here's a question to catch Christian music aficionados: What Christian rock band sold the most records in the States last year? dc Talk? Third Day? No, the answer is P.O.D. These San Diego purveyors of tumultuously noisy rapcore have risen from the obscurity of America's Christian hard music underground to become a huge sales phenomenon with 'The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown' becoming a huge hit in the mainstream market. The notoriously anti-Christian SPIN magazine calling it "a Molotov cocktail of modern metal and spiritual uplift that couches the band's holy-rolling anthems in ear-ringing guitars and neck-snapping beats," while the band have blown away audiences playing alongside the current big names of US rock like Korn, Green Day and Kid Rock and being heavily featured on MTV. Things have clearly taken off for singer Sonny Samiipa, bassist Traa, guitarist Marcos and drummer Wuv. Said Wuv, "We've been full time for six years and now it's stepped up to a different level. We have so much fun making this music. We're able to play the music we like - there's nothing better than that - and go all crazy, let our aggression out. But when we write our songs, it's not out of an anger that we have for the world, but a love we want to show the world."

The story of P.O.D. turned its first page when Marcos and Wuv were introduced by a friend who, taking matters in hand, suggested, "Hey, you guys should jam." 'The next thing you know, Marcos and I were practising in my parents' living room," remembers Wuv, who'd learned to play drums by playing along with Cheap Trick, AC/DC and the first Cars album. "From there, we started playing a lot of house parties in the neighbourhood," recalls Sonny, who would dutifully attend these early gigs to help keep his cousin Wuv out of trouble. At the same time, Sonny was struggling to cope with the loss of his mother to cancer. The only thing that seemed to see him through was the support of family. "I wanted to get Sonny involved with the band to get his mind off what was going on," explains Wuv. "Where we're from, it's so easy to get caught up in everything our friends are doing - getting high and just hanging with the fellas. I just said, 'Hey dude, why don't you come join the band?' He was doing some hip hop stuff with our friends and he was tight. So we started off trying to incorporate his skills into what Marcus and I were doing."

By 1992, Payable On Death had finally taken shape and the band went to work in earnest while booking themselves into any hall that would have them. The band's first show found them opening a local show with Face To Face, followed by a New Year's Eve gig opening for Green Day. "I still remember when Wuv said to me, 'Yeah, my cousin's in a rap group,'" recalls Marcos, reflecting on the band's earliest moments. "I was like, 'Dude, Sonny never talks to anybody in the first place - how does he get in front of an audience?' It was true. Our first show with Sonny was kind of like a scene from The Doors. Sonny had his back turned to the crowd the whole time. It was hilarious." As the band's presence on stage grew more dynamic and Sonny found his confidence, the P.O.D. audience expanded from a Southtown crew to a wider regional following. Soon the group was opening local shows for the likes of Cypress Hill, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Pennywise.

Within the space of a year, the group was up and ready to get into the studio. Taking cues from their numerous D.I.Y. heroes, the band formed Rescue Records. 'Snuff The Punk' was released in 1993. That same year, the band's line up was solidified with the arrival of bassist Traa. His formal entrance into the P.O.D. arena came on the eve of a show at the Whisky in Los Angeles. The band was in desperate search for the right four-stringer to see them through. "My dad suggested we give Traa a call," remembers Wuv. "He was playing, at the time, in my uncle's funk band. We weren't trying to steal him but when Traa played with us, it was just dope."

"It was more of a spiritual thing than anything," says Traa, a Cleveland native who grew up on the sounds of James Brown, George Benson and Larry Graham. "It was right. Playing with these guys allowed me to expand into playing a whole new kind of music." In 1999 Tooth & Nail released P.O.D.'s 'The Warriors' EP. Originally designed as pre-production demos for 'The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown', the seven-track disc is now much sought by collectors. But it was the band's signing to Atlantic Records that brought them into the mainstream spotlight. 'The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown' roared up the mainstream US album charts.

Despite their breakthrough, the band remains committed to proclaiming an in-your-face message. A while ago Wuv spoke to HM magazine about the band's spiritual focus. "We feel it's our ministry to go out to the lost and dying. That's why we do a lot of secular shows - that's how we started. I didn't know there was a Christian industry when we started. We were playing keg parties and sharing the Gospel to our friends in our local city. Then the Christian industry found us, a new band. So that's how we started doing Christian shows. But every opportunity we get, we're in the secular market. Nothing changes with us. Our whole stand is for the Gospel, with Jesus number one in everything we do.

"We play, but we're not here just to give a show and entertain people. We're here to encourage 'em if they believe, and if they don't, we lay down what Jesus has for 'em. And if they accept it, then praise God. If they don't, then maybe God has a different timing. We want to be used by the Lord. We want to talk with these kids here. We just want to learn to serve people around us. We want to know that God is favouring what we're doing, and that we're doing something real for the Lord."

P.O.D. are extraordinarily diverse in their musical influences. "We have a black bass player, a Philippino-ltalian-German-Guamanian drummer, a Mexican guitar player and Sonny is Italian, Guamanian and Hawaiian," Wuv says. "We could always play with anyone, whether it was rap or hardcore or reggae. We've never pigeonholed ourselves. Whatever music we like, that's going to be a major influence on us."

But however unclassifiable their musical style, P.O.D.'s spiritual focus remains constant. Says Wuv, "I'd love to see a whole movement of kids going out into the world and expressing themselves, to show how much God loves them. That's what we want to see - a warrior movement."

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.