It's been over a decade since P.O.D. was the hottest hard rock band on the planet. Their triple-platinum album, Satellite, had released on Sept. 11, 2001, a day when the world desperately needed some good news. The band became a mainstay on MTV and rock radio, and their songs made the soundtracks of blockbuster movies and TV shows.

Things have simmered down for the band since; Testify (2006) sold about 500,000 copies, and When Angels & Serpents Dance (2008) sold about 200,000. Around that time, lead singer Sonny Sandoval told his bandmates that he desperately needed a break, to spend time with family and to revitalize his walk with God. Save for a few scattered shows, P.O.D. has mostly been lying low for the last four years.

Sonny Sandoval

Sonny Sandoval

But now, 20 years after the band formed in San Diego, P.O.D. comes back with a new record deal (with Razor & Tie) and a rock-your-face-off new album, Murdered Love, releasing today. We recently caught up with Sandoval, 38, to talk about what he learned during the band's hiatus, about the new album, and about one song on the new record that includes a particularly naughty word—and how they thought Christians might respond to it. (Note: the song is not included on the album version released to Christian retail.)

The band is 20 years old this year. And you're getting to be an old man!

I am, man! (Laughing.) Problem is I feel young. Until I bust up my back jumping off the stage. But it's been a great experience.

What's been the best part?

Seeing the impact that our music has. It's always been my heart that God would save people through this crazy music somehow, someway, his way. All we know how to do is write music and love God. When some kid comes up after a show and says he was contemplating suicide or he got saved or he felt like the Lord showed him something through our music, that's the only reason I continue to do it. That's like fuel in our tank, because we run on empty so often that it's like, I'm ready to quit and be home with my family. [Sandoval and wife Shannon have three young children.] But then a kid shows up with a story—and it's not just one. It's over and over.

What's been the hardest part?

Experiencing the real world. We have to walk out our faith out there. When we're out there, it's like all of a sudden everybody wants a piece of you. Our faith isn't necessarily tested, but our flesh is tested—our strengths, our weaknesses. It's been an up-and-down ride, and everybody's been through their own struggles. And at the end of the day, I know I have to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, and I have to walk out my faith with God and with my brothers.

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The band has mostly been on hiatus for a few years. Why?

I had to take a break. I had reached a point where my Christian walk had become a routine; I didn't feel like I was in his presence anymore. So I just wanted to come home and be a good husband and daddy. I wanted to hide myself in his Scriptures and draw close to God. And in that process, God reminded me of the platform that he's given me with P.O.D., and that we need to go out there and keep being a light in this crazy world.

Was there a time in recent years where the band thought about quitting outright?

I don't think so. When I brought it up with the guys that I was tired and wanted to go home, I think they were tired too, but I think we'd just been so programmed to keep pushing forward—like the show must go on. But I had reached a point spiritually that I was willing to give up anything, to lay it all down. This music doesn't define who I am. I'm blessed to do it, but it's not my identity. Christ is my identity. I just needed to get back to my roots, having God remind me of my priorities and my first love.

Who were some of the people you turned to in this time of trying to refocus?

Michael Guido has been our road pastor for years, and he's been walking with me for a while. I reconnected with my home church. And I've been spending time with people like Brian "Head" Welch (formerly of Korn) and Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf and others, people in the music business who are trying to walk with the Lord. We started this thing where we pray for each other and stop talking Christianese and be honest and say, "I'm messing up, I need help." It started out as a small vision, but it's been really growing worldwide.

You're talking about the Whosoevers?

Yes. We're getting calls from people all over the entertainment industry saying, "I might not be that good of a Christian, but I'm a Whosoever. I believe. I just need someone to walk with." So I'm doing that with a lot of people, walking hand in hand, not for ministry but as friends and brothers and sisters. But it became this thing where we're able to share our testimonies with public schools just because we have this "rock celebrity" or whatever. These kids are giving us a few extra seconds they might not give their own parents or their own pastors. They're listening to these knuckleheads say, "When it all comes down to it, I'm saved by grace and I believe in Jesus and I'm trying."

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So what happened to get the band back together and make another record?

I was spending a lot of time serving the church and the community, thinking, This is what a good Christian does. But I felt like God whispered, "The last thing I need is another pastor. I've given you the platform to go out there. You're right where I want you to be." So I trust in that, and now I'm ready to go walk my faith in the real world. I feel like I'm closer to God when I'm in that danger zone, because I depend on him so much.

The new album seems like the most explicitly Christian one you've ever done.

I don't think it was thought out that way; I think it's just what's on my mind. As I read Scripture and prepare for the return of the King, it's like, this is the reality. This is the truth. Kids in this culture, as extreme as they are and as crazy as they are, need truth. We don't have time to sugarcoat the gospel. It doesn't take a genius to realize that we're all living in a dying world, and without our faith in God and without his redemption we're lost. These kids realize that. So I think they just need someone real and relatable that says, "You're worth much more than you think, and God's not your problem. He's for you; he's not against you. And once you realize God loves you, you have to embrace it and make a decision on how you live your life."

You often write about Babylon and war and apocalyptic imagery.

Yeah, I do, man. In reading Scripture, I believe we're living in the last days. I believe time is short, and I believe that those who are called are to grab as many people as they possibly can and pull them into the kingdom.

Tell me the story behind a song or two.

"Murdered Love," the title track, is about the moment our Savior died—Jesus on the cross and what that moment must have felt like with the earthquakes and the sky going black. It's that and the imagery of the two thieves, and the one who told Jesus he believed, and Jesus said, "Today you'll be in Paradise with me."

The song "Beautiful" is for anybody going through struggles. It's a reminder of what God thinks of them—they are beautiful, and he loves them right where they're at.

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The album's last song, "I Am," includes the f-bomb in the chorus, which goes, "They say you are the cursed man, the one who hangs from this tree / I know this is the one and only Son of God but tell me, who the f--- is he?" The record label sent me one copy with you actually singing the word, and another version with it bleeped out. What's up with that?

I recorded it the way I felt it, knowing we would decide later whether or not to include it, and we debated over it for a long time. With that lyric, that's me speaking through the mouth of these young people. I'm saying, "I know who Jesus is, but who are all these other people saying, 'I am the way'?" The song is heavy, and in the end, I decided that I'm tired of worrying about what Christians are going to say. I don't want to market the album to people who will trip over that word; I'm not trying to sell records to them. But people in the real world, they get it. They just say, "That's me you're talking to."

So, when the lyric asks, "Who the bleep is he?", is that a reference to the devil?

No. It's about my own confusion about what's competing for my attention. It's not Jesus. It's the confusion of everything else—the confusion of religion, the confusion of the church, even Christianity itself. I'm saying, "If you're Jesus, I believe in you. But who the F is he? Who is everybody else that's standing in the way of me just seeing Jesus?"

Could you be referring to some whacked-out TV preachers or something?

Exactly. I'm just saying to Jesus, "If you're the one who came to set me free, I could receive that. It's everything else that's confusing me." The only reason I had the word bleeped out in the first place is because I knew the hell I'd received from people.

You've got to understand. We're not a band that plays youth groups and rallies. This is the real world. When some kid out there hears these verses, he doesn't think, Oh my god, you said the f-word. He says, "This guy's talking to me. Everything he says is relating to my soul." The f-word is irrelevant; that's how some people talk. I'm not saying what's wrong and what's right; I don't talk like that. But when I'm talking to these kids, they're like, "Hey, man, I'm so f---ed up, dude. But I love f---ing God, man."

I get that.

But I understand that I'm going to get my hand slapped from American Christianity. In other countries, no one gives the f-word any power. I've got a T-shirt that says "F¬ Satan." It's been hanging in my closet for so long; I don't know when it'll ever be appropriate to wear it. I'll probably wait till we play Norway or some Swedish death metal festival, where people actually worship Satan. Then let's see what kind of slack I get.

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As it turns out, the version released to the Christian market (through Provident) doesn't have that song at all. And the mainstream version will include the song, but the f-word is bleeped out.

Yeah. At first we were thinking about a clean version and an explicit version, with a warning label. That way people know what they're getting. But the label decided to just go with a clean version. So I'm like, "Well, that settles a year-and-a-half of praying and debating over this thing forever." I get it. But the song is so intense, and now it just sounds like we sold out and it's weak, and it kind of loses its power.

Sandoval at a P.O.D. show

Sandoval at a P.O.D. show

Remember that U-2 song? [Sandoval starts singing "Wake Up Dead Man."] "Jesus, Jesus help me / I'm alone in this world / And a f---ed up world it is too." They got slapped for saying that, but it's the most honest prayer I think I've ever heard—yet it's not "Christianity worthy." But the world hears that and they're like "Dude, that's how I feel." You know? You can come to the throne of grace and you can pray that prayer, because God's not offended by it. He wants your heart. Why do we act like we have it all together? It's just frustrating.

After being away for a few years, would you call this a comeback for P.O.D.?

I couldn't care less about a comeback. I think where we're at right now is for all the right reasons—we're playing music somebody out there needs to be inspired. We're not in this to make money; we do it because we love it. It's the journey of rock 'n' roll. The downs, the struggles, temptations, everything that's thrown at you.

I'm still that teenage kid that just got saved, and then jumped in a band and wanted to be vocal about my faith. But I think after taking this hiatus, we're right where we want to be. It's like we're making music for anybody that would listen. Someone out there is listening. We're just trying to be faithful and let God do what he's going to do, you know? Only time will tell, man.