|Posted on December 31, 2013 at 6:50 PM|
I recall back in the 1980s as a teenager being told constantly that my choices in music were no good. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the phrase “It’s the Devils music” I might be as rich as Gene Simmons, artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Alice Cooper and the like were all going to send me “Straight to Hell”. Then late one night watching MTV I saw a video for a song called Soldiers Under Command by a band calling themselves Stryper. This really got my attention, not only did I think their black and yellow outfits were cool, but their sound was really heavy, their lead singer had a killer voice and they had a righteous message as well, surely there could not be anything wrong with this, right? … sadly no, as I was told this too was unnatural. I can only imagine how the band felt as they too had to endure criticism from ignorant religious and non-religious figures as they carved out a career selling the “Good Word”. 30 years later they are still standing, staying true to their mission of faith and with that comes their latest offering No More Hell To Pay, a true masterpiece to rival past efforts Soldiers Under Command and To Hell With The Devil, to get his thoughts on the new album, the changing music industry and his forthcoming solo album and book releases I caught up with frontman/guitarist Michael Sweet.
Rock Man: Congratulations on what has been an outstanding career, there are a lot of bands that don’t last 5 or 10 years, but you have been successfully selling the message of Christ for 3 decades, did you ever think you would survive that long?
Michael Sweet: You know truthfully, I did not really think about it much, I suppose if I were to pretend that I did I would think not. We took quite a lashing from the church back in the day, we obviously broke up and went our own separate ways back in 1992 and at that time when I left the band I never thought that we would ever reform again. So to be, not only reformed, but to be reformed with the original line up and going longer and stronger, or at least so it seems, than our original run from 1984 to 1991 is pretty incredible and it feels good to be 30 years later and in our prime and it is quite an accomplishment and really astonishing.
RM: It must be an amazing experience to be playing in a band with the talent of Oz Fox (guitar), Timothy Gains (bass) and your brother Robert Sweet (drums)?
MS: It is, it is great man. It is a lot of fun, at times it is not so much fun, as one as one might think [laughs] what I mean by that is, I am kind of the guy who cracks the whip and I am the whip master, I am the guy who says “Come on guys, get together and rehearse before tour” and “Come on guys, learn the songs for the album” and “Come on guys”, “Come on guys”. So, you know, I guess at times, in a fun way, I am kind of the bad guy, but, you know, somebody has to do it and I do, I do it. Once we are rehearsed and ready it is great playing with these guys, yeah absolutely.
RM: Congratulations on the release of the new album No More Hell To Pay. If I can put this in sporting terms, you have a home run on your hands here, I mean, you have seriously hit this one out off the park, you must be very pleased with this record?
MS: I am very pleased and I have been expressing that for quite some time. When we recorded the album I started talking how I felt and believed it was going to be our best album and I said at the very least, if not our best, certainly one of our best. I really think that it is our best album, taking everything into regard, you know, just accounting for every single piece and part of this album, what some of our other albums did not have, this one does and what some of our other albums did have, in a negative way, this one does not. So it is really cool, it has got flavours of almost every album we have ever done, but yet it is all its own and, you know, it feels really great to still be making music that holds its own against our most popular and successful albums of the past, in 2013, it is incredible.
RM: To me, this record harkens back to the early 1980s sound and attitude of Yellow And Black Attack and Soldiers Under Command was there a conscience effort to capture that era or is it just how the record panned out, how do you see it?
MS: Well I think that has always been in us, that style and producing and recording albums that have that particular style and sound. That has always been in us, obviously because we did it in the past and therefore we can do it again, but I think what helped us to achieve that is the mentality going into the project, obviously trying to do it, perfectly setting out to do it, to make an album that, you know, rivalled To Hell With The Devil, that was the thinking when we went into this. And then coming off the heels of Second Coming and even before that, The Covering, going back to our roots musically, really helped us to head in this direction and to get back to our roots and what we started out being on the first, second, third albums. We even strayed from that, on a small degree on In God We Trust because that was the first time we started striving for perfection and in doing so, you know, perfecting the rawness to death and losing that, we always kept a certain level of rawness on record one, two and three. And then on Against The Law it was totally different, love it or hate it, it really almost at times did not sound like Stryper, it almost sounded more like Van Halen, not that that is a bad thing, Van Halen is one of my favourite bands, but Stryper always has a certain particular sound and we got back to that, full circle, on this album No More Hell To Pay.
RM: The album is doing very well on the Billboard charts, so from that I can only imagine that the reception to the album has been very positive?
MS: It has been incredibly positive, we were not really sure what to expect, you do not live by reviews, you certainly try not too, but you know, I like to read reviews, I mean the artist that say “I do not ever read any review” I just think that that is not wise, I think that it is wise to read reviews, to see what people think. I mean, obviously there are those people who are never going to like you, that for whatever reason despise or hate you, and we have plenty of those, but I read every review and I like to know what people about what we do and our art and all the work we put into it. So it was surprising to see every, almost, every review 9 out of 10 certainly be, not just favourable, but some of the best reviews we ever got, I do not recall a time when we got 9 out of 10 stars, 10 out of 10 stars, I personally don’t, so it is very cool.
RM: Are there any tracks from the album that stand out to you as personal highlights or in your mind is it a very consistent record?
MS: I think it is a very consistent, but there are my personal favourites, songs like Legacy, Renewed, I really like Revelation, I am not sue why, there’s a certain feel to that song. They are my favourites, but the cool thing about the album is it is very consistent and the continuity of it is well maintained, you can put it on from start to finish and, I don’t believe anyway and I have heard this from a number of people, there are not any filler tracks, tracks you feel the need to skip, even the ballad, a lot of metalheads who do not like ballads are saying even though they do not like ballads they like The One, so they are not skipping it which is cool to hear, we went for a more rock guitar oriented ballad verses a piano, syrupy ballad.
RM: Over the course of your career you have lived through the MTV era, the introduction of the CD, the rise of the internet, iTunes and downloading, is there one thing you can pin point that has had the most impact on the music industry?
MS: Well I mean, obviously everybody knows that we live in a download age and the sad part about that is people are able to put out albums before they are released and leak them and everybody downloads them and they do not buy them after they are released and that kills the industry, you know, the band. And then the other thing that is really bothersome is the fact that with albums, you go and put 2 or 3 months of your life into an album and you spend a lot of effort, money and time, blood, sweat and tears and then it is put up on iTunes and them people download 1 song or 2 songs out of 12, that just kills me. It kills me because we live in a 1 song age, we do not live in an album age anymore, it is really sad because I grew up on albums, there is something to be said for going to a record store and buying an album and holding it, taking it home and listening to the whole thing and those days are gone. And sinking in the quicksand further and deeper and it is scary because I think where are we going to be at in 10 years? It may be a situation where bands are releasing 1 song at a time.
RM: Is there any value anymore in bands/artist making full length albums?
MS: It is getting to the point where there isn’t much. It certainly isn’t a money maker and I really have to laugh when people say “They are doing it for the money”, you know? “Oh, they are just re-recording those songs, they did Second Coming for the money” and “They did The Covering for the money” and I am just thinking if you only knew [laughs]. We get the money to record an album from the label, but then it is gone and we literally see no more money again unless it is a smash and we are Lady Ga Ga or Justin Timberlake and we are not. And, you know, there is no money to be made on record sales unless you are one of those bands on the Number 1 position and selling, like Eminem just charted 250,000 sales in its first week, unless you are at that level there is no money to be made.
RM: Normally I like to talk to bands about how crazy the 1980s were for them and get them to re-live some tales of the road, but back in 1989 I witnessed it first hand, you were here in Melbourne on the In God We Trust tour and you were scheduled to do an in store appearance at one of our local record stores, Metal For Melbourne. I’m not sure if you recall the day?
MS: Yes I do, I wrote a chapter about it in my book.
RM: There was a massive crowd in attendance, I was there, and you arrived in this tiny van and it was just chaotic, for you was that just another day at the office?
MS: No, that was certainly a one of a kind situation, I remember that clear as day. I am not sure why our limo decided to pull right down the street in the middle of the crowd and then we had to get our way from the door of the car to the door of the record shop and it was a massive crowd, as you remember, and we weren’t prepared for that. I remember a paddy wagon coming and taking us, taking us out of there and we were in the paper the next day, as a joke like we were arrested and it was amazing. But that does not happen on a regular basis, but that was a memorable moment for sure.
RM: In your time you have had to deal with criticism about your Christian message, but it must been difficult, especially in the early days, when it was coming from Christian leaders and organisations. Do you still find yourself justifying your position today?
MS: We do. I mean, a lot of people do not understand our approach and I think it is much more accepted and understood today than it was back then. But we do things a little differently, I mean, we go into bars and play to people and we take mainstream bands with us on the road and still to this day people do not understand that, Christians do not understand that, we get the “How can you call yourself a Christian band?” line all the time. I do not understand it, the bible talks about “You will know them by their fruit”, you know? And there is a lot of fruit from this band, there are a lot of people whose lives where changed, people who are Pasta’s in churches now and there is thousands and thousands of fruit and there is nothing that can be said against that. You cannot that is the silencer, you know, love us or hate us, love how we do it or hate how we do it we are out there reaching people and God is using this band and you cannot say anything about that.
RM: I understand that you are in the process of writing an autobiography, how is that coming along?
MS: It is almost complete and we are talking to the label now about when to move forward with that and get it out there available to the world, obviously, and my (solo) record, not only my book but my record, they are both going to come out together and there is a lot in store. I am just as excited about that as what Stryper are doing right now, so it is a great record, it is a really great book and I cannot wait for people to be holding it, reading it, listening to the album, it is going to be a great day and that day is coming soon.
RM: I have also heard that Dave Mustaine from Megadeth will contribute the foreword to the book, can you tell about your relationship with him? Because when people think of Stryper they do not associate that with Megadeth and vice versa.
MS: No I do not think so and that is the wonderful thing about God, you know? the lion and the lamb shall lay down together. Just as Dave is flesh and blood, we are flesh and blood and we were both created by God, you know? we both have that in common, we both have a deep rooted faith in God, we have that in common so through that the walls have been blown to smithereens and they have come down, there are no walls, there is no separation. Dave is a dear friend of mine, I am not in contact with him as much as I would like to be, he lives on the West Coast, I live on the East Coast, he is a busy guy, I am a busy guy, but he is a dear friend and he prays for me and I pray for him and we support each other and he wrote something for my book, something short and sweet, which was very kind for him to do.
RM: Can you tell me a little bit about the forthcoming solo album, what can fans expect?
MS: Really different fro the Stryper album, there are a few cuts on it that are going to be similar to Stryper in the sense that they are heavy and in your face, there is a song called Taking On The World Tonight, I have Tony Harnell from TNT guesting on it, there are a few other tracks, Unsuspecting is another song that is real heavy and they sound like songs that could be recorded and done by Stryper for sure. But then there is the other side of the album, there are songs that are like straight ahead, like really experimental rock tracks, I do not want to say pop tracks, but certainly eclectic and definitely a little more different in a really cool way. And then I have got some songs, I am not going to use the term country, well maybe I should, but they border on that, they have steel guitar on a couple of songs and they have got, if you take the voice out, almost a country rock feel to them with me singing them, I am not jumping on any band wagon, you got the guys who try to do country who are rock guys and it just does not work. I grew up around country, my Dad wrote a Number 1 country song in 1978, I used to play on all his country sessions, I mean I grew up listening and respecting and appreciating all types of music and country is one of them. So the record is really eclectic man, it has got a lot of different styles on it but it works, and that is what I have done anyway, I did that on my The Truth album, that was really well received, it did not see the light of day, which was sad, I think if it had, if we had made a video and it got released properly it would have done very well. But this is a second chance with this new album, it is tentatively titled I Am Not Your Suicide and that will most likely be the first single and video that you will see, coming soon, probably very soon.
RM: What are your touring plans going forward to promote No More Hell To Pay and do they include Australia?
MS: Absolutely, we plan to tour heavily and extensively next year (2014). I do not know exactly where we are going to be going, but everything is being confirmed now, we have already had some festivals confirmed, 4 or 5 of them, overseas in Europe and we plan to go to South America, we plan to go to Mexico, we plan to go to Europe, Australia absolutely, so I mean there is a lot that is planned and it just remains to be seen but once it is confirmed we will announce it and put it up on stryper.com so the world knows when and where.
RM: Once again, congratulations on the new album. On behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock I would like to wish you and the band all the best for the future.
MS: Thank you so much man, we appreciate it and everyone’s support and there prayers and we look forward to seeing everyone (on the road).
For more information about Stryper visit the official website at www.stryper.com
Stryper – No More Hell To Pay is available on Frontiers Records