And on the eight day he created Metal: An interview with Stryper’s Michael Sweet
Stryper simultaneously defied the norm of the Christian band and that of the metal band. When they arrived on the LA glam metal scene, they had a look and sound that fit the ever-growing subculture but weren’t pedaling the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll cliches. Instead, they were the alternative, the sheep in wolves clothing. For 27 years, Stryper has defied the odds and was even part of spearheading a turn in the CCM scene . . . and of course, taken the devil prisoner on many occasions.
The hardest part probably for me personally is not being taken seriously, because we have the tag “christian metal band” over our heads, so therefore sometimes it makes it difficult for the world to take us serious.
From the hit records To Hell with the Devil to Soldiers Under Command, the band has sold more than 10 million records worldwide. Singer/guitarist Michael Sweet, who has also assumed vocal duties for Boston, took some time to talk to Synconation to tell us about the new Stryper album The Covering, his work with Boston and his solo material.
Makeup, glitter and the almighty spandex are a go.
Sync: Stryper has been an influential band not only in the Christian market, but in the general metal market. How does this make you feel to be recognized in this spectrum?
MS: We set out to do our own thing and we never really thought about the influence. Of course we hoped to be an influence deep in our hearts, we hoped and strived to be an influence, but it’s something we never really planned. It’s really cool to see that we are an influence on other people. We are helping other people out. Sometimes in ways that we don’t even see, because we get letters and emails and run into people first hand, person to person. We hear stories about how their lives were changed when they were an alcoholic or drug addict, you know – or a divorce or what have you. They turned their lives around because of the music of Stryper. Which is really, really encouraging. That definitely solidifies what we are all about. It’s like “Wow this is worth it, this is what it’s all about, it’s why we do what we do.”
Sync: Between the music industry in general and having to deal with a fan base that tends to watch your every move, what has been the hardest part about being in Stryper?
MS: I think the hardest part is that so much of it is that they watch our every move. We just live our lives and we’re ourselves; we are not perfect and we don’t claim to be. The hardest part probably for me personally is not being taken seriously, because we have the tag “christian metal band” over our heads. So sometimes it makes it difficult for the world to take us seriously. You know, because they assume this or they put us in a category or stereotype us, and they say “Oh they can’t be good and they must be bad. They’re a Christian band,” and the reality is just listen to the band or come see the band live. Most people – not all – most people fully agree that we can certainly go out there and hold our own against any other band out there. In our genre, doing what we do, metal hard rock, it gets a little frustrating. It’s very frustrating actually. That is the great thing about this album, The Covering, it seems to be that people are actually listening to the music instead of getting caught up in the, ya know, Christianity tag that we have. It’s nice for people to just listen to the songs and production and performances, and enjoy what we spent six months making. That’s really cool.
You know, we really truly had an incredible time; probably the best time we’ve had on any Stryper album.
MS: Yeah, it’s called The Covering, and it came out the 15th of February. It’s comprised primarily of songs that we were influenced by, that we grew up with and the bands that we’d strive to be like and play like back when we were younger, 15, 16 years old. In all the songs that we do, we just wanted to show the world in a fun way, you know, that not all the Stryper albums tend to be very serious. And obviously the message that we proclaim and bring to the music and to the masses is very serious. It is nothing to make light of and you know at the same time we wanted to have some fun. Over the last year we’ve “rolled up our sleeves,” is the way I put it. We wanted to loosen up. Go into the studio without any preconceived ideas, like we’ve got to sing about this or that, or write about this or that. We just wanted to go in and do some covers and have a great time. You know, we really truly had an incredible time; probably the best time we’ve had on any Stryper album. So it was long overdue and well needed for this band and our relationship. It did a lot of good in our band for each individual’s relationship and collectively speaking. You know, for the four of us to just go and enjoy each others’ company; like hang together, eat together, break bread together, and record together. And we just stayed in the studio. Because they put you up and they feed you, and you just record, so we lived there for two weeks and it was really incredible. So it’s an important thing and I’m really glad that we did it, no regrets whatsoever, we are very pleased with how it turned out. Yet at the same time we wanted to show people that we haven’t walked away from our faith, that is why we added the song “God.” It’s basically just for the those who are questioning – “Hey why’d you do a cover album? Why aren’t you still doing songs about Christ?” You know, we wanted to record that song so people know we are very serious about our message, always have been – always will be. That hasn’t changed, but at the same time we are just having some fun here.
Sync: What was your favorite song to record for The Covering?
I had a blast doing Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell,” I also had a blast doing Scorpions “Black Out,”and Sweet’s “Set Me Free”. Believe it or not, that is one of my favorite songs. “Lights Out,” and “Set Me Free” , by Sweet and UFO are two of probably the least popular songs. You know those groups weren’t as popular as Maiden or Priest, or Scorpions, or Van Halen. Those are two of my favorite tracks on the album. “Set Me Free” and “Lights Out”. I love the feel of those songs, I think they are right down our alley, with the style and the big vocals, twin harmony with the twin guitars going back and forth. You know, really they were a tailor fit for Stryper.
Sync: Is there anything new regarding your solo career?
Michael: Yeah I’m still doing it. There are no plans as of yet for me to go in and do anything in the future, but absolutely. I have some songs that were written but not tailored for Stryper. So it’s definitely a little more, it’s just stuff that Stryper couldn’t record. It’s not heavy. Stryper fans would probably hear it and go “Meh,OK.” It’s solo stuff I plan on recording down the road, I’m also writing and co-writing. I’m trying to get into that- writing and producing. I produced The Covering as well as the last record Murder By Pride. I’m really trying to show people what I can do as a producer, putting albums together. And that is really important to me. There are definitely no plans of putting the solo thing on the shelf, just … right now I want to focus on Stryper and when the opportunity comes I want to make sure I do that and release something in the near future. It’s a whole different side of me that I like to express. That I HAVE to express.
Sync: Can you also tell us about your involvement with Boston?
Michael: Well that is the other thing too, I was asked to be a part of a benefit show back in ’07. It went so well that they decided to continue on with myself and Tommy. We toured in ’08 with Styx. It was 55 cities and there is talk of going back on the road. That is another thing that might be happening at another point in time. What an incredible honor that was, being on stage performing songs that were a huge influence on me. The first Boston record really left a mark on me. It helped me to be the best that I could be. You still put it on to this day and it’s timeless.
Sync: Can you tell us the most memorable moment for Stryper?
MS: Oh man, we have so many. I hate to get out of that question but there is not one in particular. There have been so many. We’ve played in front of tens of thousands of people. Being able to proclaim and tell people about Christ. And having them come up to us afterward, and say I want to more about this or they say I’m and alcoholic. I want to walk away from that, I’m a drug addict. I want to toss my drugs in the trash and commit my heart to Christ. Seeing those stories up close and personal were really incredible, those are the things that moved us and affected us and at the end of the day those are things that matter. You go and you tour and you make a record and in the end it’s over and done with, but you are changing people and having an effect on people’s lives. That’s everlasting. So that is that really important stuff; the meat and potatoes.
Sync: Of all the records Stryper has done, what is your favorite?
MS: My favorite Stryper record is Soldiers Under Command, probably a toss up between Soldiers and Murder by Pride.
I liked To Hell with the Devil, it’s our most popular record. I think it’s a really good album, but you know, there are a lot of things about that album, you know, the way it was recorded, the way my voice sounded at times. Its hard for me to listen to.
You know, woulda, coulda, shoulda – if I could go back and redo things, then it would be “In God We Trust”. Which I believe lost some of it’s rock energy in the process. But definitely “Murder by Pride” is one of my favorite Stryper albums. I wish that album had come out in 1988 or 1989. I think it probably would have done quite well.
Sync: What is currently on Michael Sweets record player?
MS: Nothing. That is the truth. I have not even been listening to music lately. I will tell you one of my favorite bands right now as far as what would be considered modern rock would be Muse. I love Muse, I think they are phenomenal. Really different and original, what they come up with. Their melodies, their arrangements.
Sync: Stryper has been synonymous with the yellow and black. Do you guys still have those awesome outfits?
MS: We still do the yellow and black to some degree, not what we used to. In my personal opinion, it was cool while it lasted back in the day and it was fitting to the times. Nowadays, it’s kind of nice to lighten up a little bit on that and let the music do the talking. Focus more on the music and the message. Those are the two most important things, obviously. I think the message being THE most important thing and the music being the second most important thing. I think the yellow and black is a bit of a novelty. Some look at it and view it as a gimmick. I don’t want be remembered as a gimmicky band. I would rather be remembered for our message and our music, not the yellow and black.
Sync: Thank you for your time Michael. Do you have any closing thoughts?
Michael: No man, just how incredibly thankful we are for everyone’s support and for all those that stuck by our side for 27 years. It’s mind boggling. We are very grateful and thankful. And we look forward to seeing everyone out at the tour throughout the year. Being able to see everybody and meeting new people, hanging out with everyone and having the opportunity to perform these songs live and sharing that experience with everybody. That is what I look forward to.