Artist: Michael Sweet, Stryper
Interviewer: Ken Pierce
Michael Sweet is the Singer/Guitarist for the band Stryper. The band was known for their ability to deliver the message of Jesus Christ inside Hard Rock music and had a string of hit records in the “Big Metal Eighties” and were a staple on the MTV channel back during this original heyday. After several years of absence from the public eye the band reunited and toured once again in support of their Greatest Hits package “7: The Best Of Stryper”. From this short tour a live album was recorded and released entitled “7 Weeks Live In America”. Around the time of the release I had the chance to speak with Michael on the telephone. We discussed life, music, Stryper and his solo efforts. Below is the transcription of this conversation.
KP – Hello Michael how are you man?
MS – Hey how you doing, I am fine and just getting ready for the game tonight you know.
KP – Oh, I am hoping that you are a Yankees fan.
MS – No, I am not but I respect the Yankees and am not a Yankee hater. I never did understand how people could love and hate teams so passionately, it amazes me. I am a Red Sox fan and I am rooting for them today – certainly view them as the underdogs and it’s their time to win. Yeah though the Yankees are a great team – I am not rooting for them tonight.
KP – Ok, I am not going to be biased to you either but I am a Yankee fan. I feel however that whoever wins simply played the better game.
MS – That’s right. So it goes its just sports you know.
KP – Ok lets get started and I guess the best place to start is with the Reunion Tour. How did it feel to be back onstage with Stryper as a touring unit?
MS – It felt really good it was a little uncomfortable at first and we were certainly all just a little bit nervous. Not knowing what to expect with us having not played together in years. Yet once we rehearsed for the 3-5 days before we started playing and it all just came together. It was like riding a bike and all
KP – I found it refreshing to see a reunited band that actually had all the original members and not just one. For instance only you on tour and calling it “Michael Sweet’s Stryper”
MS – Yeah well the tricky part is when 15-20 years pass people go on and live different lives and separate lives and sometimes its difficult to put something like this back together as it was. We were fortunate enough to be able to do so and have the original lineup and go out with all the original members.
KP – That was great now given there had been so many reunions, what was your view on the response the audience gave to this was announced and when it happened.
MS – The response to the tour, the live record and the DVD that is soon to be released was unbelievably overwhelming. We haven’t read anything negative and usually you always do. You always have the crowd that doesn’t like what they saw or heard and so far everybody seems to like what they saw in the show and on the tour or what they hear on the record. So far it’s been really good and there are no complaints here. I don’t know if I should be worried that there are no negative reviews but we shall see.
KP – You are being optimistic and that’s all that matters.
MS – I can’t say anything negative or anything bad about the reviews and all. Everyone had a great time. I think we came out to do this tour at the perfect time. We didn’t jump on the bandwagon of another 80’s Reunion Tour that was happening. I mean we were just flooded with 80’s Reunion tours and I did not want to do it for that reason alone. So we waited and held out and I am really glad that we did.
KP – I agree with you, it was a great show and I attended the NYC performance when you came around. As a matter of fact I not only reviewed that show, but also the live and greatest hits releases for you guys. I was very pleased with all of them. The material selected for the reunion was very wisely chosen, did it take you guys long to decide what the set list was going to be?
MS – It took us a little while because as an artist and as a band you tend to want to play everything. The songs that are my favorites are not Oz’s favorites and then all around with Tim and Robert. You get four guys wanting to play ten different songs and you have 40 songs and it’s just not realistic. You can’t do it, so we had to narrow down to sixteen – seventeen songs and that was the most difficult part of it. Fortunately we all pretty much agreed on the 16/17 songs that we wound up doing. What I mean by pretty much is that there are still songs that each guy wanted to do that we were not able to do. We were not able to do a 2.5 hour set because a lot of these places had us going on at 10-11 o’clock and they had curfews. With them closing the doors at 12:30 or midnight we faced some restrictions. We really didn’t have the choice to do that.
KP – At the New York performance, someone tossed you a spandex armband with the trademark yellow & black designs on it and you made this face.
MS – (laughs) Yeah we will never live that one down and I don’t think any band from the 80’s will. Unfortunately that is the negative side of being from the 80’s with the whole spandex routine. Gosh, it is just clothing and people ask you with the straight face are you going to break out the spandex again. I reply “no”. There’s no chance of that coming back.
KP – The new live CD “7 Weeks Live In America” came out very good. Was it always the plan to record the live reunion for as far as I knew the group was promoting the Greatest Hits package primarily?
MS – We were touring the Greatest Hits but we thought about 2-3 months before the tour actually started that we were given the ok to do one. I didn’t really push for that one since number one we never did a live record before in the past and number two I felt well this could be the only time that we reunite to go do a tour. So if we let this pass us by – this opportunity and this chance – we may not ever have the opportunity to do it again. So I decided and said “let’s not waste this”. So we were able to bring a couple of crews out and record the shows for the record and also be able to afford it. That was important because a lot of these mobile units want about 15-20 grand. They come out to the show and you are only getting paid 10 grand it just doesn’t add up. So we were able to find a couple of companies that had the equipment that was needed. We needed a certain digital format and they did it for a very fair price. So we went ahead and made the decision to do it and I am glad we did it. Now we have a live record and since we never had one before. People that buy that record can actually get a feel and idea of what Stryper is live. There’s a certain energy that comes across that you just don’t get when you listen to a studio Stryper record.
KP – Thinking of your studio records Mike, and thanks for leading right into my next question so well. You have so much great material is in your back catalog, do you maintain full control over this now that the original record company Enigma is gone but instead Hollywood Records is.
MS – Well here is how this works and I am not too sure if you know this. The songs themselves are under my control with me owning the publishing as I wrote most of the material. So I can do whatever I want with a song. I can re-record them as Michael Sweet, or if I want to re-record them as Stryper with the four of us we can do so but the actual masters of the original records themselves – the catalog; that is owned by Hollywood Records.
KP – Given that are we going to be able to see a remastered package from you guys then? You must agree that looking back it’s been 20 years since “The Yellow And Black Attack” came out and “Soldiers Under Command” which is really my favorite record that you guys did.
MS – Well basically what we did was “7” and that is all remastered and that’s kind of like crammed in to one disk fitting everything we could fit on an 80 minute disk. That was tricky in itself because we had to shorten some of the songs by 10 seconds and 15 seconds. So that was interesting in making that happen. Those songs are all remastered and if you compare them A versus B from that CD against the originals on the albums you will hear quite a difference in the sonic quality of those songs.
KP – Yeah the “7” CD kicks.
MS – There is no comparison, it just sounds so much wholer and crisper and much better. Now to hopefully answer your question that was the attempt to remaster and release; we did it with “7”. In the future I don’t think you’ll see another repeat of “7” or “Can’t Stop the Rock” unless we do another 5 or 6 or 7 albums which I don’t think is going to happen. What you will see is or hopefully I shouldn’t say definitely but hopefully you’ll see a new record. A new studio record could actually come out from the band. A brand new eleven or twelve song full-length that will be released on a label, marketed, promoted, hopefully a single with a video and done the right way. Basically another go at it which is something that probably could happen. All in the somewhat near future.
KP – Any chance we will see that “Live In Japan” video return as a DVD with all the bands videos or something?
MS – What we are trying to do is release some of the videos on the DVD that is coming out. We are even talking about the possibility and this is the remote slightest possibility it’s not confirmed at all about shooting a new video for a new song to add to it as well. The problem is the hurdle of the red tape because Hollywood owns the rights to the catalog it is not like we can just go forward and approve something like that on our own. We have to have their approval as well. So it makes it much more difficult.
KP – Thinking of the catalog what would you say your personal favorite Stryper tune?
MS – Actually my favorite is, wait did you say song or record?
KP – You can start with whatever you like, whatever comes to mind.
MS – Well favorite song would be “More Than A Man” and here is the reason why; It’s because that is in my opinion the perfect mixture of heaviness and melodicness and lyrical content – the Message. To me I just love how its heavy I love that it is melodic and the message is what we are all about and it says it all in one song. In my opinion, it’s the most important thing that we could say to people in that song so that makes it my favorite. My favorite album that we ever did would be “Soldiers Under Command” and the reason why is that – I don’t know if its necessarily because of the songs themselves but I would say there are some good songs on that record but more important is the presence of a certain vibe to that record. There is a certain rawness and a certain energy that we didn’t capture on any other record yet I think that we captured it on that record and I think the reason why is because we were out playing those songs for almost three years before we recorded them.
KP – It certainly is a good record and I think that most fans of the Stryper music back in the day would probably agree that it is one of the best records to have come out from you guys. On the opposite side of that coin, what would you think is your least favorite song?
MS – Least favorite song now that’s a good question because I certainly have many of them. It just might be difficult to think of one right now. I would say that I am not a big fan of “It’s Up To You” which is off of “In God We Trust” because it was too similar to “Sing Along Song”. Unfortunately what happened with that record is it was kind of the answer to “To Hell With The Devil” for instance with “Calling On You” there was “Always There For You”. There was an answer to every song on “THWTD” on “IGWT” and it was like too similar. Too cookie cutter and while I love a lot of the material I don’t like the production on that record at all. So for that reason that would probably be my least favorite of the Stryper records.
KP – Looking back in the day when you guys came out it seemed like Stryper was the first in a line of Christian Metal bands. You had Holy Soldier and Barren Cross and I think there was a band called Guardian. Next to you guys I think perhaps that Holy Soldier was one of the best. Has the metal genre in Christian music taken a backseat in the music industry or are some of them still going.
MS – Not really I don’t think so. The scene changed very quickly. When we came on the scene back in 1983 (pauses and laughs). Someone is really trying to get a hold of me; the cell is ringing and the other phone. So there was a time back in the Eighties and I am going to say around 1985 or 1986 through to around 1990 there was just so many bands coming out of the woodwork. Christian Metal or White Metal bands whatever you want to call them and some of them were good but unfortunately and I might get some hate mail for this or some bad emails whatever – I seem to be a very opinionated guy. Unfortunately so many of them were not that good because as with any genre when one band gets popular there are about 10 more that follow that sound similar. All trying to jump on the bandwagon of success and its like there was so many bands that were coming out you were left scratching your head saying “oh my gosh”. I think Holy Soldier was a good band and I think Guardian was a great band. The reason why I liked Guardian especially with Jamie, the later stuff was what I mean. I liked Jamie’s voice and I think Tony was one of the best guitar players in Christian Rock. We were a band, not that we were above any of these other band and we never claimed to be. We were a band that strived not to be part of the whole Christian Rock movement. We were just a Rock band who happened to be Christian and we wanted to share our Faith and our Beliefs with people. It’s not like we were a band that was brought up in the Church, in Nashville. You know what I mean; we weren’t part of that whole scene. That whole contemporary Christian music scene. Yet we kind of got lumped into that to all these other bands that started emerging on the scene at that time but so be it. But we really weren’t that and I got real excited when I started seeing bands moving way ahead in the future. When I saw bands like P.O.D. and Pillar. Bands like that made me just say “wow, these guys rock”. These are superb and phenomenally great bands.
KP – One of the points you brought up about being Christian and bringing in the rock and roll to it as well leads me to ask about some of the folks that were accusing you guys of being fake or a gimmick. How did the band get by that?
MS – Well the only way that I can explain that love it or hate it is we were on the front lines of the biggest Metal explosion in the history of music. We were playing in the clubs in Hollywood at the same time Ratt, Motley Crue and Great White were playing. You can probably name about 20 bands going down a list, like Guns N Roses that emerged and came out of the whole Hollywood club scene and we were right there at the same time. So all these bands were getting signed and we were musically capable, competing and just as good as any of these bands and could have gotten signed no sweat. We didn’t’ use Christianity to get us anywhere and if anything it hurt us. It certainly wasn’t a gimmick to achieve success and to sell records. If we wanted to do that we could have just sung about sex, drugs and rock and roll. We might have sold a lot more records if you really want to be honest. I mean if you think about it what I am saying makes a lot of sense. Yet we chose to take the narrow path because we really believed that was what God wanted us to do and our Faith was so deep in God that we said we are going to do this. We don’t care what happens or what kind of persecution we take. We don’t care who comes against it and we don’t care if we only sell ten records. We’re doing this. So we chose to do that and by the grace of God miraculously we sold seven million plus records and that’s just because of the hand of God not because of the music of Stryper.
KP – I am a fan from back in the day so please don’t take that question wrong.
MS – No not at all; I gotta kind of snicker and laugh a bit when I hear that because so many people say that. I mean Ozzy Osbourne used to say we were a gimmick who used God to sell records. God’s not popular, its like the minute you say you are a Christian you get persecuted and you’re shunned and you’re shut out and its still happening right now in the society that we live in and it will always be that way. So who would be foolish enough to want to use that as a gimmick to try to make money? It ain’t gonna happen.
KP – Somehow I think you are reading my mind for these questions because you keep flowing right into the next thing that I want to ask you. So we talked about how the music industry has changed and truly Metal and the Hard Rock scene has gotten a lot different from the days that Stryper first toured. It seems to have gotten a little darker in some ways, which I attribute to the problems we see in the World today. There is a lot of the Black Metal which is big in Europe and it seems as people’s distrust has escalated. What are your thoughts on this.
MS – I’m not really even sure as whether this ties into your question or not. My thoughts are that music is a powerful tool. As result it affects people. Be it in a positive light or in a negative one. If you have a really powerful thought that’s gonna affect people and people are going to like the way it sounds and the way it feels. Then you add a message to that song that’s telling them to have sex, have sex, have sex. Whether it’s subliminally or not it’s going to affect them in that way. It’s going to steer them in the wrong direction. If you have a song that says love God, love God, love God it’s going to steer them in that direction and encourage them to love God. So music is a very powerful tool. So I see it as a responsibility of the Artist to keep that in mind. All these bands that come out with their lyrical content being so explicit and full of such garbage and it tears down and doesn’t build up. I see this just as a complete and utter irresponsibility. Its not all sex, drugs and rock and roll. “oh its rock and roll”, no, its not, I get tired of hearing that. It has nothing to do with rock and roll.
KP – I am hoping we can go just a little longer as I see we are approaching the window you had available. If that’s ok with you.
MS – Sure lets continue.
KP – Given the way of the world today with the terrorism and people against people a lot more so than you would expect in a time where things are made so much easier for us. I want to ask how important do you feel that the “Message” you are bringing across is in this day and age.
MS – It’s very, very important and probably much more important than it was in the eighties. Even more so than it was in the nineties and I mean let’s face it that the world that we live in, it seems to me that more and more is accepted. What I mean by that is more and more of what should not be accepted is accepted. Things that aren’t Godly, isn’t Holy but it’s being accepted into the norm. Because of that I see it as much more urgent and much more important to get a message of Faith out. It’s not about “my way is the right way and your way is the wrong way” or Christianity is right and Catholicism is wrong. That’s not what I am talking about it’s not about religion. It’s just important for people to have morals and to have Faith and believe in a higher power. Unfortunately, the world that we live in it’s kind of heading in the opposite direction. In music there is enough negativity and destruction out there. There’s plenty of that. I just went into I-Tunes to download a couple of songs and everything you pull up for every band you pull up you find the clean version and the explicit version. You didn’t see that ten years ago and I don’t’ understand it. This is because it’s the norm and people are getting numb to this stuff and it’s so accepted and so normal that they don’t even think twice about it. In reality they should because it’s wrong. It’s tearing up our whole world. We wonder why we have so many teen pregnancies and teen drug overdoses and we sit and wonder why, why, why. Well, why do you think; It’s from all this garbage.
KP – I understand the constant asking “why” as I am based in NYC and since 9-11 I have both seen and experienced a lot of that myself.
MS – Yeah and that just comes down to pure evil and hatred. Call me old-fashioned but it doesn’t help matters any to release lyrics that tear down and encourage kids to do the wrong thing and to say the wrong things and to act out the wrongs things etc. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s wrong and it’s not about being Christian or not being Christian – it’s about what’s right and what’s wrong.
KP – Have you noticed how your following is broken up, is it mainly Christian folks, or did you discover you were still getting the non Christian folks in to the bands music.
MS – That’s a good question, I think it’s still a mix and I found that when we were out touring and performing that a lot of people coming to the shows were not Christians. It was amazing to me to see some of the people at our shows like at our show in Chicago. There was this guy standing at the board. I could see him clear as day (this was at the House Of Blues) and because of the lighting I could really get a good look at him and he was singing every song. He knew every lyric to every song and it did this the entire set. After the show I met him and found out he was the drummer from Disturbed. He told me he was one of the biggest Stryper fans on the planet – Now I don’t know if he is a Christian or not and he might very well be, yet I don’t think so. It’s just to relate how we saw a whole bunch of different types of people on those shows.
KP – I also found myself singing along as well and made it right up to the front stage at the Reunion show.
MS – That’s great and it encourages me to see people being moved in some way by the music and the message of Stryper. It’s encouraging and it excites me.
KP – When you did the Bibles, one almost got to me but I saw the kid next to me looked like he needed it a little more than I did at the time. I said, “here you hold onto this”.
MS – That’s awesome I just wish we had more to throw out, like 500 a night but you just can’t.
KP – I am sure that it gets expensive.
MS- It really does and back in the day we used to throw out 200 a night and it got expensive. At the time we were making a lot more money and now we are not. Still we were able to do it and we did and we view it as one of the most important parts of the show. I think we would cut back on other things before we would ever cut back on giving out the Bibles.
KP – Tell me a little about the Stryper Convention, who’s idea was that?
MS – That was a guy by the name of Rich Serpa and he had come to see myself and Sin Dizzy when we jammed together in Puerto Rico back in 1999. He came out to that show and it was an incredible turnout with 12,000 plus people. It was insanity and we jammed a couple of Stryper songs. He saw that and got real excited about it and he sat out with us at a lunch table and said I have this idea what do you think. At first I thought oh gosh because there is a little bit of cheese wiz there and all. I thought of Star Trek conventions. He was pretty sincere about it and he had some good ideas and moved forward on it. As a result it wound up being a pretty cool thing. We did the first one out in New Jersey and we did the second one out in LA. There were only two of them and it was fun.
KP – So you got to mingle with all of the fans then?
MS – Yeah we got to mingle and the turnouts were great and it was pretty cool. I don’t know if it will happen again . There are no plans for any future expo events to my knowledge. It may, we will see.
KP – I just got a copy of the record “Hims” and it’s a very nice piece of music. More Rock and Roll in feel than Heavy which was what I expected from you. What brought this about.
MS – I tend to be a guy who likes to surprise people. I listen to all different styles of music and I don’t play one style all the time. I would get bored if I just played Heavy and bored if I just played Pop. I wanted to do the “Hims” record, it was something I had talked about and thought about for years and I finally had the opportunity to do it . It’s just basically a little more acoustic driven but there are some electric guitars in there. I took a bunch of old Hymns and rewrote the music to them. Some of the lyrical content of those old Hymns I think is some of the most powerful words you could read. Unfortunately some of the music I didn’t care for as a lot of the old Hymns is all “la la la” and it doesn’t really move me but the words do. So I got the idea to place some modern music with some of the great old standbys and that’s what I did.
KP – Now on the new CD, when can we expect it to be finished?
MS – It is finished but as far as when will it be released I don’t know. It’s being shopped to labels but wait – which CD are we speaking about now?
KP – I am now referring to the new Stryper record.
MS – At this point there is no new Stryper CD, there is a Stryper DVD and that’s being worked on. That is set for release early next year and I just did some session work on it yesterday and it’s got to be mixed, it’s got to be laid out and all that other fun stuff. Regarding the new record – well the solo record is done. It’s real edgy and it’s the heaviest record I’ve ever done. A lot of the die hard Stryper fans are going to love it. It’s probably what they always wanted or expected me to do after leaving the band. So that has been a shock to labels and labels are loving what they hear. I have a number of labels interested and we are moving forward on that.
KP – What’s the working title?
MS – There is no title, nothing at all but there are twelve songs and it’s all recorded and its all completed and it’s really cool stuff man. It’s very edgy.
KP – That’s excellent. So I guess the new Stryper album is just in the idea farm stage then and the DVD is coming out very soon?
MS – The DVD is coming out and we’ve been saying this for a long time but the unfortunate side to that the DVD has a lot more work that goes into it. For the live record all we had to do was mix audio. With the DVD you mix audio and you have to align everything and then you make sure it lines up. Or this shots not good and we need to replace it with another shot. It’s so tedious and it goes on and on. It’s brutal – but in the final outcome I think it will be something that people get blown away by because it looks fantastic. You will feel like you’re at the show in Puerto Rico. It’s just awesome.
KP – What about another tour, can we count on one anytime soon.
MS – No plans but it certainly could. The interesting thing about the Stryper “7” tour , the “7 Weeks” tour was that happened so quickly. I mean we made the decision and we were out on the road three months later. As I am talking to you, tomorrow we could be planning a tour but there are no plans right now. There are plans to go out and do a number of shows next year like one or two or three a month overseas, Canada and Japan
KP – That’s great for the music keeps getting to everyone that way.
MS- Right and who knows what will come from that maybe another tour, I dunno. Only time will tell.
KP – It will be good to see you guys again live as it was great to see Robert especially doing his sideways setup. I know it’s his trademark, but I am laughing at the fact that this one venue that I caught you at (Irving Plaza) noticing that there was just a wall on either side of him like he was inside a box.
MS- Yeah he has done that since day one and the only other guy that did it that I am aware of (but Robert absolutely did it first) is the drummer from Night Ranger.
KP – Yeah he sang a lot too, and his drums were more upfront.
MS – Yeah that’s right he was one of the singers and he had them sideways and up in the front and he is the only other guy that I ever saw do it.
KP – So what are Robert, Oz and Tim up to otherwise.
MS – Still pursuing music in the fashion they can and it’s really difficult since we all have separate lives and busy lives you know. Oz is heading up a division of JBL in California and that’s his steady income job. Robert’s got another band called “Blissed” that he is doing a lot of shows with and they’re trying to get off the ground. Tim is doing a lot of work with his Wife Irene Kelly and they are trying to make that happen. They are all trying to continue pursuing music. All trying to have a go at that and it’s tough and I am trying to do the same. It’s not an easy world to do that in since there is so much music available and youth is popular. Being young is very popular and we’re not young. We’re getting up there and not old by any means but each passing year makes it a little more difficult to be taken seriously. Especially as far as the labels are concerned.
KP – I should get in touch with Robert and get some of his music from him.
MS – Yeah its cool and I think it’s www.Blissed.biz and you can listen to MP3’s there. It’s definitely heavy and a little less melodic than the Stryper stuff absolutely but it might be your cup of tea you know.
KP – Well, I am excited for all of you and I hope that the new things that you have planned for yourselves as a band and for the listening public go exactly as you planned. Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share?
MS – Well, there are a lot of big things in store in the very near future, so please everyone keep your eyes on the site on the Internet. We will be posting all the news as it comes in. Of course I always like to thank people for their support and their belief in what we do and for continuing to support us through the years. It means so much to us and we’re so appreciative and thankful and blessed.
KP – The music has held strong over the test of time and we enjoy seeing you do it. Thanks a lot for the interview.
MS – Thanks for your time and support as well.
Editor’s Note: This article was written for another medium prior to the 2005 launch of PiercingMetal.com and has been added to our content for your enjoyment.