Stryper's Michael Sweet
By Jay Oakley
So, I have to start off by saying that I'm definitely excited for you because you have another new album in the Michael Sweet world. As of, literally last Friday, your new album, One Sided War, is out.
Yeah it's crazy, I'm blessed and I'm thrilled. It always seems a bit like a whirl-wind to me because there's so much going on from interviews, to touring, to recording and flying and busing and training and all of that kind of stuff and it's a blur, but a good blur.
Absolutely, but I can't imagine that you'd want it any other way.
I don't know that I could have it any other way, it's just not my makeup and my personality. I love turning that knob up to ten all the time, man and just cranking it and going forward, fast forward. I love it.
Let's talk about One Sided War. It just came out on Rat Pak Records just a few days ago and so far, with the reception, how are you feeling about it?
I'm feeling great about it. I try, very hard, not to get caught up it the numbers. As we all know, it today's music world, the numbers are terrible so you can't go by the numbers. I'm just thrilled to be working with a label that believes in me, a label that wants to work with me, that has a vision for what I do and is just equally as excited about it as I am and I feel that with Rat Pak Records. So, obviously, Stryper has a deal with Frontiers and just to be sitting here thirty-two years later from when we first formed and we still have record deals and we still have funds and finances to be able to make the music we want to make and to be able to go tour, it's really miraculous. I never take that for granted and I thank God everyday for it and I'm thrilled to be able to sit here and tell you that.
When It comes to making a solo record, what is it about your solo material that differs from what you can do with Stryper?
It's not like I sit down and I plan it all out and have a sheet in front of me and I say, "I want to do this, I want to do that, I want to make this different, I want to make that different." I don't do it that way at all. When it's time to do a Stryper album, I write the songs. When I have twelve songs, I teach them to the guys and we go record them. Same thing with the solo album. There are times, it's rare, but there are times when I do write a song for Stryper, if I'm downstairs in my studio writing songs for a "Stryper" album, where I might take that song and put it away and say, "I don't know if this really fits on this album." But, that's super rare. For the most part, those twelve songs, that's what's going on the Stryper album. Those twelve songs, that's what's going on the Michael Sweet album. Sometimes there's similarities, like I've had people ask me why couldn't "Save Me" (Truth album) have gone on a Stryper album or why can't "Golden Age" or "Bizarre" (One Sided War album,) why couldn't those have gone on a Stryper album. I'm getting that right now online, people are asking me why couldn't you have made that part of a Stryper album because it wasn't a Stryper album. [Laughs] Stryper had already recorded an album and released it back in November. It would have been to soon to do a Stryper album but I wanted to go and record so it just so happens that it wound up being a solo album.
You got to do some vocal work on this album with a relatively new, young talent.
I assume that you're talking about Moriah?
Yeah, Moriah is a fifteen year old girl from the New York area and I did a show, she opened for me and she blew my mind, my wife's and my mind and couldn't believe how gifted she is and was and the power that she sings with is astonishing. She was singing Heart songs and Halestorm songs, Skid Row songs and just nailing them, as good or better then the original which is blowing my mind. So, when I did the solo album, my wife suggested I should work with her and I felt like I wanted to get her on this album and I did. I asked her if she wanted to be a part of it, she agreed and I think she's a rock star. I think people are going to hear her name the world over and very soon, before you know it, people are going to know who Moriah Formica is. She's that talented. She plays guitar and I don't just mean rhythm guitar, she solos, she plays lead guitar and she's a great player. She's an amazing singer, a great writer and she's fifteen years old, just crazy.
Another person who you worked with on this album, who I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with, was Ethan Brosh.
I did. Ethan is an incredible, local player here in my area, in Massachusetts. Berklee grad and he's just a killer player, man. I started working out solos on this album and I started realizing that it started sounding a little to Stryper for my taste. Once I realized that, I called and contacted Joel (Hoekstra) right away, I knew I wanted those two on the album and they really brought a lot to the table and helped to take this album to new levels and I couldn't be more proud of those guys.
Do you have plans to tour on this album because you are preparing for the 30th anniversary tour of Stryper's To Hell With The Devil record?
I do. Not this year. This year is all about Stryper. It's exciting to go do the To Hell With The Devil album but I'm not going to lie, I'll tell you, I'm a little bummed that I won't be touring any solo dates this year because I've got a solo album out. It would be nice to go out and do some dates because everyone's excited about it right now and they want to hear it. But, this is the year to focus on Stryper, as it should be. We've got the 30th anniversary for To Hell With The Devil, that's a big one. Later, after we finish this year, we're taking the holidays off, we're going to record a new Stryper album and then a new Sweet & Lynch album (George Lynch, Dokken and Lynch Mob) and then I'm going to tour and do some dates and not only play songs from One Sided War but play songs from all my other solo albums as well. I want to put together a really killer band. I'm hoping I can get Will Hunt (drums) to go and tour with me. Ethan and/or Joel or both and just put together a band where people come and see it and their chins are, literally, hitting the floor.
Are the dates you have up for the To Hell With The Devil tour, the final dates or are you going to be working into next year a little bit?
Well, those are the finalized dates but we are going to be adding more dates this year. I think we're going to be looking at around forty plus dates, that's the goal. Into next year, I don't know. I don't think so. We're doing the Monsters of Rock cruise but then we're suppose to start recording an album in early February so I don't think we're going to have time to do a full-blown tour next year. Definitely some select dates but not a full-blown ground tour.
You have tons of fans, myself included, that follow the little videos that you post on Facebook and with the album just being released, many fans who didn't watch them, will still have the opportunity to get in on what you did. It's almost a little poetic but with the unfortunate passing of Gene Wilder, you did your own little Willy Wonka thing with your new album.
You know, it's weird, that thought actually crossed my mind today. It's very odd. We were calling it the "Golden Ticket" and we put a hundred tickets in a hundred CDs and if you get one of those you win something, anything from a T shirt, to a jacket, to a guitar. Yeah, Gene Wilder has gone and passed and, obviously, the world knows, not only, his brilliant talent as an actor and a comedian but also as a person and what a great guy he is and was. But, I never even thought about that at the time but I had a lot of people referencing Willy Wonka's chocolate bars with the Golden Tickets in them.
With the success you've had with Stryper, your abilities to put out all these solo album, what do you attribute that to? How do you sum up the exciting life of Michael Sweet?
I think it's a number of things. I think it's persistence, I think it's determination, I think it's a clean lifestyle, I think it's faith-based, it's God's blessings. I believe that, 100%. So, it's a number of things, man. I've had a really interesting and incredible life and I hope and pray that there is a lot left. I've got a lot more to do and I'm excited about it.
Is there anything going on, currently, in music that you would change?
Oh my gosh. I'm one of those guys where I try to live my life making wise choices so I don't regret or want to go back and change things later on in life. I talk about some regrets in my book (Honestly: My Life And Stryper Revealed) and things I would go back and change but over the last ten years or so, not really. [Laughs] I try to make the best and most wise decisions in my life, not just musically speaking, but on a business level, my family when they're involved or what have you, I try to make smart choices.
I've got to ask as a fun question, how's it going to be performing on the To Hell With The Devil Tour in the original outfits?
Well, we're going to find out. We did it once in Japan, only once and we're going to find out at the end of September because that's when the tour kicks off officially and we're going to wear those outfits every, single night so it's going to be interesting, man. It should be fun. [Laughs] It's a big part of who we were and who we are, the yellow and black and people get excited about seeing that and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to come out and actually see us in those old outfits, man. It's not going to happen again, that's for sure.
I wanted to ask you this question the last time we spoke but it kind of got away from me because we were doing a lot of Stryper talk and since we're on the topic of the old days, what's the significance of the Isaiah 53:5 passage that you have underneath the Stryper logo?
When we changed the name to Stryper, from Roxx Regime to Stryper, we wanted to have something to solidify that a little bit more and give it a little more importance. We found the scripture, Isaiah 53:5, which in most translations, not all, but most it says, "...by His stripes we are healed." Meaning, by what Christ went through on the cross, being crucified, dying for the world and our sins, we are healed. And, that's always under our logo. Everywhere you see the Stryper logo and the Stryper name, you're going to see, underneath it, Isaiah 53:5.
As a final question, winding it back around it One Sided War, you and I spoke once about the promoting of one of your most recent albums and you felt it wasn't getting the push it deserved. How do you feel so far with this record? Do you feel you're being looked out for?
Oh yeah, with Rat Pak, fantastic! Comparing it to all the other bands out there, I'm very blessed. Stryper gets a big push from Frontiers, I'm getting a big push from Rat Pak, absolutely, they're doing an amazing job. But, it's a different time we live in. The music world is not the same, numbers are down, sales are down, it's very difficult for artists and for bands to survive and stay alive in the music world that we live in. So, taking that into consideration, I'm really blessed because I'm an underdog. I'm apart of a band, Stryper, that was always the underdog and the band that people, probably, would have written off first and here we are, still together and here I am still making albums and touring. It's really, quite miraculous, if you ask me.
Michael, It's a pleasure, man. You've always got a fan in me and you've always treated me well. I hope that all the other writers, myself included, have always treated you with the respect you deserve.
Hey buddy, I so appreciate it. You've always been great and it's been an honor talking to you again and thanks for your undying support in waving the flag. It never goes unnoticed and it's always much appreciated.
So, thank you so much for taking time with me because I've been informed that you are currently rehearsing for some shows?
Yeah, we're all rehearsing on our own until Sunday and then I fly out on Monday to Vegas and we start rehearsing on Tuesday for five days as a group and then we fly to Japan. So we've got a lot of work ahead of us. We're adding probably five brand new songs and then probably another four of five songs that we haven't played since the 80s so we've got a lot of work to figure out. It's a twenty-one song set list so it's kind of crazy.
So, with Stryper, you guys just came out with a new album late last year, Fallen. I'd love for you to take a second to talk about how the reception's been and how the project went for you and how you're feeling about it now.
Well, you know what, it's interesting because I'd always get a kick out of and I'm very fascinated with how all the statistics play out with each album release. The album that we released a few years back, No More Hell To Pay, did really, really well comparatively when going neck and neck with Fallen. They sold about the same, give or take a few hundred, literally. But, it's interesting because you go on Amazon, not that this matters, but you go on Amazon and you see 600 and some odd reviews for No More Hell To Pay and then for Fallen I think we're at like 239 or 40 and it doesn't mean anything really but it's just really well received, the reviews have been off the chart, everyone seems to love it but at the same time it almost appears like it didn't make quite as big a splash as No More Hell To Pay. I could be wrong, I don't know, we're going to find out. We haven't toured on that album (Fallen) yet and in all fairness we already toured for No More Hell To Pay multiple times. So, we'll see how this year goes.
Yeah and speaking from a fan's perspective because I am a fan and an enthusiast of your and all of the guys work with Stryper. You definitely seemed to get more of a pop when No More Hell To Pay came out because while I thought both album where incredibly stellar and I really mean that, but I definitely saw a little bit more promotion that seemed to come out when it came to No More Hell To Pay. I was seeing commercials when it came to the video for the title track "No More Hell To Pay" and I didn't really see as much of that when it came to Fallen. I knew when the album was coming out, of course, from being a fan and I was interested and excited but honestly, as an outsider for something like that, it did seem like there was more of a push when it came to No More Hell To Pay like, "Hey, here is the new album from Stryper!" where as Fallen, kind of, slid in and no pun intended but fell in to your lap.
I agree. I couldn't agree more. I don't know the reasons for that. I know that the label that released both albums, they're called Frontiers and everybody knows about Frontiers, they definitely put a little bit more effort and I'm going to guess more money, just judging by what I know and seeing the statements and what not, more money into the promotion of No More Hell To Pay. What happened for Fallen, which is really odd and a little disturbing to be honest, is it just kind of came out and that was it. Our publicist, we always bring on two publicists, we have one for mainstream and we have one for the Christian side. Brian Mayes is the guy for the Christian side and Kevin Chiaramonte is the guy for mainstream and when Fallen came out, literally, they were taken off the clock. So, from the first or second week of the release, it didn't get any more promotion. I wasn't doing interviews, it was really odd, I kind of did all that stuff up front but with No More Hell To Pay it continued after the release. So, it was a little different timing. I don't know if that played into it and I'm not saying Fallen wasn't as successful, it really was successful in terms of sales and reviews and all that good stuff. But, it's just kind of sad. I mean, as an artist you hope to build things. I'm just one of those extreme perfectionists and I always like to out due what we did last and I was, kind of, hoping that Fallen would out due No More Hell To Pay and I hope that the next album out does Fallen.
With the tour of Japan coming up and putting so much work into a twenty-one song set and tackling some songs you haven't done in a long time, the next thing I wanted to ask about was that it's the 30th anniversary of To Hell With The Devil. So, please, talk a little bit about that album, looking back on it now and are some of the set list songs you were referring to from that album?
Well, what we're doing and I think the cat's out of the bag. Everyone, kind of, knows about this at this point in time or most everyone. We're doing a "Fallen" tour and that's going to consist of everything except To Hell With The Devil songs. So, we aren't doing any To Hell With The Devil songs but we are doing a medley that's going to be comprised of some To Hell With The Devil songs but not in their entirety. What we're doing later on in the year is we're doing a full blown To Hell With The Devil front to back tour. So, that's going to be the time that that album shines and that's going to be the celebration for it. The point being that October marks the 30th anniversary of the release of that album. So, it's pretty cool and we want to do something big and great to, obviously, celebrate that.
Absolutely. How do you look back on that album now?
Oh my gosh! I mean, it's our most iconic album. It's the biggest selling and the most proclaimed, the most known album we've ever done by a landslide. You have an album like In God We Trust, which was our second biggest album sales-wise, and against To Hell With The Devil it's 3 or 4 to 1. We're over the ten million mark in terms of all sales, uncertified of course, just going by all the paperwork. To Hell With The Devil is pretty much half of that.
Man, that's insane!
It is insane and with a lot of people that's the definitive Stryper album. That's the one that everyone remembers and that's the one everyone loves. It's got a real classic, signature sound to it. Everything, all the planets align on that album, everything just worked.
It's a trip but I've actually got that album hanging on my wall and it's your version with the angels on the cover.
I'll tell you what, that's a very limited version of the album. I want to say only ten thousand we released and, obviously, we had to and we didn't have to but we decided to change the artwork because we got a lot of flack. We literally had stores, primarily Christian stores, that said they weren't going to carry the album.
Right. What I had heard about that was it was something alone the lines of they didn't feel that the "look" of the angels was proper. Is that, basically, what it was?
No, the truth be known is they really had an issue with the pentagram being on the album. If you look at it, there's four angels and they're, kind of, casting Satan into the lake of fire and his guitar is broken in half and it signifies how he has a hold on music, obviously, and they're ripping a necklace off of his neck and throwing it away and it's a pentagram. It's pretty large on the original and that's the issue they had. They felt like there was just no place for a pentagram on any Christian band album and, obviously, there's a story behind it and they weren't willing to really hear that so we thought long and hard about it and we made the decision, as a band, to change the artwork.
I think it ended up working out in your favor and the one thing I will say is it definitely show's the quality of the music for that album. That you could cut it down to a dominantly black album with the band name and the title with just a little bit of flair in the way you spelled out the title of the album and have it be your most successful album by a landslide.
Absolutely and there were, I think, a lot of things that play a part in the reason why it was so successful. I think the album's a really good album, it's produced very well, it sounds really well, very crisp and after we released that people would come up to us left and right, musicians who had big albums out, who would say, "What did you guys do? How did you get that sound?" and we would tell them. We did this, we did that and we were one of the first bands and actually, I think, the first metal band to actually track digital in the US. We worked on a thirty-two track Mitsubishi, so that album was recorded digitally top to bottom and it played a part in the sound as well. It was a very clean sound and then things like MTV was at it's prime and they were playing our videos, thank God, and as I said earlier all the planets aligned and that's what happened with To Hell With The Devil. We had radio on our side, we had MTV on our side, we had the look, we had the sound, we had the quality, we had the songs and all those ingredients made up an incredible recipe, man. It did incredibly well. I still look back on that and I think what a blessing, that we were able to be a part of something so huge.
When you look back at all the time with Stryper, it's kind of crazy that we're talking about To Hell With The Devil and this being the 30th anniversary and you had two albums out before that.
Yeah, it is crazy. The first album we released was The Yellow And Black Attack in '84 and then Soldiers Under Command, of course, was '85 with Michael Wagener producing that, who's brilliant and those albums did really well. I think Soldiers hadn't quite gone gold and then when To Hell With The Devil came out it practically went gold over night and then platinum within six months.
In the grand scheme of things and you look back now over all this time you've done with Stryper, are you happy with not only your accomplishments but also just the way you've done everything?
I am. I'm very happy for the stance that we've taken. Unwavering, we haven't backed down and we've stayed firm and true to our beliefs and our music and our faith. We've had bumps along the way, of course, but I wouldn't change a thing in that regard. Looking back, in retrospect, I might go back and change the way we did a few things in terms of marketing. I never liked the label and I've been wanting to voice this a lot lately. People really get up in arms when they hear me say this but I don't mean it in a disrespectful way, it's just how I feel, I hate labels. I feel that Stryper, unjustly, has been labeled a "Christian Metal" band and we're just a metal band. We're a hard rock / metal band like Van Halen, like Judas Priest, like Scorpions, like any other band but comprised of Christian guys. It really erks me when I hear the term, constantly still, the Christian metal band Stryper. [Laughs] We're a metal band. When they announce Slayer do they say, "And up next we have the Satanic metal band!"? No, they don't. Why there has to be this Christian label always applied to us and I feel it is limiting and closes the door in many ways to people listening to the band and taking the band serious.
I understand and appreciate exactly what you mean and what you saying when it comes to the labels thing. It does pigeonhole everything from movies to music and it's a bummer. It's just a bummer.
Exactly. I have never, ever, in my life swept my faith under the carpet. If you follow me on Twitter, on Facebook, you know that. I tick a lot of people off because I'm very bold about it so for anyone to hear me say that, that I don't like the label Christian, and then think that I'm going back on who I've always said that I am, it's ridiculous because I'm not denying Christ at all or denying my faith.
Another way it hurts us, for example, because we're in this Christian label system, whenever we release an album and you go to Best Buy and I've gone and I've checked it out myself and it's a fact, you walk in and you see all the new releases up front and on a rare occasion you'll see ours, you'll see Stryper. But, usually nine times out of ten you have to ask a person where the Stryper album is and they'll tell you it's in the Christian category in the back corner and that's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. And, there's nothing wrong with that but lets face it, how many people like the true metal heads and the dudes that watch That Metal Show and listen to Eddie Trunk and Luc Carl and all these guys, are they going to look for metal albums in the Christian section? No. That's where it limits us and unfortunately and sadly, kind of, closes that door on the potential.
Completely understandable. There's one thing I wanted to ask you about, if you're allowed to talk about it because it's about you. You have a new solo album coming out soon, One Sided War. Is there much you can talk about on that, like release date or things like that?
Well, there's no actual confirmed release date but we've pretty much agreed on the month of June as being the time frame. So, that looks like that's what it's going to be, sometime in June. I'm going to be shooting two videos when I get back from Japan. I get back at the end of April so the early part of May we're going to shoot two music videos and do an EPK (Electronic Press Kit.) I'm real excited about it, I've got Joel Hoekstra on some tracks, doing some soloing and overdub guitar work. I've got a guy named Ethan Brosh, who's like George Lynch meets Yngwie (Malmsteen) on some tracks and he's just killing it, both of them are. Will Hunt on drums, he just killed it, slammed, blew my mind amazing. John O'Boyle on bass. I've got a new up and coming star, Moriah Formica, who's singing a track on the album.
I'll tell you what it is. Usually, when I do a solo album, it's my chance and my opportunity to do everything I can't do with Stryper. So, I'll experiment and I'll do like a real poppy song or something that sounds, kind of, Beatles-esque or I'll do a song even, that borders on country, I'll do whatever I want to do because that's just, kind of, the fun and the point of doing a solo album. This time around, I made an album where the continuity flows, it's real steady and everything really works well together. So, it's all straight-ahead hard rock / metal and it really gives Fallen and No More Hell To Pay a serious run for their money. I actually sent it out to a few people, not very many and they made the comments that they think it's better then Fallen and No More Hell To Pay so that blew my mind. That remains to be seen but I think it's equally as good. It's a very powerful album, man and I think people are really going to like it. I can't wait for people to hear it. It's got fire and energy to it and this is an exciting album, it really is.