Stryper – Interview with Michael Sweet

Written by on March 10, 2011 in Cover Story, Interviews, March 10, 2011 - 3 Comments

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StryperWithout a doubt, Stryper is one of the top Christian rock bands of all-time, and certainly the most celebrated Christian metal band. Whether misnomer or metaphor there’s no denying Stryper defined a genre of “white metal” and did more for the synthetic fiber industry than any other rock band in the 80’s with their signature yellow and black spandex outfits.

Comprised of Michael Sweet (vocals/guitar), Oz Fox (guitar), Tim Gaines (bass), and Robert Sweet (drums), Stryper has been rocking since 1983, and is responsible for such ’80s metal classic albums as ‘Soldiers Under Command,’ ‘To Hell with the Devil,’ In God We Trust,’ and such MTV hit singles/videos as “Calling on You,” “Free,” and “Honestly.” After a sabbatical for much of the 1990’s, Stryper has returned strong and with a musical hat trick that few expected from the band known for Christian values. The band has produced ‘The Covering,’ an album almost solely devoted to covers of bands that Stryper holds as influences and the track listing reads like the PMRC’s most wanted list. Surprising? Definitely. Surprisingly good? That too.

We had a chance to catch up with lead singer Michael Sweet recently while he and the band were shopping for a photo shoot… and asked him to confess his musical sins…

All Access Maggazine (AAM): Stryper put a major foothold into Christian rock and what some term as white metal… so much so that you mention one and you think of the other… what has it been like to carry the weight of a genre as a band?

StryperMichael Sweet (MS): We really don’t look at it that way, you know what I’m saying? People have mentioned it to us over the years, but when someone does say something to that effect it causes us to stop, and pause, and think about that. And it is amazing that we were there from the beginning, at the right place at the right time, and to become leaders in that movement if you will, because that’s how it is referred to; the Christian Rock/Metal Movement. We were leading the way in that, which is pretty awesome! To have been there, at the start of it all and to have lead the way? Amazing!

AAM: Aren’t you being a bit humble? In terms of Stryper being fairly synonymous with a genre?

MS: Well, you know, there are so many other bands, awesome bands, that followed suit, and have had so much success. We certainly aren’t the only ones. It’s an honor to have been one of the first ones, but to cross over into the mainstream side from the Christian side is pretty awesome!

AAM: The new album is covers of bands that some may find surprising as influences…tell our readers what went into the process of deciding to do a departure album and what was it like?

StryperMS: Well we played covers for years back in the day, before Stryper, you know? We were called Roxx and then Roxx Regime. We played clubs like Gazzaris in Hollywood and we did that for a long time. Because of that history of growing up with all these songs which helped us become who we are, musically speaking. Around about 1990 we would start adding one or two to our set. We did “On Fire” by Van Halen because they are a big influence of ours. We always soundchecked with covers. “Breaking the Law” ended up in the set. The fact of the matter is that as shocking as it may be to some people, a select few I hope, we are looking at our roots. We would not be here, plain and simple, if it wasn’t for the music you hear on “Covering.” We wouldn’t be here as a band. Period. We just wouldn’t. We didn’t grow up on Christian music, we didn’t grow up in the church, we grew up with Metal and the Hollywood club scene. That’s our history, it’s why we’re here, and where we come from.

AAM: The press has been very complimentary, critics are raving, but have you seen any backlash from fans who may believe you’ve strayed from the fold so to speak?

StryperMS: Chuckles. Great! Just Great! Much better than expected. I personally expected a little more heat and a little more backlash and we really haven’t had any. I’ve done a lot of interviews with Christian writers and radio stations and they are just as supportive as the mainstream interviews I’ve done. It’s really mind blowing to me because I expected more flak from the Christian crowd, and they haven’t given us any. There was an incredible article and review by this gentleman who wrote for the Nashville Hype, you can look that up and read it if you want. I think he really sums it up. He said that we made the record that all Christian kids in the world wanted a band to make because secretly they for years have been listening to this music. I think that about sums it up right there, you know? Behind their parents backs they were listening to this music. I know I was. When I was a kid there were bands I wasn’t suppose to be listening to, but I was listening, and buying it. I’m not condoning that, but that was the fact of the matter. So we wound up making the record that all Christian kids wanted a band to make. That’s not really why we did it. We stay true to our own convictions and our own calling and we felt inspired and lead and called to do this record for a number of reasons. It’s the best record we ever made, and we really enjoyed the process. Just being in the studio and enjoying the process together. We had a great time doing it, and I think that comes through in the sound of the record.

AAM: You recently mentioned that the members are more mature , in your 50’s but still rocking… longevity in the music business is no easy feat… what do you attribute yours to?

MS: Well I think we’re a band that is about giving our all to everything we do. I think the fans appreciate that. We stay true to what we do. And I think the fans appreciate that, too. We’ve stood the test of time, and stood our ground with our message by taking a bold stance for Christ and we have not wavered from that. People respect that and I think from that respect comes loyalty and support.

AAM: As a singer who has been your biggest influence and why?

StryperMS: My biggest influence musically? Really, it’s all the songs your hear on the record: UFO, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest. Some bands that we didn’t cover but still had an influence are bands that are on the lighter side like Journey, Survivor, Foreigner. I’m a big fan of the “singer” bands. The bands with an incredible vocalist like Paul Rodgers, Steve Perry, Brad Delp from Boston is one of my all-time favorite singers, because nobody had voices like theirs. I’m drawn to bands like that. So those are my influences in addition to everything on this record that you hear. I’m also into big, gothic, heavy rock stuff with the big operatic voice.

AAM: Any advice for others who want to follow in your path?

MS: I would say that first you should really hone in on your craft. Take lessons, practice, work on writing songs. Write, write, write and try to improve those skills and try to be the best of the best. Devote all your time to it. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of discipline and perseverance because it’s not easy. Really work hard. Harder than the next guy. If you do that, and you have the talent and the ability in you, you’ll be fine.

AAM: What does the future hold for the band, can fans expect a new lp of original material?

MS: Down the road we’ll be doing an all new original album for sure. The next album, I’m not sure. We might do a “Re-Covering” album, or a cover or two. I really don’t know specific plans on what’s next, but there is certainly a lot more to come from this band in the near future so expect more!

AAM: Thanks for your time and good luck shopping!

MS: Thank you very much. You Take Care. I appreciate your time!

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