Michael Sweet of Stryper talks God, music, and Wal-Mart

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Michael Sweet is the lead singer of Christian metal band, Stryper. Recently I had the opportunity to interview the singer via email just as the band was embarking on a tour that will take them around the world.

I first learned of Stryper upon the release of “In God We Trust.” I was a child, and naively thought that it was their first album. It was actually their fourth. What captivates fans about Stryper is that the group seems to be a band that doesn’t compromise. They don’t apologize for being Christian; their sound is not “softened” because of its message. The Christian stations in my hometown never played them, but the rock stations didn’t, either. Stryper’s rise to fame for fans in certain parts of the US can be attributed at least in part to their presence on Music Television.

Their sound – – big guitars and drums, Michael Sweet’s stratospheric notes, (his brother Robert plays drums) and their look – – the huge hair, the yellow and black outfits, made them perfect for the late 1980s music scene. That their message also resonated with people made the band special.

A Stryper concert was my first rock concert. The opening act was White Lion. The venue was the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Maybe it was my youth, but I was elated. They were the same in concert as they’d seemed on television. Despite the changes in the music industry, it is nice to know that Stryper and bands like them have found the motivation to keep going.

LemonWire: What should fans expect from the new album?

Michael Sweet: Fans of Stryper since the beginning, I think you’ll like this album.  And for those who have never listened to Stryper, I hope they’ll appreciate the work that has gone in to it, and maybe even become new fans.  We retained our classic sound on this album, but I still think we achieved something different.  This album isn’t just “louder” or “heavier”, it actually breathes and we used a lot of unique techniques in recording that I believe help make the final product one of our best albums since 1991.

LW: What contributes to the band’s longevity?

MS: No question.  God.  He always has been the center of this band.  It’s only through Him that we are able to continue to do what we do.  We’re just regular guys who put our faith in Christ.  He has blessed this band – not that we deserve it, we don’t – but He has blessed this band and put a calling in our hearts to bring His message to the world.  We’ve done the best we can and continued to pray that we keep Christ as the center of the group.

LW: How difficult is it to be a Christian rock band now versus when you started?

MS: I can’t really say.  I’m sure there are different challenges that when we were growing up in the industry.  The music business itself has its own challenges.  Add to that the obstacles of being Christians in a band, and it can be difficult if you let it.  I think every genre has its challenges.  When we started Stryper though, there wasn’t really anyone doing what we were doing… ya know, playing the Sunset Strip and the nightclubs.  Most Christian bands when we were coming of age were playing churches.  So, it presented unique challenges that we were attempting to “‘compete,” so to speak, with some of the greats like Ratt, Poison, and the others playing the strip at the time.

LW: Can you add anything to describe the Wal-Mart issue and your plan to distribute the album?

MS: The Walmart thing is just a bit odd.  They decided not to carry the album in their stores.  They’re carrying the album online, so there’s that.  But also, in their stores they carry a lot of titles with “Explicit” stickers on them, yet for some reason our album, God Damn Evil, was too controversial.

I’m not that concerned about it, though.  This same thing happened with To Hell With The Devil – a lot of stores banned it.  But we have the greatest fans in the world, and now thankfully with the ability to order product online, this Walmart thing hasn’t really affected us.  And truthfully, we are cool with their decision.  It’s their business to run as they see fit.

LW: How did the concept for the album [God Damn Evil] come about?

MS: It’s a title that Robert came up with a few years back, and at the time we just didn’t use it – for whatever reason.  But we sat on it for a while and when it came time to make this album I threw it out there and everyone in the band had a positive reaction.  It’s perfect for the times we live in.  It’s a powerful message.  And hopefully it’s a message that helps people seek God in these crazy times.

LW: What can North American fans expect from your live show?

MS: There’s a new energy in this band now.  We’re really excited about hitting the road and I believe fans will get one of the best shows they’ve ever seen.  We have a new bass player that we already love as a brother – Perry Richardson, formerly of Firehouse.  Our co-manager, Dave Rose, suggested him and to be honest we hadn’t really considered him previously.  He had been playing country music since he left Firehouse and we just didn’t think he was an option.  But we flew him out for some rehearsals and he immediately fit in like family.  I’m excited about everyone getting to know him a little better like we have.

All of us are playing at the top of our game.  I don’t say that boastfully, we’ve just all worked really hard to bring the best music we can.  As I’ve said a million times – – Stryper fans are the best in the world.  They deserve for us to give them 100%, and that’s just what we are doing on this tour.  We’re looking forward to it. Musically it’s going to be a combination of hits, fan favorites, and new songs.

LW: Do you think there is a secret to your success? If so, what is it?

MS: It’s no secret.  It’s God.  He has blessed this band beyond our wildest imaginations.   Yes, we work hard and practice to be the best we can be, but we give Him all the glory for everything that we have and we’re just thankful to be a part of this journey.

LW: What advice can you give up and coming Christian rock performers?

MS: Be yourself.  Put God first – – always.  Practice hard.  And listen to your gut — it’s usually right.

 

 Stryper began their tour April 28 in Milan, Italy.  The band returns to the US May 5, with shows in Maryland, Ohio, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere. According to Stryper.com, the group will return to Japan and Europe later this summer and will include more US stops in the fall.

 

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