Exclusive Interview: Michael Sweet from Stryper
Stryper will release Second Coming on March 26, a collection of 14 newly recorded classics from the band’s early years as well as two brand new songs, and is produced by Stryper frontman Michael Sweet.
Sweet commented, “We’re really excited about this record. The re-recorded songs are sounding awesome…better than the originals in many ways! One word to describe the record? Heavier. We’ve hooked up with some great people and have a great album. We just feel like everything is coming together, and hopefully some big things are to follow.”
Comprised of the original line-up of Michael Sweet (vocals/guitar), Oz Fox (guitar), Tim Gaines (bass), and Robert Sweet (drums), Stryper has been rocking since 1984, 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.”
We caught up with an enthusiastic Michael Sweet, anxious for fans to hear the updated tunes. This year will prove to be a busy year for Sweet as Stryper will release two albums and he will release a new solo album and his much anticipated autobiography, Honestly. Stryper has never been busier at any point in their career and Sweet, always grateful, never forgets why they do what they do.
I can’t wait to talk about the new album. I’ve had it for about a week – and as a fan of the classic recordings, the new tunes blow those away sonically while still staying true to the originals.
Well, it’s good to hear you say that. The first thing anybody in a band wants to say when they do a re-record or a new album is that it’s the best we’ve ever done or it sounds better than the last, blah blah blah. You hope for that but sometimes you don’t always achieve that. I really think in many ways, not all ways, in surpassing the originals. Certainly sonically. Especially the tracks from The Yellow And Black Attack and Soldiers Under Command. These songs are more in your face and defined. You can really hear everything. It’s heavier and chunkier. The trickiest part was capturing the energy and I think we did that too, man. My opinion – and I say this with all due respect. I don’t want to upset any fans. I just can’t listen to the originals. I can listen to these. I’ll leave it at that!
Tim has to be thrilled because you can really hear him on those songs now.
Absolutely. Tim really delivered on the record. I think everybody did but it was a really great opportunity for him to shine as a bassist because you can hear his parts. Not only can you hear his parts, but he didn’t play on To Hell With The Devil. We had another guy come in. I talk about that in my book. I go in-depth about that. It’s cool because he got to redeem himself. Not that he needed to, but he got the opportunity to show the world he could play these songs and record them every bit as good as the first guy. It sounds awesome. I’m thrilled about the record. Yeah, it a re-record but it’s still exciting and there’s a new freshness, a new life, that’s been breathed into these songs. I’m thrilled for the world to hear it.
Vocal harmonies and background vocals are so important to the band’s sound. Tell me about capturing them for Second Coming.
We don’t put as much time as you may think into those. What you’re hearing is Oz and I. Tim has a great voice and he harmonizes with us live. He did on some of the old records as well. For time purposes these days, it’s just Oz and I. We’re able to really lock in and go in the vocal booth, figure out the part, rehearse it and track it. Then we double it and triple it. So you’re hearing four or five parts that are doubled, tripled or even quadrupled. We just banged ’em out. We did all the vocals in a day and a half. The whole record.
Was it that easy to record the music?
It was – so we thought. I got the basic tracks to sing to. We did all the basic tracks at one studio in Northampton called Spirit House. I did all the lead vocals at my home studio. As I was going through each song I was taking notes of all the stuff we forgot! On “The Rock That Makes Me Roll,” after that breakdown – Fight! – it wasn’t there. The little guitar part in “Makes Me Wanna Sing,” the turnaround before the second verse, wasn’t there. I had a list a mile long of fix-it’s and stuff we needed to add! We changed some things up. On “More Than A Man” there’s a little extra “chunk” during the breakdown. We put an ending on “Reach Out.” We did “Sing Along Song” with guitars instead of keyboards. For the most part the songs are the same arrangements. We’re really pleased with how it turned out.
As you went back and explored some of those earlier sounds, did anything inspire material for the next record?
I write almost all the songs for the band. It’s always been that way. There have been some songs where we’ve collectively written over the years or Oz and I have co-written or Robert and I have co-written. We all write songs and we all write very differently. I just happen to be the guy that writes in the style of Stryper. When it comes time to write songs I’ve got all these songs coming out of me left and right. I’m writing now for the next Stryper record and over the past three days I’ve got seven new ideas. I have ADHD. I talk about it and I’m open about it and I think that’s helped me as a writer to hyper-focus on songwriting. That’s exactly what I do. When it’s time to write a record or a song I go down into my studio and I don’t come out until it’s done. That’s the process I used for the two new songs, “Blackened” and “Bleeding From The Inside Out.” I just locked myself in my studio, man. Nobody saw me until I came out with a beard and smelly armpits!
You tweeted just the other day that you have 50 or 60 song ideas on your phone. What apps do you use to record your ideas?
Truthfully, this will probably shock people – I’m in a Blackberry world. I’m not even on an iPhone. I don’t deal with apps. I use a voice recorder on my phone. I’m getting ready to retire that phone and get an iPhone and then I’ll deal with apps and all that fun stuff. If I’m shopping at the supermarket and I have this groove idea or a vocal, I’ll take my phone as I’m walking down the aisle pushing the cart and record it into the phone. When I get home and put away the groceries I’ll go downstairs, get a guitar and I’ll arrange a song. I’ll write the chords down and figure out the song. The song is birthed out of that. It’s kinda unique and maybe a little crazy but I don’t want to forget any ideas.
You’ve mentioned your book a couple of times. You – the entire band – have been scrutinized over so many minute life decisions. I would hope for you, if nothing else, that your book makes people realize you’re human just like the rest of us.
They’re definitely going to see that. I think that’s why we are scrutinized. For whatever reason, people look to us as these guys that are either perfect or claim to be perfect. We’ve never claimed to be, nor are we. I’m a sinner like anybody else. People will read stories in the book about me being arrested when I was younger and why – twice, mind you. They’re gonna gasp for air. I’m a person. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve blown it. The beauty in that is, going down the path I was going down years ago, I did a U-turn. I said “I ain’t going down this path anymore. It’s going to lead me to nowhere.” I turned around but I still struggled. That was at the age of 20. I still struggle with sinning and temptations and making bad choices – things we all struggle with. I have a Bible that I can open and read. I have a God that I can go to and pray to and talk to and get help and wisdom in getting through that decision or bad choice. I ain’t perfect, man. I think people are gonna read the book and hopefully see me more as a human versus an untouchable.
That struggle to make the right choices or giving into to sinning and temptations – that’s just called “building a testimony,” right?
Absolutely. The book is a testimony to a lot of things. It’s brutally honest. I don’t get into mudslinging and throwing people under the bus and trying to hurt other people. I do tell the stories that really happened that did involve other people. It gives people a better glimpse into my life and the struggles I’ve faced and do face to this day. I hope when someone finishes my book that they’re left with a little encouragement. Maybe they’ve had to go through some of the same things and it will help them.
Was any part of the writing process uncomfortable? Were you hesitant to write about certain things? Was anything off-limits?
It takes one day to realize you’re a fiend for Starbucks.
I am! Am I addicted to Starbucks? I don’t know if I would go that far – but some days I would definitely say, “Yes, I’m addicted to Starbucks!” We all have our vices.
There you go being human again.
Michael, thanks for taking time out today. What would you like to say to wrap things up?
At the end of the day, impacting peoples lives and that continuing on day after day is what matters. That’s why we do this. We have to remind ourselves of that sometimes. When we start complaining and moaning about flights or getting up early, we’ve gotta realize why we do this and all the lives that have been touched. There’s been many. There’s been many turned around by the Grace of God through this band. It’s amazing.