Established in southern California in 1983, multi-platinum crossover Christian metal band, Stryper, continues to share their positive message and energetic stage presence with a passionate following throughout the world. Since the band’s inception over 30 years ago, the founding members have stayed true to their deepest convictions, turning from “the ways of the world” and following their hearts instead.
The members of Stryper have proven themselves as metal stalwarts, leaving an indelible mark on the genre with each new release. With such hits as Calling On You, Free, Honestly, and Always There For You, Stryper’s album sales now exceed over 10 million worldwide. Add to that one of the most successful Christian rock albums ever, 1986’s multi-platinum To Hell With The Devil, and the unique distinction of being the first band in history to notch two songs in MTV’s Top 10 with Free and Honestly.
Since returning from a twelve-year hiatus in 2003, Stryper has managed to release new music on a regular basis. Their last four studio albums: Murder By Pride (73), No More Hell To Pay (35), Fallen (44) & God Damn Evil (77) all crashed on to the U.S. Billboard Charts! The line-up still features three of the original members, including singer songwriter Michael Sweet, his brother and drummer Robert Sweet, and guitarist Oz Fox. Recently, the group welcomed iconic bassist Perry Richardson (formerly of Firehouse), who will be joining them on tour. I spoke to Michael Sweet who is looking forward to their upcoming Australian tour.
Great to be talking to you. And that’s great news that Stryper are heading to Australia. It seems like it’s been way to long?
Yeah. Last time we were there was 2010 and for some reason it seems to get more and more difficult to return to Australia. But, you know, we work on it and we try. One of these days maybe we’ll make it every other year if possible.
Is this tour mostly focused on the new album, God Damn Evil or is it because it’s been a while, will it be greatest hits and memories and a few surprises?
Well, we’re doing both. We’re doing probably four or five songs from the new album. Then we’ll also do some other new songs from the other albums prior to that. Then we’re going to do a lot of the best of and the greatest hits from To Hell With The Devil, Soldiers Under Command, The Yellow and Black Attack, even In God We Trust and Against The Law. It’s going to be a nice long set, probably an hour and forty-five minutes with nineteen, twenty or twenty-one songs and everyone will certainly get their monies worth for sure.
How do you think God Damn Evil compares to the last few albums, and even to going right back to the beginning?
Well, I mean, when you are asking someone like myself I might be a little biased. I feel it’s our best album and I’ve got my reasons for that. I don’t say that lightly. I think sonically it’s our best album. It’s the album that I’ve wanted all the other albums to sound like. I put it in my car and I listen to it on my systems with my headphones and I’m very pleased with how it sounds. The mix, the balance, the levels, the separation. Also, I love the energy of the album. I love the songs, the style. Some people get up in arms, not all, but some if I ever compare it with the past and they say, “Oh, nothing will touch, you know, To Hell With The Devil, or nothing will touch In God We Trust.” I think we’ve outdone those albums. If God Damn Evil had come out, in the 80s I think it would have outsold those albums. I really do but, we’ll never know. Those times are gone!
What do you think different this time round that you might not have done on the other albums?
Well, a number of things. There’s a determination, certainly within myself. I write most of the songs and have produced all the albums recently. I’m very determined, very focused and I always try to improve at my craft and what I do. I try to find ways to do that and I think we’ve got a system down and a format that really works. The studio we record at, the engineer we use, the budgets we work with, the way we do things. It is a process that really works well, and has been for the past four, five albums and it’s gets better and better with each album.
So, that’s a big part of it. We have a new bass player, Perry, that’s really breathed a lot of new life and energy into the band. I think that comes across and we’re having fun. We’re really enjoying what we’re doing. I think that that’s a big plus when you listen to these songs and listen to this album.
I was reading somewhere that you still find that writing under pressure, or to a time frame works best for you. Is that what you did this time around as well?
Even more so this time. I mean, I wound up … I was very busy, I had a lot of things going on and I wound up only having about ten days, if that, not quite ten days to write the album. I didn’t have any ideas. Usually I at least have ideas, like riff ideas on my phone. I didn’t this time around. I think I had one. One idea and all the rest came from scratch. I just sat down in a room and locked myself there with a guitar, my drum program and all the stuff that I needed to start writing and producing songs. It just started flowing out, and coming out, thank God. I’m sure there’s going to come a day if I push the envelope too much that it’s going to be more difficult for me to do that but over the past seven, eight, nine, maybe even ten years that’s really worked for me. The working under pressure mentality has worked very well for me and it continues to do so.
Did that translate over to the recording process as well? Was that smooth, or did you have a few hiccups along the way?
No. No hiccups at all. I wrote the songs, a few days later and I knew the guys were coming. Their flights were booked. A few days later after I completed the last song the guys came out and then we went downstairs to my studio. We got a little electronic kit, all the guitars and bass go direct and we just sat down there, and I taught them the songs one song at a time, one per day. We spent eleven days down there taking a break on the twelfth day and then we went up, drove out to the studio where we recorded which is about two-and-a-half-hour drive from here. It’s in the state of Massachusetts, it’s called Spirit House. We set up on a Sunday. Started getting drum tones and on that following Monday we started tracking. It was about a fourteen-day period where we did all the basic tracking. Drums, bass, guitars and background vocals and any keyboards that are on the album, which aren’t much but they’re there. I took all those tracks home with me and I did the lead vocals at home over a four-week period, went back to the studio and we mixed it.
During the recording process was there any sort of particular track that really stuck out most for you as being significant?
There were a few. The ones that I found myself really getting excited about as they were coming together in the studio were songs like Take it to the Cross because that was uncharted territory. It was something new for us even though it’s not completely out of our realm it was different for us. Then Sorry was one that everybody got really excited about. Just the groove of that. Lost, The Valley. Those four songs probably were the ones that really did it for me while we were going throughout the process and then still do. I enjoy those songs, probably the most. I love God Damn Evil, we play that live. That one really works well. We’ve been playing Sorry and The Valley and Can’t Live Without Your Love. We’re talking about adding Lost and Take it to the Cross so hopefully by the time we hit Australia we’ll have those in the set as well.
How much has new bass player Perry changed the dynamic of the band?
It’s amazing. I mean, you don’t know till you know. You make a change, or you’re in the process of making a change and there’s the unknown and the what ifs and all these things going through your head. Then once you get into that position, and obviously he joined the band and it became a reality and we started performing together. First time we performed together we just all kind of looked at each other like, “Wow. You know, this is amazing.” He’s brought so much to the band. His personality, his bass playing, his vocal ability. He’s a very talented guy and he’s a great guy. It’s made us want to be better as musicians ourselves, and as people because he just brought a really high level of joy to the band. There’s this peaceful spirit over the band right now at the moment and I tell you, a lot of that’s due to Perry. He’s just a super guy.
Thirty-four years and still going strong. Is there a secret there to longevity? When you look at a lot of bands now they seem to be lucky to last a few years or one album?
I think communication’s key, you got to communicate and respect one another which we do. I think you have to enjoy what you do. Once you stop enjoying what you’re doing, whatever it is in life, all of a sudden you find it more difficult to want to do it. We love what we do. I pick up a guitar and I still enjoy playing it. I get excited about it. Same applies to the other guys in the band, we all love this. We love music, and we love performing it. I think that’s helped to keep us together. Some guys get burned out. They don’t want to do it anymore. They begin to dislike one another, and we’ve had our ups and downs and our moments. We’ve managed to work through it and find a way to thrive in a music world that’s very difficult right now.
I know you talked about this one being your best album. Does that create pressure when you start thinking about what the next album might be or is it just too early to even have those thoughts about where you might go next musically?
No. It doesn’t create pressure. If it does I don’t mind the pressure. Some people don’t understand this mentality and that’s fine, but I’m a guy that’s always wants to outdo the last and try to outperform the last. I like to improve. I like to do better and better and better and better. There’s always room for improvement and it helps us to strive to give our best for each album.
Once you take that mentality of, “Oh, we’ll never outdo that album.” Well, you won’t. If you keep that positive vibe and say, “Yes we can outdo that album.” You will outdo that album or at least you’ll go down trying and that’s something Stryper always does. We work hard to give our best and to try to release our best album after album. So, I’m hoping that we can outdo God Damn Evil with something even better. Next time around where people say, “How do they do this.” Maybe we’ll be one of those rarities that will actually continue to get better with time instead of regress. We’ll progress. I’m hoping for that.
The idea of the acoustic album sounds a cool idea to give some light and shade to your music?
Oddly enough we do have an acoustic album already in the works. We recorded all the basics, I just have to sing some songs and then mix it but we’re going to, at some point relatively soon, be releasing an acoustic album.
That’s huge! Has the documentary been an interesting process working through the years and years of footage and bringing back lots of good memories of things that you might have forgotten about over the journey as well?
We haven’t really done a lot in terms of producing the documentary. We’ve got some footage but there’s so much more to be done on that. Probably another few years’ worth of footage and interviews. I think we’ve got our work cut out for us for sure because we want it to be very special. We don’t want to throw that together by no means. We’re going to be putting together a killer documentary. So, once it’s finished which is a way from now people are going to be pleasantly surprised. It’ll be amazing.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Stryper on the following dates with tickets from Silverback Touring