Since starting this blog back in 2009, I have had many opportunities to interview many amazing artists both new/up and coming and legendary. Michael Sweet of Stryper is hands down one of my absolute favorite people talk to. His awesome, positive (and hilarious) nature makes every interview a great experience and on top of that, the guy is a legend who I feel like I have been friends with all my life.
You’d think that by the third interview with someone I’d be running out of shit to talk about but not with Mr. Sweet. Michael is one of the hardest working guys in rock and in this interview he we had plenty to talk about. We discussed his new solo album One Sided War, the upcoming tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of To Hell With The Devil, and just why he doesn’t like Christian rock music. Once again, this was a great chat with an even greater guy and I hope you will all dig this one as much as I did.
Michael, thanks for taking the time out to talk with the Brainfart yet once again!
Thanks so much, Don. I’ve been busy for the past few months but I’ve been busier before so I’m not complaining [laughs].
This is our third interview together. I feel like I should’ve brought flowers or a bottle of wine or something.
[laughs] That’s funny. You know, the people that I’m talking to over the past few weeks I’ve talked to them two or three times like you mentioned. I think the reason for that is that I’ve been so busy and doing so much. Stryper albums, a book, a solo album, a Sweet/Lynch album, and another solo album. Man, it’s kind of making my head spin to be honest with you [laughs]. It’s just who I am. I have a lot of energy and I just really love talking to you guys.
You are about to release your new solo album, One Sided War. This album is a significantly heavier album than I’m Not Your Suicide and it even has a bit of a modern sound to it. Where did this influence come from?
I love a lot of the new bands. I’m instantly drawn to the bands that you can hear were influenced by the 80’s. Like Avenged Sevenfold or Black Veil Brides. There’s some melody, some great guitar soloing in there, and I think that’s cool. That’s the stuff that I am drawn to in the terms of modern music. I try to listen to that stuff and stay up on it and add a little bit of those qualities to what I’m doing when I’m producing a song or writing a song. I don’t go down that path too much though because that’s not who I am. I’m an 80’s guy.
This is what I loved about the album. You didn’t sound so much like you were trying to adopt that sound but more so infuse that modern influence into what you’re already doing.
Thank you, Don. I tried really hard to kind of make it different from song to song. I’m not a big fan of the albums where every song sounds the same. I like albums that are diverse and that stretch themselves. I tried to do that on this album but at the same time, I didn’t want to do what I had done before and get too diverse. For example, you have a metal song and then you get a song that borders on country like with “Coming Home” on my last album. I wanted to keep it consistent and keep the album flowing well and make sure it was all heavy. There are songs like “Radio” and “Only You” that just a little more radio friendly and straight ahead than the others.
You just mentioned “Radio” and that was one of the songs that really stood out to me. Do I sense just a tad of snarkiness in there?
Oh yeah. There’s a load of snarkiness in there [laughs]. There’s shovels and shovels of snarkiness. It’s snarky towards myself as well as much as it is towards Steven Tyler and Brett Michaels and all the guys you can list who woke up one morning, had one too many beers or cups of coffee, and decided that all of the sudden they were going to be country guys. They’re going to throw on a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and go to Nashville and write a country song and be country. I did it myself on my last album.
But you actually do come from a legitimate country music background so it’s actually in your blood.
Yes. My excuse for doing it wasn’t so much to break out into country music. I was literally raised in country music. My dad was a country songwriter and had a #1 song in 1978 with Fred Imus called, “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.” I grew up around country music and even played on his sessions when I was 12 years old. I grew up listening to Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynne, Buck Owens, and watching Hee Haw. Those are my roots so if anyone can do country, I can do country but I’m a rock guy [laughs]. I’m just not going to try and be country and make a country album because it’s the popular thing to do. The song and video for “Radio” was just poking fun at that thing but in a fun way, not a jerky way. When people see the video, I think they’ll get it and laugh along with it as well.
It’s funny because you didn’t even have to really name Brett and Steven for me to get who you were poking at because honestly, I think it’s ridiculous. Actually, what I find even more frustrating as a passionate hard rock/metal fan is that these guys abandoned it like a sinking ship and went to do something else that would be safe and I find that hard to respect.
[laughs] Exactly. And honestly Don, I couldn’t have said it better and I’ll add to that; it’s a total sellout. If that’s not selling out, honestly, I don’t know what is. I really don’t. Let’s flip that coin and look at it this way. Imagine if country music lost its popularity tomorrow and rock was at the top of the charts and all these country guys started trying to be rock guys. Well, some of the are trying but just think if they literally started trying to be rock guys and changed the way they dressed, the way they acted, would you buy that? [laughs]
I don’t know if it’s just that country audiences are more gullible or more open to people coming into their genre but hard rock/metal fans can pick out a fake a mile away.
Absolutely. That’s because they’re smart people. Honestly, it’s not that I’m not happy for those bands. Some friends of mine, Parmalee, were a modern rock band and now they’re a country band and they made it. They even had a #1 country song. They’re great guys and they were raised around country music. It’s not that I have anything against that but it’s still a little odd to me. It’s like you said, I wonder if they knew that all these guys were rockers, maybe it doesn’t matter to them? I don’t know. Look, all I can say is if my buddy Dave Mustaine goes country, I’m quitting the music business [laughs].
So the album comes out on August 26th. What’s the deal with the “golden ticket” thing you released a video for?
Oh yeah. In 100 of the CDs, I have a golden ticket in there and you can win stuff and you can even win a guitar. To be honest, I just hope everyone enjoys this album.
Hearing that you signed with RatPak Records made me think of your label mate, John Corabi, who put out and amazing acoustic album with them. Have you ever thought of doing an acoustic album at all?
I have thought about it. There’s something to be said for that. I’ve been out doing acoustic gigs and I love just how real it is. When I write songs, I write them on acoustic guitar. It’s not like I’m cranking the Marshalls while writing. Maybe someday I’ll do it. Speaking of Corabi, he’s one of the most real dudes out there. He’s amazing. You don’t any more real or more talented that Corabi. He’s just a great guy.
Have you guys ever talked about possibly collaborating on something?
No, we haven’t but it’s crossed my mind. Maybe it’s crossed his as well. I think that it’s certainly a possibility. I think John’s fantastic and we get along really well. We’ve done some shows together and we’ve had a blast. Maybe in the future you’ll see something like that.
Styper is going to be hitting the road to celebrate 30 years of To Hell With the Devil. This is going to be one hell of a tour!
We are so excited. We’re prepping for it now and we’ve got a lot to do. We’re going to be doing To Hell With the Devil from start to finish and then we’re going to throw in some other songs at the end. Otherwise we’d be playing for 40 minutes and then saying, “Thank you very much! Good night!” [laughs]
That’s good because if not, that would kind of suck for sure. I mean come on, I’ve been waiting for years to see this!
[laughs] Exactly. It’s going to be great and we’re excited! You’re going to make it out to the show right?
You better believe it man. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.
That’s awesome. We’ll be at Center Stage. It’s going to be great.
It’s been a long time since if you’ve done a lot of these songs and there’s even songs that didn’t get played live the first time around. What songs are you most looking forward to re-visiting from that album after all these years?
Well, most of the album we’ve been playing since we started touring again in ’03. Songs like, “Calling on You”, “Free”, “To Hell With the Devil”, “More Than A Man”, “The Way”, we’ve been playing those songs religiously for a long time. The ones I think we’re more excited about playing are the obscure songs that, like you said, we didn’t play much or didn’t play at all. “Rockin’ The World” is one of those and another one is “Holding On” which, believe it or not, is a fan favorite. To be honest, I’m probably most excited about that one.
Even though you’ve been playing these songs a while, to play them in this context, was there a sense of nostalgia to it where it triggered some good and maybe even some not so good memories?
[laughs] It definitely triggers both good and bad. I mean, the bad are that we’re in our 50’s now and we’ve got to throw those old costumes on again [laughs]. I say that somewhat jokingly but partially serious. You want to move on in life. I don’t think anyone wants to go pull out an outfit they wore in 1986, throw it on, and go to the market. At the same time, we’re looking at the pros to that. The good side to that is that To Hell With the Devil was our biggest album, it was the highlight of our careers, and it was fun. I think this will be fun again and we’re kind of looking at it like that. I really think it’s going to be a blast!
Are there any plans to document this tour being that it’s a pretty monumental tour for Stryper?
You know, I hope so. I just don’t know the details or the logistics of that but yeah, we’d be foolish not to do that. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. We’re not going to wait 20 more years for the 50th anniversary to come around to do something like that [laughs].
Now for the important serious question. What junk food are you the most excited to indulge in while on tour this year?
[Laughs] Oh man, if anybody brings a bag of peanut M&Ms on the bus I’m in trouble. I will sit and just pop those in my mouth nonstop and the next day I will wake up literally like an 18 year old with a face full of zits [laughs]. It’s crazy. I love them and I also love just old school nacho cheese Doritos. I junk out on those and I can go through a bag by myself.
I remember back in the days you guys always took secular bands out on the road with you such as White Lion and Jetboy. Was there ever pressure from the Christian music world for you to take out other Christian bands?
Oh yeah. We got heat and we still get heat from Christians who think we’re going to hell in a hand basket because we tour with secular bands and play clubs. Those are shallow minded people that will never get who or what we are. Our band is all about going out and reaching the world. It’s as simple as that. That means, we tend to shy away from Christian festivals and churches. We do them on occasion but we don’t do that sort of thing because that’s not who we are.
I always just though you guys did that because you were trying to make your mark in the “real world”, not in the more protected, sheltered Christian community.
Exactly. I mean, that’s one reason. Another reason why we took out bands like Loudness, TNT, and Hurricane was because we liked those bands. I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t listen to Christian music. Not because I’m protesting it or being in denial but because most of it just doesn’t float my boat. It just doesn’t do it for me. We liked those bands that we took out and they were great bands.
I recently did an album challenge on Stryper where I reviewed every album you did! What I noticed was on Reborn, it sounded like you guys were trying to reach a more “modern at the time” sound but it just didn’t seem to feel natural. Was that how you felt about it as well?
No, actually. Let me give you the rundown on Reborn. Some people know this and some people don’t. Reborn was actually supposed to be a solo album. That’s probably why it sounds alienated from the rest. I recorded that in my home studio as a demo and I shopped it and had a deal lined up. Stryper wound up starting to do shows. We got together and talked and I played them the album and they really liked it, Oz in particular. We wound up making it a Stryper album. There’s a few things I would’ve changed about that album though. If we had done more guitar solos on it, if I had sung more in my upper range, and if the production was better. I don’t care for the production on that album, especially the drums. In terms of the songs, I think there’s some really good songs on there.
Lately, everyone from Kerry King of Slayer to Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister is saying things like, there’s no “future of metal” yet there are plenty of young, thriving, talented metal bands. What’s your take on this frame of thought?
I don’t know, Don. I think there are some great young bands out there but the one thing I would agree with them on, if this is where they’re going with their statements, is that I’d like to see more bands that are bringing back that old school guitar god with lots of solos, high range singers. I’d love to see more of that. That takes a lot more talent that going out there and grunting all over the stage and playing octave three position guitar solos. I love hearing melodies and I love hearing solos. It’s not about going back to the 80’s but it’s just about letting the musicianship shine and I feel that’s lacking in a lot of today’s music.
Michael, there are so many great bands out there right now that are doing just that. Bands like Enforcer, Holy Grail, Savage Master. Ok, I’m just going to make you a kick ass mix disc and give it to you when you’re in Atlanta in September.
[laughs] Yes! Please do that. I would love to hear this. Knowing there’s bands like that out there really excites me. Again, it’s not trying to live in the past. It’s about letting your musicianship shine. I feel like that gets put on a shelf because they’re all trying to be so modern and relevant in today’s music world.
Michael, thank you so much for once again taking the time out to talk to me. You always are an absolute blast to talk with.
Hey Don, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the show in Atlanta and let’s have some hang time. Also, thank you so much for all of your support over the years. It means the world to me.