Michael Sweet of Stryper sits down with National Rock Review to discuss their new album, musical influences, tastes, and much more in this packed interview.
Stryper is a band that has consistently made amazing music, and with their new album God Damn Evil, it is no different. Releasing on April 20th, we talk about the recording process, their newest member of the family, touring, and many other things in the family of Stryper.
NRR: I’m Scottie Brown with the National Rock Review and it’s a pleasure to be talking to the Michael Sweet. How are you doing today, man?
Michael: I’m doing good, man. I just made me a large bowl of guacamole so I’m doing really well right now.
NRR: So you’re a good singer and a good cook?
Michael: Haha. I don’t know about cook, but I’m a good mixer of some ingredients to make some guacamole. Absolutely. I got this lava bowl to make it even better and man its good. Wow!
NRR: So we are going to talk a little bit about the new album. I checked it out and it’s probably one, if not the most, heaviest record you guys have put out. I think that you guys take the sound of the 80s and you put a modern twist on it. You even included growls from a guest appearance from a member of Shadows Fall, correct?
Michael: That’s right! Matt Bachand. He’s from Shadows Fall and Act of Defiance and he came in. He only lives about 15 minutes from the studio. So, he’s a local guy. He came in and just nailed it. He did a perfect job.
NRR: I think it fits the song “Take It to the Cross” really well because it’s definitely one of the more heavier songs on the record. My personal favorite is the title track from the record. I love that one.
Michael: Good, man! That’s just kind of a throwback and then some modern day “To Hell With the Devil” and we’re really excited about that song and can’t wait for people to hear it. It will probably be one of the most downloaded songs on April 20th because I believe that everyone is really curious about it. It’s the title track and we have put the lyrics online for people to read, but just not the music.
NRR: You guys are not new to controversial titles and album arts. Why choose an album title so controversial? Can you give me a little behind the scenes about the album title?
Michael: So, anybody that’s asking that question has obviously have not followed Stryper. If you go back to “Soldiers Under Command” and “To Hell With the Devil”, obviously we always wanted to make a powerful bold statement to make people think and talk. You know, God Damn Evil is a statement that is really relevant in our times right now. There’s so much evil going to new levels and new heights that we see on a daily basis and we felt like it was the right time to have such a title. It’s just to get people talking and praying to ask God to damn this evil. That’s what we mean for us. It’s a prayer from us, “God damn this evil and condemn evil”. Some people are up in arms over it, but most people get it right out of the box. They know who we are and they know who we stand for. They know we are not going to throw something out there to confuse people or go the opposite direction.
NRR: You hit the nail on the head when you said, the people asking that question don’t follow Stryper because not only are you guys known for putting out these types of controversial things but you also have made it clear that your mission is to not play to the Christians, it’s to play for those that are lost.
Michael: Yeah! No disrespect to the Christian side, because we love them. They are our brothers and sisters, but what’s the point in that? If your goal is just to go out for the Christians, then you know, you’re not reaching the lost and the people that need to hear it. That’s always where our heart has been, to go out and reach those people that don’t go to church, the people that have been turned away, or are Satanist or Atheist and to try to write really powerful music that they like and then maybe after listening to Stryper they will hear the message and that will start to set in, hopefully.
NRR: Now when you guys got ready to start making God Damn Evil, after so many years, you guys have a 30 plus year career under your belt, does the writing process get more difficult or is it natural? After so many albums how was making this one and how did the writing process come together?
Michael: You know the writing process for the last three albums have been pretty much the same. It’s gotten easier over the years. In the old days, there was a lot more time involved or we’d get stumped, sit, and wait for three months and put it on hold and then start writing again. It seemed to be a lot more strict. Now, it’s just a real simple thing and everything comes together quickly, the ideas are flowing, the creativity is flowing. Now to record an album, it might take a week or at most two weeks!
NRR: You’re an excellent singer. That’s no secret. Your vocals are powerful. After so many years, how do you continue to take care of your voice?
Michael: Well, thank you! That’s very kind. I whip up a bowl of guacamole first! No, I’m only kidding. Haha! No, I don’t have any certain rules that I follow. I try to take care of my voice. You know I’m not a smoker or a heavy drinker. I try to sing properly and warm up. I try to eat healthy, work out, and take care of myself. I think it comes down to that. If you don’t take care of yourself and your temple eventually it’s going to start breaking down a lot faster and you’re going to have trouble doing anything, much less sing.
NRR: What is your favorite song on the album personally and why would you pick that one?
Michael: It’s hard to pick just one. A few of my favorites are “The Valley”, I love the title track “God Damn Evil”. I love “Sorry” too. I’m really glad with how that one turned out. I’m really digging a song called “You Don’t Even Know Me”. It’s something about the feel of that song. It’s got a real nice energy that I love and for some reason, I keep repeating that one and going back to that one. There’s something special about it for me. I would say those are my favorites from the album. I like songs like “Take It To The Cross” and more up-tempo songs, but that’s not really my style in terms of what I listen to. You know, I kind of like the more mid-tempo stuff.
NRR: Well if I were to take a look at your music devices, what kind of bands would you be listening to right now?
Michael: Well I love the new Judas Priest album. I’m a big Priest fan. I love the new L.A. Guns album, then you would find stuff like ELO or Muse. I love stuff that is very British and has a bit of a Beatles vibe in terms of chord progression and whatnot. That’s the kind of stuff grew up on and I love that kind of stuff.
NRR: Now you guys are going on tour around the May/June area is that correct?
Michael: We are going out in May to June, then we are going to do fly dates in July to September. Then, we do another ground run in October and then November.
NRR: So, in other words, your year is full
Michael: Yeah, we got a lot going on man.
NRR: With so many years and so many hit songs, obviously you guys are going to play a lot of God Damn Evil on this tour, but with such an archive, what goes into choosing a setlist?
Michael: Well we are going to do 20-22 songs. We are going to be doing about a two-hour set, maybe a little less. A little less talking, more playing. We are going to be doing a lot of songs. It’s hard man. I made a setlist of about 35 songs and we narrowed it down to about 25. Realistically, we are going to be doing about 20 of those songs. What we want to rotate songs. For example on one night, play a set and then on the next night switch out about 3 or 4 songs. We want to make each night different, each night energetic, or each night special you know?
NRR: Well for you guys and the fans, the ability to play different songs has to keep you guys entertained as well.
Michael: Oh yeah man! Totally!
NRR: Speaking more on the live show, you guys have played everywhere from club venues all the way to massive arenas. Which environment do you prefer? Do you like the more sweaty intimate venues or do you love the atmosphere of an arena or festival?
Michael: They are all different. I like them all. There’s something to be said for an arena show because of the energy and excitement. When you’re playing in front of 10,000 people there’s a different energy. At the same time when you play in a club in front of a thousand people, there’s something more intimate about that. You feel like you’re more a part of the crowd and the crowd is more part of the band. You can see them and hang out with them more. On a big stage or an arena, you can’t really do that. So, they are both a different experience.
NRR: Time for more of a fun one. Now, being together so long, do you guys ever get sick of each other?
Michael: Oh yeah sure! We have our differences and our moments, but it’s not in the sense that we hate each other and want to kill each other. At the end of the day we are all brothers and we would always come back to each other. We love each other and we grew up together. Oz, Robert, and myself went to school together and we’ve known each other our entire lives. Then we got Perry, and he is just an amazing bass player and an incredible guy. It’s going to be fun, man. We will keep the fighting to a minimal.
NRR: How did you guys wind up bringing Perry into the Stryper family? What does he bring to the table that wasn’t there before?
Michael: He’s brought a lot of joy and peace. He’s a really great and sweet guy and we love him. He’s an incredible player and an incredible singer. He’s brought a lot to the table. We have only played five songs with him and when we did it blew our minds. We are going to start rehearsals here at my house in about two weeks and once we do man, I think it will be phenomenal and I’m really excited to see and hear how that’s going to go.
NRR: Going back to the writing process, how does that work? Do you write a song and then go to the guys and they give you a riff? How does it work?
Michael: Most of the songs, I write on my own. On occasion, Oz will send me some riff ideas and I will pick a couple that I really like and think are going to fit right in with all the other stuff I’ve written. I’ll write the lyrics and the melody to those and they’ll become a part of the album, but for the most part, I’ll write mostly everything because I’ve got a real formula, pattern, and a way of doing things. It’s the quickest way. We were are writing albums in a week or two and we all live in different states. It’s just the easiest and the best way to do things.
NRR: It sounds like you guys have really got it down pat.
Michael: We do, man. We’ve been together for many years and I would like to think that we have it all together or at least I hope we do. We’ve worked hard.
NRR: Personally, I think you guys almost sound better live then you do in the studio. Maybe that’s because it’s rawer, what do you think?
Michael: You know what? I think that is true! We seem to have a much higher energy live. There’s this certain energy that comes from Stryper when we play live.