interview by Michael McCarthy
If you’ve been following Love is Pop for any period of time then I’m sure you’ve realized that one of my favorite people to interview is Michael Sweet of the legendary heavy metal band Stryper. In fact, this interview is the seventh time we’ve spoken since we started chatting about his many projects in 2016. Between Stryper albums, solo albums and the Sweet & Lynch albums, it seems Michael has a new album to talk about every six months. As it turns out, Stryper just finished working on their new album, but it was too soon for Michael to divulge the album title or any song titles just yet. He did, however, reveal what some of the lyrical content is going to be about, which you’ll find out below. Since we couldn’t get into much detail about the new Stryper record yet, we talked about things ranging from the pandemic to The 1987 Tour that he is gearing up to do – as a solo artist – with Tony Harnell of TNT fame. But, fear not, I’m sure we’ll speak again when the time is right to discuss the new Stryper record in detail.
MM: Can you believe it’s the seventh time we speak already?
MS: [Laughs] Yeah, I can. It’s crazy. There’s a lot going on. Time has flown so quickly. I can’t even believe it.
MM: It goes by so fast.
MS: It really does.
MM: How are you holding up with this pandemic going on?
MS: Well, you know, we’re trying to be smart and do what we need to do to not get sick or get anyone else sick. We’ve been so far, so good. We’ve been staying home a lot. Only going out when we need to. And just working on the Stryper album. I finally wrapped that up. So, that gave me something to do for a few months. And then I’ve got some other projects coming up. I finally have the Sun Bomb album and we’re finishing up the acoustic album. There’s a lot of stuff to do so I’m staying busy.
MM: One of the things you’re in the process of doing is rescheduling The 1987 tour you’re doing with Tony Harnell.
MM: When are the new dates looking to be? Do you have them scheduled at all yet?
MS: Well, we pushed it back right now to the September time frame. I mean, that’s what we’re looking at right now. All of the shows have been rescheduled. So, that’s amazing that that worked out. Obviously, we don’t know what tomorrow brings. We’re kind of taking it a day at a time like everybody else. But, hopefully, the tour is gonna happen. I hope it is. But you hear all these stories about a resurgence and everything coming back in the fall and it makes everyone a little bit nervous to be honest.
MM: Would this be your first solo tour with a full band? I know you’d mentioned that you’ll be bringing a full band with you this time.
MS: Well, the first solo tour with a full band since 2001. So, I have gone out and done solo tours with a band before, but it’s been a long, long time.
MM: If venues are only able to sell half as many tickets so there’s room for social distancing and all that, would that still be viable or would you be in the red if you did that?
MS: I think it would still be viable. We’d have to get a little bit more creative with ways to make up the balance, whether it’s through merchandise or open soundchecks. We’ll figure out a way to get through. And make it happen as planned. Just in a different way.
MM: How weird do you think it would feel to be up there on stage performing to a half-capacity crowd wearing face masks and spread out?
MS: It would be strange, but most of the bands from my era these days are doing that anyway. [Laughs] In other words, they’re playing to small crowds these days. That’s what I’m trying to say. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to see bands and it was half-capacity or less. The face mask thing, that could be a little interesting. Maybe the band will have them on as well. Because when we’re performing we’re spitting on everybody so we’ll probably have to wear them as well.
MM: That would be really strange.
MM: I know the main reason you’re calling it The 1987 Tour is because you and Tony Harnell toured together that year with Stryper and TNT but are you guys focusing on material from that era as well at all?
MS: Well, not so much myself. I think Tony is gonna be focusing on the TNT songs so obviously a lot of songs from that era and that time period. My set is going to consist of songs – the majority, solo songs – from my first album from 1994 to now, Ten. I’m gonna throw in a few Stryper songs but it’s not gonna be about Stryper. Just being honest. The whole point is to go out and play some of these solo songs that have never been played before live. And also the Sweet & Lynch songs as well.
MM: Oh, cool. Glad to hear someone will be doing them live.
MS: I know, man. I think Stryper performed one song once at a Monsters of Rock kickoff party. I don’t think these songs have ever been performed before. Certainly not with George. I want to bring them to life and play them for people because there’s some great material on those albums.
MM: You mentioned the first solo album, which I know you recently released on vinyl. Was it remastered for that?
MS: It was remastered specifically for vinyl. That’s a whole different process. You don’t want to run things as hot and the spacing is different and you’ve gotta really think of vinyl as you’re mastering it. It’s a completely different master. But, yes, we did that just for vinyl. And it’s really cool and well-received. Everybody picked it up and loved it. I’ve gotten some incredible comments from everyone saying how well it looked and sounded so I was really pleased with that.
MM: I’m going to order it as soon as I get off the phone while I think of it. If it’s still available?
MS: There are some copies still available. The signed copies went really fast but there are some of the standard copies left. I don’t know how many. But once it’s gone, it’s gone. We did a limited run and that was it.
MM: Will you be releasing any of your other solo albums on vinyl?
MS: I plan to. I plan to release the Real album on vinyl. I plan to release the Truth album on vinyl for sure. And some other Stryper albums that we did not release on vinyl that we plan to release on vinyl as well. Or at least re-release. The thing I’m the most excited about is the new album, obviously. The new Stryper album. That’s done. We’ve just finished mixing it. I was listening to it this morning and it’s really a great album.
MM: Is there anything you can tell us about it yet?
MS: Well, I can’t give away the title yet. I can’t give away the song titles. There are eleven tracks. There’s gonna be an alt mix of one of the tracks. And it’s the first album with Perry Richardson. And that’s a big deal. That’s a really big deal. Not only in the public eye in terms of something to talk about and something to buzz about but it’s a big deal because of his delivery. His playing. His singing. He’s on background vocals and playing the bass and it’s like things stepped up a level, you know what I mean? He helped us take things to a new level.
MM: I was wondering if his playing changed how you had the album mixed this time at all? If the bass is more prominent.
MS: The bass is definitely prominent. You hear the bass. You can feel the bass. Perry’s a real solid type of player. He’s not a Steve Harris kind of player. Not that Steve’s a bad player. Steve’s a great player. But Steve’s more of a galloping dud-dud-dun, dud-dud-dun, you know? You hear a lot of pick up and string clicking and stuff and that’s a great style, but Perry’s more of a solid, eighth note, just laying down the groove. And it’s really well-appreciated. I love it. It’s rock solid. It sounds amazing.
MM: I always loved how the bass sounded on the first few FireHouse albums in particular. I’m really eager to hear that.
MS: Absolutely. You know, if you go back to our albums in the past, Perry’s a little bit more in the wheelhouse of the To Hell With the Devil, which is probably my favorite in terms of bass. Kicking bass. It’s my favorite Stryper album. It’s the most solid Stryper album that we’ve ever done. This album is very similar to that. It’s got this incredible, groove-rooted foundation and it was so easy to build upon it. It’s so solid.
MM: So, you think To Hell With the Devil is more solid than God Damn Evil then?
MS: I think that in terms of bass and kick drum there’s something really special about To Hell With the Devil. The tone of Robert’s kick drum on that album and the bass – Brad Cobb played bass on that album – the way they locked together, there’s something about it that was really tight. You’re talking about God Damn Evil, comparing it to?
MM: Yeah, I was just wondering which album you thought was more solid.
MS: Not that it’s not solid – it’s incredibly solid – and that’s my buddy John O’Boyle [on bass] who played on my last two solo albums. He’s like a cross between Perry and Steve Harris. [Laughs] He can do that dud-dud-dun stuff, too. And Perry can as well. I’m just making a point that I love how the bass and kick and groove of this new album turned out. It just has something special to it.
MM: If you were going to compare it to another Stryper album and say which one it most closely resembles, would it be To Hell With the Devil then?
MS: I would say so. And the low end and the rock solidness between the kick and the bass is more in that ballpark, yes. But even more so because Perry throws out some incredible bass hook lines. Some really cool parts. He’s really creative and it sounds killer.
MM: You mentioned the Sun Bomb album, which you’re doing with Tracii Guns. What’s the status of that?
MS: Well, I mean, you know, it got delayed. I was supposed to sing that at the end of last year’s tour and I was ready to sing it and then I got some lyrics and there’s a lyric called “Witches” and it was about burning witches, you know? And I was just thinking to myself, this isn’t something that I want to be singing. It doesn’t really go with who I am and the fan base would probably agree. I went to the folks in that camp in that group and said, look, we’ve gotta readdress this and, unfortunately, it turned into something where they were gonna try to make it happen with a bunch of other singers.
MM: Oh, God.
MS: And Frontiers said no to that. They said no, we want to stick with the original plan, which was with me and Tracii. And the timing and the scheduling of things, obviously and sadly, caused it to be delayed quite a bit. So, I’m gonna start singing that very soon. I still have to go through the lyrics and make sure the lyrics are gonna jive with who I am and I’m comfortable singing them and once we get through that I’m gonna sing it and we’re gonna have a really cool album with Tracii Guns and myself that will come out on Frontiers at some point. I’m not sure when, but at some point.
MM: Who wrote the lyrics for that album? Did Tracii write them?
MS: No, an outside writer wrote the lyrics. Tracii wrote the music and another guy wrote the lyrics. It’s kind of like a doom metal kind of thing. It’s got a really dark, Sabbathy vibe and the lyrics kind of portray that as well. There’s definitely some lyrics I’m not gonna sing. Not gonna happen.
MM: Honestly, I’m surprised that you’d sing any lyrics that you didn’t write at this juncture.
MS: No, I’ll do that. As long as I’m comfortable singing them and they follow my convictions. I mean, George mentioned if we do another Sweet & Lynch album that he wanted to write the lyrics and portray his argument and his side, which is atheism, and I said, dude, that’s not gonna happen. Why am I gonna sing lyrics like that? Come on, now.
MM: I think if you did that you’d have most of your fanbase calling you a hypocrite. It wouldn’t be a good reaction, that’s for sure.
MS: It wouldn’t be good and I’m not going to go back on everything that I’ve devoted my life to. I’m a man of conviction and a man of faith and what you see is what you get and it’s real. It’s not a gimmick. It’s real and how I try to live my life. I’m not gonna change that for anyone. I’m gonna stick to my convictions and stick to my calling. I think George was just trying to maybe stir the pot a little bit, but that’s not gonna happen in a million years.
MM: Where are you at with your faith right now? Has everything going on caused you to question it or deepened it or impacted it otherwise?
MS: I mean, I always question parts of my faith. I’ll never lose my faith in Christ and what I believe and my convictions, but I was watching the news last night and a commercial came on for children with cancer and that’s something that I’ll never understand. Why any child has cancer. So, I’ve got a few questions for God when and if I get to Heaven. I hope I do. But you don’t get to Heaven by works. You get to Heaven by true faith. I try to live my life that way. When my wife passed back in 2009 and we were fighting that for two years I was questioning God. I was out there angrily questioning God. Why? We’ve devoted our lives to you. Why is this happening? I came to the realization that it’s not God’s fault. We tend to blame God for everything bad that comes our way and that’s just not the way it works. He’s not a puppet master up in Heaven looking down at us saying, I think I’ll start a virus and put them all in turmoil for a while just to get a laugh. It just doesn’t work that way. I think we all have freedom. We all have freedom of choice. He gives us those freedoms and we can choose to believe in God or we can choose to deny God. That’s just what I believe and, sadly, a lot of other people will say I’m an idiot for believing that, you know?
MM: Well, you always get people that are naysayers, I guess.
MS: We live in a world where if other people don’t believe what you believe you’re wrong. And that’s really a shallow way of thinking.
MM: Look at how conflicted things are right now with the Trump supporters and the other side and how they’re at war with each other.
MS: It’s insane. It really is. It’s not that they’re in disagreement, it’s the level it goes to. It’s like a deep-rooted hatred. And we all become hypocrites because we all get so hateful fighting for the other side. It’s like, you know, it’s OK to disagree. But not to do so while you’re shooting someone or stabbing someone or wishing them dead. That’s a whole other level.
MM: Do you have more fans reaching out to you right now? Looking for guidance and things like that?
MS: You know what, I do. I definitely do. On Facebook and all that. I really try hard to be there for people and encourage them because these are some tough times. They really are. But I try to choose my battles because I don’t want to do things – as I put it in a recent post – to jump on any bandwagons. I don’t want to judge people, but I feel like there’s a lot of me, me, me out there. Look at me, I’m on Facebook and I’m gonna perform live 100 times. It becomes a situation where it’s more about the person performing it than it is about the fans who are watching. That’s my gut, you know? I don’t think that’s the case with everyone, but I don’t want to be that way. I want to be very careful what I do and how I do it.
MM: Have you given any thought to doing a charity single or anything like that, though?
MS: Oh, absolutely. We’ve talked about a number of things. It’s about timing, too. And scheduling. It’s hard to make everything work and figure everything out because there’s so much going on. In a situation where everyone is supposed to stay at home and we’re not touring, it seems we’re as busy as we’ve ever been. That’s just crazy to me. But it’s true.
MM: Well, keeping your mind busy right now is good thing, right?
MS: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
MM: This might be a weird question, but do you think the pandemic means the apocalypse might’ve started?
MS: Well, I mean, there’s a lot of people that believe that. I believe in what the word of God says. And the Bible talks about specifically the end times and the signs of the times and it lays it all out. It’s interesting to look around and see everything that’s taking shape. It certainly could be. I mean, is it legitimately? I don’t know. But I think we’re all gonna know soon enough.
MM: That’s true. It’ll either get better or it’ll get worse.
MS: Exactly. And if it keeps getting worse and things keep crumbling and more signs and more things take place that make us all go, whoa, OK, it’s gonna be a wake-up call for a lot of people. I think it already is.
MM: If the apocalypse was coming right now and you had to choose one album you’ve made to put in a time capsule to be opened a hundred years from now, which would you choose and why?
MS: Oh, man. That’s a good question. That’s a tough question. I’d probably say the new album. And the reason why is this new album was recorded and written and produced during this time. So, right when the guys came out here we started hearing and reading stories and situations to do specifically with COVID-19 and we kind of went through it. As we were recording every day, we were watching the news and hearing this and hearing that. And then we went to Mexico and were just observing everything taking shape in the world. We went through it during this album and the album because of that has a lot to say. Specific to our times.
MM: Nice. Sounds interesting.
MS: So, I would say this album. I think musically, lyrically, melodically, it’s a really great album and one I want the world to hear.
Special thanks to Michael Sweet for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat during this pandemic. And special thanks also goes to Brian Mayes at Nashville Publicity Group for setting it up.