interview by Michael McCarthy
The following is my third interview with the legendary Stryper frontman Michael Sweet. We first spoke about Stryper’s blistering 2015 album Fallen, which I still feel is one of their strongest albums to date. (Check out opening track “Yahweh” and you’ll surely agree.) Next, we spoke about Michael’s high voltage solo album One Sided War, another undeniable career high point, featuring some of his heaviest songs ever. This time our chat is centered around Sweet & Lynch’s powerful sophomore effort, Unified, which drops on November 10th via Frontiers Records. Like their first album, Only To Rise, they put the pedal to the metal with this one, which has enough heavy tunes pairing Sweet’s crystal clear voice with Lynch’s raw guitars to impress anyone who’s ever been a fan of either. But, of course, they share a lot of fans, which is surely one of the reasons why Only To Rise was both critically acclaimed and a fan favorite. Things that are sure to hold true for Unified as well. Listen to the potent lead singles below and hear for yourself.
MM: I can’t believe this is the third time we speak already.
MS: [Laughs] Well, you know, I gotta stop doing so many darn projects, that’s all. I’ve gotta lighten up a little bit.
MM: How did the writing for Unified take place. Did you get together and write this time or were you sending tracks online?
MS: It worked the same way as the first album. Maybe a little more complete. George on the first album sent me minute, minute and a half, sometimes rare occasions two minute long ideas only. And then I would kind of arrange them and finish them and write lyrics and melodies. Same thing this time around, but he sent me completed music, three and a half, four minutes, four and a half minutes long. Made my job a little bit easier. George is a great songwriter. He writes great music. So, there’s no issue there whatsoever. It works. It works well.
MM: So, when you had all the pieces to put together, that’s when you produced it?
MS: Well, George sent me the music and I wrote the melodies and the lyrics and then I went into the studio by myself for two days and I mapped everything out. We locked in click tracks pretty quick. I printed scratch vocals and or count ins for Brian and James. And then we started tracking everything from there.
MM: Did you play any guitar this time or did George do it all?
MS: I did play guitar on the album. I just didn’t play a lot of guitar. Hopefully, those that know my style can pick it out. I don’t know, maybe not. But I’m on there. I’m just not on every song. And I’m not doing guitar solos at all. There’s a reason for that. There’s a method to the madness. And that is, George Lynch is in the band. [Laughs] There’s no reason for me to do any guitar work, just as there is no reason for him to sing.
MM: Makes sense.
MS: Yeah, my job is to sing, co-write and produce and his job is to play. He’s the legendary George Lynch, man. People want to hear George play.
MM: It’s like if you’re working with Santana, people want to hear Santana play.
MS: Yes. Exactly. It’s just interesting because I get a lot of comments about that. People asking me and if I tell them I’m not playing much they seem like they’re not 100% happy about that. I try to explain, out of respect, that with this my job is to sing, you know, on this album. Not to necessarily play guitar.
MM: Are you somebody who’s able to write on the road, or are you somebody who’s only able to write at home?
MS: You know, I do write on the road on rare occasions. I used to write on the road all the time. That’s how a few of the old, classic Stryper albums were written. But now there’s just too much going on out there on the road. I’m an older guy. I like my space. I like my time off. When I’ve got a day off after just having four shows in a row I like to kind of just relax and not do a lot. We have barbecues, cookouts and things like that. And when I get home from wherever I’m traveling I write. I mean, I just got home from California a week ago. A week and two days ago, actually, to be exact. And I took Monday off and on Tuesday I set up all my gear and I started writing Tuesday afternoon. And I’ve got everything now for the new Stryper album. I’m tweaking lyrics and what not. I’m really digging it. I’m really digging how it’s sounding. It’s cool, man. It’s riff-y and heavy and it’s a little on the dark side. I think people are really gonna dig it.
MM: Do you have any song titles you could share with us?
MS: I can’t. I mean, I do, but I can’t yet. Very soon. It’s just that we’re a little ways away from that. The album is gonna come out probably April of next year, so we’ve still got a little ways to go. But we do have a title and a title track. And it’s one of those titles when people hear it they’re gonna definitely get whiplash.
MM: [Laughs] Really?
MS: Because their heads are gonna spin around so fast they’re gonna say, what? And it’s really cool.
MM: Can you tell me that?
MS: [Laughs] I can’t. I’m sorry, man. I wish I could.
MM: No, I understand. I understand. Just had to ask. So, when you do write at home do you have to write in a certain room or have a certain beverage when you write?
MS: Yeah, of course. I’ve been writing in my den. I’ve set up my amp, my iPad and my computer and a couple of remote speakers and that’s where I write. And it works out for me. I really like it. It’s comfortable. It’s bright. I can check on my dog and my cat. Hear the doorbell. You know, it just works out. That’s the way I’ve been doing it. And I’m gonna go down to my studio when the guys get here – my small little studio – and we’ll work everything out and rehearse down there.
MM: I recently interviewed Doug Aldrich and I was looking at Whitesnake credits and I was surprised to learn that Brian Tichy co-wrote many of the songs on the Whitesnake albums he was on. Were you aware that he’s a songwriter?
MS: You know, I knew Brian wrote, but I’m not really that familiar with his writing, to be honest. And James writes as well. James submitted some songs for the Sweet & Lynch album – I listened to a bunch of stuff via Dropbox and he’s a great writer. I am familiar with his stuff, more so. It just wasn’t fitting for the album. But he’s a really good writer.
MM: Would you say it was easier to do this Sweet & Lynch album or more difficult?
MS: Definitely easier. And the reason why is I feel it was a little bit more thought out and George was more prepared. And I was more prepared. And since we had done the first album we had that under our belt and we knew what we were getting into.
MM: Did you work on it at Spirit House again or did you do it all at home?
MS: You know what, man? The same way we’ve always done it. And probably the same way we’ll always do it until I don’t do it anymore. I do all the pre-production here at my house. I go to Spirit House to track all the basics. I come to my house and I track the lead vocals. I go to another studio called Mixed Emotions – a dear friend of mine, Kenny Lewis – and we do some editing and clean up work. And then I go back to Spirit House and we mix. We’ve got this process down, man, and it works. And it comes in at the same cost pretty much every time. Same time frame. Same scheduling. Same days. And we get great results. It just works. Why try to fix what ain’t broken? That’s my motto.
MM: Who did the Unified album cover? I was very impressed with it.
MS: Well, good, I’m glad. Believe it or not, I wrote the song “Unified” and I read my wife the lyrics and told her what it was about and she kind of threw out the idea of having like a globe that’s a puzzle with pieces coming together and falling apart and I thought it was a great idea. And we sent that in an e-mail explanation to Stanis Decker. He’s the guy who did the first Sweet & Lynch artwork and the Stryper Fallen and No More Hell To Pay artwork. And we always ask for him. Frontiers uses different artists for different artwork and we always ask for Stanis because in my mind he’s the best.
MM: There are some really strong backing vocals on Unified. Who did those?
MS: George. No, I’m only kidding. [Laughs] You know who did those? It’s two guys. And that’s another thing that I did a little different on both Sweet & Lynch albums. I did not sing background vocals. On the gang background vocals that you hear, I’m not in there. I tried to stay shy of that so it didn’t have that Stryper background vocal sound. It was a little different. And I used a guy named Robbie Leblanc and a guy named Charles Foley, who also sings on Stryper albums. Background vocals. And the two of those guys together is fantastic. They’re really great and they nail it and it’s quick. I did lie. I did sing on one song. And this one song, in particular, did not have Charles and Robbie on it. It’s a number of other people and myself. And that’s the song “Walk.” So, all those Queen style vocals, that’s a different process.
MM: That’s one of my favorites. I also really love the ballad “Tried and True.” Is that a personal one that you wrote for your wife? Or is it more of a general thing?
MS: Yeah, it is. I always get inspiration from my wife when I write a love song. And I like that song, too, man. It’s kind of a throwback, classic-sounding ballad. Just a rock ballad. And I can’t wait for people to hear that. And it was purposely done not to release it ahead of time because I wanted that to be a surprise for people.
MM: Will you be doing any touring as Sweet & Lynch?
MS: You know, if not, then we better just not do it anymore. It would be a shame if we don’t go tour. We’re gonna have people picketing our front doors, you know? [Both laugh]
MM: Do you have any plans in the works that you’re currently putting together?
MS: We’re trying. And I’ve talked to George and the other guys about maybe putting together a Lynch Mob and Stryper run and then George and I pulling double duty and going out and doing a short Sweet & Lynch set.
MM: That would be cool.
MS: I thought it would be cool. It’d make sense financially and a way for us to make it happen since we’d be out on tour together, Lynch Mob and Stryper. We can share a bus. We can share a crew. And we could make it happen. You know, we get one price to perform, Lynch Mob gets another price. One plus one doesn’t always equal two. But it makes it difficult to put things like this together. But, that being said, we’re working on that. On making it happen.
MM: Before you have to go, I have to ask about the situation with Tim Gaines. I understand you had to let him go because he was being belligerent but I don’t know more than that.
MS: Well, you know, there have been a number of things. We’ve really tried, through it all, to just rise above and handle it with some sort of integrity. It’s been difficult because in situations like that the mud starts to be flung, and all the fans start commenting, and they don’t have all the facts and they assume. This gets said, that gets said and then you’ve got social media and it fuels the fire. You know what, we’ve got a history with Tim and we wish him well – we really do – believe it or not. We wish him well. And we want him to be successful and we want him to do good things. But not with Stryper. We’re too old for drama. There’s enough of that already. We didn’t need more. It seems like there was just too much the last year and a half, and so many things that were said, and we just felt like we had no choice but to part ways.
MM: That’s too bad that he had to put you in a position like that.
MS: Hey, you know, if you were talking to him you’d get a whole different story. And all the fans are getting a different story. But, you know, anybody, I think, who has common sense and is smart enough, and the fans are smart, trust me, I think they can figure it out. They can figure out what’s really going on. What’s happened. What’s transpired. You know, we’ve tried really hard to handle this right. We’re confident that we have. Again, we wish him well. Tim’s gonna be fine. He’s gonna play music and continue doing what he’s always done and be a great bass player in a very cool band. I’m sure everyone will be hearing a lot from him.
MM: Have you guys found a replacement yet?
MS: Perry Richardson, formerly of Firehouse. Perry is a perfect fit within our band.
MM: That’s exciting news.
MS: He’s an amazing singer, an excellent bass player, and just a great human being. The moment we first rehearsed with Perry we knew that it was right. We sang harmonies and the vocals sounded awesome. He shared stories of how Stryper was one of his favorite bands and that he’s always respected us. It meant a lot to hear him say that. He has brought a kind and humble spirit to the band. He is a professional and an absolute gentleman. His resume is quite extensive and as impressive as it gets. We’re honored to have him on our team and we’re extremely excited about the future.
MM: Recently, we lost Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington to suicide. Did you know either of them?
MS: Believe it or not, I did not. I saw Chris with my wife live at the House of Blues in Boston in 2010. I never met him. And I never met Chester. I did not know them. But I wish I had known them. I’m an admirer of their work, and of their voices, and of their talent. It’s just so tragic and sad that they’re gone. It’s really a terrible thing.
MM: I think the way they went was kind of selfish or something.
MS: Well, you know, here’s the thing that I said to some degree after it happened. It’s [that] we don’t walk in their shoes. We don’t know the pressures and the stress that they were faced with. And what happened to make them do that. Yeah, the first reaction is, it’s selfish. It may very well be. Of course, to all the people they leave behind, that’s the sad part.
MM: Especially the kids.
MS: Yeah, exactly. But, we just don’t know what lead them to that. It could be any one of us. Life is tough. Things happen. And you get to that low point where you just don’t want to continue on and, you know, I want to be someone that inspires and encourages people to continue on. Because we all have a purpose. We’re all valuable. We’re all worthy. We all have destinies and they’re great. So, yeah, just sad, tragic stuff.
MM: Last time we met you mentioned wanting to do a whole album with Joel Hoekstra. Is that someone you still intend to do?
MS: Absolutely. It’s just one of those things – for whatever reason – that keeps taking the backseat. Because of other things. Call them priorities or whatever you want to call them, but Joel and I for sure are gonna work together. We’re gonna do something. We’re gonna do an album together. We’ve talked about it too long. He’s just too much of a talent and a sweet guy and I admire him so much and I really, really want to work with him and I hope he feels the same way. We’re gonna make that happen. We’ve gotta make it happen.
Extra special thanks to Michael for taking the time to chat with us again and to Jon Freeman for setting it up!