interview by Michael McCarthy
If Michael Sweet isn’t the hardest working man in the business, I don’t know who is. He’s currently on a break from touring with Stryper, but is he off vacationing in Paris or Barcelona? Nope. He’s hard at work on yet another solo album, which will be his 10th. Basically, Michael puts out an album a year. He writes and makes a Stryper album then they release it, and they tour, then he writes and makes a solo album, and puts that out, and does some solo dates, then it’s back to making a Stryper album, and he just keeps going and going like the Energizer Bunny decked out in yellow and black. Before this interview, which is our 5th for those keeping track, I thought the big news was Stryper’s upcoming History Tour, which will find the band doing covers of classic songs that inspired them when they were starting out. That is big news and among the things we discuss, but Michael also gave us some exciting news about not only the solo album but an album he’s making with a certain person who goes by the last name Guns. Read on for all the details.
MM: First of all, what have you been doing with your time in between tours?
MS: I’ve been recording and writing. Been very busy. I’m wrapping up a solo album right now. I’ve got about another three weeks and that includes mixing by the end of April. And we’re probably looking at a late August, early September release. There’s no set date yet, but it will be coming out this year for sure and we’re really excited about it.
MM: Very cool. Who have you worked with on it?
MS: Well, I’ve got the same drummer, Will Hunt, as on the last solo album. I’ve got John O’Boyle on bass, who also played on the last solo album and the Stryper album. And then I’ve got a different guest guitar player on every song. So, that ranges from Jeff Loomis from Arch Enemy to Gus G to Andy James to Joel Hoekstra, Tracii Guns, Howie Simon, Mike Kerr, Ethan Brosh, Marzi Montazeri, Rich Ward of Fozzy. [Laughs] There’s a ton of guests on this one and it’s really cool. I’m doing all the basic guitar parts and soloing on the album as well, but I just wanted to bring in a bunch of different guitar guests to solo on the album for each song to give it its own unique flair.
MM: Sounds great. Does the album have a title yet?
MS: It does. We’re going with the title Ten and that’s based on the fact that it’s my tenth solo album and there’s a title track called “Ten” that’s based on the Ten Commandments. So, it just made sense to call the album that. I’ve also got a guest vocal on a song by a guy a few people might know of named Todd La Torre. [Laughs]
MM: From Queensryche?
MS: Of course.
MM: Nice. He’s great.
MS: That will be on a song and another guy Ian from First Born, he’s gonna be singing a few lines on a song with me as well. Just a lot of guests, man. Just to make it interesting. And keep it moving.
MM: I’m very psyched. So, have you started rehearsals for the Stryper History Tour yet?
MS: I’m wrapping up the solo album and then I go away in about nine days and I’m going to do three solo, acoustic shows out West. And I’m playing at Holy Diver on Sunday and then I’m playing at The Philmore on Saturday with Y&T and then I’ve got another show on Friday but I’m trying to recall the name of that venue. [Editor’s note: It’s Club 1933.] Playing with John Schlitt. Everybody can go to michaelsweet.com and get the info on the shows. And then I come home and I start rehearsing for the History Tour and we start as a band rehearsing in Nashville on May 1st.
MM: Are you guys going to be doing a Massachusetts date on the History Tour? I didn’t see one scheduled yet.
MS: You know, I don’t know. As of yet, there isn’t a date that’s confirmed, but will there be? I really don’t know. We just played not that long ago in Massachusetts in New Bedford at Greasy Luck at The Vault. And then we also did a Mohegan show. So, that was just a few months ago. So, I don’t know if there will be another Mass date this year, but you never know.
MM: How many covers are you planning to do at the History shows?
MS: Oh, my gosh. Right now, it’s gonna be a long set. We’re looking at 11 covers and 11 originals. So, it would be 22 songs. We’ll have to keep the set moving right along so it doesn’t turn into a two, two and a half hour set. It most likely will be an hour and about forty five minute set.
MM: Are the covers mostly going to be from your covers album, The Covering?
MS: Some of them. A few of them will be from The Covering. And then others will not be. They’ll all be from bands that influenced us, or inspired us, and bands that we grew up on. And our generation grew up on. That’s really the whole point is just to kind of go out there and have fun and bring back some of these songs from some of these bands that people obviously remember and are a huge part of their history and their upbringing.
MM: I’ll have to manage somehow to get to one of the shows out of State because I really want to see that.
MS: Yeah, man, you gotta. It’s gonna be great. We love touring and we love performing. Hopefully, that shows. This tour is gonna be really great. We’re gonna have a blast. We’ve got some new things in store. The guys are equally as excited as I am.
MM: Nice. I take it you’re keeping the set list a secret?
MS: For now. Yeah. It’s not like the entire set list is something that’s under lock and key. I mean, we’re doing some of the classic Stryper songs, obviously. And we’ll be doing some of the covers that people have heard that we’ve performed before. But we’re also doing a lot of songs that we’ve never performed before.
MM: You’re playing a festival called Rock Fest on July 17th. Is that a new one?
MS: You know more than I do. [Both laugh] I guess it is. I guess it is a new one. I don’t know a whole lot about it. These shows go through our agent and then through our management. I’m down in my cave recording. Sometimes I don’t even know these shows are being booked until it’s time to perform.
MM: I was just curious because I didn’t know if that was a heavy metal festival or if it was an eclectic one or what. I guess you’ll find out eventually.
MS: Now, where is it at?
MM: That, I didn’t put in my notes so I’m not sure.
MS: Well, I’ll have to look it up. I’ll research that and see if I can find out a little more about it. I believe we have a few, but I don’t off the top of my head know which ones. We’re also going and doing a South American run. [Editor’s note: Rock Fest is in Cadott, Wisconsin. For the complete list of Stryper tour dates, go to: http://www.stryper.com/]
MM: I saw that you’re not gonna be doing covers on that one. Is that because you haven’t been down there in a while and the fans will want to hear all the Stryper originals they can?
MS: Exactly. Exactly. We haven’t been there in a while, and because we don’t get there too often, the fans there for the most part want to hear originals. I’m sure a lot of the fans here do, too, but I’m sure some of the fans here want to hear the covers as well because The Covering, the covers album that we did, was one of our most popular albums in recent years.
MM: I really liked that one. What label was that one on?
MS: That was Big 3.
MM: What label is the next solo album going to be on?
MS: It’s with a label called Rat Pack. A guy by the name of Joe O’Brien owns and runs it and I love it, man. He’s a great guy and it’s a great label and they did a fantastic job with my last solo album. And it just made perfect sense for me to do it again.
MM: When might we expect another Stryper album?
MS: Well, you know, I’m guessing we’re gonna tour throughout the year. So, sometime around maybe November into December is when I’ll start writing for that. And we’re hoping to get into the studio and start tracking by the end of the year. If that doesn’t work out because of the holidays, at the very latest it will be at the beginning of 2020, but you can absolutely expect a 2020 release for sure.
MM: You’re certainly keeping busy.
MS: Hey, man, you know, I am. And I say this all the time and I mean it every time I say it. I never take what I do for granted. The fact that I can still do it at the level that I do it at, and continue to stay busy, and pay the bills, and do what I love, and be happy doing it, is really a true miracle. Because a lot of my buddies in the business and stuff, they have to work other jobs or they can’t do music at all. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it from all angles. And that’s real tricky, man. I’ve been really fortunate and blessed to be able to do it like this. I’ve also got this thing with Tracii Guns going on. I’m doing an album with him. I’m singing on it. It’s called Sun Bomb. He’s got all the music done and I’m gonna start tracking vocals for that in late June into July.
MM: How did that project come to be?
MS: He just asked me to sing on it. He sent me a track and he goes, do you want to sing on it? I said sure, man, I’ll sing on this song. And he goes, no, the whole album. [Both laugh] The rest is history. We worked out all the details and I was able to find the time in my schedule and he’s willing to wait for me to do that, thank God, and we’re gonna work together, man. It’s gonna be really cool. I hate labels, and I hate the old cliches, but I guess some people are saying it’s more along the lines of a doom metal album.
MS: It’s got more of that Sabbath-y, musically more of that dark kind of vibe to it. It’s really cool.
MM: They kind of have a little of that vibe on the new L.A. Guns album that comes out on Friday.
MS: There you go. You know what, Tracii’s probably in that mindset and in that mode musically speaking right now. It’s really cool.
MM: Have you heard the new L.A. Guns album?
MS: I’ve heard bits and pieces of it. I’ve only heard a few tracks. Scotty Ludwick, their manager, he played me a few tracks when we were driving in the car a few months back in Vegas and it sounds great, man. But I haven’t heard the final product, no. I assume you have?
MM: Yes, because I interviewed Phil Lewis the other day and Frontiers sent me a link to stream the album so I could write questions.
MS: Nice. And how are you feeling about it, man? Are you excited about it?
MM: Yeah, yeah. I really like it. I loved the last one, too. This one’s a bit more on the raw side. It doesn’t have the keyboards and so forth, but it’s pretty eclectic. They’ve got the title track, “The Devil You Know” – I don’t know if you’ll be crazy about that one –
MM: They did some really dark and evil lyrics for the first time on that one. And there’s another song called “Another Day In Hell,” which is pretty interesting. It starts off with Phil Lewis singing from whoever’s point of view and they’re kind of confessing their sins and talking about why they ended up in hell. It’s almost seven minutes long, too, so it’s pretty epic.
MS: Wow. Well, you know what? I’m waiting on them to send me an entire copy of the album so I can hear the whole album. But, again, what I’ve heard sounds great. It’s really cool to see L.A. Guns with Phil and Tracii making some noise out there. I don’t want to say making a comeback because they never really left. There were different versions of L.A. Guns. But now with the original guys, you know, it’s great to see what they’re doing musically and the buzz that they’re creating and how they’re just going out there and kicking butt.
MM: Unfortunately, now the Steve Riley version is coming back. I guess they asked Tracii and Phil and the guys to play the M3 Festival and they weren’t able to so apparently M3 approached Steve Riley and asked him to put together a line-up and do L.A. Guns. He’s got Kelly Nickles, so there’s two original guys in that one, too, but it’s confusing.
MS: Aw, man, here’s what I don’t like about that scenario. Even though there’s two original guys in that one, there’s already L.A. Guns out there doing it. They’re releasing albums. They’re touring. With the original singer and guitar player. The two focal points of the band. And then you’ve got another version coming up and coming on the scene and all it does in my opinion – not that my opinion matters; I’m sure most people would think that it doesn’t – but in my opinion, what’s the point of that? Other than to just cause confusion. And over-saturate and kind of shoot both bands in the foot. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
MM: And I mean, Steve Riley and Kelly Nickles must make money every time L.A. Guns plays anyway because they co-wrote a lot of the songs.
MS: Yeah. I’ll tell you what I would do. Just from an integrity point of view. If I was in a situation like that – if we broke up and Oz and Robert went out and continued on as Stryper before I did, and they own the name and had the right legally to do that, I would just come up with a different name. Go and tour under a different name. That’s what I would do. Because I would never want there to be two versions of Stryper. That’s just silly.
MM: What’s the status of the documentary you’ve been making?
MS: Well, we’ve been working on it for about a year now. Just on and off. Not heavily. Just little bits and pieces here and there. But our goal is to really get a lot of footage over the next few years. Interview people. Interview the band. And put together something really special. Obviously, we’ve gotta raise some money to do that. And figure out the financial side of doing so. We’re doing it and we’re in the works right now. It’s gonna happen. And when it comes to fruition, and it’s completed, it’s going to be very special and really unique. Because it’s not just gonna be a documentary about the bands and our rise to fame. It’s also gonna be about the people and the effect the band – the message and music – have had on people. It’s gonna be really cool. I’m excited about that. When we see it take shape, it’s gonna be really killer.
MM: With The Dirt doing pretty well on Netflix, maybe it would be an opportune time to approach them or something?
MS: Well, you know, if that door opens and we’re able to do that, that would be amazing. Obviously, it remains to be seen, the fact that the documentary is not made yet. Not completed yet. But we have a plan on paper, and we have a vision, and we’ve talked to a number of people, and we’ve started the ball rolling, and we’re moving forward, and it is going to be something that is reality in the next two to three years. I can’t wait to get to that point. And time goes so quickly. So, we’ll be there before we know it.
MM: Will there ever be another Sweet & Lynch album? I know George’s reluctance to tour had bummed you out.
MS: Yeah. You know, George might have a different take on that. Every time I try to talk to George about touring he always mentioned that he wanted to have multiple shows in place because he didn’t want to rehearse just for one or two shows. And I can understand that thinking and that mentality, but at the same time that’s not reality. A lot of bands these days have to do fly dates and go out and do a couple of shows at a time. George does that with Lynch Mob and for other bands. But for whatever reason, we were never able to put anything together. And, believe me, I tried. So, it did kind of bum me out because I feel like to really take an album from a band like that, Sweet & Lynch, and build it, you’ve gotta go play. The fans want to see it. They want to support it. That’s the way you get the word out there and get people talking about it and buzzing about it. And we never played. We never did one show together. That was kind of a deflation for me. I’m not a fan of getting 20 thousand dollars, or 25 thousand dollars, and banging out an album. Having to cut corners to compromise the quality. Some people might argue with me and say you’re not gonna compromise the quality with 20 grand, 25 grand. In my opinion, you’re going to. You’re gonna have to rush it and you’ll have to do it where one guy does the tracks at his house, and sends the other tracks to the other guy that he does it at his house in England, then he sends it to the other guy who does this. And I know a lot of people have to do that. I had to do that on my solo album with the guitar solos, but when it comes to the foundation and tracking the band and doing it a certain way, I’m used to doing it at a certain level. So, I’m not into the lower budgets that are being thrown at bands these days by labels. I’m not gonna compromise and cave into that. I know that’s the way a lot of these labels have to operate and function, but, you know what, it’s not gonna happen with me that way. I need a certain amount of money to be able to go in and do it the right way. I don’t even know if I’m making sense to you.
MM: No, I get it.
MS: And that’s part of the problem with Sweet & Lynch. You know, in order to do it the way we need to do it, there’s a certain amount of money that needs to be laid out and that’s the tricky part. It’s not an easy thing to do or pull off or come up with. It kind of keeps it from happening. So, there’s a number of reasons why I’m gonna say most likely there’s not going to be another Sweet & Lynch album.
MM: Makes sense. Have you heard The End Machine, the new band with George, Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown and Robert Mason?
MS: I have heard it. I mean, I haven’t heard the entire album, but I’ve heard like four tracks.
MM: I really like it.
MS: Yeah. It’s good. I mean, you can’t go wrong with those three musicians and Robert singing. It’s gonna be outstanding because they’re great musicians and they make great music. And, hey, what can I say, man? I wish them well and all the best. In this tough music world.
MM: I doubt we’ll see them touring where Jeff Pilson is so busy with Foreigner and Mick is still in Don Dokken’s version of Dokken.
MS: And then George is in ten other bands.
MM: And, of course, Robert’s very busy with Warrant.
MS: Yeah, they’re all busy. So, it does make it very difficult to take that kind of a project to a new level. Same as Sweet & Lynch. You can throw albums out there and they can be as great as you want them to be, depending on what you put into it. But it doesn’t really help the cause if you’re not out there performing the songs live and letting the fans see it live. It’s almost – [Laughs] – it’s almost kind of a waste. It just, you know…
MM: I know what you mean.
MS: A lot of people would disagree with me, but, you know, I don’t see the point in doing that.
MM: I get it. I like to get into a new album and go and see the show and sing along to the new songs. New music really excites me. I know some people are just high on the nostalgia thing and they just want to hear the old stuff, but me, I’m always more so looking forward to the new stuff because that’s fresh and exciting to me.
MS: And I agree. I love it, too. I love to hear it. I’m not a big concert goer – I don’t go to shows often, I’m more of a homebody – but when I go buy an album that I really, really love – something new and fresh – which is rare, I want to go see that band live. If I can’t go see that band live and I hear they’re not even touring it’s like, what, what do you mean?
MM: Yeah. You put this amazing record out and then you don’t go out there and support it.
MS: Yeah, exactly. I have a project I’ve been trying to put together for a while with Joel Hoekstra —
MM: – I remember you saying that.
MS: We co-wrote two songs on this new solo album together. It’s gonna give everybody a real, true taste of what he and I can do together. And that being said, I hope he and I can do a full-length very soon, and then not only release a killer album, but go and tour it.
MM: That would be nice.
MS: In terms of players, we’re talking about having guys of the caliber of Dean Castronovo on drums. Because the vocals are gonna be really important. Harmonies and vocals. So, Joel maybe on guitar and Dean maybe on drums, myself on guitar and vocals, and get a really great bass player who can sing and just go out and kill it, man. Try to build it.
Special thanks to Michael Sweet for taking the time to speak with us again and to Brian Mayes at Nashville Publicity for setting it up!
STRYPER 2019 HISTORY TOUR:
May 10 — The Firmament — Greenville, SC
May 11 — Union Jack’s — Annapolis, MD
May 13 — Beachland Ballroom — Cleveland, OH
May 14 — The Token Lounge — Westland, MI
May 15 — The Rockpile West — Toronto, Ontario
May 17 — Gramercy Theatre — New York, NY
May 18 — The Chance — Poughkeepsie, NY
May 19 — The Paramount — Huntington, NY
May 21 — Chameleon Club — Lancaster, PA
May 22 — Jergel’s Rhythm Grille — Warrendale, PA
May 24 — Bogarts — Cincinnati, OH
May 25 — Mercury Ballroom — Louisville, KY
May 26 — The Lerner Theatre — Elkhart, IN
May 29 — Vinyl Music Hall — Pensacola, FL
May 31 — Warehouse Live — Houston, TX
June 1 — Magic Springs Theme Water Park — Hot Springs,
June 2 — Graceland Sound Stage — Memphis,
June 5 — House of Blues — New Orleans,
June 8 — The Masquerade — Atlanta,
June 13 — Paparazzi OBX — Kitty Hawk,
June 14 — Phase 2 — Lynchburg,
June 15 — Roanoke Rapids Theater — Roanoke Rapids,
July 17 — Rock Fest 2019 — Cadott,
July 18 — Arcada Theater — St. Charles,
July 20 — Roar on the Shore Bike Week — Erie, PA
Sept. 7 — Teatro al Aire Libre — La Paz, Bolivia
Sept. 10 — CC. Festiva — Lima, Peru
Sept. 12 — Teatro Caupolicán — Santiago, Chile
Sept. 14 — Tropical Butanta — Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sept. 15 — Circo Voador — Rio de
Sept. 17 — Toinha Brasil Show — Brasilia, Brazil
Sept. 19 — Mister Rock BH — Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Sept. 21 — El Teatro Flores — Buenos Aires,