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..All Things New: Gnarly Charlie's Exclusive Interview with Michael Sweet of STRYPER

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, November 11, 2013 @ 3:07 PM


"The really great part of it all is to know you're inspiring people and touching and changing lives, because at the end of the day, and later on in life, that's all that matters."

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Band Photo By Mark Weiss
Concert Photos By Larry Petro






Hail to the Yellow and Black Attack! STRYPER has just released No More Hell to Pay, a smoking, full-length follow up to 2009’s Murder by Pride. Reminiscent of the Soldiers Under Command era, the new album is the hardest-rocking STRYPER we’ve heard for a long time.

Singer/guitarist Michael Sweet checked in with KNAC.COM to discuss the new album, how he keeps the power and range in his vocals, and the faith that keeps him rocking like a heavyweight.

SWEET: Hey, Charlie. What's going on, man? Long time no talk.

KNAC.COM: Yes, it's been a long time, Michael.

SWEET: It's funny. My neighbor's dog just tried to run in the house. My dog's going crazy. Alright, I'm ready.

KNAC.COM: You're a domesticated rock star.

SWEET: It just seems to be the way my life is. It's all good and simple, petty stuff, but it seems that ten things happen at once. It's never just one thing. It's like everything kind of happens. It's funny. I just gotta laugh, because it really is funny. I just had, literally, five minutes before you called, Kim Scholz called, Tom Scholz's wife, from BOSTON. I had never talked to her and she had some questions. So I'm on the phone with her and then you call. I’m saying, "Kim I gotta go." And then, right after you call, Fed Ex rings the door.

KNAC.COM: Are you still an active member of BOSTON?

SWEET: I am not. I am not an active member of BOSTON. I left the band, oh, my gosh, I don't even remember. I think it was in early 2012. So, a little over four years I was in the band. The reason why I left is the way BOSTON kind of operates--and always has--is you go on tour whenever, you go make a record whenever. And nobody really knows when they're going to be touring and when they're going to be recording or what not. I had so much going on with STRYPER I needed to start confirming, and I was afraid that things were going to overlap and it was going to become an issue real fast, that I felt like that I don't need this kind of pressure. So, believe it or not, some people would call me crazy--I left BOSTON.

KNAC.COM: When the first BOSTON album came out it floored me with that big wall of guitar sound. I had never heard anything like that.

SWEET: So original and unique and monumental, that album—life-changing and history-changing. It's still, to this day I think, the biggest selling rock album debut from any rock band. It's just a monster of an album. I'm a big fan. It was a big influence of mine at that time. And later on in my life, in 2008, to be on tour with BOSTON and be a member of BOSTON was kind of a "pinch me" moment.

KNAC.COM: The new album, No More Hell to Pay, is a really heavy STRYPER record.

SWEET: It is, definitely. In terms of comparing it to our other albums, it's more on the heavy side. It's not a light record. It's heavier than Murder by Pride, it's heavier than Reborn, absolutely. Heavier than In God We Trust. It's more along the line with probably Soldiers (Under Command), To Hell with the Devil, and Against the Law. Cut from that cloth. But what's really cool about it is, it's its own. It's not a carbon copy of the other ones and it's definitely got its own thing going on. And what's even cooler is it's the original lineup, 30 years later after beginning and starting out as a band, releasing our first album. We're still making records that people seem to like. So that's pretty darn cool.

KNAC.COM: It’s a great record and it keeps growing on me. Does a song like "Saved by Love" put a beating on your voice?

SWEET: It does. I learned, after however many years of doing this—if you want to go back even before STRYPER, you’re probably talking about 38, 39 years of actually performing and singing. I learned finally that there's an easier way to do it, in terms of recording vocals. What I did on this album, that made it much easier for me, was instead of going down and singing for two or three hours in my studio with my headphones on, and after singing for two or three hours, with any singer, I don't care who you are, your voice is going to get tired. And then to try to do high screams when your voice is tired, they're not going to come out quite the way they should. So I went down on this album--never done it before--and I did the screams first. Then, after I recorded the screams, those parts, I sang the song. And it really worked for me. A lot of people are commenting on the high notes, like "Your voice sounds clearer than it ever has," and that those notes are just really there. I think that's why. That plays a part into why they sound like they do, because I did them first with a fresh voice.

KNAC.COM: Are you still hitting your highs, like on To Hell with the Devil and songs of that era?

SWEET: There are certain screams that just come kind of second nature. They're somewhat, or relatively easier, or easy to hit. To Hell [with the Devil] and Soldiers [Under Command] are some of those screams. And those are the trademark, very important screams. Those are the ones that I pretty much have to hit every night. The only times I don't hit those is if I'm really sick or under the weather, and there are times I don't. But, more often than not, I do hit those. And now I have this new record of screams that I'm going to have to pick and choose my battles and figure out which ones I have to hit every night and which ones I can just get by and sing something else (laughs).

KNAC.COM: The new stuff definitely has the trademark Michael Sweet vocal ferocity.

SWEET: Well man, I tell ya, I'm very blessed to still have some of my voice left. I mean, is it the same as it was? No, it's not. Has it changed? Absolutely, it's changed. But, you know, I can still sing and go out and perform, and, you know, I haven't lost it all. Sadly, some of the guys from the '80s have, and I really feel terrible for them. I feel bad because that must be so awful to love to sing and love to perform and you can't. I know Tom Keifer[CINDERELLA] had issues with his voice. There was a time when he couldn't sing--literally couldn't go out and sing. He had to stop performing. Now he's doing much better. Guys like Don Dokken, who have issues with their voice. He's still out performing and everything but I know it's a little more difficult for him. Hopefully and prayerfully I won't be one of those guys in five years or ten years. At least I've gotten this much out of myself, thank God, and, you know, we'll see what happens in the future, man. But I'm blessed.

KNAC.COM: So, the scotch drinking, Marlboro smoking, and that decadent rock and roll lifestyle have been key to your longevity, right?

SWEET: Dude, when I wake up instead of milk in my cereal I use scotch. You know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: You are the man! You pour Old Grand-Dad in your Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch.

(laughs)

SWEET: I do think that a lot of people abuse their bodies and their voices. Some of these guys--they're singers and they're smoking two packs a day, I think, how do you do that? And I guess that's part of their sound.

KNAC.COM: If the doctor told them to stop drinking or smoking or whatever keeps them in that vocal range, it would probably ruin their career.

SWEET: It probably would, and as funny and as weird as that sounds, it's probably 100 percent accurate. A lot of those guys that have that gritty kind of style, they do smoke, and the grit is there probably due to the smoking. I don't. I have a different approach and style. I've never been a big smoker. I enjoy an occasional cigar. I've never been a big cigarette smoker. I think I used to smoke early on when I was 15, 16, 17, 18 years old, but I stopped smoking years ago.

KNAC.COM: Over the years it seems that STRYPER has been attacked by the right-wing Christians even more so than by people who don’t profess their faith or non-belief. In defense or response to that, what do you have to say?

SWEET: It's a real funny situation in terms of a lot of people who call themselves Christians and you have to wonder if they truly are. But a lot of times, those are the people, more often than not who actually judge and come against other people. The sad part is if they would just look at themselves they would probably be disgusted, because if they looked at their own sin and looked in the mirror like the old Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror", you know, start with yourself. Look at the sin in your life and stop looking at other people's sin. If you look at the sin in your life, you're going to be overwhelmed by it. You're not going to have time to focus on anyone else. And that's the thing that a lot of Christian people forget. It's almost as if they feel that they've been assigned by God to go and judge others and come against other people. We've faced our critics and most of the time they’re Christians. They're in the church. They're pastors, whatever, telling us that we're doing this wrong and that we're doing that wrong, and that we can't be real Christians and we're wolves in sheep's clothing, and we're this and that and blah blah blah. I basically think to myself, in an almost humorous way, "Man, I don't want to be standing next to that person on Judgment Day," because I'm going to have my own stuff to answer for, but, man, I don't want to be near them (laughs). It's sad. It's just the way the world is. That's why Christ was crucified, because people turned against him. That's the way it is. That's the way it's been since the beginning of time.

KNAC.COM: The Church continues to get bad press, as usual.

SWEET: I was just talking with my buddy, Michael Guido, who was going to visit the singer [Tim Lambesis] from AS I LAY DYING, who has just been recently charged and is on house arrest, and waiting to see what comes. And as sad as what happened with him is—it’s sad, but what's even sadder are the people who are turning against him. We're called, as Christians, to love our brothers and love our sisters, no matter what they do. You don't love the sin, but you love them. And that's what really breaks my heart, is when a Christian stumbles--to see the flock just devour them. It amazes me. And I just shake my head and think, "You gotta be kidding me." It's brutal. But again, as I said earlier, that’s the way the world seems to think and function, and we're constantly trying to battle that and duke it out with that mentality.

KNAC.COM: It's a hard walk, especially being under the constant scrutiny of the media.

SWEET: I get a kick out of when I read tweets or Facebook comments about, "Oh yeah, I just ran into Michael and Robert Sweet at the airport. Man, they didn't act very Christian, man, because they weren't smiling. They were, like, just like really rushing to get to their flight. They weren't too cool to me, man. So they can't be real Christians." And I'm like "Are you kidding me?"

KNAC.COM: Smiling isn’t very metal.

(laughs)

KNAC.COM: Was it hard to decide which bands' songs you wanted to cover for The Covering album?

SWEET: Yeah. We did "Highway Star", "Set Me Free", "Blackout", "Carry on Wayward Son". There are so many songs. We just did our best to compile the biggest bands and the biggest songs that influenced us the most, yet, at the same time, were realistic in terms of budget and schedules and what not. We did our best. I wanted to throw on an original that made people know that we were not wavering from our faith. So that's why we put "God" on there--probably one of the boldest songs we've ever done, musically and lyrically. We plan on, down the road, doing a Covering II, because there are so many more songs and people really dug it. We’re planning on doing a Second Coming II, so we can hit In God We Trust songs and Against the Law songs. And then, of course, we plan on releasing multiple--you know, two, three, four more all-original studio full-lengths, as well, before we retire...at the ripe age of, uh, you know, 93 or whatever it is.

KNAC.COM: You did a nice cover of "Jesus is Just Alright" by the DOOBIE BROTHERS. The guitar work is killer, especially at the breakdown with you and Oz (Fox) doing the guitar solo switch-off.

SWEET: There's a lot going on guitar-wise. In the breakdown, I'm doing all the little wah-wah craziness stuff going on, but in the solo that is me and Oz switching off. So it's me first, then Oz, then me again, then Oz again. We do a lot of that stuff. Over the years we've done a lot of that switching off, back and forth. If you're real good and you know the band, you'll be able to determine who's who, because we have a little different style, you know?

KNAC.COM: What’s the latest on T&N with George Lynch and the other guys? You were asked to hit the road with them.

SWEET: I was asked to, and that never came to pass. We never wound up putting a tour together and hitting the road because Jeff Pilson is so busy with FOREIGNER, and George is busy, I'm busy. So I'd just assume that everyone is so busy it wasn't meant to be yet. But when it does happen I've been asked to be the singer and I look forward to that day, whenever that day may come. George and I are doing a record together. We're going to start recording in February. He's writing a lot of the music, I'm writing lyrics and melodies. We're going to do a lot of co-writing together for that album. And it's George on guitar, me on vocals, Brian Tichy on drums, and James LoMenzo on bass. It's going to be cool. It's going to be fun, man. One of those records, you know, maybe it'll do some of the cool things like some of these supergroups, like THE WINERY DOGS, CHICKENFOOT, and BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION. Maybe it'll make some noise. That'll come out on Frontiers Records next year. That's a done deal. The studio time is booked and everything.

KNAC.COM: Are you still told by people that your music has helped them through tough times?

SWEET: Oh yeah. We hear that all the time and it never gets old. We just smile when we hear that because, to us, that's why we're here and we do what we do. The music is cool. The rock and roll show is cool: the lights, the sound, all that stuff. But you know what? The really great part of it all is to know you're inspiring people and touching and changing lives, because at the end of the day, and later on in life, that's all that matters. The music will be gone, but those souls will carry on and live on. To know that we're touching souls and changing hearts--that's incredible.

KNAC.COM: What was the period like for you after your wife died?

SWEET: I lost my wife Kyle in March of ’09. It was up and down and on and off, light and dark. There was so much going on emotionally. When you're told that she's in remission and then you're told two weeks later that it's back with a vengeance, it was just a rollercoaster ride of the extreme. There were times when I thought God was performing miracles and then there were times I felt that God wasn't even there. And I just felt like, "Where are you, God? Are you even real?" I'm being honest. I couldn't comprehend how people who devote their lives to God--and Kyle did. And I have and she did. I just felt like she didn't deserve that and it was hard for me to understand. I was questioning God left and right. Now, in hindsight, when I look back on it, I realize what God has done through it and what He's still doing through it. He knows what he's doing. I don't. He has a plan. I don't. And I want to follow his lead. Whatever that may be, as tough as that may be, I want to follow his lead. And that's what I try to do on a day to day basis. Is it easy? No. But, in the end, there's a big payoff. I know where Kyle is. She's in a better place. I believe that with all my heart, and someday, again, we will all again see her. And I look forward to that.

KNAC.COM: Are there any songs on the new record inspired by Kyle?

SWEET: Not on the new record. I made a record for her at that time called Touched. It was a compilation of songs she liked and I liked and we shared a love for. Then I wrote a song called "My Love, My Life, My Flame" . That was on the record. Believe it or not, as odd as this might sound, I've been remarried now--I married in 2010. So a little over three years to an amazing, beautiful, wonderful woman, by the name of Lisa Champagne. There is a song on this new record that was written for her, for my new wife. And it feels so odd, saying my new wife, because we've been married a while. The song called "The One". That one was written for Lisa and I dedicate that song to her. And she does so much for me. I don't think I'd be sitting here talking to you if it wasn't for her. She's just such an amazing person and so driven. She lifts us all up--my son, my daughter, me. And I think we'd be kind of lost without her, to be honest.

http://www.stryper.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Stryper


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