Michael Sweet Speaks
I had the chance to talk with Michael Sweet a couple days before his new solo album One Sided War hit the streets. We discussed the future and the past of all things Stryper and solo projects.
As always, Michael is a very down to earth and approachable person who it is a pleasure to talk with as he reveals in details behind his new solo album as well as future plans for Stryper, Sweet & Lynch, and more work with Joel Hoekstra.
JM: So, let’s talk new album - One Sided War. You have lots of great guest musicians, so tell us the who, what, when, where and hows of it all.
MS: I am a big drum fan, and drums are always really important to me, so I always like to work with the best. That is why on my Truth album I worked with Kenny Aronoff, and on my last solo album (I’m Not Your Suicide) as well. And then on the Sweet & Lynch album I worked with Brian Tichy, who is another phenomenal drummer. And then on this album, One Sided War, I’ve got Will Hunt, who plays for Evanescence and a number of other bands. Those three guys are three of my favorite drummers.
I like the guys that don’t overdo it in showmanship, and their playing doesn’t suffer because of that, and yet the guys do have some showmanship and they put on a show and you’re glued to them, they’re just not over doing it. So I have Will on this album and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
And then I have Joel Hoekstra (guitarist – Whitesnake/Night Ranger) guesting on three songs, and Ethan Brosch guesting on six songs. Ethan is a great player, he is a local player, and he is mind blowing. I have John O’Boyle on bass. I used him on my last solo album and wanted to use him again because he is that good. He is solid as a rock and a super sweet guy.
It is equally important for me to work with great people as it is to work with great musicians. There is nothing like working with a great musician who is not easy to work with, and I’ve done that many times, and it is not fun.
I also have Mariah Formica, who is a 15-year-old, singing on a song. I did a show with her about ten months ago and she blew my mind, so I wanted to have her on the album (JM: Here is a YouTube video of her singing a track with Stryper live, and here with Michael). She sings, she plays guitar, she solos, and is very talented, and she is a rock star – I think everyone will be hearing about her very soon.
JM: How do you get some of these people on your albums? Do you personally know them, or just cross paths at some point while touring. Take Joel Hoekstra for instance, he is a pretty hot commodity in the rock and metal world these days, how did he get involved?
MS: I met Joel for the first time on the Monsters of Rock Cruise a few years back, and Joel is a fan of Stryper. He was out in the audience watching, and bobbing his head, and I talked to him later and he said he loved Stryper. He said he respected us, and would love to work with me, and he is a brilliant player, such a talented guy. So I had him come out and be a part of my videos off of I’m Not Your Suicide, and he wasn’t even playing on the songs, yet he was in my videos for the title track and Heart of Gold. So this time around I got him to play on the songs, and be in the video.
Next time around, we’re going to do a full-length together, so we’re pumped about that. It is a little ways down the road, but we’re going to do a full-length album together. I’m looking to go a bit more old-school seventies, with a little more kick to it. Kind of like a Whitesnake or Zeppelin of the seventies sound with lots of nasty organs and ripping guitars, vocals and melodies.
JM: Your new single is for the song Radio, tell us a little about the idea behind that track.
MS: Radio is a parody lyric based on rock guys going to country and trying to be country guys. I grew up in a country home, my parents are country western singers, my dad wrote a number one country song, and so it’s dear to my heart. I thought it would be fun to write a song and do a video just to have a little fun.
JM: Now with Stryper apparently so much more active, and popularity seems to be on the rise, why not just more Stryper albums? Why the solo albums?
MS: Because I love it. I remember times when finishing up with Stryper I’d jump right into a solo album. My wife would say “You just spent four months on a Stryper album, are you serious?” I say “yes, I have a lot of ideas and this is what I do.” It is just the way I am, it is how I’m built.
JM: With all of the solo stuff, do you get much of a chance to tour for them, or is Stryper your main touring engine?
MS: Stryper is my main touring engine, but I have to say, next year it’s going to be all about Michael Sweet. I am just going to say that and put it out there to the fans. It’s not me being a jerk or anything, but last time I toured solo was in 2000.
JM: Hey! I know! Why don’t you tour and open for Stryper? Could your voice handle doing two shows in a night?
MS: It’s not the length of how much I sing in a night. With Stryper we do a 90-minute show, and I am just getting warmed up during the last 15 minutes and I want to go back and redo it all because I am warmed up much better than early in the show. So if I did open, I would probably sound better with Stryper because I would be warmed up. The main problem is going out and touring and doing three or four nights in a row, or if I were to get sick – that is the tricky part.
Plus, I am not sure how in demand that would be for the buyers and promoters – whether it would bring enough additional value to the tour or the night. I will say if it could be worked out financially, and I could put the guys all on the same bus, it would be really, really fun.
JM: So, new solo album just came out, what is next recording wise?
MS: We’re starting a new Stryper album in February, and once that is done around April, then George (Lynch) and I are starting on a new Sweet & Lynch album.
JM: Ah, a follow up? So how did the first one do – how was it accepted in general?
MS: Exceptional! For that kind of an album, basically a new band and sort of a super group, it was received well. When you look back in history, typically super groups don’t do that well. Occasionally you’ll have one like Chickenfoot that does really well, but most of the time that they not do well, they do okay. It is hit or miss with these types of super group, and considering that, Sweet & Lynch has done really great, from both initial week sales as well as the continued life of the album. And the reviews and comments have been great too.
JM: I guess it must have done well, since there is going to be a follow up.
MS: Yes. And on the follow up I want to get a little more aggressive. I want to light the fire under George’s butt a little more and get him to cut loose even more. More guitar ripping and shredding that will make people just go “WHAT!?” So we’re going to have fun doing the next one, and I want to have the same line up.
JM: In a previous interview I had with you a couple years back, around the time of the release of The Covering and The Second Coming Stryper albums, you mentioned possible future plans for a second edition of each of those releases. Is that still a coming possibility?
MS: Yes, those are still possibilities, it is just that other things take precedence over that, like a new studio album or solo album if I get a deal, but for sure at some point we are going to a second re-record so we can cover the In God We Trust and Against the Law songs, as well as even some more Yellow and Black songs, so that’s a given, that’s got to be done.
As for doing a second covering album, we want to get really interesting with that and show people some different…you know, imagine us coming out and doing like a Beatles song, or Zeppelin, or Credence Clearwater. Just rocking up some stuff like that, going back a little further. Maybe even some Journey, they were influential. But Stryper style, not lightening up. One of those albums where people would go “Wow! They covered that!?”
JM: So how did The Covering album do overall? I heard lots of love and some complaints about covering some of the stuff.
MS: I tell you, the reviews and the stats don’t lie, and that album did fantastic. It did so well, and was so well received. I can’t tell you how many times we go to Monster of Rock and the people who were never a fan before come up and say they are fans now because of that album. It is crazy.
JM: I really enjoyed it, and loved that fact that you didn’t always pick the most well know bands or even the most well-known song by some of the bands. It was just a good compilation of great stuff a true metal head from the time would love – like me.
MS: It was different, and I think next time we do it, we would be even more diverse to make people go “Whoa.” We were talking about covering another Van Halen song, but not a popular one, maybe like Light Up the Sky – something really rockin’. Or maybe another Judas Priest, something more difficult, like Dissident Aggressor or Exciter. Just the kind of songs that people would say they can’t believe we covered that – and they killed it, that kind of thing.
JM: Back in the heyday of Stryper, Christian metal was new, not always accepted, and you guys got lots of flak for who you were. Jump forward close to 15 years, and now the second go round, Stryper has been recording and playing for more than 10 more years this time around, and seem to be gaining more attention. Do you feel Stryper has become more accepted now, playing some of the big festivals and shows, more than in the earlier years?
MS: In some ways yes, in other ways no. There are still times where certain Christian events or Christian organizations will flat out say they want nothing to do with us. And there are mainstream event that will say no too. Like, our publicist reached out to Rolling Stone magazine about premiering a song of mine from the solo album, and they didn’t even listen to it, they just said “No!” It is just so closed minded, and you know it has to be related to who I am. They probably think “that’s that Christian guy, we’ll pass.” That is the kind of mentality we find a lot of the time these days – a closed mindedness.
JM: So, related to that, when you all resurrected Stryper in 2003, did you feel it would last this long or pick up the traction it has?
MS: I didn’t, no. But I mean, I didn’t really think about it that much. It’s not like I sat around wondering where we’d be in 30 years. Having now come 32 years in time, it is pretty mind blowing. We are and were the underdogs. We were always the guys that never really fit in anywhere. We don’t fit in the Christian side, we don’t fit in the mainstream side – we just don’t.
It’s almost bordering miraculous that we have found a way to survive and thrive, and to still be here 32 years later with the original lineup. It is God’s grace and His blessings upon this band, but we do things very differently. We are not like any other band that has come upon the music scene. You can’t compare us to Petra, and you can’t compare us to Priest. You can’t really compare us to anybody because we do things so differently.
JM: Well it seems to be working for you.
MS: It has and I think it will continue to do so, because we take what we do very serious. We’re professionals, we strive for perfection, and we put God first – we want to honor God. God is that fifth member of the band, for sure.